From sketch to painting: Gail Sibley, "Zoom Nude," Unison Colour pastels on UART 500 paper, 6 x 8 in.

From Sketch to Painting – Using A Life Drawing

So this whole idea of going from sketch to painting started with a frame.

I was visiting Peninsula Gallery to review my painting inventory as they were in the process of reopening the gallery (after being closed for COVID-19). 

The frame from Peninsula Galley!! .... Along with my studio carpet (!) and my summer toes :-)
The frame from Peninsula Galley!! …. Along with my studio carpet (!) and my summer toes 🙂

Then Vivian, Manager of Peninsula Gallery, suggested I do a nude painting for the frame. And so the idea was planted!

At home, I began flipping through my life drawings for any that would give me enough information to work from. My selection would need to be able to work in the 3:4 format of the frame, and most importantly, it needed to have a clear value pattern worked out.

I settled on this five-minute sketch done in a recent zoom session. (I wrote about that experience here.)

Life drawing virtually: Five-minute pose - pencil and brown Holbein pastel
Five-minute pose – pencil and brown Holbein pastel

Although this sketch would work, the background had no value or structure design. So I decided to try a couple of small thumbnails – one with a light background and one with a middle-value option. Here they are:

From sketch to Painting: Thumbnail in pencil - this one mimics the original sketch - it shows a light value background
Thumbnail in pencil – this one mimics the original sketch – it shows a light value background
From sketch to painting: Thumbnail in pencil - this one moves to a middle-value background. This is the one I decide to use.
Thumbnail in pencil – this one moves to a middle-value background. This is the one I decide to use.

Once I decided on the thumbnail to follow, I drew up the figure with vine charcoal on UART 500 paper (6 x 8 in).

I first blocked in the three main value areas and then gradually built up layers of soft pastel. It was an interesting process, feeling my way along, checking the initial life drawing sketch, adding pastel, stepping back, and then continuing. When I got to a place where I knew I was just fiddling around, I stopped.

You can see the whole process sped up in this YouTube video:

Here are a couple of photos from the progress. The painting process took about an hour. This included a lot of stepping back and forth from the easel. The trickiest part was fussing with the details of the face with chunky soft pastels but somehow, in the end, I think it works. 😀

From sketch to painting: 1. The first layer with the three areas of value (dark, middle, light) blocked in. I'm using Unison Colour soft pastels.
The first layer with the three areas of value (dark, middle, light) blocked in. I’m using Unison Colour soft pastels.
From sketch to painting: Beginning to add more layers. Feeling my way in deciding what colours to choose. I just know they have to be in one of three value areas!
Beginning to add more layers. Feeling my way in deciding what colours to choose. I just know they have to be in one of three value areas!
From sketch to painting: Nearing the end but still a few tweaks to make!
Nearing the end but still a few tweaks to make!
From sketch to painting: Gail Sibley, "Zoom Nude," Unison Colour pastels on UART 500 paper, 6 x 8 in.
Gail Sibley, “Zoom Nude,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 500 paper, 6 x 8 in.

So now I want to encourage you to pick a sketch (that has the values at least partly figured out) and fly with it. Just have fun and see what happens. Go easy on yourself as you’re doing this. Tell the critic to go take a hike! The thing is, since you’re working only from a sketch, you can’t be judged on the outcome! Right?!

When we’re used to the idea of getting information from our subject, whether from life or a photograph, it can be anxiety-provoking to work only from a black and white sketch. On the other hand, it can be sooooo liberating!! You can work less literally and that means you’re not restricted by the colour you see (because there isn’t any to see!). You can get bold and experimental. Just remember to use colours that match the value ranges (dark, middle, and light) of the sketch and then PLAY.

I also want to use this opportunity to remind you to think about adding value notations to your sketches. I often sketch using only an outline and I do these sketches to maintain my drawing and observational skills. But adding a simple value three-value pattern ups that sketch a notch and also makes it a perfect drawing to paint from.

As may be evident by now, going from sketch to painting is also a great way to become looser in your work. So try it and let me know how it goes.

And I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment. Have you gone from sketch to painting before? If so, please share your process. And if you haven’t, I encourage you to share what’s holding you back, and if you’re excited or anxious about trying it out.

Until next time,

~ Gail

PS. I slipped the pastel into the frame to see what it looks like. The pastel is slightly washed out in the photo but….here it is in case you’re curious! I LOVE the way it looks!

From sketch to painting: "Zoom Nude" in the frame!
“Zoom Nude” in the frame!

Related Posts

Subscribe to the HowtoPastel Blog today!

Take a course

Like my Blogs?

Do you like the blog?

Support HowToPastel and help me to keep creating content to instruct, inspire, and motivate you with your pastel painting. Although I’ve been asked, “How much does it cost to subscribe?” HowToPastel will always be free. Your financial support is completely optional but does go a long way in helping with the cost of running this blog. Thank you!


22 thoughts on “From Sketch to Painting – Using A Life Drawing”

  1. Hi Gail, thanks for the video and great ideas. Your nude is wonderful- I love the colors.
    Btw did you frame this behind glass? I always do because I can never fix anything reliably. Talk a little about your framing style.
    Thanks again. Your enthusiasm is contagious.
    P.S. I’ve been experimenting more lately with watercolor underpainting and getting nice effects.

    1. Glad you liked it all Nora!

      This is brand new so unframed as yet but when it is framed, it will definitely be behind glass! You asked about my framing style…I’m not quite sure how to answer (probably because I’m not quite sure what you are asking) but what I will say is this, that I want to make sure that the frame shows off the painting and that you see the frame second ie after the painting. That’s what’s tricky about this frame – it ihas a lot to say and requires a strong piece to quiet it down 😀

      Glad to hear you’ve been experimenting! That’s always a good thing!

