Australian Fine Artist

Advanced Life Painting-2

Advanced Life Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima Today’s model a young female sitter with long brownish blonde hair and a light complexion. We painted all of her in a slightly reclined pose, with strong directional light, pushing into more advanced painting techniques for the human body.

The focus today was to watch out for the positive and negative shapes that her body created against the stool, the drapery and the backdrop. watching what shapes are around the model helps in getting the general body proportions and shape correct. We were also told that we could use our imaginations to change the colours and objects in the background to the model.

Painting a person, whether as a portrait or a nude study, as we did in this workshop, means more than just a photographic copy. The artist needs to apply creativity and their own personality to the work. It is after all an artwork, not just ac copy of real life, which any camera can do.
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)

Remember also, the temperature of the light. What ever it is, it will change to look of the skin and hair on the model, and the colours of everything around them.

Here are some of the tips David gave us when critiquing our work at the end of the session:

  • Remember your occlusion shadows (where the darkest shadow meets the edge of the object) will be affected by the reflective colours and light around them.
  • Watch your  composition – vary values and sizes of objects around the sitter, make sure they are not all the same.
  • Be aware of where to define strong lines to help create form and patterns.
  • Don’t overwork your painting. You may get it right on the first attempt, left doubt will often lead to changing something that was good in the beginning, and loosing it.
  • Create dynamic shapes by extending light and dark areas to the edges of the painting.
  • Dragging the dry loaded brush over an area will create interesting shapes and textures.

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.


  • You don’t have to copy exactly what you see.
  • Create positive and negative shapes to make an interesting painting.
  • Remember that positive shapes are made up of your object or subject, negative shapes are the spaces around these.
  • Shapes can be created by colour or shadow as well as an object.
  • Look at examples by artists of the past to see how they tackled painting people. As a starter try looking at Vermeer and Rembrandt for portraits or Lucian Freud and Anders Zorn for nudes.

Personal Note: I am only painting twice a month at present due to study demands at university, so I am hoping that when time permits, my skill will improve dramatically with David’s help, as I am learning my worst and least practiced subject with him!


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.

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