How to Paint a Sad Clown

by Alana Armstrong

Each clown has its own emotion and behavior, which is read very clearly just by looking at its painted face and clothes. The sad clown, such as the Harlequin and Pierrot, is an archetype that was developed from the 16th to 18th century in Commedia dell'Arte performance. The characterization of this sad clown is associated with malaise and depression. When painting a sad clown, three important elements to incorporate are his posture, costume and the colors in which he is painted.

Items you will need

  • Source image
  • Canvas
  • Pencil/charcoal
  • Palette
  • Oil paints: cadmium red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine blue, black, white, alizarin crimson, cobalt blue and cerulean blue
  • Turpentine
  • Brushes (range of size and shape)
Step 1

Set up your source image where you can easily see it as you paint. A source image can be any still image that acts as a visual aid for the painting.

Step 2

Use pencil or light charcoal to sketch the clown, centered on the canvas. Focus on using basic shapes to create the clown's body and posture, such as an oval for the head.

Step 3

Squeeze some primary and neutral-colored paints onto the palette. Start with equal amounts of cadmium red, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue and larger amounts of black and white. Add some optional primary colors, such as alizarin crimson, cerulean blue and cobalt blue.

Step 4

Add a few drops of turpentine to thin the black paint. Use a small to medium brush to shade in areas of deep shadow on the clown. Refer to the source image to help determine where the shadows are cast on the sad clown's figure and clothing.

Step 5

Mix equal parts of white and black and add a half part of ultramarine blue; mix to create a bluish-gray shade. Add a little turpentine to thin out the paint, and use a medium to fine brush to paint in the highlighted areas of the clown's figure and clothing. Allow the highlight and shadow areas to dry before moving on to the next step.

Step 6

Mix three parts white with a tiny bit of black to create an off white, and add enough turpentine to create a thin glaze that will allow the previously painted highlights and shadows to show through it. If the clown in the source image has a pattern of black and white in their outfit, create a black glaze as well. Use broad strokes to paint in the clown's outfit according to the source image, either all white or with a white-and-black pattern.

Step 7

Mix seven parts white, a half part cadmium yellow and a dab of black to create an off white shade. Add turpentine to thin out this shade and use it to paint in the clown's face.

Step 8

Mix seven parts white paint, one part alizarin crimson, one part cadmium yellow and a dot of black paint. Add turpentine to thin out this shade of grayish flesh tone and use it to paint the areas of flesh, such as exposed areas of the neck and hands. Leave the face white.

Step 9

Mix two parts black, one part cadmium yellow and a half part blue. Add turpentine to thin out this dark shade of brown and use a fine brush to paint in the hair of the clown. For a clown who is wearing a Harlequin cap, do not add hair and simply paint the cap pure black.

Step 10

Mix highlight, midtone and dark tones in gray and blue, and thin with turpentine. Load up an extra fine brush with the darkest tone to add details to the clown's face. Use the midtone to soften the dark details, and blend them with the off-white shade of the face. Use the highlight shade on areas of the clown's brow, cheeks and bridge of his nose, where they appear the lightest in the source image.

Tips & Warnings

  • Primed canvases can be found in most art stores and are ideal for beginners. Advanced artists who wish to use a custom surface can use unstretched canvas, board or wood panels.
  • Once dry, finish the painting by sealing it with varnish. This will protect it from dirt and airborne pollutants.
  • Use oil paints and turpentine only in well-ventilated area. The fumes are noxious and highly flammable.



  • "The Artist's Handbook of Material and Techniques"; Ralph Mayer; 1991

About the Author

Alana Armstrong started her writing career in 2005, covering street art and graffiti. She currently works as a freelance writer, photographer and artist in Toronto. Armstrong has a diploma in photojournalism from Sheridan College and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photo media from the University of New South Wales.