The next step

I have worked from the live nude periodically since the early 1970's. This blog started August 9th, 2012 in my second year of working almost exclusively from the figure.

In the fall of 2015 I reintroduced still lifes and an occasional cityscape into my painting repertoire. Rather than abandon this figure blog or start a new one I decided to add them to the conservation.

All drawings and paintings posted on this blog were done entirely from live models or on location.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Naked Truth

With certain subjects, including landscape and still life, it is possible for an artist to obscure a wide array of technical weaknesses. But working from the live figure there is no place to hide. When one dares to depict a nude it isn't only the model barring it all, in a very real sense the artist is also.

Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper
9" X 6", 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017


Personal ambition fed by societal norms and expectations had me playing the part of a professional artist for decades. My recent decision to end this pretense and start identifying as a student has proven to be very beneficial. It has allowed me to drop long held preconceptions. It has allowed me to shed ego based insecurities. It has led me to approach figurative painting from a completely new direction.

Torso Study, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2017

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Destination

A local art space has started a new daytime figure venue. Attending the first session I was buoyed by the genuine excitement in the room. A broader group of artists was discovering the thrill of working from the live figure. Then to my dismay, as the formal session ended, multiple artists asked the model to recreate her poses and a smart phone photo shoot ensued.

That I am shocked by artists reflexively reaching for cameras exposes my naiveté. I contend, however, that nothing anyone produces using those pictures as source material will come close to capturing the collective experience we had all just shared. Working from life should be the destination, not just a stop on the way to a photo shoot.

Ballerina Study, oil pastel, 8 1/2" X 7", 2017

Monday, November 27, 2017

Off Course

Thirteen years ago I started painting the figure in oils. Assuming that improvement would come with practice, I sought out group sessions and hired private models as often as time and money would allow. Some relative successes early on gave me a false sense of confidence. With no solid core of knowledge my work frequently drifted off course - often spectacularly. Capturing a flesh and blood human being would prove far more complex and difficult than I could ever have imagined.

Two figure studies, oil on linen, 11" X 14", 2005

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Zorn Palette

I have long admired the Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860 - 1920). Known as a consummate "painters painter", Zorn has the rare distinction of being known for his palette. A great deal of myth and controversy surround Zorn's palette as it takes the concept of "limited" to the extreme.

Seeking a fundamental change in the way I approach painting the figure, I have elected to give Zorn's most basic palette a try. Below is my fourth attempt. Let's see where this goes.

Male Nude Study, oil on linen, 14" X 12", 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017


Producing pictures primarily for the purpose of making sales has never worked for me. A need to paint only what moves me, combined with a critical eye toward my own work, has saved me from "selling out". And I do mean saved.

With rare exceptions, artists who produce work based on sales potential rather than their personal passions pay a price. Their work inevitably suffers when directed by market forces that reward conformity and mediocrity.

Female Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 11" X 9", 2015

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Female Form

I have had the good fortune of working with many wonderful models over the years. I enjoy models of both sexes as they present different physical and psychological complexities. That said, the female form is something special.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 7" X 12", 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Conscious Decisions

My personal drawing technique utilizes a gradual buildup of crosshatched lines. I never made a conscious decision to work this way - it is simply how I draw. There are advantages and disadvantages to the method. A high degree of subtlety can be achieved but broad areas take time to develop.

Portrait Study, oil on canvas, 14" X 12", 2017

In the mid 1990's, after years of working with acrylic paints using a slow buildup method, I decided to change course with oils. I made the purposeful decision to try a more direct style. This choice proved beneficial as I began working from the live figure. With a brush broad areas can be put down quickly thereby altering the way I approach a painting.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


This time last year I was in a race with the seasons. Working on this painting from my spot under a shade tree I grew anxious about the changing light. The long shadows of October were rapidly replacing the stable angels of summer. I'll not claim to have won the race but I did cross the finish line (see 6/30/16 post).

