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Handstand, charcoal, 8x6in (20x15cm)
Handstand, charcoal, 8x6in (20x15cm)

How to Paint Moving Figures


Damian Callan - Posted on 28 Oct 2010

Tennis Player


Tennis player
I teach workshops based on the moving figure, using models who are happy to hold short, dynamic poses. I give the students willow sticks, ink, wash and pastels and guide them in a series of steps, building up at least three layers of line, tone and then colour. The poses are often only for five minutes and the students work quickly and spontaneously so that loose layers can be built up creating depth and a movement from layer to layer. It helps to have good spotlights to light the model dramatically


Sketch tennis player

As the model strikes a pose the students make a line-only drawing of the figure. Ink is a fluid medium and ideal for movement. I prefer sticks to nibs because they don’t snag or easily damage and, more importantly, because they are less fine and less predictable. Sticks seem to sharpen the instincts and require the artist to be more creative, more inventive in finding the right lines to capture the figure. The result is often a surprising and instinctive simplification. It is helpful to keep these line drawings fairly small (about A4 size) so that it is easy to work with the whole figure quickly, keeping it in proportion. The line drawing is then left to dry so that the line and tone can be two separate elements working together to create form and action


When the line is dry the model resumes the pose and the students take up a piece of sponge in order to apply some tonal wash of the Indian ink. I suggest that they look at the model with eyes half closed to help simplify the pattern of light and shade and capture this through blocking in the single-strength wash. Often the more loosely and approximately this is done the better the movement generated – a neatly filled in outline will stop the subject in its tracks, whereas stray marks breaking away from the outline or gaps in the tone make for more movement. The wash layer can create mass and form and it can go with the flow of the pose. But also it can add drama, an underlying feeling that something exciting is happening in the drawing. The wash can be strengthened or the effect built up with a few layers to increase the contrast within the picture


How to paint a tennis player
Tennis Player, mixed media, 81⁄2x113⁄4in (21.5x29.7cm)

Once the wash is dry a layer of oil pastel is scribbled or hatched on to the wash and ink. I prefer oil pastels to chalk because they are less precise and a bit more painterly in the way they mix on the drawing. It helps to apply a limited range of colour loosely in a hatched or scribbled way, not obliterating the previous two layers, but leaving gaps for line and tone to appear from below. Degas, of course, built up his pastels in layers, losing and finding edges at each stage and this combination of definition and blur is perfect for moving figures. Sometimes in dance or sport it is a specific hand gesture or turn of the head that characterises a particular activity and might be defined while other parts of the figure need to be suggested or unclear. The ink line can even be restated at this stage and with the oily pastel on the surface the line tends to be broken and give a selective emphasis rather than a flat outline.

Read the full article in the December 2010 issue of The Artist, click on the cover below to purchase.

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