Almost all artists have an eye for a beautiful body: male figure as well as female figure. But not many beginners have the opportunity, or perhaps the confidence, to attend a life drawing class to learn the skills. If this applies to you don’t worry. There are other ways of learning how to sketch and paint a human figure. You might not have a spouse, relative or friend willing to shed their threads, and life drawing classes may be out of reach. However photographs can provide an alternative source of subjects to work from.
I know most painting books sternly and piously advise against using photographs at all, and some of the purists among us regard the camera as a form of cheating. But let us not be hypocritical about this. You and I know that thousands of painters all over the world work out photographs anyway, so we might as well learn to use them creatively and responsibly.
What has given the process a bad name are the amateurs who copy photographs slavishly and mindlessly and in every detail.
The plan of the figure
A few other tips are painting courses and art tutors. Dozen of books are on the market written by top water colour painters. Each has points that are extremely helpful, because each artist tries to show the best way to get exciting results.
The figure is one of the greatest challenges that a water colourist can take on, not only because of the subject itself, but also what can be done with the water colour techniques. With other pictorial themes a water colour can have some limitations. However with figure exactly the opposite occurs. This subject requires a lot of rigor, starting of course with the initial drawing. It is important to bear in mind that the outline of the drawing is the base of the colour.
Therefore, when doing the drawing it is necessary to keep the painting process in mind. The figure must be planned in detail, but apart from the possibility that these geometric shapes offer it can be constructed from well studied internal structure. As we have seen all the elements of nature can be synthesized from others which are simple. You will be able to see, with a good drawing the proportions and the fundamental anatomical forms can be perfectly shown. The initial sketch has the task of laying out the most elementary and simple outlines before filling them with colour. Before starting to paint, the drawing has to be perfectly finished.
The volume of the figure
Once you have learned to construct the figure correctly, the next step is to give shape to the drawing. This is done with colour and various light effects that are carried out on the paper. Just like other themes that can be painted with watercolour, a certain amount of light is projected on to every figure. This means that some areas can be represented with light and other shadows. The light areas always have to be those reserved by the darker tones, it is precisely this effect that produces the volume. The parts of the figure most exposed to light will have to be outlined by the shadow which will always adapt to the anatomy. Once the figure is defined and the drawing is refined the painting of the volume is started by placing the shadows and the light areas. When starting out with the volume proceed with caution from it must be suggested by the points of maximum luminosity.
Techniques of synthesis
The synthesis should be the principle recourse of the water colourist. Synthesis means the process by which the representation of subjects is reduced to the most basic elements. In general, when painting without experience there is a tendency to fall into the trap of cluttering with excessive details. As experience is acquired unnecessary factors are eliminated.
To paint well you have to know what is important and what is superfluous. By being very economical with techniques, it is possible to paint the figures of fairly advanced technical level, despite doing away with unimportant details.
There are many techniques that normally can be used to paint a human figure. Beside being able to represent the colours, it is important to master and study the human anatomy, in order to draw and paint correctly. We have looked at basic watercolour techniques of wash in previous exercises wet-into-wet, dry brush and calligraphy. They all have their strength and weaknesses.
Wash for example, is the most positive way of indicating shapes. Its strength lies in its simplicity. Despite the fact that wash is executed with watercolour, it is really a drawing technique. Observe carefully in my own painting man cutting a king-coconut how closely wash is linked to the drawing.
The brush is used to apply lines in the same way one forms lines with a pen. A wash allows the painter to apply different tones of the same colour, according to the amount of water that is added to the paint on the palette. The first layer will be the base for all the texture to produce skin tones.
The base colour will allow all the later applications to act like a filter, modifying the original colours according to the opacity with which they are painted. The background is shown with a light blue tone in order to show the principal shadows fallen on the body. The colours used are a mixture of burnt sienna with a dash of prussian blue and light red. A light orange is used to paint the nut with a mixture of burnt umber for dark shadows. The brushes used are sable hair numbers six and three. Wet zones are soaked up better with brushes that retain a lot of water, that has a dense tuft and natural hair.
To spread colour in defined areas, or to do fine lines a sable hair brush is used. Its tip is pointed and makes easier the opening up of small details, while the hairs permit more water to be absorbed.