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Old 05-02-2009, 09:44 AM
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DAK723 DAK723 is offline
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Use to denote nudity/mature subject matter ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Hi! Welcome to Lesson 5 in the portrait and figure fundamentals classroom. My name is Don Ketchek, a.k.a. DAK723! If you are just stopping by for the first time, the first 4 classes dealt with all aspects of portraiture. Starting with this lesson, we will be applying many of the same principles to the figure. This class is all about fundamentals – so folks with all experience levels (including none) are welcome! Don’t worry if you have never done a figure drawing or painting before! You have to start somewhere – it may as well be here!

For those interested in looking at the previous lessons:

Lesson 1 started with eyes and noses and can be found here:


Lesson 2 covered mouths, ears and hair, and can be found here:


Lesson 3 was all about measuring, and can be found here:


Lesson 4 covered backgrounds and depth.


In general terms, all the information in the first 4 lessons can be (and will be) applied to the figure lessons as well.

As in the portrait lessons, I will be emphasizing the modeling of our subjects through the use of values – values being the degree of light and dark. My examples will begin with a fairly simple value sketch or underpainting. This sketch delineates the light and shadow areas. It can be very broad and rough or it can be tighter and more exact. Starting with a simple underpainting allows one to concentrate on the values, the proportions, and the composition, without the additional complications of deciding on the correct hue, intensity and temperature of the colors used.

In other words, when starting any drawing or painting, I try to simplify. When working with a complex subject such as the figure, finding the right values, getting proportions correct and working out compositional decisions can be a difficult enough task. Those are the foundations that, if not correct at the start, are difficult to correct and change later. For many people (myself included), it is hard enough to concentrate on those elements and also choose the correct colors needed. So I lay my foundation first using a very simple color scheme, and then begin building with additional colors. Since pastels are fairly opaque, and many of the pastel papers can hold multiple layers, adding colors over the top of a monochromatic base is usually fairly easy to do. Although that is the method I use, it is by no means a necessity. One can choose a more colorful palette to begin with if one desires.

I want to point out that there are many methods and techniques that are used by artists to draw and paint the figure. In this class, I will show you my method, which is a synthesis of various methods I learned over the past 30 years. It is by no means any better or worse than other methods you may be familiar with, or may encounter. There are no rules here, and if you find other techniques that work better for you on your artistic journey, by all means use them.

Before you begin a figure drawing or painting, I would recommend taking a minute or two to observe the pose and the lighting. If we skip the observation stage, we are likely to draw what we think we see – and as we discussed in lesson 1, what we think we see is often wrong. It is often a visual shortcut created by the brain and not what is actually in front of us.

For those who have been participating in, or just following, the first four lessons, the basic procedures for the figure will be the same as they were for the portrait. Place the big shapes first and then work towards the smaller, more detailed shapes. We will define those shapes by the depiction of light and shadow. In the case of the figure, we will try to place the most emphasis on those areas that best help depict the gesture of the pose.

As mentioned, we want to think big! You may draw or paint a beautiful shoulder, but if the shape and rhythm of the arm is wrong, then the shoulder won’t look right. You may paint the arm wonderfully, but if the arm doesn’t look right in relation to the other arm and the torso, you may have to do it over. The figure, perhaps more than any other subject, needs to start with the whole, before approaching the next largest shapes and then finally the details.

While we will discuss proportions and measuring in more detail in future lessons, our goal as we begin will be to stay loose and gestural and not worry about precise measurements.

Before we begin, I would like to mention that there will be nudity in this lesson. I know that everyone has their own comfort level in regards to nudity, so I will definitely include both clothed and nude figures for reference. Hopefully, all nude reference chosen by me will be tasteful and not objectionable to anyone.

I would like to thank “yolanta,” whose photos of dancers from the reference library will be used in this lesson. Unfortunately, the amount of figure reference in the WC reference library is limited, so I have had to find reference material elsewhere. I would like to give special thanks to two photographers who have given me permission to use their photos for this lesson. I will be including a notice by their photos as they appear, but I would like to acknowledge them here as well. They are:

Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

and Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com.


