Australian Fine Artist

Painting Nudes 2017

The Third Workshop Semester 2 with David Chen

The topic for this workshop was controlling tone. In a tonal painting you decide if you want to complete a dark, medium or light toned painting, you also decide on the temperature of your colours, which can be either overall warm or cool. The overall colour of the painting is decided as well.

So what you may decide on, depending on your preferences and taste as a painter could be an overall tonal painting that is in the cool reds and a middle to dark tone, to create some richness and drama.

Decide Before You Start

How you do your painting is up to you, but you do need to decide BEFORE your start. Swapping over half way through a painting can result in a confused result, or some muddy colours if you try to paint over them.

Examples of warm, cool and neutral tones:

  • Warm = Towards Yellows = Towards Reds
  • Cool = Towards Blues = Towards Greens
  • Middle = Towards Neutral Colours (Greyed off)

The drawing in stage is very important – it sets up the composition to save you time and paint later, by having to continually alter the painting. Decide on your pose and details at the beginning so that you can create a clear and defined composition. If you want to experiment with some poses, do a series of sketches in pencil or charcoal, so that you can see which one is more attractive for a painting, and which one you can handle best.

Keep in mind that a tonal painting is defines by the background and surrounds of the model, and not essentially the model’s body.

What you can do is when you have decided on your tone for the painting, you can add just a touch of this into your skin tones in the shadow areas on the body depending on where the warm or cool shadows occur.

If you add another colour into the surrounds, for interest or highlighting a focal point, to help it work with the tonal choice, you can add a touch of the tonal colour to it to help all the colours work with each other. For example, if you are working on a painting that has a blue tonal theme, and decide that a spot of orange ( the complimentary colour) would bring it to life, you can add just a tiny touch of your blue to that orange to knock it back and help it to work with your blues. Keep in mind that it requires only the tiniest touch of the blue.

Also if you want to darken or lighten you dominant tonal colour, look at a colour that will do that which works with the temperature of the painting. If you are doing a cool toned painting and want to darken your blue, adding Viridian may work well, or a very dark blue like Prussian blue which has a green base. Use a colour to darken or lighten and not just black or white. White will make colours chalky so should be left until last and black, unless a mixing black, should also be left until last, after mixing with darker colour alternatives. Doing this will help you to mix lovely clean colours.

Note that this type of painting takes you away from merely copying what you see. You need to interpret any colours you are looking at and decide how light or dark they are and how to interpret them as the tonal colour you are using. If you are looking at a light green, and your painting is a blue tonal painting, you need to mix a light blue of the same tonal appearance.

Whilst you are thinking about all of this, remember your other concerns (which are easily forgotten when you are thinking about a new topic, as I did for this workshop), like building up planes and layers to give your painting depth.

Below see one of my 3 minute sketches done prior to beginning the painting, as well as what I painted and marks on it where David suggested I needed more planes and depth around the model. This is a very ‘loose’ painting, a style that I am still struggling with, as I want to remove contrived and stiff lines and edges from my work. I am not suggesting that this should be copied, as everyone has their own style and preferences. it is only an example so that you can have more options to think about.

© Janice Mills

© 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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