Nude Study, Step-By-Step

As usual, this post contains depictions of artistic nudity. Proceed with all due caution.

nude study 2

Nude Study With Splatter

Sometimes when I just cannot decide what to paint next (and that happens to me a lot, as I think it happens to a lot of artists) I dig through my reference photos and pick one at random to do as a study. I feel like that’s a good practice, because otherwise I sit around doing nothing and feel guilty for not painting. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have a collection of 70s era nude photography that I really like to draw from. The 70s were a really great time for nude photography. In the 50s and 60s, popular nude photography was dominated by “cheesecake” photography. You’ve probably seen models like Bettie Page or Tempest Storm in that sort of photo. In the mid 50s, Playboy magazine took over the market as the most accessible source of nude photography in the U. S. Their style was very influenced by cheesecake (Bettie Page was among their early models, shown in the February 1955 Playboy), with a heavy emphasis on ‘the girl next door’ look. Nude photography was still considered risque, even taboo (Bettie Page had been arrested in the late 50s for posing nude during a camera club photo session), and Playboy chose to show its models as ‘good girls’ who were attractive, empowered and bright.

playboy ann davis sept 60

A typical Playboy photo of the 50s-60s. Ann Davis, the Playboy Playmate for September 1960.

But by the 70s things had changed drastically. New markets opened up in Europe and the U. S. for more serious and more cutting edge nude photography. New techniques in photography were being explored, and cinema and still photography were exchanging stylistic ideas. In all aspects of photography, including nudes, the 70s was a time of innovation.

All of that said, I get a lot of artistic inspiration from this era of photography. So last week in my studio I thumbed through some books, picked a photo, and began to sketch.

One idea I had off the bat involved format.The photo I was working from was a rectangle, taller than it was wide, and the canvas I chose was much wider on the sides than the photo. I decided right away to create a space on the canvas representing the dimensions of the photo (though proportionately larger of course) and use the rest of the canvas as a border area. I had watered down some paint a week earlier for a painting, and I had a good deal of it left over, so I thought I’d use a random splatter as part of this piece.

Colors used:

Background and shading: Windsor Violet, Windsor Blue, Alizarin Crimson. Skin: Cadmium Red Hue, Titanium White. Lips and shading: Red Ochre. Eyes: Phthalo Green, Green-Yellow, Mars Black, Titanium White. Hair: Raw and Burnt Sienna, Yellow Oxide, Crimson. Border area: Crimson, diluted Phthalo Green.

Brushes used: a small edger for details, and three sizes of filbert (10, 12, 20) for background and border.

study 1

I started with a pencil sketch. I usually use willow charcoal, but I was working on a smaller canvas and thought pencil a better choice with more minute control. As usual, I focused next on establishing the darkest areas of shading, using Windsor Blue and Windsor Violet. I also began to develop the background with Windsor Violet. I also outlined the eyes and lips with Mars Black.

study 2

Next I began to work the skin tones, using blends of cadmium Red Hue and Titanium White. I make sure to stay aware of the initial areas of shadow, even if I paint a layer of the skin tone mix over the Windsor Violet.

study 3

This is a point where I let things dry for an hour or so (or overnight, coming to the piece fresh the next day).

One thing I notice when I return to the piece is that the shading beneath the right breast is too high up, which I’ll need to fix. Now I define more of the background, mixing Windsor Blue and Windsor Violet (you may notice I love using these two colors. I blame my girlfriend). I begin to develop the eyes, and lay in the next layer of color for the hair, using Burnt and Raw Sienna and Yellow Oxide. I continue working the skin tones, using shading and highlights to define muscle groups. This model had particularly well defined abdominals, and I worked to capture that. I also started to define the chair the model was leaned against.

study 4

Anyone who follows me here knows that I am not by any means a realist painter. It may be fair to say that my approach to realism just naturally exudes from me as expressionism. You may have seen that I dabble in Pop Surrealism too, though I’m just not very good at it. Anyway, the point is that I draw and paint things in a combination of the way I see them, and the way my hands and eyes work. This forms my personal style. When I was younger, rather than fight the fact that I paint this way, I embraced it, and nurtured it to become the way my art would look. It’s still imperfect: no artist considered themselves to be the best they can be. One always strives to be better.

So when I look at things like muscle groups, I’m not looking for a realistic depiction, but a depiction in my own style that causes the viewer to believe there is definition of muscle there. Does that make sense? If I can paint shapes, forms and colors that make you say ‘oh, look at her abs’ then I’ve done my job in creating this piece.

study 6

Moving on… I painted the outer border in Crimson, and continued working the skin tones. Then I began the details of the eyes, lips and nipple. I also worked that damn wicker chair… that took some doing I’m afraid. The photo was very blurred in that area, so I ended up improvising the chair and the model’s hand. I think it worked out OK. Oh, I also put in several more layers of the model’s hair. Getting the impression of her very luxurious curls was both fun and extremely challenging. Let’s leave it at that.

Time for splatter:

study 7

There’s just no neat way to do this. I filled a small plastic tube with the diluted Phthalo Green I had mixed the previous week, covered the inner area of the piece, and let loose. The results are random, which is the point.

And here’s the finished piece, as seen above:

nude study 2

Note that I changed the area of the chair and her hand completely, as they just were not working in my attempt to use the photo as a guide. I also corrected the shadow beneath the model’s right breast (viewer’s left) as it was too high. I added implied details to the background (in the photo there were doors and fixtures in very blurred focus). And finally I called it done.

Of course one can obsess and work a piece over and over. Perhaps on a commission it’s worth leaving it for a while, coming back days later and deciding if a piece needs more work. But for a study, and what was meant to be a quick study, I feel like good enough is good enough. The piece looks the way I intended it to look. So there you go.

Please ‘like’ and comment. You can follow me on Twitter @killthehero3 (though I really don’t have much to say there), and on my DA, (where I have a lot to say):




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