Start with a Stick!

To lay out the basic shape, rhythm and proportions of the figure we will use guidelines and landmarks (just as in our portrait lessons)! Our most important guidelines will be a centerline, a line for the tilt of the torso at the shoulders, and a line for the tilt of the torso at the hips. The landmarks we want to locate are: the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, and the head. When we connect the dots, so to speak, we will end up with...a stick figure!

Our first example is from an original photo by yolanta, from the WC reference library.

The center photo shows the initial guidelines – centerline, shoulders and hips. All these guidelines can be very generalized compared to those guidelines we made for our portraits. We are concerned with capturing the gesture, not the likeness (yay)!

On the far right, I place a dot at each landmark. My shoulder and hip guidelines give me the location of each shoulder and hip. I also place a dot to locate elbows, wrists, knees and ankles. I also add a rough egg shape for the head. I connect the dots for my stick figure. I use these steps in all cases, regardless if the figure is clothed or nude.

Take a moment to study your stick figure. Check the proportions. Corrections at this stage are quick and easy!

Or next step will be to create our value sketch, mapping out the basic light and shadow shapes. Most likely, you will want to sketch in some sort of indication of the entire figure – mapping out the values with just the stick figure is possible, but is difficult.

So let’s sketch in the basic figure – whether you actually sketch in an outline, or block-in the shapes as a sort of silhouette is totally up to you. You can use any method you want. Just remember, if you are sketching in an outline, keep it light and loose. We don’t want to outline the figure like in a comic book. The outline is just another guideline and most, if not all of it, will be covered by your value map.

On the left, I demonstrate an outline sketch. The center example shows a simple “block in” of a silhouette. The final example is the value map - a general placing of light and shadow shapes. It is the foundation of all that comes after, in terms of adding additional values, colors and details.

Here is another. This example also shows how the curve of the centerline is connected to the angle guidelines of the shoulders and hips. We will also discuss how to place those landmarks – after all, you won’t be tracing them from the photos like I am showing here!

Original photography used with permission, ©Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com.

On the left we begin with our guidelines. The curve of the spine, or centerline is often the most important indicator of the overall gesture of the pose. The angle of the shoulders and hips are also very important. These three guidelines often directly influence each other. If the centerline is curved, as shown above, the shoulders and hips must be angled in opposite directions.

Again, we want to locate the important landmarks – in this case, the head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. One important technique for establishing the location of the landmarks is to use horizontal and vertical plumb lines. These plumb lines were one of the most important guidelines at our disposal when doing the portrait. They are perhaps even more important in working with the figure!

Most, if not all of these horizontal and vertical plumb lines will be visualized, not drawn, although one can draw them in lightly if one wishes. We can use them to compare the location of all the landmarks to one another. In many cases, none of your landmarks may line up exactly, so one needs to judge distances and use distance comparisons to locate those landmarks.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of plumb lines, you may be asking, “What the heck are all those yellow lines and how do they help me locate the right shoulder?”

Here is an example of how they work. On the left, we have located the angles of the hips and shoulders, but how do we find the location of the right shoulder itself? If we visualize (or draw) vertical or horizontal lines on our reference, we see that the right shoulder (A) is slightly to the left of the right hip (B). Plumb lines help us judge the approximate distance of how much higher one shoulder is than the other shoulder. We notice that the right shoulder lines up roughly with the bottom of the chin. We see that the right elbow (C) is slightly to the right of the shoulder and is the farthest point to the right. That elbow is just slightly to the right of the right hip (B). If we move up to the right wrist (D), we see that it is approximately over the center of the neck, also lines up with the bottom center of the buttocks, and also lines up with the left ankle (E). And so on and so on. Landmarks are checked against other landmarks and checked against other points as well. Multiple comparisons are made for every landmark to ensure accuracy. It is probably your most valuable measuring tool.

