From Life Drawing to Painting ex.1+2


These experiments are a technical investigation into painting from sketches made from life. I had never done it before so I wanted to see how I would lay the paint down, what colours I would use with the information I had, and what the final result would be.

I used a thinned underpainting of Burnt Umber to plot the shapes, angles and shadows.


For this first experiment, the drawing included notes that I had made with the drawing that described the colours to use.

When painting, it created a feeling of paint by numbers kind of, that I had not experienced to this extreme before. It was a matter of mixing the colours I described, and filling in the areas I had plotted.


The end result is made up of quite intense colour and the texture is very painterly, so there is an emphasis on tone.

What works 

The piece functions well as an observational painting. There is no real emotion to the piece, since the face is not included of the sitter, and so the viewer has to search for any meaning / emotion in the body language. Which in this piece, is difficult to find.

The washed out painerly marks that suggest a chair fit with the mood of the piece; that this body is kind of floating? Emotionally and possibly physically – removed from any context.

What doesn’t work 

What I’ve said above makes the piece interesting in itself, but doesn’t fulfil the greater intentions I am trying to achieve with my work. I don’t know how to change that for the better yet though.

The sketch I chose for this second painting has far less detail and information for me to use when making the painting. This meant I followed my instinct more, meaning the piece is less accurate to the pose I originally sketched, but maybe better as a painting?


What worked

I knew straight away I wanted to make the background dark for this piece. Inspired by the ink pen strokes I had done in the background which works with the verticle composition of the piece. This dark background brings out the colours and light in the paint, and makes a more striking piece than the first experiment I think.

The composition is also better than the first piece. Cutting the face off higher up means more critical information is given to the viewer, which in this case is the sloping of the shoulders and the face stuck forward and away. Without these information, the person would carry less character and so the piece would have less narrative to be found.

Maybe it does work? 

I had no information on the colour for this piece, and very general information on tone. Therefore the shapes I made and the colours I used are more made up than before. Making the finished piece look less together, and more like the silhouette of a body with shapes contained within it that sometimes verge on abstraction. This idea is quite interesting, something I wasn’t expecting a perhaps something I could play with more.

Overall – comparing the two experiments

The first experiment I did looks far more complete. Because the colours and the shapes that make up the body make sense. However there is something more intriguing about the second experiment. These are the reasons why I think the second experiment works better:

  • Composition
    • Angle and part of body chosen provides more character and narrative.
  • Dark background
    • Brings out skin colours.
  • Shapes and tone of body more abstract.

Instead of the first experiment:

  • Composition
    • Interesting shape to study but no character or narrative (since face and shoulders are important if hands etc are doing nothing?)
  • Light background
    • Doesn’t bring out colours
    • (Washy chair works really well – there is colour and form)
    • Texture hard to see
    • White is too harsh
  • Shapes and tone very predictable – too predictable?

Moving Forward 

More experiments!!

Using what I now know and what I want to explore more:

  • No white background – maybe underpainting coming through if white background wants to be used.
  • Play with following nose more. Improvisation and less painting by numbers may bring more interesting result.

Artist research: This idea of abstraction and following my nose can be explored with an artist – Felicia Forte. See where that takes me.

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