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How to paint the nude figure

Painting the nude figure is one of the most challenging tasks for any artist. The shapes are complex and it can be difficult to get the proportions right. However, by breaking the human body down into basic shapes and by relying on a solid understanding of human anatomy, even novice painters can achieve nude figure painted representations.

Sketching the basics

Search for images of nude figures in art books, use sculptures you might happen to have, or have a live model pose for you. If you cannot find an artist group with a live model, you might want to organise your own session and gather some friends together to paint as a group.

Sketch the outline of the nude figure by visualising what you see as a series of simple three-dimensional shapes. For example, arms and legs are simple cone shapes, the head is a combination of a sphere on top of a prism and the torso is triangular.

Use a pencil to measure the proportions. Check that the proportions you have drawn on paper correspond correctly. Use a hand as the guideline shape. Count how many hands fit into the length of the torso. Check to see that the same number of hands fits into the torso you have drawn.

Applying the paint

Paint the background before you paint the nude figure. An interesting background can do lots to add life to a painting. Exploit it to the full and have fun.

Mix white, yellow and red if painting a white caucasian skin tone. For darker skin tones, use red, yellow, black and blue. Check that the tone is light enough or dark enough to be a fair representation of the nude figure you are painting.

Use the paintbrush to generate the natural curves of the body. Paint the legs, for example, using circular brushstrokes which highlight their three-dimensional, cone-like nature.

Volume and features

Add black or white to your skin mixture on the palette to introduce contrasts and illuminations in the painting. Darker areas will indicate the shadows and the parts of the body that are further away from you. Illuminated areas will be those that are closer to you and which fall into the light.

Experiment with brushstrokes to achieve different textures. Human skin is much softer and smoother than human hair. Have fun with your paintbrush to create different effects.

Leave the fine details and the facial features of your painting until the very end. Look at the facial expression adopted by your nude figure. Notice how even small drops in the corners of the mouth might help to enhance this expression.

Tip

It’s best to begin painting with acrylic paints because they dry quickly and it’s easy to paint over acrylic to repair mistakes.

Warning

Avoid only focusing on one area of the painting. Problems with the painting are easier to modify when you work on the painting as a whole.

Things You'll Need

  • Acrylic paints (red, blue, yellow, black and white)
  • A selection of paint brushes of varying widths
  • Large sheets of paper (approximately 50cm x 70cm)
  • Images of nude figures, small sculptures of nude figures, or a live model
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About the Author

Tracey Chandler specializes in travel articles and features for female-interest publications online. She reviews Latin American cinema, creates press releases for an online marketing company and manages her own blog "The Jolly English Pirate." She holds a B.A. in performing arts at Middlesex University.