View Full Version : Second opinions, please

06-03-2008, 12:58 AM

I did this pastel figure study last Saturday and quickly put some colors to see what it looks like with a dark background. The model really liked it at the end of the session and offered to buy it from me. I told her I didn't want to sell it but thought I will frame it and give it to her as a surprise.

Now that I am giving this as a gift I thought I should work on the background and make it look more finished. Being terrible at backgrounds I posted in The Figure forum and asked for suggestions. Most people recommended that I leave the background as is. I personally feel that the background (and the blanket) looks too messy and needs to be at least cleaned up a bit, so I am asking for second opinions to see if you guys/ladies here in the pastel forum feel the same.


here is what everyone said in the other forum


Mary Brigid
06-03-2008, 03:29 AM
Hi Glador. I am not a figure painter so wait for others to give their opinion before you decide what to do.
But I do know when I like something and I really like this. The figure in the painting is beautiful. The skin tones are gorgous. IMHO the painting looks unfinnised as is. I would like it with all the backround covered in. I do like umber behind her. It really is such a contrast and I feel it works well. I would finnish the blanket also. The figure is so good it deserves to have its surroundings painted as well as it. Love it
Mary Brigid

06-03-2008, 06:17 AM
William...I like this very much too. Not so sure about the black feet though!:eek: ~ I don't have a problem with the BG...although it might work to include some light touches of that peachy sunlight that's hitting her upper back and lower legs...whether you do or you don't...well done!:thumbsup:

06-03-2008, 06:57 AM
Frankly, I like it as it is. She is the focal point and stands out nicely with the BG simply as a suggestion. Since you plan to give it to the model, I would think you'd want her to be the focal point. Also - she liked it as it is, right? Why risk losing the quality that attracted her?

Her feet are fine - dirty from walking on concrete classroom floors barefoot. This is a beutiful and sensitive study and I wouldn't touch a thing. Just MHO. I really like this a lot!

06-03-2008, 07:10 AM
If it's not broke, don't fix it!

06-03-2008, 09:47 AM
The appeal to it is that it is so loose. I vote for leave it as well.

06-03-2008, 10:24 AM
i like the unfinished look, it puts the female body into focus.. and the female body you have painted here is gorgeus. especially the skin tones

06-03-2008, 11:12 AM
Very beautiful! Gorgeous skintones!

What about blurring the background, that is, taking your finger to it and smearing it a bit? The jagged line of strokes attract my eye too much (but I'm not male). I played with your painting in PS, I hope you don't mind. Just to show that going digital and trying things out before committing to paper is one way of solving conundrums.

A good deal oversmudged (got carried away), but the general idea ought to be clear:


06-03-2008, 11:32 AM
Thanks everyone for your nice comments.

Charlie, thanks for PS mod! What a great idea using PS. I'm a computer geek and I totally didn't think of doing it.

It's exactly what I had in mind (really :rolleyes: ). I think the smooth and blurred background really makes the figure stand out and less obtrusive. I especially love the smudge of the hi light you did on her butt, adding a glowing effect. I love it! Now if you would just finish the blanket and the bottom I'll be all set! :clap:


06-03-2008, 11:37 AM
Nope - I disagree William - I'm a figure painter and I LOVE the unfinished look. It seems like you created magic of this moment and just concentrated on what is important... the softness of her features.

I would however consider cleaning up the bottom of her feet - I realize models get to trudge through pastel and charcoal - but I wonder how accurate that has to be...LOL.

There is something just delightful in an artist's "Sketch" - a moment in time captured and without adding more - that is caught.

But - YOU ARE THE ARTIST!!! I defer to the expert on this piece.

I've spent more time on the background and not enough time on the beauty of the skin tones and the gesture of the model. Lovely!!!


06-03-2008, 12:25 PM
Barb, you and many others have a great point about the attraction of the "unfinished" look and I do agree because I've seen many beautiful loose sketches. However, I am wondering if you were to paint a piece as a gift for someone, would you not finish it to give it a polished look?

I do admit that the feet stands out a bit and I will tone it down. I had a lot of fun doing the feet because it was really black, it is part of Audrey's (the model) free spirit personality. Here is what is looks like close up.


thanks again for your comments

06-03-2008, 01:03 PM
I vote for leaving it as is. The figure is central and is beautifully painted. The background needs no attention and should stay sketchy. If you polish the background, then it becomes a flatter and slicker painting whereas it's very painterly now. Those feet ARE a bit too black, though, you might make them more a shadowy flesh color instead of leaving the thought that the model was walking on a dirty floor...that thought would always be evident to me.
BUT if that's her personality and her free spirit that's evident and this is for HER, maybe it would be a great symbolic visual!

06-03-2008, 05:16 PM
I like the unfinished look. It has far more energy! Although I do see the positive aspects of what Charlie has demonstrated. If you do fill in, I would still try to maintain the appearance of some of the "strokes". To me, that is one of the beauties of pastel - It can be the combination of painting AND drawing.

