Fall Figure Painting Marathon


2 weeks ago, I participated in the fall Figure Painting Marathon with the Bay Area Models Guild. This was a blast! If you’ve not done something like this, but are serious about pushing yourself with your figure drawing and painting, this is a great opportunity. It was really an extravaganza, and a steal at 45$ for the day.

Me and probably 50 other artists painted from about 930-430, with a half hour lunch break in the middle. The guild had 4 stages set up, with each stage featuring different pose lengths. Each stage also had multiple models- men and women, all with different body types and ages. That can make a multi-figure work, like this one below, more intriguing—


There were all sorts of artists- charcoal, watercolor, gouache, etc. Oils not allowed though! :( I set up my plein air setup at the 5/10 minute stage (but within view of the 20 minute stage too) and painted like mad all day long. Hee hee! I was prepped, and had brought 25-30 sheets of watercolor paper. A few were fresh, to be used after I had warmed up, but most were just the backs of old paintings (some of them unsuccessful figures). I brought a few half sheets for multi-figure poses, but most stuff was done on quarter sheets, where I usually fit one to two figures. If I get a figure I particularly like, but that’s stuck on a page with a messup, I’ll take it and repaint it at home, like this one—


Every 20 minutes, everyone would take a 5 minute break. That’s when I would put my boards and paintings outside in the sun to dry, and switch to a new set of boards. I brought gatorboard backing for quarter sheet paintings and 1/2 sheet paintings, all in an oversized sales bag from Blick. Haha! Very sophisticated. ;P Then, in a flurry of activity, I’d wet the back of my paper, and get ready for the next set. Bam! Bam! Bam! It sure did keep me on my toes.

With so many poses flying by, you start letting go, judging less, and just… start… painting! I definitely got into a groove, and felt myself paying better and better attention as time went on. This is the real pleasure, to me, of painting live models. It requires focus. It requires letting go. There’s no time to mess around. It’s like plein air on steroids. LOL!


The more frequently I paint, the easier it becomes for me to see the notan in each subject- even for these quick figures. This is really critical to seeing the form with ease. I’m sure, like any muscle, the more you search for the notan in a subject (and sometimes fail!) the better you get at it. The more you restart the watercolor clock, the better you get at reading it. There’s no time to do a background wash or whatnot. You’ve just got to find your darks, leave your lights even when they disappear into the page, and trust that the notan will communicate what it’s supposed to.


These sorts of quick poses are my favorites- I work them less and have to pare things down to the essentials. Given my approach, I honestly don’t get a whole lot more out of long poses. Often times, it’s less. Fortunately, with so many stages and models set up, each of us artists could really focus on what we wanted!