Inspirational Artist Models for Painting Students

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I frequently get asked to suggest good artist models for Fine Art / Painting students. There are thousands of inspirational historical and contemporary artists that students can learn from, and it is impossible for to list them all within one blog post, however this is a collection of some of my favourite artist models.

This list includes artists that:

  • Demonstrate outstanding drawing and/or painting skill
  • Have a substantial body of work (in a few cases some of the artists below do not have extensive bodies of work – but their creative and inspiring work has warranted inclusion on this list)
  • Explore original and/or highly personal ideas
  • Publish process work, such as preliminary sketches, composition plans, semi-complete artwork etc (viewing such material is highly beneficial for students)

Good artist models offer something of value to a student: ideas for composition, approach to a subject, creative use of media or outstanding technique. It is not necessary that the artist be investigating the same subject (indeed, while this can sometimes make it easier, at times this can hinder originality and leave a student tending to copy rather than extending their own ideas).

Each artist is accompanied by an image of their work and a link to an official website, if it is known. Links are also given to appropriate books (unless noted otherwise, these are books that I have used personally with my students and vouch for).


Artist models: painters

Francis Bacon:

francis bacon painting - distorted figure on a chair
The paintings of Irish artist Francis Bacon have inspired students for decades. An investigation into the human condition, Bacon’s paintings depict fleshy, meaty, distorted human and animal forms, often trapped inside cages.


The Estate of Francis Bacon (linked to above) has a fantastic website, with a wealth of biographical information and an extensive collection of images, categorised chronologically.


Bill Barminski:

bill barminski dope painting
Contemporary American artist Bill Barminski challenges us with quietly ominous paintings that are derived from mass media imagery. These rich and textured works provoke reaction and encourage us to think again about the everyday items that we consume.


Don Binney:

paintings by don binney
New Zealand artist Don Binney is famous for his series of paintings and drawings of birds and landscape. Stylised, graphic paintings, Don Binney seamlessly integrates the bird with the landscape, carefully echoing shapes and balancing forms.


Simon Birch:

simon birch movement paintings
Simon Birch artist: Hong Kong based painter Simon Birch has produced some stunning paintings of movement – dancing blurred forms.


Jim Dine:

Jim Dine tool drawing
This charcoal drawing is one of Jim Dine’s many beautiful drawings of tools. Jim Dine draws familiar, ordinary objects and gives them a life of their own. He treats the spaces in an around the objects with as much importance as the objects themselves and juxtaposes precise form with chaotic, yet controlled application of tone.


An interview with Jim Dine is available on the Washing DC National Gallery of Art, Washington DC website.

There are many books available about Jim Dine, although the ones I have used are unfortunately out of print. Jim Dine has recently published some books himself, however, including these two: Jim Dine: Old Me, Now (Self-Portrait Drawings 2008-2009) and Jim Dine: Poet Singing (The Flowering Sheets) (affiliate). I would love to hear from anyone who has purchased these, as they look intriguing!


Jeffrey Harris:

painting by new zealand artist jeffrey harris
New Zealand artist Jeffrey Harris explores human relationships and conflicting emotions within his artwork. He often depicts the fragility of families and the complex interactions between members. He creates compositions that are often fragmented with large blocks of colour and jagged lines.


This fantastic book about Jeffrey Harris (affiliate) has been of great value to my students. It is expensive, but has many large, high quality illustrations.


Han Hyo-Seok:

han hyo seok paintings of flesh
Disturbing yet amazing paintings by Korean artist Han Hyo-Seok, showing portraits with the skin made to look like raw meat.


David Kapp:

david kapp painting
Depicting aerial views of urban scenes, American artist David Kapp’s often paints busy crowds of people, swirling down streets or people walking quickly through a structured, man-made environment. In thick, broad brush strokes, Kapp represents light and movement in an Impressionistic style.


Robert Mars (affiliate):

painting by robert mars, artist
Contemporary American artist Robert Mars produces richly collaged paintings based on Americana. In his own words: ‘Formerly the promise of hope and prosperity; these icons are now a sign of desperation and ruin’.


Lisa Milroy:

still life painting of lightbulbs by lisa milroy
This Lisa Milroy still life painting is one of her more well know works, in which still life items (shoes, light bulbs etc) are neatly ordered, often in rows or grid formation. Lisa Milroy’s still life paintings separate objects from their use – presenting collections of objects as a statement (perhaps) about mass-consumerism – or enjoying them for the aesthetic value and and pattern that is created.


Jose Parla:

hose parla painting
Huge graffiti inspired artworks, Jose Parla’s paintings explore the dialogue of decaying walls and the marks that people leave behind. Working upon a layered ground of mixed media, Jose Parla’s paintings are energetic, chaotic and wild.


Don Peebles:

don peebles canvas paintings
New Zealand artist Don Peebles is well known for his rich sculptural paintings that are constructed from carefully arranged pieces of canvas.


Amy Pleasant:

amy pleasant artist
American artist Amy Pleasant explores the concept of family within her latest artworks. Her paintings capture a moment in a family’s history; a piece of frozen time salvaged from photograph albums.


Till Rabus:

surrealist painting by till rabus, artist
A gory junk food scene. Swiss artist Till Rabus produces detailed surrealist and photo realist works, painting the wastes of society, including junk food remains, rubbish sacks and old tyres. Rabus employs creative angles and stunning rendering of shiny, reflective surfaces.


Robert Rauschenberg:

robert rauschenberg mixed media paintings
Found objects, such as pieces of trash, are glued into Robert Rauschenberg’s sculptural, mixed media artworks. Rauschenberg created compositions that merged cuttings, photographs, clothing, rubbish and other found objects together.


James Robinson:

mixed media paintings by james robinson nz artist
New Zealand artist James Robinson produces experimental, textured works, using virtually every medium imaginable.


Jenny Saville:

jenny saville paintings
A gruesome, gory exposure of flesh and bulging, wounded form, the artwork of contemporary British painter Jenny Saville has been studied by many students. An excellent art model for painting students, Jenny Saville is unafraid of addressing contentious issues head on.


Simon Schrikker:

paintings of dogs by simon schrikker
Simon Schrikker has completed some amazing paintings of dogs. His images of rottweilers are particularly impressive. He describes his paintings as a fight between the painter and the initial photograph of the dog.


Sylvia Siddell:

paintings of household objects by sylvia siddell, nz artist
Writhing, seething household objects are captured in this painting by New Zealand painter Sylvia Siddell. Inanimate, potentially dangerous objects – often those related to household chores – are brought to life in Siddell’s energetic paintings.


John Walsh:

painting by john walsh, new zealand artist
New Zealand artist John Walsh is an exceptionally skilful artist, achieving high levels of detail and realism in his work. John Walsh’s paintings explore a ‘playful interpretation’ of modern issues, with reference to mythical Maori imagery, ancestral figures and ethereal landscapes.


Zhang Xiaogang:

zhang xiaogang portraits
This painting by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang recently sold for $2.97 million. Zhang Xiaogang draws inspiration from old family photos and explores issues of identity, genealogy, and family. The people in his paintings are depicted with stylised features that differ only in small minute ways. Splashes of colour disturb the tension and heighten the unease in these eerily captivating works.

If you liked this collection of artists, you may be interested viewing our collection of artist line drawings. You may also enjoy our collection of 100 photography ideas and looking through the Student Art Guide Pinterest Boards for more inspirational artist works.