Yesterday I was working with my students on figure drawing using colour. Most of the work we’ve done until now has been using the usual monochromatic media of charcoal, inks, conte crayon etc. so introducing colour is always a bit of a challenge.
How often have you really looked at the colour of your own skin close up? Take a wee look now, what do you notice? Of course, it’s not just one colour it’s a variation of colours and it’s not just pink I shouldn’t imagine. What you’re seeing is the transparency of the skin and blood vessels and veins that slow beneath the surface. Equally if you are black, white or Asian, you will see variations in skin tone and colour.
If you’re white you will see anything from pinks, ivories, creams, blues, yellows and purples. It also depends on how warm you are, if you’ve been exercising, how much sun you’ve been exposed to over your life and your general health and wellbeing.
Looking at the figure from a further distance, 2 or 3 meters for example as it typical in the life drawing room, the changes in colour and tone correspond to the lighting, shadows and reflected light.
So how can we use these observations and knowledge when we’re drawing the figure?
Well, 2 artists that you’d be crazy not to look at are Jenny Saville and of course the master of figure painting, Lucian Freud. (below)
Due to time restraints and student experience we have mainly worked with coloured pastels as we only have sessions that last 1hour 45 minutes. If you have more time and are more experienced I would suggest using paints, either watercolours or acrylics and a set of large-ish brushes.
When considering the approach to your life drawing/painting you’ll need to think about whether you want to make your work closely linked to the colours that you’re seeing or to work more freely in a creative sense. In the works of Jenny Saville and Lucian Freud the colours are exaggerated and simplified somewhat, however, this allows us to observe more keenly. Basically we’re looking for neutral colours with hints of these colours that we mentioned earlier; pinks, ivories, creams, blues, yellows and purples that flow from one to another.
Introducing colour in a really simple way by working on coloured paper can be helpful. As is remembering that we’re not only thinking about colour but also tone. It’s worth spending a little time just looking at the model to begin with and making some observations of colour, tone and relation to shadows, highlights and mid tones. Don’t get too bogged down in mixing lots of paint to tackle each colour.
By taking a look at the colour mixes below you should be able to start mixing some basic colours that correspond to the areas of colour and tone that you are seeing. Remember to think also in terms of warm areas and cooler areas in context of light and shadow.