• Gav Munro

5 Tips on painting nudes

One of the most rewarding but difficult subjects of portraits is the nude. The reward comes from capturing one of the most naturally beautiful things in life- the human body. We see ours and hopefully somebody else's everyday but as an artist your job is to capture something that reminds, entices and enhances the viewer's perception of it....tough job eh? Well here's some things that I have learnt along the way.

1- Learn by your mistakes

This was a recent nude I tried, and I mess it up. The initial sketch was OK but as I added colour it started to look too porn-like (is that a word?!).

The finished image was way too explicit and strange and I didn't reach my objective.


2- Relax the Subject

I've worked from both sitters and photos. With both you need to make the sitter feel ultimately in control to get the best image. Your job as an artist or a photographer's advisor is to direct, you want them to show a feeling and you won't get this unless they are relaxed. Ask them how they would like to be portrayed. Put a playlist of the sitter's favourite music together. Treat their nudity as normal, don't give them any reason to be negatively self conscious. A glass of wine won't do any harm either!

3- Have your stories ready

As with any human portrait you want to show a feeling in the finished artwork. The best way to get the sitter to express feeling is to give them a story and let them know they are the actor. I have a list of titles when I go to a photoshoot like 'You're waiting for your love to come home' or 'Your thinking about past loves', as the sitter sits tell them these titles and watch for their expressions...that what you're capturing. If it's a commission for the sitter as what they want to convey and work at how you will illicit that emotion from them.

By Candlelight- In this portrait I wanted to convey thoughts after intimacy. I asked the sitter to contemplate when she was last heart broken. As you can see the expression is that of someone in deep thought about it.


4- It's ridiculously important that you light the sitter well. I love an old renaissance period technique of painting called Chiaroscuro, which in Italian means 'light from dark'. It uses strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms, often to dramatic effect. Here's a great example from another of the great masters:

The matchmaker by Van Honthorst- check out how the candlelight defines everything, including the silhouettes.

The beauty of this method is that as the lighting is minimal it allows the viewer to 'join the dots' and imagine what is in the darkness. A piece that I painted 8 years ago shocked a lot of people here in China but proved popular:

Nude #2- Though this image shows very little it makes the viewer guess the rest.

Here's another one that I painted a few years ago:

Nude #5- This sitter was side-lit in a dark room.

5- It's all about the tone

Skin tones accentuate the contours of a body, use mid tones to shape the figure and bring out the focal points. In the painting below (in the style of Jack Vettriano) I wanted to emphasise the back and bum so I used the lightest tones on that to bring them forward in the painting.

So those are my tips, please share this post if you found it interesting. Also please comment below if you have any comments or questions.


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