Sophia Street View, oil on linen, 24" X 40", 2016

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Model (part II)

The point of working from an unclothed figure is to portray the naked human form. Faces are often neglected with the result being an anonymous nude. Doing justice to a model as an individual requires a proper portrait study.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper
12" X 7 1/2". 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017


From April through early August of this year I was on what could best be described as a figure drawing jag. Then, as high summer took hold, garden sunflowers began to bloom setting off a floral painting spree. I approached both these subjects with a good deal of fervor but inevitably over indulged. A more moderate diet might be in order for the fall.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper,
9" X 9", 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Six By Six

A local art center has an annual show titled "Six By Six". No entry can exceed six inches in any dimension, including the frame. Viewing last years exhibition I decided to try my hand at the format. I have done plenty of small scale work over the years but not with the figure and not in a square. These limitations turned out to be more challenging than I had expected. (For more examples see 1/7/17 and 2/24/17 posts).

Male Nude Study, oil on panel mounted canvas,
5 3/8" X 5 3/8", 2017

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Model

Working from a live model there is no predicting if your efforts will be successful - there are simply too many variables involved in the process. However, ones chances of a good outcome are greatly enhanced when the model displays a level of proficiency that challenges your own.

Female Nude, oil pastel, 13" X 9", 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Year Four

August 9th marked the fourth anniversary of this blog. Counting the two years I kept a private art diary that totals six years of introspection regarding the figure. From the beginning, the point was to verbalize my working methods and intentions with the hope of making at least some incremental progress.

Reclining Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 11", 2014

For the last year or so my desire to scrutinize the intricacies of live figurative work has been waining. I'm more interested in just looking and reacting. It follows that the content of this blog will evolve to reflect this new reality.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Thirty Minutes

A large percentage of the drawings appearing on this blog are from the local figure drawing group I have attended for the last seven years. Each session includes some warm ups followed by progressively longer poses with thirty minutes being the longest. Undoubtedly, some attendees would prefer more extended poses while others find fifteen minutes sufficient. A half hour has proven a good compromise.

Thirty Minute Standing Nude,
oil pastel on toned paper,
9 1/2" X 5", 2012

A thirty minute time limit forces one to work deliberately and with an appropriate sense of urgency. It is important to reinforce this working cadence. One can easily fall into bad habits given too much time.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Pose

My favorite poses are usually the simplest ones. An extended arm and subtle twist - what more could an artist want.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper
11" X 9", 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017


This figure study has avoided my discard pile multiple times. I like the strong shadow but it is the bent finger of the upper hand that keeps it in my collection. I had a long comfortable working relationship with the model. She was a professional. Starting the drawing I could be confident of her being aware of and holding this subtle nuance.

Nude Withe Shadow, oil pastel on toned paper, 9" X 9", 2012

Saturday, July 1, 2017


Other than one assignment in a beginning painting class in college I haven't copied other artists work. As a learning tool I can see the value of copying. There is a market for "copy artists" doing reproductions of famous paintings. But duplicating others work for knowledge or profit has never appealed to me.

Still Life, oil on linen, 14" X 11", 2001

Just because I don't copy other artists doesn't mean I'm not influenced by them. Sometime after completing the above painting I started affectionately calling it "my Chardin" in reference to the eighteenth century French painter. There is no tangible basis for making this connection. I wasn't referencing or thinking of Chardin while painting it. For me there is just some mystical link. Over the years I have sensed the subconscious influences of many artists in my work.

Jean-Baptiste-Simon Chardin
Goblet,Apples,Pear and Two Bottles, 1750

Friday, June 23, 2017

Wasted Time

I made three separate starts at this figure study. The first failed attempt involved poor paper selection. The second try had page placement issues and fell to the eraser. It would be easy to call forty minutes of false starts wasted time. But any drawing or painting is ultimately the sum of the entire process that led to its creation. This drawing would not exist without the early miscues.

Standing Male Nude, oil pastel, 14" X 9", 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Like almost everyone I started drawing as a young child. By second grade I was aware of an ability and have been at it ever since (see December 10th, 2013 post). Too many artists abandon drawing as they graduate to painting or other art forms. I have found keeping a drawing regimen and even focusing exclusively on the discipline periodically to be very helpful and rewarding.

Female Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper
10 1/2"  X 7 1/2", 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017


In order to produce solid figurative drawings it is important to work with confidence. Timid hesitant lines don't play well. Problems can arise when a confident working method leads to arrogance regarding ones broader artistic abilities. At various times in my life I have entertained the idea that I'm pretty good at this art thing. Drawing from the live figure has always let me know that there is ample room for improvement.

Female Nude, oil pastel, 9" X 5", 2014

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Old Enough

I have long expected that my best female nudes will happen when I reach an age where the inherent sexuality of the female form ceases to be a bother. I'm still waiting.

