Human figures are among the most difficult subjects an artist can paint. Watercolour just complicates the issue--or maybe, simplifies it, depending on your attitude. Watercolour is difficult to control. It bleeds from one puddle of water to the next, it doesn't manoeuvre like other paints (acrylic or oil), and it changes when it dries. The point being, when you're painting your subject, you can't be a perfectionist about it. If you're painting a human body, you must learn to let go of your preconceived notions about the way the finished product will look.
- Skill level:
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Draw the outline of the figure lightly on the watercolour paper.
Test colours on a scrap piece of watercolour paper. Test shading colours as well as the base colours. Don't rely on black for your shadows, because it will muddy your colours without looking like genuine shadows anyway. Try colours--red, brown, blue, green for the shading.
Paint a base coat on the figure. Keep your attempt to stay within the lines loose--be spontaneous. Watercolour is a spontaneous medium.
Go back into the base coat and add the shadows, allowing the colour that you're using for the shadows to mix with the base coat of paint, running and blending. Experiment with blending warm colours and cool colours. Pay attention to what the paint is doing, and follow your instincts.
Add a few details (creases in the body's form, hair). Keep the details at a minimum. If the area is too wet, your details will scarcely be visible--they'll spread out and mix with the rest of the paint.
Set the painting aside, when you feel like you've finished. Let it dry. While it's drying, as long as your subject is still posing for you, paint another one.
Tips and warnings
- When positioning your subject, try to choose a pose that accentuates the long sinuous lines of the body--strive for an uncomplicated position that allows your subject to stretch out. It will be easier for you to get used to painting nudes with this type of medium if you don't need to deal with foreshortening. In addition, a passive position that turns the subject's face away from you will simplify the painting process greatly--the most challenging part of any portrait for most artists is the face.
- Don't limit yourself to flesh colours. You may even want to avoid them. Remember that watercolour paint sometimes looks different when it dries. If you're shooting for accuracy, you may be disappointed when your painting dries. But, if you always meant the painting to look unrealistic, you may be happier in the long run.
- You can experiment with drying an area of paint by applying a rag to it and soaking up some of the paint.
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