Past Assignments

Drapery can be reduced to three elements:
Triangles, Tubes, and Caves.

Meaning: set it up in a flat abstract way with triangles. Then turn those triangles into concave and convex forms.

Look for the pull points, i.e., those points of tension that pull at the fabric. Many of the folds will radiate toward those points.

Don’t render every fold you see. As always, be selective, choose the most beautiful or interesting ones, and really make them count.

Click any image to enter or exit slideshow.

Drapery can be practiced anytime; just toss a shirt or other fabric over a chair and you've got hours of entertainment in front of you.


Focusing on a single feature of the face or figure greatly improves your grasp of that feature.

And if you repeat the exercise enough, the lesson will stick for good.

Eyes are an obvious choice. There’s lots happening in a person’s eyes, with many nuances to capture. And it’s always good to devote some time to any so-called weaknesses you might have. Until they’re weaknesses no more.

Start by covering some canvas with a warm flesh tone:

Raw Sienna (or Yellow Ochre, depending on how light or chromatic the tone is)
Alizarin Crimson (just a touch)
Ivory Black (also a touch)

Sketch that feature into the wet paint. Add  darks, lights, then middle tones. Remember to check your drawing occasionally.

Click any image to enter or exit slideshow.

From there you can do a bit of blending, and you’re off and running.

As with all painting, you’ll probably have to repeat some steps many times. That’s OK, your paint strokes will be more assured the second, third, and fourth time around.

All that counts is how it looks when you’re done.

Upload anytime before next Thursday. Video to come.


…are not to be feared.

Just remember to simplify.

Give at least as much attention to the palm, or the back of the hand, as the fingers.

A center line runs through the forearm, the hand, and the middle finger. Let the hand flow into the wrist.

Fingers are mini-cylinders. Treat them as one unit to start, then give them minimal separation with some warm tone.

Go a little more chromatic at the fingertips and knuckles.

Piece of cake!

For November 30, 2023

Getting a Likeness…

…as mentioned, is about getting everything right.

Sounds daunting?

Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s a gradual process of moving from general to specific, one small adjustment at a time, each adjustment bringing you closer.

Look for a person’s little peculiarities. The nose may not be as straight as you expect. The eyes aren’t aligned as you think. One ear is bigger than the other, and the overall head is probably tilted.

The generalized version you started with is helpful. It keeps you from going too far with the imperfections.

For next week, revisit a portrait–one in progress or one you’ve given up on, but this time make a dead-ringer (that’s right, and you can do it) for your subject.

Remember to freshen your vision often, using a mirror, reducing glass, or by turning everything upside-down. Your eye gets comfortable with any mistakes and eventually stops seeing them.

Most of all, be patient.

This is especially challenging when painting someone you’re close to. But satisfying and a great confidence-builder when you succeed.

And if you’re intimidated by the masters, remember–their goal was to idealize their sitters (which they did) more than capture them (which they didn’t.)

Once you’ve constructed the head it’s time to add some features.

As with all details, the operative word here is Elegance.

The features of the face should look like they painted themselves, with no apparent struggle.

Wet into wet is the way to do it.

Using medium-size bristle brushes {#4-6) and a fairly rich medium (1/3 —1/2 stand oil and the rest Gamsol) let all edges transition into the adjacent tones. It’s OK to start with some sharply drawn edges. Just soften them before the paint dries.

Look at this nose, masterfully painted by Swedish artist Nick Alm:

There’s practically nothing there, but it’s gorgeous and it works.

This method involves a bit of “over-painting.” Let the tones go a bit beyond where they should, then back to where they belong as you adjust the drawing, the shape, and the transition.

And it’s mostly technical skill. Practice and you’ll get the hang soon enough.

Last week’s full video will be available soon

If you’re not comfortable working this way on a portrait in progress, just play around with some features, by themselves, on a blank canvas.

Paint a half-dozen noses and you’ll always know how to paint a nose.

Gesture is the Music of the pose.

It suggests both movement and the way the body counterbalances itself.

Either way, gesture is essential to make the figure look natural. Otherwise, it’ll look stiff.

Get your gesture lines–the mid-line and shoulder and hip axes–in, right away, and be ready to adjust them throughout the work.

Let the limbs flow from the torso and be willing to adjust them too.

The head almost always tilts in some direction. It will probably be too big or too small for the body for a while, as in the example below (too big at first.)

The Block In is the Foundation or the Bones of the work.

It should be bold and simply stated.

Approximate all proportions to start (90% accuracy is fine for now). You can perfect them later.

Pick and choose between tight sometimes, loose sometimes, but always loose to start.

Just let the brush fly. It’s loads of fun and gives great results.

The Figure in Motion


Loose Handling

Softer Edges

These characteristics go a long way toward suggesting motion in your figure work.

A mix of hard and soft edges is key to rendering any figure.

But if you want that figure to look like it’s moving you’ll need to seriously lose some edges.

It’s nearly impossible to nail the perfect edge on the first try. Usually it’s a matter of starting out too hard or too soft then adjusting and readjusting.

Most of the rules about a standing or seated figure go right out the window in these scenarios.

If the figure is upright as in the example above, then pay attention to the leg that is giving the most support. It should be developed more than the relaxed leg. The anatomy will stiffen and appear more angular. Same goes for an arm supporting the weight.

Be selective with details. Pick some out and paint them with a few swipes of the brush.


Option 2.
Portrait Block-In


 Portrait Study, After Sargent

Keep it loose, loose.

The block-in should look just the way it sounds: simple, flat blocks of tone. No fussing.

This is the foundation for you to build on later.

Start with angles, straight lines, and a limited palette of 4-6 colors. Use broad brushes with little or no medium and not so much blending.

Other Tips

–Cover most of the canvas as quickly as you can.

–Focus on the values.

–Approximate the color but don’t expect it to be perfect at this point.

–The width of a broader brush can cover an entire plane with a single stroke–one advantage of working with broad brushes.