One cannot underestimate the importance to the artist of regular drawing, particularly when painting the human form. Don’t just take my word for it. Here are a few quotes from some of the experts:
“Work hard and don’t on any account neglect your drawing. Draw Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and don’t waste time”. Michelangelo.
“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be worth while, and you will do a world of good.” Cennino Cennini from The Craftsman’s Handbook c 1400.
“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.” John Singer Sargent.
With this in mind I like to work on Life Drawing studies on a regular basis. Whenever possible I prefer to work on a single pose for at least an hour to two hours to give myself a chance to resolve the figure proportions as well as capturing the pose, tonal values and form.
Once the Life Drawing pose has been established and the model is comfortable I use the “Sight Size” method to ensure I can fit the whole pose on a tinted canvas board, usually 16″ x 12″.
I then begin to “draw” with the brush using a thin mix of Yellow Ochre, Light Red and Lamp Black. I’ll use this colour to block in the darker shadow areas, using the tinted board colour as a half tone. As soon as I feel I’ve captured the pose I then begin to paint in the highlights using a flesh tone made up of Lead White together with the same Yellow Ochre and Light Red.
The painting can look quite monochromatic like Figure Painting No 2 as it’s more important to get the tonal values right than the colour.
During this stage it’s important to keep all the edges soft, almost slightly out of focus because after the model takes a break, they may not be able to resume the pose in exactly the right position. I sometimes go over the painting with a piece of kitchen roll or a dry brush to achieve these soft edges. It’s at this point that I also aim to capture a likeness with the portrait which you can see in Figure Painting No 1.
Notice also in the detail of No 1 the mix of hard edges and softer, more blurred edges.
After an hour the model needs a twenty minute break. When you step away from the painting and review your work afresh you begin to see areas that need immediate attention. Once corrections have been attended to it’s time to start refining some of the shapes and building up the colour, particularly on the flesh tones where there is strong light.
On Figure Painting No 1 above you can see how the tinted background has also been used as a flesh tone, particularly on the models thigh.
It’s also in the final stages of the sitting that I often load the brush with the lighter flesh tone which I’ve been using and begin to describe the form and muscles of the nude with some more direct, expressive brush marks. On the Figure Painting below of a male model I’ve used long, fluid strokes throughout the pose, especially on his right thigh.
The detail photograph below shows the tinted canvas tone coming through to describe highlights on his hair. It’s this combination of thin areas of paint verses thicker applications of paint, hard edges verses softer edges, loose brush marks verses more detailed areas that help to create a study of the human form that is engaging for the viewer on so many levels.
I’ve added several of my figurative oil painting studies from my Life Drawing sessions to my website which are available to purchase online and from my Studio & Gallery in Ponteland.