Australian Fine Artist

Advanced Life Painting-3

Advanced Life Painting Workshop with Artist David Chen

Painting from Live Model Alla Prima

We had a little bit of a challenge with this workshop. One was the interesting haircut the model had, which if we were in a position to paint it, could present problems of modelling a very different hairline around the face. The other was that in her reclining pose, the face was pointed away from us, giving most of use the challenge of a foreshortened view from under the chin.

We also had a warm spotlight from a 45° angle across the body giving us shadows on her curves to think about, and the reaction on the skin from a warmer light source.
This method of 45° lighting from above, is called Rembrandt lighting by David. If you look at many of his self portraits, you may notice the lighting in Rembrandt’s paintings look similar to this. A dramatic light source with darker colours or background to pull the face out off the surface.

When lighting like this for your portraits always remember to check the temperature of the night you are using. Bulbs and other lights come in a range of ‘temperatures’. The ideal for artworks is around the 5000K range. this is close to day light or natural light (around mid day). Some lights you may notice are sold as cool white or warm white. these will affect the colours you mix on the palette as well as how you see your model. If you want to have accurate colours, try to make sure you are using as close to neutral lighting as you can, unless you are trying for an effect on purpose.

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

  • Remember that even when you are painting something round, it is a series of straight lines. Anyone who has done work on computers rendering line art in CAD or Illustrator programs will know that when you look at the un-rendered images it is made up of a lot of little straight lines. The principle here is similar.
  • No matter what background you are looking at, don’t be afraid to modify it to suit the pose of your model.
  • As always – paint in your darkest areas first. Then your lights, these will help determine your mid tones.
  • Remember your lost and found edges. This is an area that I always fall down on as I get excited when I see a really interesting line being created by the model’s pose. No matter how great it looks, don’t be afraid to break that line at some point to prevent it looking too static.
  • Another point which is helping me to paint people better. Don’t look at the subject as say a face, or parts of it like a nose or an ear. It really does cause your stress if you over think it! Look at you subject as a series of colour blocks. One little block at a time and build it up from there. Planes and blocks of colour.
  • Finally don’t try to chase down every little detail of your subject too soon. Less is more. Block in your largest areas of colour. think about your largest planes and then work down to smaller ones. By the time you get to these you may stand back and decide that the painting doesn’t need as much detail as you initially thought, leaving your painting nice and fresh and loose.

So, remember to create softer and harder lines and lose and found lines in your work to keep it dynamic. Also remember to vary your paint strokes to help keep the painting dynamic and ‘moving’.

Personal Note: I am still only painting a few times a month at present due to study demands at university, so I am very happy that these workshops are not only helping with my human figures but spilling over into my other subjects with David’s help.

Below is my effort on the day. Note that much of the white and pink marks in the foreground and some of the cooler marks on the body to define the abdomen  are done by David to show me where to improve. He asked me up in front of the group to see if I knew where to start on the white area, which I accepted. I did about half of it, but got nervous and didn’t go as far with it as I could have, so he kindly stepped in to show me how to be bolder!


David’s workshops are in very high demand and many are booked out in advance, but you can go on to a waiting list as sometimes spaces open up. If you would like to go on the waiting list , you can contact David though his website at:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

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