OK, let’s move from our reference photo to our painting. On the left, I place those guidelines, landmarks and stick figure on the paper. I am conscious of the curving nature of the limbs. To help remind me to look for the curves of the limbs and to keep my drawing from looking too stiff, I curve the lines of my stick figure. On the right, I sketch in an outline of the figure, using my landmarks as a guide.

I create my value map, placing the general pattern of light and dark shapes. Usually, I do the darker shadow shapes first, then I do the lights, but you can do them in any order, or even simultaneously. Keep in mind, you are trying to put down general values for the light and the dark. The colors you use here are not necessarily the final colors, in fact, they may be very different. It is the values that we are concentrating on at this stage. These values will help you choose the correct value for the colors you put down in subsequent stages. For example, if you are going to use a different color pastel for the shadow color – either to blend in with, or to cover your current color opaquely – you can immediately compare the value of the new color to the one you already have on the paper. It will help you choose new values that are slightly lighter, darker, or the same, as you add more subtlety and variety to your painting.

In the first couple examples, I have been using basic flesh colors for my value map, but you can use any colors. Your value map can be done in black, white and grays also.

Some examples:

Here’s another stick figure example:

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

Once again, let’s start by establishing a centerline and shoulder and hip angles. Then we will locate our landmarks. Let’s see how they look on our reference.

Again, I use plumb lines to help me locate the landmarks.

On the right; this is what it might look like on your paper, although your dots don’t need to be so large and solid!

Again, don’t rush to the next step. Make sure your stick figure proportions and gesture are OK before you proceed.

In this case, I have gone right to the value mapping stage without sketching in an outline or silhouette block-in, but you can use any and all methods to make it easier for you. For my value mapping, I started with the darks; then did the lights.

At this stage I am not interested in details, I am interested in the big, general shapes of light and shadow. You can see that if my value map is accurate, I am well on the way to a successful drawing or painting.

I mentioned making sure the stick figure is accurate before proceeding. Even though there is seemingly not much to the stick figure, it is the foundation of the proportions and the gesture.

Notice that in this photo (by yolanta), the back shoulder and hip are turned away and not visible. This will often be the case. In these cases, it is easy to misjudge the location of those landmarks. It was not my intention to misjudge the location, but it ends up being a good example of how easy it is to do. How do I know that I have misjudged the far shoulder and hip? By checking my stick figure carefully!

In this pose, both arms and both legs are in almost the same position. Therefore, the far upper arm and upper leg (green arrows) shouldn’t be longer than the front arm and leg (purple arrows) – but they are! So there must be something wrong. Upon closer inspection, I notice that the shoulder and hip angles are wrong. On the far right, I correct them.

The stick figure is a great guide for virtually all poses. It is especially useful when you have a pose where arms and/or legs cross, or a hand rests on the leg or the hip. When the landmarks are directly interconnected, the stick will help make sure you place them correctly in relation to each other. On the left; this would be a difficult pose to lay out without some sort of stick figure to guide you.

On the right; when the figure is clothed, it may be difficult to locate some of the landmarks, but the more you use the stick figure, the more familiar you will get with the proportions and the landmark locations. Do your best to locate those landmarks that are hidden. The stick figure will still be helpful for clothed figures.

Left, original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com
Right, original photography used with permission, ©Hong Ly - CharacterDesigns.com.

The stick figure is also very useful when you crop the figure and have limbs that leave and re-enter the picture. I would recommend sketching out the entire stick figure even when you are cropping the figure for your painting. In the example above, the location and angle of the lower arm and hand can easily be misplaced if you don’t sketch out the entire stick figure.

Last edited by DAK723 : 05-02-2009 at 10:36 AM.
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:01 AM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

More guidelines and angles:

Here are a couple additional tips to help us create our stick figures. While we are sketching in a guideline for a centerline (often the spine line for back views), it is often a good idea to also sketch in a plumb-centerline; a line from the center of the head straight down. This type of line is especially useful for a full figure pose where the placement of the feet is important to create a balanced figure. It is also useful for seated figures, as shown below.

