Weekend with the Masters - Quick figure painting with Susan Lyon

A few years ago I had stopped fine art painting entirely due to a very busy illustration work schedule, which took me very far away from my practice of life drawing and painting the figure. It was around 2006 when I visited Susan Lyon's website, a former classmate at the American Academy of Art and Palette and Chisel Art League friend, that I became inspired again to continue to push forward and develop my observational figure painting and drawings.

I was so happy when I found that Lyon was also getting into oil quick sketching on vellum, a medium we used in art school to save on canvas, and even happier to learn she would be teaching her approach to oil quick sketch at the Weekend with the Masters, hosted by American Artist Magazine, in Monterey, California!

Here are a few samples from her blog:


All of these are oil on vellum, 45 minute poses. Also on her blog is a link to a video she made further explaining her technique.

I also have the pleasure of owning a few pieces by Lyon. While we were in school at the American Academy of Art, I posed for my classmates on Friday afternoon. (clothed - I'm not THAT brave) At the end of the session, I was surprised when Sue gave me her watercolor painting (below, left). I still have it on my wall at home along with a pastel drawing (below, right) that I purchased from her in 2006.


It was so fun to see her again after all these years. Susan Lyon is a delightful and energetic teacher who gladly shares her process with students. Below are a few shots and notes from her one day demo at Weekend with the Masters. Enjoy!


Lyon - WWMdemo - palette 2

On her Open Box M glass palette, Lyon mixed big areas of color with a somehwhat limited palette, variations on red, yellow and blue. In this session she used a convenience color for the flesh, Caucasian Flesh, Charvin Rubine Lake, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Orange plus Titanium White. Lyon explained that the small amount of cadmium orange was for sharper richer color accents which are usually found in the hands and feet where the flesh typically becomes more reddish.

Also, as far as medium, the only one she uses is mineral spirits to wash her brushes when switching colors, which you can see on the bottom left in the photo below. To wipe off the brushes, she uses Viva paper towels.

Lyon - WWMdemo - palette

She proceeded to mix up a few big piles of paint so that she didn't have to worry so much about mixing during the 45 minute pose. She then tapes a 14x17 piece of vellum (she has tried many variations and feels an artist needs to find which one they prefer) to a white board, and then proceeds to paint the largest shadow mass with a large bristle brush using the warm brown tone she mixed on her palette.

Lyon - WWMdemo

Lyon explained that after she lays in the shadow shape rather loosely, she then defines the color mass of the light areas using a loose sight size method which has become like second nature after painting for many years. 

She simplifies her brushstrokes as much as possible, using only mid range values, feeling that the middle ranges tend to give a more life like feel for the figure. The only dark accents she adds are very small touches toward the end of the session.

Lyon - WWMdemo3
Lyon said that she tries not to stress out too much about the exact hue on the model, and that her color is not super exact "true" color. Rather, it is relative to the palette that she sets up, working within the context of those colors. For instance, the green cloth depicted in the photo below was actually black, but she wanted to show the warmth of the skin tone against a cooler color.

Lyon - quick sketch demo WWMasters
Susan Lyon's finished demo, oil on vellum, 45 minute pose.

In the afternoon students did three 45 minute poses. I had a hard time getting used to the vellum; it's literally been over 15+ years since I've painted on it. By the third pose I started to get the feel of it. Here is my 3rd 45 minute quick pose.

Lundman-quick oil pose

I would really like to get a group together to practice quick poses in oil. I currently attend a Tuesday night figure long pose session and Thursday night sculpting, so adding one more night is pushing it...still, I would love to do this. Quick poses in oil would be good practice for getting the form down quickly while also abbreviating color, only putting down what is necessary. I imagine after a year or two of weekly practice, an artist would make huge leaps!