Linear figure study


Medium: Acrylic paint
Support: Galeria acrylic paper 300gsm (140Ilbs)
Colours: Burnt sienna, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, titanium white, cadmium yellow, phthalocyanine blue and yellow ochre
Brushes: Daler Rowney System 3 – 1” short flat, Daler Rowney System 3 – ½” short flat, Daler-Rowney size 4 round brush plus palette knife
Size: 48cm x 38cm (19” x 15”)

This exercise followed on from some sketchbook work with the aim of creating a larger scale linear figure study. With limited time available for another sitting I decided to work from the larger sketches and photos that I had taken from the previous session.

After a bit of debate I realised that I would have liked the composition better if Alan, my husband, had been sitting on the left of the sofa with legs stretched out to the right. I decided to trace the larger sketch that I had done for the previous exercise to achieve this. While this might not be the most artistically correct approach I felt that because the exercise focused more on line rather than tonal values that I would rather have a composition that, to me, was more balanced.

Figure study - drawing in paint

Figure study – drawing in paint

For the first session I drew the figure in paint and covered the background with a light wash of yellow ochre.

Working with a palette knife

Main shapes blocked in

Main shapes blocked in

To try and work more loosely I used a palette knife to block in the main shapes. I worked quickly aiming to create a textured surface while still focusing on the linear qualities of the image. I also wanted to use a palette of complementary colours ranging from burnt orange through to vibrant green.

For the wall I used a mix of titanium white and yellow ochre and applied this quite roughly across the surface. The sofa was blocked in with a mix of burnt sienna, titanium white, alizarin crimson and yellow ochre.

For the clothing I used the palette knife to create sweeping ridges of paint to reflect the folds of fabric. While the aim was to bring out the linear qualities of the figure I wanted this to show mainly in the outlines of the figure. I was hoping to add washes of shadow and highlights to the clothing to show the folds without over emphasising them.

Shadows and depth

Adding more shadow and detail

Adding more shadow and detail

With the main shapes blocked in using the palette knife I worked with brushes over the next two sessions. I added some shadow with a wash of phthalocyanine blue, alizarin crimson and burnt sienna to the sofa. I used the same wash over the material of the trousers and removed some areas to show highlights.

I also added some colour to the tartan throw and started to build up the layers of this as well as adding in the skirting board and mix of phthalocyanine blue, titanium white and yellow ochre for the carpet.

Head and hands

Development of face

Development of face

Mindful of the focus on line I didn’t want to be too detailed about the face but did want to try and capture that expression of gloomy absorption on the television. Using a range of flesh tones created with titanium white, burnt sienna, alizarin crimson and yellow ochre I built up the shape of the face and added a little bit of detail to the hand. Again a mix of phthalocyanine blue and alizarin crimson was used for the shadows.

Final session

Final version of linear figure study

Final version of linear figure study

For the final session I used a dark wash over the wall on the left-hand side of the painting and also on the area underneath the arm of the sofa. On the right-hand side, which had more light, I added a wash of cadmium yellow. Once both washes had dried slightly I rubbed off some of the paint to create texture on the wall and also to give a sense of the move from dark to light across the picture.

Learning points

This is the first time in many years that I have tackled a figure painting and while it is not my finest hour it is more in proportion that I thought it might be – though there are a few obvious problems.

  • Overall the figure looked more relaxed in the initial drawing and I felt I lost some of that as the painting progressed
  • The left arm going across the body isn’t quite right and, in the final painting, looks a bit stiff.
  • The perspective of the sofa isn’t right – I struggled with this at the drawing stage.
  • I did enjoy using the palette knife – with hindsight this wasn’t perhaps the right painting for the technique but I liked playing with the textures and would like to try working with palette knives again.
  • While the face is not flattering I feel I did manage to catch the sense of concentration.

I enjoyed this exercise more than I thought I would. My main difficulty was where to start with the figure. For this I worked initially on the head and torso and worked out from there but this meant that the sofa was out of kilter. With hindsight I think it would be better to block that in first.


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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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