Australian Fine Artist

Workshop Number Four for Painting the Nude with Artist and Teacher David Chen

For the second last session with David we were given the task of thinking about how we may crop the view of the model to create an interesting painting that still had a balanced composition.

Many artists of the past and present have cropped their views of not only the full figure but also of the face when painting a portrait. Creative cropping can give a painting drama, a more interesting composition and may even hint at the personality or character of the sitter.

The basis is as simple as thinking about the variety of composition styles that we covered in a previous workshop. Things such as the rule of thirds (the golden section), rule of fifths, zig zag, L-shape and balancing a large shape with a smaller one. Cropping out such things as feet, legs, top of head etc doesn’t mean you don’t know how to paint them, although some artists have been known to avoid such things as feet for that reason, rather it may be as simple as wanting to balance out the composition, concentrate on the head etc.

The body is no different to any other three dimensional object, it has planes that can be used to help to create the illusion of depth, or modelling of form. Just as you do when painting or drawing a ball, apple or tube, the body has curves and angles. The principles of light and shade apply to these just the same as any other form. Remember your light, highlight, mid tone, shadow, reflected shadow, core shadow, occlusion shadow and cast shadow.

Another thing to remember when learning to paint especially is that technique is the easier part, method is harder, IE: how to use your paint and other materials. When you start getting the understanding of your tools into practice, the technique or your personal style will develop.

Now for colours. As with any other painting, especially using the Impressionist methods, your palette is very important. Decide on a dominant colour so that you have a theme, or dominant colour to hold the composition together.

A few good earth colours to use as a base for human figures are:

  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna
  • Burnt Umber

Another three to use together as the dominant colour are:

  • Yellow Ochre
  • Permanent Crimson (redder than Alizarin Crimson and more transparent)
  • Viridian

These are not the only colours to use, they can be mixed for your dominant colour with other colours added to tone them down and to create tones of the various colours you can create from these. The main thing to remember is to keep your colours relating to each other and to the dominant colour.

Us your colours to indicate the warmer and cooler parts of the body, where the blood is closer to the surface, where muscle and tendon create shadow, where there is more flesh and fat under the skin. Remember also that the skin will reflect some of the colour around it.

If you need to darken an area use a complementary dark colour. For example viridian to crimson or ultramarine blue to Van Dyke brown.

If you wish to lighten a colour similarly add a complementary light colour rather than white to prevent a chalky appearance. Leave any whites to the finish. I would even go as far as to say add a little of your dominant colour to the white to help prevent it looking too cold or stark.

Finally, vary your paint strokes. This adds to the interest of the painting. You don’t have to follow the shape of whatever you are painting, try going across the form and making one stroke work rather than over blending. This is called creating dynamic shapes.

This is quite a bit to take in, and some of the thoughts here are from my own experience during the workshop. It is worth trying one or two of the tips to see how you can keep your paintings looking dynamic and your colours crisp, clean and uniting the painting.

Although not very happy with my effort for the day, I will post my painting done at the workshop so you can see how it has been cropped. Like all of us I am on a lifelong quest to learn, and hope to improve with more practice!


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