Australian Fine Artist

Painting the Seated Nude

Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Today’s workshop was centred around painting the seated position. The main aim is to understand skin tones and how they include many more colours than the usual reds, yellows and white that many of us may initially use.

Of course there are issues of race to consider as well when thinking about the colour of skin. We humans come in a beautiful array of skin tones and colours. From the darkest black I have seen on one stunning lady walking around the city to the very palest I have also personally seen on an albino person years ago. So considering all these differences, we worked on the model in front of us, who was a lovely young lady with peaches and cream complexion.

As David said, the colours involved in skin colour depend on where on the body we are painting, as the blood vessel being closer to the surface changes skin colour, the amount of flesh and body fat under the skin and how warm the person is also changes colour. We also tend to reflect the light around us, so under a warm light our skin colour will look different.

So when loading up our palette we should think about blues, greens and lilacs. Places on the face have different subtle colours, from yellow tones on the forehead, to redder on the cheeks and more blue/green on the chin – especially for men. As we work our way down the body colours changes as well, from cooler colours on the breasts, to warmer colours as we work our way down the legs to the feet and similarly down the arms to the hands.

As part of the workshop we were also to think about the surrounding colours of the drapery and couch the model was sitting on. Just because certain colours are there, it doesn’t mean that we should stick to them. If we are following the dominant colours of tonal theory which I have also been talking about in recent blogs, we should think about whether the colours we are looking at are going o work as a painting.

With this in mind my background colours were altered to include more earth tones to help all the colours work with each other. I also simplified the colours by removing a few. David reminded me that with the addition of an earth colour to my background blues such as Van Dyke brown, I could help push it into the background, make it work with the green on the other side and make it work in with the whole painting. So if you are looking at a composition which has mostly cool colours or earth based colours, think about any single high key warm colour that may be distracting from the composition and preventing it from working as a whole.

Other points brought up in the workshop were:

  • Think about subtle middle tones and greys. the Impressionists made great use of these for the beautiful paintings we admire so much.
  • Watch your saturated colours, you need to make sure they don’t take over a painting.
  • When a colour is too dominant, knock it back with a complementary colour. For example viridian green in with cadmium red.
  • Less is more. Don’t get too carried away with fiddly detail. You can leave stuff out.
  • Detail and edges can be softened when working your way away from the focal point, with only a few defined edges.
  • Dont be afraid to add highlights and light touches to help areas stand out, even if they aren’t there in real life. As long as they look correct.

Results for the day

I was so pleased in the paint on critique that David does at the end of the session. David was happy with my progress in the drawing session at the beginning, and made some very encouraging remarks about my work as it progress during the day. With his help, I finished a fairly good painting, considering that painting the seated body is more difficult than standing or reclining. David said that the painting was the best one I had done so far. He liked my tonal values, he said that my use of mid tones was excellent and hat I had started to master the human proportions. He also liked my use of colour. So over all I am very happy with the progress I am making in these workshops.

Below see the finished workshop painting. Note that is not the goal of a workshop to do a completed painting ready to hang, it is the process that we aim at not a concluded piece. (The canvas was 14×18 inches)

Nude workshop 3


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