Words of a Winner

The winners of our Self-Portrait Cover Competition are featured in the September issue of American Artist, and they share advice about how to paint the figure and how to maintain a successful painting practice. When we asked David Tanner, the winner of the competition, to give his advice, he offered more than we had room to print. So I thought I'd share it here–hopefully it's useful for those of you working on how to paint the figure realistically, as this artist does. Here, then, are David Tanner's recommendations:

Self-Portrait by David Tanner 2009, oil painting, 16 x 12. Winner of American Artist's Self-Portrait Cover Competition.

Self-Portrait by David Tanner 2009, oil painting, 16 x 12.
Winner of American Artist's Self-Portrait Cover Competition.

From the Editors of American Artist magazine
  • If you are interested in representational painting, make sure you find a school or take classes taught by artists who can "walk the walk." Even the most general of painting classes should be taught by a painter capable of doing a basic still life demonstration painting from life.
  • Paint what you love, of course, but also challenge yourself to paint subjects that hold less interest. I had no idea how much I would love plein air landscape painting until I tried it for the first time, and I'm positive it has improved my reaction time to light and color in other genres.
  • Draw from life constantly–both alone and with fellow artists. Take advantage of local open figure drawing sessions, where you can join other artists and chip in for a model fee to practice with a live model outside of your classes.
  • Go to museums and galleries, and linger over the paintings that resonate with you. In particular, look to see how the artists have simplified their subjects down to the masses of color-values.
  • Study magazines like American Artist, and pay close attention to the advice presented in the articles. In my early days as a painter, I created my first successful flesh-color combinations after reading an interview in American Artist with a well-known portrait painter.
  • Painting from life is the only way to successfully sensitize your eye to color, value, and form. Avoid frequent painting from photographs until you have extensive experience painting all subjects from life.
  • Squint and compare when observing your subject and your painting to see value relationships. Let your eyes blur and go out of focus when observing colors on your subject. The blurring will simplify the color to a mass and may make your color mixing choices easier.
  • Stand far back from your canvas after every few brushstrokes to monitor the success of the effect you are achieving compared to the subject.

For more information about the artist, visit Tanner's website. You can learn more about the artist's painting–and see all the finalists of our Self-Portrait Competition–in the September issue of American Artist.


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Austin R. Williams

About Austin R. Williams

Austin is an associate editor of American Artist, Drawing, and Watercolor magazines. His interests include a number of artistic subjects, in particular contemporary drawing, and he is also a lover of literature and movies.  His favorite artists include Durer, Guercino, Degas, Menzel, Cezanne, and Blakelock. His favorite book about art is Michael Frayn's Headlong, and his favorite movie about art is Orson Welles' F for Fake.