Also important is a check of your angles. You’ll remember, we used similar techniques in our portrait lessons. One way to help visualize your angles is to “close” them, making them into triangles, as I have done below, with the yellow segments. It is easier to judge the angles because you can compare the length of each side of the triangle. Compare the triangles (or angles) on your drawing with the reference.

Another useful technique when judging angles and locating landmarks, is to extend the angle. Some edges are short, so it is harder to judge the angle and the direction. Extending the angle is helpful for all angles, really, whether short or long. It is another guideline that helps you locate the relationship of one part of the figure with another, or one landmark with another. Notice, on the left, that the angle of his left arm can be related to his head, if you extend the angle. You can place the top of his garment and the angle that it is at, by extending the angle to the elbow. On the right, the top edge of her leg lines up with the knee and her ear, if you extend the angle.

Basic measuring:

I mentioned that we would discuss proportions and measuring in depth in a future lesson, but here is one measuring technique that will help you lay out your proportions in a general way. In our portrait lesson we discussed using a “measuring stick” – any part of the body that can be easily measured and then used to compare measurements of other parts of the body. When it comes to the figure, your measuring stick will usually be the head. Let’s use “one head length” as a measuring stick.

On the left, we can see that there are 4 head lengths from the top of the head to the hip. On the right, we begin measuring the front leg. From hip to knee it is almost exactly 2 head lengths.

On the left, we measure the bottom length of the leg – just slightly less than 2 heads to the ankle (2 heads to the heel). On the right, we see that the measurements are the same for the far leg – 2 heads from hip to knee, 2 heads from knee to heel.

Let’s look at another example.

In this example, we can see that from head to toe is 7 head lengths. Also notice that from elbow to wrist is about 1 head, shoulder to elbow is just slightly more than 1 head.

Keep in mind that we are comparing actual visual measurements. These are not generic measurements or rules. While we will discuss generic proportions next lesson, please notice that the head measurements we have used in these two examples were quite different. In the first case, her head is tilted back, in the second case the head is tilted downward, resulting in considerably different head length measuring sticks.

Also keep in mind that in both of these examples we are looking at the torso, arms and legs with no foreshortening. The measurements change substantially if an arm or leg is pointing towards or away from us, but we can always compare it to the length of the head. Remember, measurements are primarily comparisons.

While this lesson is designed for painting from photos or live models, the stick figure can be especially useful if one is working without any reference. With an accurate stick figure, it is easy to see how a full figure can be built onto the stick foundation.

I think you can also see how useful the stick figure is if you want to change the position slightly. Just experiment at the stick figure stage!

Observe the curves!

I have mentioned that one of the most difficult aspects of figure drawing and painting is to make sure your figures don’t look stiff. I still have trouble in this area. Many artists, including myself, tend to sketch with small straight strokes. Many figure drawing books use block shapes and cylinders to build the figure. This lesson, and many others, use stick figures to help sketch your pose. All these methods are quite valid and help artists visualize the figure and the infinite variety of poses that are possible. But if you visualize the limbs as cylinders, or the neck as a cylinder protruding from a block-like chest, your drawings and paintings may tend to look...well stiff, with lots of straight lines or edges.

Alas, figures aren’t like that. They are primarily curved. Sometimes curved more than you think!

Here are just a few examples:

Photo by yolanta

Just take a few moments to observe the curves. I have used arrows to point out just some of the curves. In the example on the left, I have drawn in some straight lines to help accentuate just how much curve there is in some places. While many of the outer edges are curved, the example on the right shows that the legs have an overall curve as well.

More curves of the legs...

Let’s take a look at the arms from different angles. Also notice the curves where the neck meets the torso and where the arms meet the torso.

Men have plenty of curves, too. There are some curves where you might not expect them – at the waist and the rib cage area.

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

Last edited by DAK723 : 05-02-2009 at 10:12 AM.
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:11 AM
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DAK723 DAK723 is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Demonstration – see the light!

If you are like me, you learned how to draw on white (or light) paper. You used a pencil, charcoal, or pen and ink to place dark lines and shapes that represented the form. You may have shaded in lighter areas as well, but the lightest areas of your drawing were the untouched areas of the paper. In this type of drawing, we concentrate almost totally on the dark shapes. The white areas are what is left when we are done!

Once we begin doing drawings or paintings with a full value range – often using a mid value paper, or covering a white paper with color – it is the light areas that often attract our attention more. Our eyes, it seems, notice light areas more than dark areas, and bright, intense areas more than duller areas. So when we are doing full value range paintings, it can be argued that the lights are more important than the darks. And yet, if you are like me, and learned to draw with dark marks on white paper, it can be difficult to make the transition and concentrate on the lights. In my lessons, you might have noticed, I always started with the dark, shadow value shapes first.

In order to try to place the emphasis on the lights, let’s do some exercises! We will choose a darker paper and draw in the lights first!

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

Let’s start with laying out our stick figure.

This is on velour, using Girault soft pastels. You can see some guidelines, some extended angles, and the stick figure. Since I am looking at the figure from the side, I can’t see my shoulder and hip angles that usually are among the first guidelines I would put in.

Based on the landmarks and guidelines, I sketch in the light areas. This can be looser and sketchier than I have done here.

With a darker pastel, I draw in the darker values. This is my basic value map. As I look it over, I am not happy with the back leg – it looks too short from hip to knee. What can I do to check it?

I can look at the angles. On my reference, the front and back legs are the same length from hip to knee, and I visualize a triangle connecting the two legs. I notice on my drawing that the two red legs of the triangle are not the same – the length of the back leg is shorter.

I could also check the distance with my “measuring stick” method.

Using the head as my measuring stick, I find that the back leg is short of the 2 “heads” distance that my reference shows. Of course, at this stage, making changes is still easy! Please note, that, just as in our portrait classes, we make corrections and adjustments at each stage if we need to (and believe me, I need to!).

So we make the adjustment...

At this stage your foundation of values and proportions is done. Now, you can add additional colors and values – perhaps a darker value, perhaps some reflected light, perhaps some middle values. As you add additional colors, the values of those colors you add can be easily compared to the values you already have down on paper. That is one of the advantages of using a value underpainting. How much you want to add after this stage, and the degree of finish, is totally up to you. Here is my final version, along with the pastels I used; size approx. 10” x 10”.

Another demo coming up next!

Last edited by DAK723 : 05-02-2009 at 10:28 AM.
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Old 05-02-2009, 10:24 AM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Another demo!

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum - www.ranum.com

Again, we will start with guidelines, landmarks and our stick figure.

It is hard to make out, but you can see some guidelines sketched on my reference photo. I have sketched in a plumb-centerline, my shoulder and hip guidelines, and have lightly sketched in “head measurements” for the full length of the figure. It is approximately 8 “heads” from head to toe. Below I have computer enhanced some of my sketch lines. As you can see, they are not very precise – and don’t have to be!

Next comes the stick figure. Obviously, because the figure is clothed (and turned), I can only approximate the landmarks (left arm, hip and right knee) that are hidden.

You can see that I have also drawn in two triangles as guides – one between her right hip, shoulder and elbow, the other to help estimate the angle of her left leg.

The next stage is to draw in the values – in the case of this exercise, the light shapes! In this case, we have a lot of clothing – do we handle this differently? No, we look for the value shapes in the clothing the same way we map the values for portraits or for unclothed figures. Value mapping can be done for every subject matter. Let’s take a look at what a very general value map of the lights might look like on our reference.

These are the basic shapes of the lights. Obviously I have simplified them. There are always areas that are in half-tone (not really light and not really shadow). One can decide to place them with the lights or the shadows, or just use a middle value in the value mapping stage.

Using my guidelines and landmarks as a guide, I paint in those light shapes. Here’s what it looks like. (This example is done on Fabriano Tiziano paper.)

In my next step, I put in the shadow value shapes, and as I do, I can begin to refine and correct.

There! The value foundation is done! How much you want to add in terms of additional values and colors is up to you! Here is my final version, approx. 10” x 13”. I might add that working at this size was difficult for me, and if it is for you, too, then try working bigger. Normally for figurative work, I use paper approx. 18” x 24” or slightly larger.

Now it’s your turn! Use any of the references that I have used in the lesson. I would start by practicing doing stick figures. The stick figure will be the guide to your proportions and the gesture of the pose, so it is an important part of the process. You can do an entire page of stick figures – they are fun to do!

The next stage is to build your value map onto the stick! You can do this by mapping the shadow shapes first, then the lights, or by doing the lights first as in my two demos. I definitely recommend trying the lights first. Do it both ways (darks first) and see if your approach – and your results – differ.

It is perfectly OK to do part of a figure. I think it is fair to say that the entire figure is more difficult than only part of a figure, so feel free to try a cropped version.

Please feel free to post your results here in the thread. Don’t worry if you are a newcomer to the figure, or to pastels – all are welcome!

Please post any questions you may have or any discussion that will add to our classroom!

I look forward to seeing your work!!

Last edited by DAK723 : 05-02-2009 at 10:27 AM.
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Old 05-02-2009, 11:13 AM
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Colorix Colorix is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Oh my! Wow!

Fantastic lesson! I had high hopes, but this surpasses them, by miles!


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Old 05-02-2009, 12:24 PM
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DAK723 DAK723 is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Hi Charlie, and thanks! I know you have a lot of exciting things on your plate (starting the Pastel Guild of Europe(!) and doing 100 paintings in 100 days, to name a few!) but I hope a couple of those 100 paintings will be figure paintings!

Your contributions to this classroom have been big and we all look forward to your paintings!

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Old 05-02-2009, 04:30 PM
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Kathryn Wilson Kathryn Wilson is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Fantastic!!! These lessons get better and better. Hope to join in this month.
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Old 05-02-2009, 07:59 PM
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Donna T Donna T is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Wow, Don, what a tremendous amount of useful information! You make drawing a stick figure seem easy. Thanks so much for putting this together for us.

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Old 05-02-2009, 08:03 PM
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kadon kadon is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

WOW! WOW! WOW! ...Gee Don, what a lot of work you have done. This is going to take some serious study. How fortunate are we eh?

Can never learn enough.....
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Old 05-02-2009, 08:24 PM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Thanks Kathryn! Hope you can join us!

Thanks Donna! Drawing the stick figure should seem easy! And should make the rest of the process easier, too! (I hope)

Kathy, Thanks! I hope it is helpful info! Looking forward to your participation!
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Old 05-02-2009, 09:19 PM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Hi Don

Don you have pulled it off again, another great lesson thank you.

As i Paint I grow, as I draw I see
C&C always welcome
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Old 05-03-2009, 02:49 AM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

OH BOY!! This is awesome DOn.. thank you for another great lesson! I am excited to get started!
C & Cs _always_ welcome!
Blessings & HaPpY day to you!

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Old 05-03-2009, 10:12 AM
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Wow, Don this is a fantastic lesson - thank you!! I'll be going back to this, and I hope I'll find time to follow all your lessons soon....


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Old 05-03-2009, 03:23 PM
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Striver Striver is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Aamazing and gobsmacking what you have done here, surpassed yourself once again. Will Lurk and hope to join in when ever.
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Old 05-03-2009, 04:08 PM
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DAK723 DAK723 is offline
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Re: ESP - Portrait & Figure Fundamentals - Lesson 5: The Figure, Part 1

Thanks Graham, T, Merethe and Les! I appreciate all your kind words!


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