Standing Nude, oil pastel, 13" X 8", 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017


While an art student in college I was approached by a gentleman with an offer of a summer job drawing tourist portraits at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. He must have been scouting art programs and seen something in my figurative work that would be suitable to that task. My recollection of the exchange is fuzzy but without much thought I turned him down. Should I have regrets regarding that hasty decision?

Livia, oil pastel, 13" X 11", 2017

I certainly passed up a life broadening experience and a fun resume entry. Doing scores of quick studies would have left me with an efficient working method regarding portraiture. Therein lies the problem - to this day I shun formulaic approaches to art. Somehow, I am quite content stumbling and feeling my way through each new drawing.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Pinup Nude

Having focused on the figure for a number of years I feel comfortable calling myself a student of the art nude. The broad category encompasses a multitude of subjects and intents. One category, however, dominates the genre. I will generalize and call it the "pinup nude". These pictures always depict an idealized female model posed seductively with the intent of eliciting a sexual response in a male viewer.

Seated Nude, oil on linen, 20" X 16", 2012

I have no objection to pinup nudes. Many excellent artist/illustrators have specialized in them. From a feminist perspective a legitimate argument can be made that they objectify and unrealistically portray the female form.

Viewing my body of figurative work it is clear that I am not drawn to this style of nude. My personal favorites include a variety of body types of both sexes. What I'm striving for when approaching a nude (or any painting for that matter) is simple honesty.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hobby Artist Revisited

Awhile back I revealed that I had begun referring to myself as a "hobby" artist as opposed to a "professional" artist (see October 6th and 16th, 2016 posts). The main reason for doing so was to simplify the tax paperwork involved in the enterprise of keeping a studio and selling art. My main takeaway was that labels were of little importance. But now I have decided on a more fitting designation.

Seated Nude, oil pastel, 8 1/2" X 8", 2011

Henceforth I shall answer to "student" artist. More than any title this captures my true circumstances both past and present. The Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting I earned in 1976 was the beginning, not the end of my studies.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Long Pose

For me there has always been a certain level of anxiety associated with working from the live figure. This unease is primarily performance based. The fear being that a drawing or painting won't be up to par. This insecurity never entirely goes away but now my main apprehension is time based - specifically that there won't be enough of it.

Portrait Study, oil pastel, 9" X 7", 2017

Nude Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 12" X 9", 2017

I did these two drawings last week at the Art League in Alexandria, Virginia. The five hour session features a single pose. It would be hard to overstate the calming effect of having an adequate block of time with which to work.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


I once read an article by a man who was well into his 90's. He was a writer and had led, in fact was still leading, an interesting and full life. The tone of his article wasn't angry or bitter he was simply relating his situation as an nonagenarian. Most individuals and indeed society as a whole had ceased paying any attention to him. In his daily life, at parties or with his writing he had become invisible.

Seated Nude, oil pastel on toned paper, 7" X 7", 2012

This eventuality is all too familiar to a visual artist. For most of us being ignored isn't something new. In lock step with our broader culture, the art world skews toward youth. Persevering in the face of this truth can be a challenge.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Back when money was tight I developed the habit of buying paintings in thrift stores solely for their stretchers. Usually a complete stretcher frame could be had for less than the price of just one side in an art supply store. To this day I continue the practice because the wood of older stretchers is superior to that of newly milled versions.

Thrift Store Painting, (signed B. Embrey?), 14" X 18", date unknown

Thrift Store Painting, (signed Francena),
24" X 28", date unknown

Removing a canvas from its support is easy but sometimes disposing of the artwork is not. Every so often there is a sincerity to the artist's effort that connects with me as a painter. Throwing these honest attempts away just doesn't seem right. So I now have a growing art collection stapled to the walls in a back room of my studio. In the long run it will probably prove more valuable than my combined efforts.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Nothing to Prove?

Age? Maturity? Cynicism?  For whatever reason I have ceased to care how others judge my work. Outside recognition or approval was always at best a secondary consideration but now it barely registers. That's not to say I don't value people's opinions but I simply no longer feel the need to publicly prove anything with my art.

Portrait Study, oil pastel on toned paper, 9 1/2" X 7 1/2", 2017

With external judgments off the table something more fundamental comes into play. To the extent that art is a manifestation of ones emotions I still have something to prove - if only to myself.

