Australian Fine Artist

Life Painting-1

Advanced Life Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima Today’s model a young female sitter whose portrait we painted last semester. She has brown hair with medium complexion. We were therefore, called on our recipes for lighter toned skin and brown to blonde hair, although some of the colours for Mediterranean skin tones would have worked as well. We painted all of her in a reclining pose, with strong directional light, pushing into more advanced painting techniques for the human body.

The focus for this series of workshops is directional lighting, creating drama by changing the direction and quantity of lights. Where the light is coming from, whether it is a cool or warm light and how strong it is, are all important. If you mix these by having a warm light from one direction and another from a different one, you can change the mood of the painting as well as bringing out various features in your model.There are three main methods of lighting a sitter for a portrait painting if you are coming from a more academic method of painting.

  1. Back lighting
  2. Side lighting
  3. 45° offset (or Rembrandt method) lighting
  4. Rembrandt lighting (dramatic lighting putting half the model in complete shadow)

No matter which one you decide to use, the lighting should always follow the curve or line of the general shape of the sitter. In other words, it should complement their facial structure and their age.

An older sitter may look more interesting with top lighting which show up the character lines on the face. As we age our lifestyle, our personality etc tends to come out in our faces, some of the most beautiful and interesting portraits are of older sitters who have fascinating faces lit up this way.

A younger person or child however, may look better lit from the side or from a slightly upward angle as they have less defined features.

Here are some artists that have painted memorable and technically brilliant portraits that are worth referencing:

  • Vermeer. His paintings with light coming through windows on a side angle are stunning and show up the depth in the paintings as well as giving the portraits so much life.
  • Renoir. Look at the skin tones in dappled light in his out-door paintings.
  • Rembrandt. Look at the glazing techniques and how he softened the corners of the eyes, nose and mouth in his work as well and the side and top lighting in many.
  • Singer Sargent. His lighting techniques gave his paintings depth so much so that you feel like you can walk into them. He is recognised by many as a master of lighting andtonalism.For a more recent artist try looking at:
  • Paul Newton, and Australian artist, currently working and producing some beautiful portraiture with great skin tones and shadows on his sitters.

Another thing to remember is to use your colours. This may sound strange or redundant but many people are taught not to use certain colours when painting. This only restricts your education as a painter. How will you develop a palette of your own if you don’t experiment with all your colours. So whilst painting any subject, including portraits, mix your colours and see what works for you. You will soon find that you favour some colours and mixes over others, and this will lead you the development of your own look.

So think about things like, how do I darken a colour to make it look like it is in shadow? It isn’t just a matter of selecting another darker colour. Think about adding a complimentary colour for example, to knock back a colour and darken it. How you do this will also help you to learn about colour and develop your palette. Remember also that not all your shadows will be same temperature. Some will be cooler or warmer, reflecting the colours around them.

When you think about mixing a skin tone (don’t use the skin colour out of the tube, it isn’t a reflection of true skin tones), add a cool to your warm mix. Think about what is under your own skin, the veins and blood give your skin an undertone of blue or yellow or green. So when you mix say, yellows and a red, and white, add a little blue or green to knock it back and give a more realistic and softer skin tone.

Finally, the thing that we have been reminded of for each workshop. Remember your planes. Once you have a good idea of the structure of the body, simplify it down to planes. Less is more. Having a simple idea of planes in your head will reduce the brush strokes and help to develop a cleaner and more striking painting rather than an overworked copy of a photo or reality.

If you are concerned about how to start, go back to cutting up and apple, like you are peeling it to eat. All those flat areas on the apple are your planes. Use a nice sized knife so you don’t cut around the apple too much, and the result will be some nice sized planes to draw or paint from. Once you get this working you will be able to apply the same method to any other subject.

David ‘s Tips:

  • To push my colours in regard to shadows and highlights.
  • Soften areas that are not in the focal point so that the eye is drawn back to where I want it.
  • Cool off the skin tones as I work my way away from the light.
  • Keep movement in my work with alternating cools and warms to create depth.
  • Remember where the directional light is coming from so that I can keep certain areas in strong lighting. I had too much of the same tonal range over the entire body.
  • Take a break when the model does so I can come back to the work with a fresh perspective.
  • As I have been concentrating on my uni studies, I haven’t painted for a month so fell back into the habit of making to painting too chalky, so I need to watch that.

If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him though his website at:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: