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  • Over 18 hours of Video

  • Recorded Audio Critiques

  • Software Used: Photoshop | Painter

  • Difficulty Level:

    workshop-level-f F
  • Keywords: 2D


The human figure is one of the most challenging subjects that any artist can paint. There is no reason why it should be more difficult than any other subject matter. All painting, whether traditional or digital, is based on a set of standards that should be understood and generally adhered to. Some of these standards can be considered basic rules. This workshop will introduce you to some “rules” and “standards” that you can use to successfully paint the human figure. Interestingly enough, these rules and standards are pretty much the same that I use when teaching traditional figure painting classes. The only difference is of course that we are using the computer instead of a paint brush. Once you know and understand the rules you can then break them to achieve your own results with your own personal vision and expression.

At the end of these eight weeks you will have a good understanding of the basic standards and rules that go into successfully painting the human figure.

Painting is nothing more than a series of decisions that every artist makes. Good decisions will result in good paintings and poor decisions will result in poor paintings. Like traditional painting, digital painting is decision-making from the first stroke until the final image. There is a significant difference though. With traditional painting there’s usually a consequence for every decision, good or bad, that you make. Digital painting on the other hand lacks many of the consequences you find in traditional painting because you can undo almost any step. As a result there is often less thinking and more random experimentation while digital painting. This may be one of the reasons that learning to paint digitally is often more difficult thqn learning to paint traditionally.

It often takes years of practice to be able to create a painting successfully, expressing your personal vision. Whether painting is traditional or digital, to be successful an artist needs to learn to make careful decisions throughout the process. Being able to paint the figure may be even more difficult simply because of the complex nature of the subject and the increased number of decisions that the artist needs to make. The beauty of the computer is speed. You don’t have to wait for your media to dry. The problem with the computer is also speed. You can easily get ahead of yourself, quit making decisions, and end up with a less than satisfactory painting.

In this workshop you will learn some of the basic decisions that you need to make to paint the human figure successfully. In this particular case our tool will be the computer but the things you’ll learn would be applicable if you were painting traditionally. Each week you’ll be presented with a task that will build on the previous week. In sequence the end result will be a competent figure painting. Of course, personal vision will be emphasized within the parameters of each weeks objective.

The software we use can be almost any digital painting program. Two programs will be used for each week’s instructional materials. Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter will be the main programs. Each has its strengths. If you have both, I would encourage you to use each program possibly alternating each week over the course.

Reference materials will be provided. However, if you’d like to use your own reference material please feel free to do so. All I ask is that you do not use material that could be construed as explicit or adult themed.

You will be strongly encouraged not to trace reference materials you work from. While initially you may feel that gives you an edge in drawing accuracy it really does not. For the most part, tracing will greatly hinder your progress. You will not gain the confidence in yourself to create work that reflects and expresses your own personality and vision. Please do not trace.

Each week a specific assignment will be given based on the materials presented. Each student will be encouraged to work as much is possible on completing at least one assignment per week. At the beginning of a new week, the assignment from the previous week will be critiqued.


Week 1 - Introduction

week one is an introduction week where I would like you to post some images of what you do. While not specifically important that they be figure based images it would be helpful to me if they were to get a sense of where your skill set lies.

Week 2 - Silhouette and Gesture

Silhouette and gesture are critical concepts to understand early. The figures silhouette helps the artist see the overall shape of the figure while gesture helps see and understand the figures action and balance. Establishing the figures silhouette and gesture will help you capture the proportions and rhythm of the entire figure. This week you will work on painting the gesture and silhouette of the entire figure paying particular attention to the balance, overall proportions, rhythm, and action of the figure. 

During this week you will paint several silhouettes and gestures. Initially you will use one value. When you successfully can paint a figures gesture and silhouette with one value, a second light value that represents a strong light source will be introduced.

Week 3 - Introducing Value

In week three you’ll be introduced to value and how critically important it is to understand to give a painted image three-dimensional form. 
I will constantly be harping at everyone about how important value is. It is the most critical aspect of any representational art. A black-and-white photograph is a good example of how important value is. Everyone looks at black-and-white photography as an accurate representation of a subject; truthfully, it isn’t because there is no color present. Correct values are so important that you can overlook the lack of color and accept the image as a representation of reality. 
During this week the artist will do several three value exercises. Most forms can be successfully represented using just three values.

Painting the figure with only three values forces the artist into making good decisions about what is light or what is in shadow. Without understanding how to look at a model or reference image and simplifying the values is one of the main reasons paintings fail.

Week 4 - Value

Value is so important that we will spend two weeks on this particular subject. We will talk about High key and Low key images, how value can be used to represent depth on a two-dimensional surface, how light and or dark shadows should be. We’ll talk about the importance of large planes of value and how to use smaller planes on top of those larger planes.

Week 5 - Modeling the Figure

In week five we will talk about successfully modeling the human figure in a painting. Edges, gradation of values, reflected light, highlights, planes, and small planes will all be discussed along with their importance to successfully model the form of a painted figure.
We will also talk about the importance of textures when combined with value.
There’ll also be a brief introduction to color and how it applies to the figure during this week.

Week 6 - Colour

Week six is where we will get into the meaty portion of color in connection with the human figure. We will talk about:


Warm and cool colors
The colors of different complexions
Where certain colors are located on the figure
The influence of the light source on the colors found in a figure
Gradation of color across the figure
Creating space around the figure
Color intensity and grays
Warm and cool reflected light
The importance of background color
Color and mood

Most importantly the secrets of good flesh tones will be revealed to everyone. :-)

Week 7 - Composition and Design

In week seven composition and design will be discussed. Things like arranging the figure on the picture plane, passive force, simplicity, and value pattern will be discussed.
This week
This week will be the start of the artist’s final masterpiece for the workshop.

Week 8 - Final Critique and Discussion

During week eight everyone’s masterpiece drawing will be critiqued and discussed. Any final questions will be answered; any makeup work from previous weeks can be turned in and talked about.


Student Requirements


  • Graphics tablet and stylus. Wacom is the preffered brand of many artists, however cheaper options can be found.


  • Adobe Photoshop and/or Corel Painter

  • “ Don is an excellent instructor, totally on top of the digital material, friendly, humorous... and he really goes the extra mile for his students ”
  • “ Don was was very helpful, I loved the audio critiques. Such a personal touch. ”



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