Figure Painting in Oil in just Five Steps

Andrew Conklin’s figure work was featured in The Artist’s Magazine’s Oct 2016 issue, and we loved it so much that we wanted to include more of his instruction online! Follow along to see how he completes a figure painting in oil in five steps.

Here’s a short excerpt from the feature: The working environment of a motion capture studio (see explanation at bottom of post) is the subject of Andrew S. Conklin’s recent figure paintings. Using a painting approach that harks back to the Baroque era, he depicts the denizens of this corner of the digital world, the technicians peering at screens and the models stretching and acting, in the same way that a 17th-century painter might construct a classical scene.

“While these images are not documentaries, I see them as capturing something of the reality of the artistic process that takes place within an often imperfect context, but itself aims at perfection,” says the artist. “I suppose I would be happy if a viewer took a minute, in looking at these works, to consider a few things: the nature of the creative drive, the interplay between team members, the beauty of the human form and perhaps the human need for storytelling—the forms it takes and the lengths that humans go to create new forms of stories.”

If you want to read the full article, buy a copy of the October issue, here. 

Figure Painting Demo in Five Steps

Motion Capture Athlete on Yellow Chair, (oil on panel, 18×13.5)

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Introduction

Working with a favorite model, who is also an artist, I painted this oil study in four sessions of three hours each. My commitment to working from life rather than photos is one I keep as often as possible, for the following reasons:  1. I prefer envisioning my subject unmitigated by a lens, which seems to change what I see with the naked eye. 2. I find the process of collaboration exciting and creative. By working and talking with another individual during sketching sessions, I find that chance and contingency play a vital role in improving any given work. 3. I see part of my goal as a painter to absorb, maintain and transmit the lessons of those painters I admire, who used a similar process, including my teachers and artists of the past, all of whom inspired me in this vocation.

Step 1

    I began with a small panel I had prepared before the first painting session. The panel consisted of high-quality paper bonded to cardboard. This was coated front and back with two coats of rabbit skin glue. The second coat on the front contained powdered earth pigment from Kremer pigments in New York, which tinted the white paper a warm sandy-brown color. I wanted this study to contain a series of triangular shapes, and the model and I began by trying out a dozen short poses as she sat on a chrome, metal-framed chair.

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Step 2

Once the pose was set, I drew, on tracing paper, a careful contour line scaled to the size of the panel. Next, I interposed a sheet of blue Saral transfer paper between the trace drawing and the panel, and I traced the contours with a color pencil to transfer the lines to the panel surface.

I also laid out my figure colors on the palette: flake white, Mars black, raw umber, transparent Earth yellow, Spanish Earth, Venetian red, Naples yellow, bohemian green Earth, alizarin crimson, Indian yellow, ultramarine blue, neutral tint.

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Step 3

The model posed again, and I proceed to block in the shadows of the figure with mixtures of earth colors. I used flat watercolor brushes, (golden sable or white taklon) of various widths: 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 inches. I remixed colors on the palette with Holbein MX painting knives, which I also used to apply paint, or blend areas on the panel.

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4) After a session with the model, I mixed up large batches of gray paint, which I applied to areas around the figure to define the background walls. The model returned for several sessions, during which I added the lights, carefully modeling the form in ever-smaller areas, working with particular care in the face, in order to get the direction of her gaze. Before each session, I would apply a thin layer of medium  (stand linseed oil and Gamsol) to ‘oil-out’ the matte surface.

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5) To complete the study, I rendered the details of the chrome, and added a few yellow traffic cones, which not only added a few more small triangular shapes to the design, but also created a larger triangular envelope to anchor the form in the composition.

Motion Capture Athlete on Yellow Chair, (oil on panel, 18×13.5)

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Inside a Motion Capture Studio

A motion capture studio is a creative workshop of the digital age, a place where human movement is recorded to provide a basis for animating the figures used in video games and films. The process is highly technical. Models are fitted with small reflectors placed at key points on their bodies. They then perform movements in a space that’s encircled with infrared lights and cameras. This equipment records the spatial position of each reflector at each moment in time, providing a blueprint for actions that can be used to endow a digitized creature with credible movement. When an avatar in a video game leaps, crouches or raises a weapon, the movement is built on this practice.

Meet the Artist

Andrew S. Conklin studied painting at the National Academy of Design in New York City with Harvey Dinnerstein and Ronald Sherr. Conklin later earned a master of fine arts degree from the Academy of Art University (San Francisco). Conklin has exhibited widely in the United States and won a number of awards, including the Julius Hallgarten Prize at the National Academy Annual Exhibition, the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant and grants from both the E.D and George Sugarman Foundations. His work has been exhibited at the American Academy of Arts and Letters (New York City), The Terra Museum of American Art (Chicago) and Fairfield University (Conn.). He’s a member of the National Arts Club and teaches at Tribeca Flashpoint College in Chicago. He makes his home in Chicago with his wife, the painter Helen Oh.

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