‘The Letter’ (after Botero)

My Figurative Paintings

I began painting figure art in 2006 with a series of three happily plump Botero-like nudes. Looking back, I can see lots of room for improvement; but these figurative paintings gave me a new perspective on impressionism and motivated me to improve my skills as a figural artist. A few months later I painted a figure study of my two sons (in Spanky and Alfalfa Halloween costumes). In contrast with the Botero knock-offs, these were examples of realistic figurative paintings. These early oils taught me how to capture the effects of lighting on the complex human form. They also allowed me to experiment with counter-intuitive coloration to achieve the desired shading. I had started down the road to becoming a figurative painting artist!

Painting Figure Study Compositions



My foray into figurative paintings went hand in hand with my portrait painting. The main difference was the relief from the onus of realism and concentration on facial details which were not present in the figure studies. My ‘Mermaids’ painting shown here is a good example of how the composition, form and contours of the artwork (instead of facial characteristics) are emphasized. The impressionism and abstraction requirements of figurative paintings were important motivations for me to become a better artist.

My Favorite Figurative Painting Artists

As I did more figure study painting, I scrutinized the work of several figurative artists I admire. I was particularly impressed by Gauguin’s ‘Women of Tahiti’ and ‘Les Parau Parau’ for their facial and body shading. I was also inspired by Matisse’s ‘Music’ and ‘Dancing Capuchins’ for the way they are able to convey the impression of motion. As a budding figurative artist, I was also struck by how some of Picasso’s figure studies (particularly his ink drawings of faces) provided just enough information to portray the image perfectly. This is the essence of impressionism.

Artistic Challenges of Figurative Paintings


‘Charly in a Tree’

The most difficult aspect of figure art for me is translating my ideas into paint without losing the realism of the figures. From a technical standpoint this came down to color selection/mixing and getting the essential shadows right. I have found the figure studies I’ve done of loved ones to be particularly challenging. I’m trying to paint what I know and feel — more than can be seen in a photograph or live subject. Here’s one of my granddaughter Charly climbing in a tree with some of her playmates.

Figurative Artist Valerie Rawlings — Austin, TX

In the near future I’m planning to do several figurative paintings of dancers and other subjects in motion. I’ll be trying to apply the figural art techniques of Gauguin and Matisse to create colorful and vibrant paintings of Country & Western dancers at some of our favorite Austin dance halls. And, of course, I will continue to do oil paintings (figure studies and portraits) of my #1 favorite subject — Charly. Stay tuned!

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