Australian Fine Artist

David Chen’s 9 Monthly Art Workshops

These notes are from my most recent all day workshop with David Chen. Each full day covers over five hours of theory and practical work, and are planned by David to help us to understand an important aspect of planning, composing and creating our paintings so that they not only look beautiful but also look “right” as far as tonal contrast, perspective, composition, colour mixing and application of our paint.

Our session today was based around David’s methods of painting and drawing nudes. As David was formally trained in China and spent a lot of time learning to draw from life drawing and learning the human anatomy, this was a very important class.

Colour and mixing skin tones are a complex matter, which each artist need to conquer if they are to paint humans. We come in a variety of colours and each ethnic mix brings new challenges for the artist to depict. There are also the different methods of painting to be considered. We briefly touched on two of these:

  1. Classical Style
    Classically taught methods of painting involved in most part of the use of glazes over either a mid tone or dark background. Glazes were usually left to dry between layers making this method time consuming. This technique can be used in alla prima in the setting up stages before the final thicker payers of paint are applied. Often the subject is the focus of the painting, such as in portraiture and nudes with little or no background or setting to put the figure into a scene or stage.
  2. Academic Style
    This stems from the 17th and 18th Centuries when academies of art were set up to establish artist as professionals rather than craftsmen. Entrance was difficult and exams were held, letters from professors were required to show competencies. The style of art placed figures into settings, often ones from legend, myth and history so were more formal. The Paris Salons and Academies were part of the establishment of how the public was introduced to and supported art as the Impressionist Movement began.

The basic understanding and mastering of drawing was a foundation of both these schools of thought. Students had to master drawing before being allowed to paint. The theory held by many today that you do not need to be able to draw to paint is in my opinion misleading, and I share that with thought with my tutor for this course of workshops.

David referred us to some outstanding examples of drawing skills and they are worth looking up to see how much they knew about their subject matter and their materials.

  1. Lucian Freud
  2. Pierre Bonnard
  3. August Rodin

We then discussed methods such as dynamic form, which is making life and movement with the use of brushstrokes. Mixing colours to ensure you always get clean colours and not “mud” and which colours can be mixed together well. For example mixing colours with a green hue or basis rather than a red based with a green based and getting a muddy result. We also touched on light and shade, which you would think is simple. There is light, mid shade and shadows.

When you look at a picture, you see colours with values. These values need to translated into how dark or light they are in tone. The understanding of colour values and mixing along with a deep knowledge of your subject means that a photo or life model is less important, as these are all now in your head. You can use them but to create art, you can rely on your knowledge to take a copy of something to the next level.

Light and Dark

Just to make light and shade a bit more complex, but to help us see why things look the way they do in a painting that looks “right” here are how you can break down light and shade:

Light Area: (all tonal values)

  1. Highlight
  2. Light Area
  3. Mid Tone

Shadow Area: (all tonal values)

  1. Core Shadow (the boundary between light and shade)
  2. Shadow Area (the edge of the form)
  3. Occlusion Area (the darkest area)
  4. Casting Shadow
  5. Reflective Shadow

As you can see light and shade is not just a division of three simple tones, but a mix of several components that help to create form.

The colours that support the look of skin according to racial background are the same, simply broken down they are:

  1. Asian – Base on burnt sienna
  2. Black – Base on reds
  3. White – base on yellows such as yellow ochre

Here are the colours recommended for more “Anglo Saxon or European” skin types

  • Yellow ochre
  • Raw sienna
  • Cadmium red
  • Permanent crimson
  • Titanium white
  • with introduction of : greens and blues for shadow areas

Day Six Workshop Plan:

  • Skin tone colour schemes and tutorial
  • A nude based on a personal reference or one of David’s works
  • A second nude based on a personal reference if time allows
  • Paint-on critique


Start attempting more human drawing exercises, even if you have to ask family and partners to sit for you. The measuring of the human form and the practice of finding where muscle and bone are, as well as training yourself on the proportions of your figure will help teach observational skills for any other subject. Good lighting will help you learn how to apply light and shade in all its steps to get realistic or believable results.

Final Thought

David looked at all our works at the end of the day and showed us where our paintings could be improved. For mine, he suggested that I need to pull my work together by painting some of the background colour into the subject and give the artwork a more unified look. ( I also need to lengthen one of the arms a bit. ) When showing how to improve my painting, he softened the shadow area and pulled some of the shadow into the bottom of the figure. He basically said that if I can stop seeing the figure and the surrounds as such separate entities but as a whole by using more similar colour through both I will have better results. I have been working on this painting again today and will post the result below. I started a portrait as well on the day and have it done to my satisfaction. David has told me not to overwork it as he likes some of the background colour showing through the face etc and the loose style going on so I have taken that suggestion on board.

Oil painting on Canvas done as a painting exerecise at monthly worshop with David Chen.

Oil painting on Canvas done as a painting exerecise at monthly workshop with David Chen.

Life Painting with David Chen

Oil painting on Canvas done as a painting exerecise at monthly workshop with David Chen.

Thank you David for yet another fantastic workshop! It was hard work and my head was swimming at one point, but it is starting to sink in … at last!


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