I, too, would "clean up" the feet.

This is very beautiful, by the way.


06-03-2008, 11:06 PM
Quite often the main problem in painting is knowing when to quit. You have done a great job with this and a fair number have picked up the hammer to hit you with if you continue. This painting with an unfinished background is just what the doctor ordered. Anything more pulls the eye away from the center of interest, the model.


06-04-2008, 06:33 AM
William, LOL, it is funny how the totally obvious often escapes us, like using PS when you're geek... Oh, and I'd leave dirty feet as they are, it has such a summery feeling to it, and I'd also leave foreground as is, it comes forward beautifully, and the roughness looks bedspredy and contrast to the smooth skin that glows. To clarify: a *slight* smudging of the bg, and maybe a blueing of it, to make it recede more and contrast to the peachy body. Do leave strokes visible in bg, but not as much, more like in fg. I humbly suggest. :-D

06-04-2008, 09:08 AM
LOL, that's one thing that never fails with art - so many opinions! Me, I think the figure is fabulous, but the unfinished background really bothers me. I can see I'm in a big minority here - but I much prefer Charlie's version, though I'd go further and smooth the cloth she is lying on as well. But that's just me :) I just *have* to cover every square inch of the support. If any of the background shows through at all I can't bear it. And I have to feel it looks "finished" - even if the so-called finish is just a soft blurring.

I've seen other artists' works who leave much more unfinished looking. I can admire them greatly - but would never be happy doing that myself. You are the artist here, but IMHO (and admittedly it's extremely 'H' :lol:) the contrast is too great between the finished and the unfinished parts. The unfinished just looks *too* unfinished to go with that gorgeous body.

But if the model wanted to buy it as-is then perhaps she would be happy with it that way, so that's really the ultimate answer.

06-04-2008, 09:14 AM
What a beautiful painting, and your intentions are beautiful too! I'll say that I love the unfinished background, it adds spontaneity to the piece! If I'd touch up something a bit, that would be her arm... seems a little more sienna color than the rest of her complexion, I'd add a little of the pink/purple tones found elsewhere on the body...
Gorgeous and gracious!

06-05-2008, 07:20 PM
Thanks everyone for your comments. Majority of comments from both Figure and Pastel forum were for me to leave the background as is. Funny thing is even my figure drawing instructor who emphasizes on composition also told me to leave it. However, I'm sure you guys probably guessed that I just couldn't leave it alone. :rolleyes:

My original goal was to finish the background to the same degree as the figure. The original background was too messy. I thought it took focus away from the figure. Even though the model liked the painting the way it was, my goal was to learn how I would finish a typical painting from one of my three hour sessions and if I can turn them into something that I can sell.

I looked at a lot of paintings from many artists such as Sargent, de Laszlo, and many of my favorite artists from WetCanvas. For example Alicia Sotherland has gorgeous figurative pastel paintings with very painterly backgrounds.

http://www.aliciasotherland.com/ (http://www.aliciasotherland.com/)

I believe the reason her paintings work so well is because of the styles of the subject and background are very consistent.

My other favorite Pauline Adair has amazing figure paintings with beautiful drapery but very simple backgrounds to keep the focus on the figure.

http://people.aapt.net.au/~edwair/ (http://people.aapt.net.au/~edwair/)

Jacob Collins also has beautiful figure paintings but with much darker backgrounds which I think makes them look very classical. Here's a very similar painting:

http://www.jacobcollinspaintings.com/sleepingwoman.html (http://www.jacobcollinspaintings.com/sleepingwoman.html)

At this point in my study I think I am trying to get closer to Jacob's style. I don't know if realism is where I'm headed but I like the way it looks and I think I need to get there (the skill) before I decide what to do next.

So here is the finished piece. I decided to go dark with the background but still have some colors throughout that match the colors in the figure and the blanket. I also wanted to direct the eye from the upper left to her back (don't know if I succeeded), which is the focal point of the piece. The actual background is darker than the photo. Now that I have it framed it with black matt behind glass and cherry wood frame, the figure just pops out of the darkness. I think I am pleased with the result. I hope you guys like it too. Never the less it has been a great learning experience. Thanks for all of your help.



06-05-2008, 07:52 PM
It's beautiful!:clap: :clap:

06-06-2008, 03:47 PM
William, it it lovely! Now the figure 'pops' very well. The hazy light in the bg turns my eye back to the figure, but my eye goes directly to the figure, not 'reading' top left, when I first see it. Dunno if I really believe westerners 'read' pictures like books, or people do, and I'm odd. :-)

The upper curve of her thigh/hip works as a center of interest to me, and all the 'detail' in form of lines and lights and dark in the whole area from her 'derriere' to her feet is visually more active. To me, maybe not to others.

