Final Stages of a Figure Painting in Oils


Usually when I’m working on a figure painting in oils, I write down ideas I have about the painting and the next steps I should follow. So once the painting is dry after a few days, I can pick up from where I left off.

My journal becomes quite important near the final stages of the painting, because this is when things really start coming together, and I want to be sure I’m getting things right and not forgetting stuff.

I also look at it the mirror at lot, in order to see the image in reverse. After seeing the same image for so long, my brain needs a fresh perspective. This helps the most to see any glaring proportional, tonal, colour or temperature errors.

Building up warmer, brighter skin

As in my previous blog Glazing the Skin Tones in Oil Painting, I spoke a lot about glazing and scumbling. Well, I usually find in the final stages of an oil painting, that there are a lot adjustments and tweaks to be made.

Sometimes the colour temperature is off, or the parts that should be brighter are too dark. Sometimes, some areas just need to be repainted because they don’t look right. And sometimes you need to add more opaque paint because glazing and scumbling methods are just too transparent to make any fixes.

I decided to build up a brighter value on her skin using titanium white, which is a fairly bright and opaque white, warmed up with a little gold ochre and permanent rose. The underpainting and flesh tone layers beneath were looking just a little too dark and greenish still.

This gave me a higher key value to work with once it had dried and it allowed me to continue glazing over the skin to build up warmer fleshier areas.

Adding details, glazing, adding more details, and more glazing

It’s sometimes difficult to give a step-by-step account of how a painting progresses. Sometimes you can only do a little bit at a time, but it still makes a huge difference. Sometimes, especially near the final stages of a painting, the process doesn’t always seem linear in trying to bring things together. There’s an intuitive part that takes over.

It was time to paint the colour of her eyes and her lips, the colour of her fingernails, the broach and ring, and other more detailed areas.

I glazed more ultramarine blue over her dress. And then another stage of glazing with ivory black and ultramarine for the shadowed folds of the dress.

I glazed the shadow areas of her face and in the dark areas around her eyes, the throat, arms, hands, and more glazing over her hair to build up its glossiness.


Painting the space around the figure.

Working on the space around the figure

You can see that I added a tiled floor which helps indicate the room’s perspective and adds a bit of colour to the space around her. I was inspired by Vermeer’s interior paintings.

I literally lay the painting on the ground in the bedroom, tied a string around the foot of our bed and used the taut string to mark the vanishing point on the painting with a piece of chalk. And thus worked out the perspective with string, chalk and a long ruler.

The first layer of the tiles were painted fairly thinly. Then I added highlights and shadows to them later.

I also painted the shutters from dark burnt umber to white. Then to a natural blond wood colour with gold ochre and siennas. I glazed colours over the shutters in several stages.

I also worked on the shadow cast by the figure against the wall, and the areas of light shining around her.

Final details and highlights for a figure painting in oils

The lady who commissioned the painting is from Ireland. So she wanted bluebells and blue butterflies (Common Blue) in her painting. I painted the flowers and butterflies in about three stages.

I added highlights to the ledge she’s leaning on, and highlights to her broach and her ring, and to her eyes. (Glazed them again also.)

I also added patches of light shining on the floor from the window. By glazing dark shadows in some areas, I built up more atmosphere in the room. And scumbled cool light areas in others.

So in all, the painting was build up gradually bit by bit with many layers of glazes and scumbles. And this is what creates the interesting play of colour temperatures and transparent layers of textures and light and dark tones.


Final Stages of a Figure Painting in Oils
Final stages of a figure painting in oils. The painting is titled ‘Transformation’.


I hope you enjoyed this series with me. Please comment or send me any questions you may have.

In the next figure painting in oils series, I show a slightly different technique. You can read about it or watch the videos, starting with Painting the Figure – Part 1.


Check out my figure paintings here.



One thought on “Final Stages of a Figure Painting in Oils”

  1. Thank you for making this instructive video. I paint en Plein air, but have decided to focus on a figure in my next painting. Preferring charcoal as a medium for figure drawing, and wanting to try it under a painting, led me to you. Thanks!

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