The First of Five Workshops with David Chen
Learning to paint nudes, like learning still life, is an important part of training as a painter. It teaches observational skills, how to recognise patterns, form, colour and tone. Once you master these things you can look at any subject and be able to interpret it into painting.
A common problem that artists face when painting is painting continuously and repetitively around edges. this effectively isolates your subject from the background and surrounds. It then loses context.
Repeating brush strokes creates a ‘stiff’ and boring result, so knowing where to break lines so that your focal point or main subject connects with the area around it is important. The solution lies is learning where it is best to break lines and change brush direction.
Emphasis Versus Subduing Areas
Here are some artists to look at for examples of what I am referring to:
- Van Gogh (1885-1889)
- Cezanne (1885-1890)
- Gaugin (later works)
- Degas (figurative studies)
- Lautrec (figurative works)
Looking closer at the works by these artists will show you where they have used edges and lines. In some areas they butt one colour up against another to create the impression of an edge, in other areas colours run into each other and brush strokes change direction to soften and de-emphasize that spot. In other areas there is an intervening ‘line’ of colour sometimes left from the underpainting, to create a harder edge and draw the eye, creating a focal point or area of interest.
Basically, you can’t just paint the background around a subject and expect to see a unified and coherent painting. Unless you want your main subject to look like it is isolated from its context, this is not the way to pull everything together.
This basis of what is also called “lost and found edges” is an important part of creating not only figurative or still life paintings, but also any other subject. In a seascape for example, you want the rocks and waves to look like they are all on the same beach, that they meet and are wrapping and working around each other. In a landscape you want the trees to look like they are connected to the land and the sky to look like it meets the hills, not a composition that looks like one is a cut out that has nothing to do with anything around it.
So when facing painting the human figure or a still life next time remember this:
“Treat your portraits like a still life and your still life like a portrait. Create the illusion with colour for more interesting results.”
Below is my painting from the session before and after David did a couple of adjustments. He was pleased tha I am moving away from what he calls ‘potato’ colours in my skin tones. I also experimented with more paint in areas to add texture, which is something I am trying out with my seascapes and landscapes as well.
The human form is something that I have been working on for a few years, and it frankly isn’t my best subject, but I am prepared to keep at until I can see a level of understanding I am happy with.