4 Crucial Figure Painting Tips

On Hamilton's Prairie by Rose Frantzen, 32 x 40, oil painting.
On Hamilton's Prairie by Rose Frantzen,
32 x 40, oil painting.

Rose Frantzen's work has been on my radar for a while and even more so after I saw her oil painting portrait show years ago at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, which featured 180 paintings of the residents and neighbors from the artist's hometown of Maquoketa, Iowa.

As a figure painter, Frantzen is second to none and she's developed a few really successful strategies for moving a painting forward and making crucial corrections when that is called for. I wanted to share a few of her oil painting techniques and tips with you.

40 times is the charm. Believe it or not, Frantzen draws the model for any one of her figure oil paintings about 40 times–not total, but per session. She does it a variety of ways: directly on the canvas in a thin wash, in the air above her canvas, or as she is painting.

Go with what appeals to you. Frantzen is a strong and ardent proponent of starting with areas that appear easiest to see or make sense of. "If you can see and respond to a shape immediately, put it down," she says. "Anchor yourself with the areas you feel strongest about." So it isn't necessarily about a right or wrong way of doing things, but finding your way!

Looking Back by Rose Frantzen, 40 x 52, oil painting.
Looking Back by Rose Frantzen,
40 x 52, oil painting.

Judging your progress. Stopping to assess and reassess while in the throes of painting is invaluable. Frantzen will often setup a mirror behind her and view her painting through it several times during the painting process to see the work from a different perspective. She'll also pull books and photographs of Old Masters' works off the shelves and compare them side by side to her own work, asking herself if she's achieving the effects she wants.

Clean up on aisle four. During a figure painting session, Frantzen will clean her palette every time her model takes a break, wiping down the center of the palette and the outer areas where her paint piles lay. She does this so that she can start fresh and isn't confined by her previous mixtures. But she doesn't waste that "old" paint. Instead, she separates it into red, blue, and yellow piles to make gray mixes at a later time.

There is so much for a novice like me to learn from practicing artists like Frantzen, and others. One of our newest resources is the Richard Schmid Kit of the Month, which features the artist's book, Alla Prima, Rosemary brushes, Schmid's palette, and more. As I look through all the offerings, especially Schmid's book, I found a handbook for artists looking to pursue a serious course or career in the fine arts, as well as the technical and practical guidance I want for making art. I hope it is the same for you!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

4 thoughts on “4 Crucial Figure Painting Tips

  1. Hi Courtney,

    40 time, Whew, I like to work very fast, so Artists like Rose amaze me, I dont think I could sustain my limited attention span half so long; but the work, the work is clearly worth it.