Australian Fine Artist

Painting Nudes 2017

The Final of Five Workshops with David Chen

During this workshop, we learnt about another method of working the model into their surroundings. Rather than having your subject, be it a human figure or even a still life or an animal, looking like they are part of their surrounds, and keeping the painting interesting takes planning and often altering what you see to what you want. During this workshop, we could either take from the objects surrounding the model and apply our imagination to make them work, or use vignetting (leaving areas of the canvas white) to merge parts of the model into the background and surrounds.

Working your Model into the Background and Surrounds

  • Using Patterns
  • Using Vignetting


Patterns are used to add interest and detail. they contrast with large simple areas in a painting to add points of interest and can also be used to lead the eye around the painting to your focal point. They can be used to tie in areas to each other even when they are different tonal values. Leading the eye through lighter and darker areas with a pattern pulls the composition together instead of the painting looking like it has patches of disunited objects.

As an example, look at van Gogh’s famous painting of a cafe at night. He used cobblestone patterns in different lighting to balance against the large areas of walls, they create interest and help to pull the composition together.

Leaving areas unpainted, or using the background colour of the canvas showing through (as I did in some areas of my work as it was prepainted) is another method of allowing the model to work in with the rest of the area around them. If you don’t want to emphasize a features in the background, vignetting is a good method to use, but it must be applied in the subject as well.

Be aware that if you are selling your work, clients may not see this method as a design feature, but as merely unfinished areas of the painting. You may need to either educate your buyers or use a different method for paintings you put up for sale.

Examples of artists who have used vignetting:

  • Andrew Wyeth
  • Ben Quilty
  • Ahn Do

For my painting in this session, I had a canvas that I had used a couple of times previously and painted over, so I didn’t start with a plain white background. Because of that I painted in white to certain areas around the model to approximate vignetting. As you will see from the examples below, David added to my effort in quite a few areas to show me how I could improve not only the vignetting effect, but also the finish on the model.

You may also notice a difference in the colour in the photos, these indicate how the light can change when natural light flows in to the area you are painting in. The lights in the room also had a yellow cast, altering the look of the paintings. The final work (bottom) was photographed in my studio space where I have neutral daylight lighting, and this shows the painting in its truest colours. Many of the white marks are where David indicated I could add to the vignetting effect, they are not meant as final marks for a finished piece.


As with all my workshop blogs, I acknowledge David Chen for producing the instruction that formed the basis of this information. If you would like to contact David to go on the waiting list for workshops, the link to his web site is below.

© Janice Mills and David Chen

© Janice Mills and David Chen

© Janice Mills and David Chen

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

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Also Note: All paintings begun or completed at workshops under the supervision of a tutor, who has physically improved the painting,  from supplied or students’ references, are for academic purposes only, and can not be entered in to judged art competitions/exhibitions, or made available for sale online or in a gallery, as they are not the sole production of the student. These are considered collaborative works and not the sole production of the student.

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