Figure Painting

Last week I took a workshop at the Artist Student League: The Surreal Environment and the Model. It was amazing. It was physically exhausting. It was brilliantly challenging and I really can’t wait to go back.


The workshop was at the ASL at 57th and 7th which is one of my favorite parts of Manhattan. It’s a mix of old brick and stone and a hint of not-entirely-boxy glass. It’s been a while since I’ve needed to be in Manhattan this early in the morning, and I wasn’t thrilled about my adjusted wake up time at first, but the view from the train on the way in was entirely worth it.


This workshop was intimidating for a number of reasons. I’m used to painting in a public setting. This workshop was a closed door class, dude to a nude model being used, but painting in front of other people is just…weird. This class also called for materials much larger than I usually use – the minimum size paper (11″x14″) was the largest size I’d ever used up until last week. The smallest notebook I used was 11″18″ and I’ve included a picture with a legal pad for size reference with the other books I used. The biggest challenge, though, was that I’d never done any sort of figure painting before. I’d taken a figure drawing class at the ASL in March of 2016, but it didn’t occur to me that there would be much a difference . I knew this would be a directional change for me – most of my stuff is space or castles, but until 10 minutes before the class I didn’t think “hey, maybe you should take an intro class first…”

The class was vaguely structured as 10 1-minute poses with a short water change break. 5  2-minute poses with a water change break. 2 5-minute poses with a medium break. 1 10-minute post with a water change break. 1 20-minute pose followed by a long break. 1 hour long pose with water and stretch breaks every 20 minutes. We had two models during the workshop – M. on Tuesday and Wednesday and T. on Thursday and Friday. Both models were EXCELLENT. M focused more on fluidity in her poses, while T was more powerful. They were both stunning and I hope to work with them again in the future.

The first day was mostly spent working on seeing things less literally and loosening up my painting style. I was reminded that the goal was not a pretty picture, but an understandable rendering of the movement of figure and the relationship between the figure and the setting. I also was nudged into using more paint, which lead to a blocky way of painting that I *really* enjoy. I just about fell over when I got home. I’d grabbed a water and a juice during the long break after an urging to keep hydrated and it helped, but I was still exhausted and sore after two hours in the bath.

The second day I felt that I actually got the hang of the human body as a figure. I was pushed to use bigger brushes and fewer brush strokes which helped me loosen up even more.  The next challenge for me was to widen my perspective of the scene and not see a body first, inside of a scene. This may have involved a few tears of frustration on my end. Worth it, tears, though. My second attempt at the long pose ended up being one of my favorite pieces of the week. I also discovered how to get paint in ones ear.

The third day I started by buying bigger brushes. The three of them were $90. I may have also cried a little bit then. They took a little while to get used to, getting the correct paint to water ratio was painful and took both days, but were very worth it. I was pleased by the fluidity of my short poses, and the boldness of the long pose. By Thursday Eowyn had started to get used to the idea of me soaking *every* day for this amount of time, but she still had concerns.

The fourth day included both painting, reviews of our bodies of work, and a small celebration for our instructor’s birthday. I brought Will cookies, because Will cookies are the best. We did fewer poses, and I found myself frustrated with the longer pose, I focused too much on the power of T’s pose. It was frustrating to end on that note, but it was followed by an excellent review session – not just from the instructor but from the entire class. Getting home and photographing/organizing the work made me realize just how much painting I had done. That, and going through three different notebooks. On Friday, Eowyn also realized that if she wiggled into the opening of my robe a certain way, I’d carry her around with me. Bonus picture of the cat enjoying our heating pad cuddle time.


My favorites:



This class was way beyond my comfort zone, but I’m looking forward to more of this painting style and to how this will change my usual style.



One response to “Figure Painting”

  1. […] started figures in January at The Art Students League. My teacher, Naomi Campbell, was hosting a watercolor workshop on models […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: