One of the most challenging subjects an artist can face is the painting of a nude. Unlike Landscape or Abstract we are not only interested in the colour, composition and lighting of our subject, but also with personality, complex muscle forms and movement. In landscape we are concerned with the surface of objects and largely unconcerned with what lies behind a barn or hill which we cannot see. There is a saying that, "Beauty is only skin deep." But for the artist this is fundamentally false. Skin is a semi-transparent layer that covers muscle, which in turn is connected to bone. The frame work of all those bones is the skeleton. In order to paint a convincing nude we must understand the framework from the inside out. Understand how joints work and where muscle is attached. Is the subject "Big Boned" or "Slight", broad shouldered, narrow of waist. When you study your subject you must look below the skin and understand how they are built. Apprentices to Classical Masters would often spend years sketching skeletal and muscle form before being allowed near a paint brush.
There are roughly 206 bones in the adult human body and about 230 moveable joints resulting in countless positions and poses which we may view from countless angles. This provides the artist with limitless ways of portraying a nude, but in so doing we must understand exactly the relationships of head, neck, shoulders and so on throughout the body. We must understand the length of an arm in relation to the rest of the body, the size of a hand or foot in relation to the head, the width of hips to that of shoulders, down to the angle the thumb leaves the hand.
Whether you want to paint a realistic nude or something less so your work must still provide a convincing framework. For instance study the work of Italian Master Sandro Botticelli and his The Birth of Venus. One of the most widely recognised nudes in the world. Notice how the neck appears exagerated in length and how the left shoulder slopes at such an angle as to make the arm impossibly long, the right hip so flat as to appear non-existant. And yet it works, her form is unquestioningly gracefull. The artist has used subtle methods to draw our attention away from these departings of reality. The form is painted without stark contrasts between light and dark which would highlight such discrepancies. The crook and angle of the left arm mirrors that of the right leg, the swirl and angle of hair around the left hand mirrors the head. To our mind's eye these things provide a convincing counter balance where
another less skilled artist would merely have shown his inability at daughtmanship. They are subtle parts to the composition to which a layman would not consciously notice but which act on his unconscious to produce a pleasing form.
There is so much to understand that only practise can make you proficient, but as you will see in Public Reaction, there is more to deal with in portraying a nude than merely being good at it.