A classical life painting of a nude

Atelier Figure Painting

I have been so busy with exhibitions and commissions that I have neglecting my blog. So I thought I’d write about my journey in learning to paint from a life model in a classical style.
I attend a variety of artist run life drawing and painting sessions at the WASPS artist studios. It is a great and time honoured tradition of honing your skills by painting a nude from life, so one I try to do as much as possible. In the past, I have approached a life painting with a mix of gusto and a panic, so it was interested  to try and take a planned approach and see what results could be achieved in the 3 hour session (with lots of breaks, so nearer 2 hours of actual working time).


Here is the first stage of an underpainting in Umber oil paint on a white canvas panel. I am working on 50 x 40cm sized panel so I could do the whole figure and not sacrifice all the detail. The whole canvas is covered with a layer of the paint, and the pale areas are tonked and wiped back with a rag to remove that first layer. This took about 25 minutes to get to this stage and it was tempting to leave this as a drawing, but that’s not why I was there. I wanted to try to make a compete painting, even in a sketchy form.

heather life3

The next layers are concerned with building up the big tonal values with the colours seen on the skin. I try and work lightly at first, and not use too much paint, as I know there will be many wet over wet layers to apply. This does not mean that I use my oil in a watercolour consistency, only that I try and not lay down too thick a layer.

heather life4

Here is a detail shot of the painting of the torso. You can see where some areas are nearly bare canvas and how the lighter colours are thicker. This is what I was trying to achieve. I love painting and drawing the female form as there are so many lovely shapes to portray, but I have a tendancy to get caught up in these details.

heather life5

These three images show the level of tiny adjustments that go into the final stages of the painting. You can see how I felt I had too much detail in the stomach area but not enough in the legs. It is always difficult when you are working in just one session, in remembering to take the time to step back and look at your painting as a whole, rather than concentrating on a specific area.

heather life6 The final painting at the end of the session.

The beauty of working from life is that you can really see all the colours and tones there, instead of using a photograph, where the colours have kind of been decided for you. The restricted time span also means you have to make decisions about how much detail to put and where. It would be no good if you spend 2 hours of the 3 perfecting her eyebrows and the rest of her was wrong.

Yes there are many things that I would change on reflection, such as her foot and the size of her ear, but I think given the restricted time, I am pleased with the results. I never did get time to finish the feet properly though.

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