  2. WOW!!! This is absolutely one of the nicest nude paintings I’ve seen! You must be super excited about it. Really amazing. Thanks for sharing your process Gail. You’re an inspiration!

    1. Kathy I’m more excited after hearing YOUR enthusiasm for it. I definitely was pleased with the outcome so I am delighted you like it so much too! Thank you!!!

  3. Hi Gail,
    Your nude painting came out great! I love the colors. And I love how you chose them so intuitively. It all came together great and looks wonderful in the frame. You gave me some great ideas and inspiration for some of my own sketches to use as paintings. I always think of sketches as just sketches and not anything grander but I see a little more clearly now. Thank you for the great video.

    1. Thanks so much Brenda!! I know what you mean about “sketches as just sketches” and certainly they are perfect that way but they also offer so much possibility. Happy exploring!

  4. You HAVE inspired me to try a nude based off of one of my hundreds of Life drawing sketches over the years. I too have begun some zoom drawing sessions and I’m eager to do some value studies tonight and work toward a pastel tomorrow! Regardless of how It turns out, I’d like to share it on the FB page. Thanks, Gail for your encouragement, and sharing your beautiful pieces and ideas!

    1. That’s WONDERFUL to hear Sue! And yes, it doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s the fun of doing and exploration that matters. Look forward to seeing what happens!

  5. Thanks so much for this, Gail. Beautiful painting and amazing colours.
    I love life drawing (and missing it at the moment, as it’s been cancelled for the indefinite future). I tried to do a painting in oils from one of my sketches once, but it was a horrible mess and I couldn’t work out what to do with areas like hands, that I hadn’t filled in in the sketch. But I’m now inspired again to try in pastel (being an Ignite-r) and follow your suggestions- values and big shapes first, and don’t get too caught up in it. So I’ll definitely go through those sketches again and have a go.

    1. Thanks so much Judy!

      There’s nothing quite like life drawing and doing it via Zoom is definitely not the same thing as working in a group, quietly, intently, all of us trying to capture on paper (or canvas) what we observe before us.

      I know what you mean about the missing bits! I was lucky with this one but I have many drawings where hands and heads are cut off. Especially heads. Or rather, they’re just a big shape without details. So yes, it can be tricky finding a sketch that works. Two things though: you can always use only a portion of the sketch or you can use the whole thing but put emphasis on one area and sort of vignette the other areas.

      Look forward to seeing how it goes 😀

  6. I don’t do many (any, actually) life drawings. It’s a “should” for me… But I do always do sketches from photos before doing the thumbnail, so maybe I an use those. I love the idea of painting from a sketch instead of a photo reference. Because of Covid, and the heat, I’m not going out much lately, but I think I will just keep a pad in my car for whenever I might see something I can sketch. So, yes, I’m inspired!! Loved watching you demo this technique, and love the nude in that cute little frame! Thanks Gail!!

    1. Ahhh life drawing. When things open up Ruth and we can gather again, I encourage you to search out a life drawing group. It’s tough, no question. Drawing the human body, its complexity, is hard BUT it is also rewarding, fulfilling, and will move you forward on your artistic path. In the meantime, we do what we can to hone our skills 😀 Drawing first from a photo and then moving to a thumbnail or two (or three) is a great way to warm up to the main event of painting.

      A sketchpad in the car is perfect. A tiny sketchbook in a purse also works. It’s so handy to have a piece of paper to jot down a sketch!

      I look forward to hearing how it goes when you try the painting from a sketch idea!!

  7. Another wonderful post, Gail! I have learned so much from you in the last couple of years. Thanks for being so generous with your talent, knowledge and process. Lovely painting❤️

    1. Thanks Sandy!!
      I’m assuming the course to which you refer is the video and lessons in the IGNITE! membership. And what a lovely compliment – to be able to help others see the world differently is, I think, the dream of every artist 😀

  8. I love this. Quick question: when you paint from life drawings, are there any copyright issues with the model? I’m sure not but just wanted to ask. I have a lot of pencil and charcoal nudes I might try this with.

    1. Thans Pam.
      And an interesting question. I don’t think there is a problem. The model is paid to pose and we create art from that sitting in many forms – from sketches through to paintings. I think the exchange of funds gives us permission to use him/her/they as a subject for our work. I have a friend who often models for life drawing sessions and she is delighted to see the various pieces that emerge from her posing!
      I’m going to see if I can find any info on this…

  9. As always I am so amazed at your color sense! Would love to do actual figure drawing class as lived then many years ago. Zoom class does not interest me. A combo of age and too much screen time. I started sketching dancers before covid need to try again. Your nude makes me think of Frida Kahlo!

    1. Ahhh thanks Brenda. And yes, I can see the Frida Kahlo connection 😀

      And I hear you about too much screen time! In-person is so much better. But for now, online is what we need to do… I hope you’ll take up sketching dancers…and any people…outside.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Other Related Posts

Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

Join the mailing list today to receive exclusive tips, resources and inspiration directly from Gail:

Scroll to Top

Welcome Artists!

Online Courses

Pastels 101

Use this link if you bought the course AFTER Sept 2022

Use this link if you bought the course BEFORE Sept 2022

Pastel Painting En Plein Air

Art Membership

IGNITE! Art Making Members

Love soft pastels?? Then join 7000+ other subscribers and get my tips, reviews, and resources all about pastels... it's FREE! Just enter your name and email address below.

Your information will never be shared or sold to a 3rd party. Privacy Policy