09 May 2011

Figure Painting using Harold Speed's Value Strategy

Please excuse my long silence...sometimes blogging is not the highest priority.

Last week, I was fortunate to attended the Portrait Society of America's "Art of the Portrait" conference in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  The event was an education on the state of contemporary realism, figurative art, and portraiture...which are inextricably linked.  Inspiring pieces in the winner's circle. I felt fortunate to see these pieces "live".  Photos are such a poor substitute.  The competition, which is international, compares favorably with the BP Awards and Royal Portrait Society, in my opinion.  For more information on the event go here, here , and here.


Today's post includes some figures I painted last term in Erik Gist's "Figure in Oil" class.  These were painted from life in 8 hours, so I consider them sketches.  I used Harold Speed's value strategy, which I use for portraits, too.  Briefly:
  • Start with a charcoal or thin paint block-in.  Nothing fancy here.
  • Divide the figure into the big shapes of light, halftone, and shadow and paint those shapes with an average color for each.
  • Adjust the edges (soft, hard, firm, lost).
  • Finally, add the smaller planes and details. 
The approach ensures that the light (value) falls off gradually down the figure, adding to the illusion of form.   It's logical and a good approach for beginners like myself.

Rose on Orange, 20 x 16", oil on linen

I also did some figure invention here, pushing the curve of the back on both models (Rose was actually hunched over...the pose needed improvement).  Erik Gist is a master of figure invention, and helped me define the rib cage and upper hip areas in both paintings.  This sort of improvisation requires knowledge of anatomy. 

Brianna with Shadow, 16 x 12", oil on linen

The color scheme for "Rose on Orange" was inspired by a Sargent painting from his early studies in Italy. I'm still focused on accurate values, the art of color is somewhere in the future for me. When I need inspiration, I pick a painting and use that color scheme.  Sort of a color master study...a good way to learn.

La Gitana by John Singer Sargen


  1. Love what you have done. I was so impressed that I went back into your notes on painting a value study. Excellent directions and results. I'm going to give it a try and then use it with my students.

  2. figuratively speaking-excellent work and interesting commentary Candace. You amaze me with your command but I see a lot of hard work, vision and passion.

  3. Deborah, That is the nicest thing you could say. Thank you. I hope and believe it will help your students get quick traction as they study this challenging medium. Best. C

  4. These are masterful, Candace. I can see all that learning from figure chalk drawing coming through into these beautifully realized forms.

    I'll be visiting the BP Awards exhibition in six weeks time and will be interesting to compare with the work on your links. Last two years about a third of the work was super-realism and photo-realism. I keep waiting for an expressionist revival, lol.

  5. always a delight to come here, Candance - you may think this funny, I thought you wrote above the second image, "Rose was actually hung over," forgive me, it is late here on the east side ~~~

  6. The figure is very bold and dynamic. I love how you painted the light and skin tones. Very beautiful work.

  7. Both of these are so masterfully done...you never cease to amaze me!