It is beautiful, and of course it would sell, not just to the model herself. Actually, her wanting it is a huge compliment, as she's probably seen many of them (if she's a pro model), so she's snatching it before the crowd comes running after you wanting more and more of them!

K Taylor-Green
06-06-2008, 08:54 PM
I liked it unfinished. I LOVE it with the smooth, darker background. The figure it's self is wonderful making an overall beautiful painting.

06-07-2008, 12:56 AM
Deirdre, Charlie, and Katherine: thanks for your comments and I'm glad you liked the background.

I learned another lesson today:

I searched here and found the recommendation for using the Grumbacher Tuffilm fixative. I went out and found one, put two coats on my painting and now the purple in my background is gone and almost looks like some of the pastel on the figure is gone too :mad:

Watch out for those fixatives!


06-08-2008, 01:10 PM

The only spray I have had good luck with is Lascaux. I work with fairly thin layers of pastel which might also play a part with the success or failure of using a fixative.

Alas, as I am a strong supporter of seeing brushstrokes and love exposed backgrounds, I did like your initial version better. However, I make no claims that I know any better than anyone else.

However, I do have a comment. I have found that all areas of the same color and value in the background tends to appear on the same plane and at the same distance. Therefore your wall behind and the area under the sheets seem to be at the same distance and the sheet and model are somehow floating in space. I know you want to use the same colors for harmony, but I think the area at the bottom needs to come forward - otherwise it looks like a continuation of the back wall - even though we know it can't be. I photoshopped it, here is what I mean:


Just to show a couple examples of a looser style, here is a Pino and a Vidan. Both have more activity and brushstrokes in the background. Both are oil paintings as well, but I think they are good examples of a looser style and allowing the backgound to show (which is very rare in oil painting).




Charles Perera
06-08-2008, 06:53 PM
The figure is beautiful. It looks finished. The background in my opinion should be left as is, because the rough unfinished background enhances beauty of the nude figure. It is a pleasure to look at it.


pastel lover
06-09-2008, 12:07 AM

My vote...leave the feet, blur the background. Beautiful, beautiful figure. From reading your (the artist) comments, you seem to feel the background needs something. Your are looking at the real painting, your painting, unlike the rest of us viewing a monitor...I say follow your instincts & do what you feel it needs. Great job however you finish.

06-09-2008, 01:52 AM
Don: thanks for the comment and the fixative tip. Great advise about the floating model. Also thanks for the reference pictures. I do love Pino's art but have never seen Vidan's work. Both are gorgeous paintings. I wish some day I can produce painterly art like Pino. Right now I am just focusing on getting the basics - proportions and colors. Even though I would like to be more painterly, I have not yet developed the eye (and the confidence). I'll get there some day.

Charles: Thank you for your comments. For some reason the original background just bugs me too much. Even if I decided to do a looser background I would have still changed it. Perhaps as one of my teacher told me that I am a control freak, I wanted everything to be intentional, and the original background was not.

Tanja: thanks for the vote. I do like the way it turned out. More importantly, it was a good learning experience for me with the great feedbacks from everyone!


06-09-2008, 08:37 AM
Don: thanks for the comment and the fixative tip. Great advise about the floating model. Also thanks for the reference pictures. I do love Pino's art but have never seen Vidan's work. Both are gorgeous paintings. I wish some day I can produce painterly art like Pino. Right now I am just focusing on getting the basics - proportions and colors. Even though I would like to be more painterly, I have not yet developed the eye (and the confidence). I'll get there some day.

I have been trying for years to find that combination of some "tight" and some "loose" painterly areas. Being a fan of Pino (and Vidan, who is Pino's nephew, by the way), I have spent much time studying their styles, but have found that it is much harder than it looks to create a natural looseness. My looseness always looks contrived - perhaps it always will.

So far, your "basics" are very well done. Your pastel figures are definitely among the best I've seen!


06-09-2008, 11:12 AM
Thanks Don. In my opinion the painterly style comes from learning to see. I remember two years ago I walked in to the Art Student League and saw a painting of a beautiful wheat field by my instructor John Lencicki. It took my breadth away the realism of the golden field blowing in the breeze. However as I walked closer the detail disappeared. When I looked at the painting up close it was all broad strokes that had none of the details I saw from a distance. I asked John how did he know where to place those brush strokes to get the effects that I saw from a distance. At the time he smiled and really didn't give me a good answer but now I understands that he has so developed his ability to see that he understands what is essential to the painting and what details can be left out.

When I started studying the figure three years ago I only used a variations of skin tone colors in my painting. That was because in my mind I had the pre-conceived notion that there was only skin tones. Now that I have learned how to see better, I find all of these colors that comes from reflections, the types of lights, the different types of complextions, etc; which I try to capture all in my pastels. Hopefully some day I can evolve to a point where I know which one of those I can leave out. I believe is what Alicia Sotherland talks about in her posts being able to "showing more with less".