Friday, February 24, 2017


Booking a model for a private session last month I discovered that May of 2016 was the last time I had painted from the live figure. I had drawn from the nude frequently but hadn't mixed a flesh pallet and put it to canvas in nearly eight months. Some serious brushing up was in order.

Female Nude, oil on linen, 5 3/8" X 5 3/8", 2017

There are certain rules and protocols that apply to all painting. However, in my experience different subject groups require different approaches. Still life, cityscape or nude each call for different pallet and mental preparations. Returning to the figure after this break it is going to take some time to regain my bearings.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Shopping at the supermarket recently I ran into the husband of a local painter I haven't seen for awhile. After exchanging pleasantries I enquired about how she is doing. He said she was painting up a storm probably like I was. After a pregnant pause I explained that I wasn't painting up a storm at all. An occasional flurry perhaps but in no way could my current painting activity be called a storm.

Female Nude, oil pastel on toned paper
9 1/2" X 6", 2012

Right now I'm painting in small bursts. Perhaps at some point in the future these little squalls will form into a category four hurricane. But for now I will have to be content with a calmer weather pattern.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

As Good As It Gets

In the 1990's the BBC produced an art history series featuring a Roman Catholic nun named Sister Wendy Beckett. Standing in front of iconic works of art she would make insightful and often unconventional observations. In one episode Sister Wendy descended into a cave to discuss some of the earliest known paintings. I recall her saying that the art of humankind never got any better than those Paleolithic age paintings - just different. What a broad bold statement considering the masterpieces created through the ages. Instinctively I knew what she meant.

Male Profile, oil pastel on toned paper, 7 1/2" X 5 1/2", 2012

The urge to improve has always been a powerful motivating force in my art. When starting a new drawing or painting my hope and intention has always been that it will be better than any previous attempts. But now, closer to the end of my career than the beginning, it is clear that I will never "better" certain early works. The best I can hope for is that my new work will simply be different.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Double Trouble

One of our veteran models arranged for a second model to be present at a recent Fredericksburg Figure Drawing session. For most of the attending artists it was their first time drawing multiple figures. Impressively no one appeared to be the least bit intimidated. The majority did solid drawings that included both figures.

Two Models, oil pastel on toned paper, 12" X 14", 2016

I have only vague memories of my early attempts at two models but clearly recall they did not go well. For the longest time I was convinced that one figure at a time was quite enough. It took the jolt of three models to shake me from this complacancy (see September 28, 2013 post).

On the technical side having two bodies occupying the stage is a good exercise in spacial relationships. When it is one of each sex there is the added interest of the soft curves of the female form contrasting with the more angular shapes of the male figure. All this before we even address the social and psychological ramifications multiple figures present. Oh my goodness.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Creative Spirit

I would say that all the art and inventions of humankind are products of a creative spirit. As a painter I have long been aware of this powerful force and have discussed it multiple times in this blog. A creative fever recently caught me in a realm unrelated to painting or drawing. It came on unexpectedly and involved sticks - lots and lots of sticks.

Abstract, Mulberry branches and sisal twine, 79" X 107" X 52", 2016

Trimming trees this fall in my small urban back yard I found myself in possession of a plethora of branches and twigs. In the past I have constructed small wattle accent fences with this harvest but somehow this years abundance called for more. What transpired was an enjoyable two week period that resulted in three sculptures. The airy abstract above was the first and my favorite of the group. The urge to work with sticks passed as quickly as it had come. Now it is up to mother nature to reclaim my inventions.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Painters High

Runners high - that feeling of euphoria long distance runners get during and after a run. The jury is still out regarding its actual cause but as a former runner I can attest to its existence. With the winter blues stalking me I have become acutely aware that painting and drawing produce a similar effect. Lets call it a "painters high" (drawers high doesn't sound right). Furthermore, working from the live figure produces the most potent and longest lasting high.

Female Nude, oil on linen, 6" X 6", 2017

I have long referred to drawing and painting as "my therapy". I'm not imagining things. There is an entire field of medicine devoted to art as a healing tool. One can obtain a masters degree in art therapy. There is even an American Art Therapy Association. The simple act of putting pencil to paper or paint to canvas is unquestionably good for ones body and soul.