Painting Art Nudes

Dana Hinders
Learning how to paint art nudes is a difficult, yet highly rewarding endeavor.

Painting art nudes is one of the most challenging tasks for any artist.

What is Figure Painting?

The practice of painting art nudes, in which the artist uses a live nude model as the basis of his/her painting, is most commonly referred to as figure painting. Figure painting is very similar in technique to figure drawing, an art form most often done with pencil, ink, or crayon. In fact, many painters use sketches done during a figure drawing session as the basis for their work painting art nudes.

Although the term figure painting is used to refer to a painting in progress, the artist's finished work is more often simply known as a figure study, portrait, or nude.

Learning Figure Painting

Figure painting is a skill that is best learned with practice. Since it can be difficult to arrange private figure painting sessions with a variety of different models, many serious art students choose to enroll in some sort of formal painting course. Most colleges and universities hold figure painting classes. In larger metropolitan areas, there are also figure painting seminars held at community centers and art studios.

Working with a Nude Model

Since the purpose of painting art nudes is to learn more about the human body in all forms, most artist seek models of all ages, body types, and ethnicities. One does not need to be conventionally beautiful to be a successful figure model, although a positive body image and a lack of inhibition are quite beneficial.

Contrary to popular belief, modeling for a figure painting project is a challenging task. The model is expected to remain motionless. He/she must not sneeze, laugh, cough, smile, or fidget during the session. It is common to do a variety of poses in one session, including seating, standing, and reclining poses. This requires a great deal of patience and stamina.

Since painting art nudes can make many people feel uncomfortable, most art instructors have developed ground rules for figure painting classes. For example:

  • It is common for models to be asked to avoid socializing with students.
  • Models should not be asked to undress in front of the class, although removing a robe is acceptable.
  • Students should not be allowed to touch a nude model.
  • In many cases, the instructor is the only one allowed to speak to the model.
  • Only students who are registered to take the class in figure painting may attend the modeling session.
  • Models should be allowed frequent breaks.
  • A model should never be asked to pose in a way that he/she feels is inappropriate.

Even if you are painting art nudes in a more private setting, these guidelines will help ensure that your model is relaxed and comfortable.

Additional Information about Painting Art Nudes

If you are interested in learning how to paint art nudes, the following tips may be helpful as you're preparing your first project:

  • Study the work of artists who are well known for their figure painting ability, such as Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet.
  • Consider taking a basic anatomy course to learn more about the structure of the human body.
  • Use a full-length mirror to do quick sketches of your own figure as extra practice between sessions with your model.
  • Resist the urge to "airbrush" your model. Strive to paint the human body as it actually is and not as you've been conditioned to believe it should be. Wrinkles, scars, and other minor imperfections add life and character.
  • If you're having trouble concentrating while painting art nudes, strive to create accurate depictions of individual body parts instead of focusing on your model as a whole.

The following books provide a more detailed explanation of figure painting techniques:

Painting Art Nudes