Top Recommended Books on Figure Painting

Painting the human figure is a very rewarding challenge. These books provide not only help on the basics such as anatomy, proportion, and techniques, but also inspiration through the paintings (and drawings) reproduced in them.

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The Big Book of Drawing and Painting the Figure

Figure painting

After a chapter on the nude in the history of art, this book takes you through every aspect of figure drawing and painting: the skeleton, proportions, approaches to modeling form, working with a model, poses, lighting, composition, color, and more. It's profusely illustrated with photos of models, drawings, paintings, and works-in-progress in various mediums. It truly is a Big Book.

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Interpreting the Figure in Watercolor

Figure painting

The premise of this book is that convincing and appealing figure paintings can be made by careful observation and interpretation, rather than through detailed knowledge of anatomy. (Much as a landscape can be created without a knowledge of geography.) And how to create a feeling of unity by establishing passages of light and shade and connecting the elements through colour. The result is striking.

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Portraits and Figures in Watercolor by Mary Whyte

An accomplished watercolorist shares her knowledge in a book that covers all aspects of putting together a portrait or figure painting. The artist's own approach is inserted into the text, providing subjective experience alongside objective know-how.

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The Portrait Painter's Pocket Palette

More than 100 step-by-step, at-a-glance examples showing how to paint eyes, noses, mouths, ears, and hair for different skin colors, ages, and face shapes. Includes information on color mixing and how light, angle, and tone affect the way you seen and paint features.

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How to Paint Living Portraits

Art book review
Photo ©2011 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to, Inc.

If you wish you could go on a workshop that starts at the very beginning -- with the head as an egg -- then take a look at this book.

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Life Drawing Class by Diana Constance

Although the titles of book suggests it deals with figure drawing only, it includes collage, monoprints, linocuts, washes, and a lot of pastel works. The 24 lessons take you from starting to draw (balancing the figure, foreshortening) to picture making (composition, drapery, cropping). If you can't attend an life drawing class, work through this book instead. Contains photos of models.

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Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet

A photographic anatomy book that focuses on what an artist needs to know in order to understand how the human body works, rather than making you learn the anatomical name for every single part.

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Art Models for Drawing, Painting, and Sculpting (Book and DVD)

Art Models is a book and/or disk containing photos of models in an array of poses. If you're wanting to paint life studies but can't afford a live model, this is the next-best thing. The book contains 500 photos, with two or four views for each pose. The disk has 3,000 photos, with 24 views for each pose. There's an array of poses, sitting, lying, and standing.

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Virtual Pose

Virtual Pose are combined book/CD-Rom sets (there are various volumes) providing a variety of poses for figure painting. The ability to rotate the figure on your computer gives a feeling of 3-D a book can't.

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Body Voyage

If you want to see what the human body looks like on the inside, "Body Voyage" will show you. It's a "three-dimensional tour of a real human body" showing computer scans of a one-millimeter sections of a body donated to science. It's an unprecedented glimpse into the human body that could inspire unusual anatomical art. Warning: this is definitely not a book for squeamish people.