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Painting Figures

Placing figures in a painting often adds life and interest that can make the difference between an average painting and an engaging one.


The subject of a painting can change with the inclusion of figures. Emphasis shifts from the surroundings to the activity in which the figures are involved.

In the examples below the figures change the subject of the painting from what would be fairly bland empty paintings of buildings to, in the first example, people enjoying the sunshine along a Venetian waterfront, in the second, two people discussing the price of fruit outside a corner store. The subject becomes more personal and easier to identify with.

Watercolor of figures along a Venetian waterfront
Watercolor painting of figures outside a corner store

The figures in these examples are very simple and understated. They are suggested rather than carefully rendered. It is important to keep the heads small and not to fiddle too much. The beauty of these figures lies in their simplicity and spontaneity.

Click through the images below using the arrows at either end

The first step is to make a few colored marks

In the example above the figures are only about 30mm tall. The same technique can be applied to larger figures - they just require a little more detail in the final stages. The figure below is about 80mm high, but the same simple approach was taken. Slightly more modelling of the form and a few fine lines make him convincing without being overworked.

A single, larger figure painted with the same simple technique.



Play around with groups of figures on some old paper or the back of old paintings. Once you get used to the technique, they can be a lot of fun and interest to your work.

Tips for Painting Figures

     ° Variation in the size, shape, color and tone of the body shapes

     ° Variation in the spacing of the figures - Some overlapping some well separated.

     ° Keep the heads small

     ° A shadow under the figures will anchor them to the ground.

     ° Keep arms and legs as fine as possible - a small rigger brush helps here.

See Also:

Figures in Perspective

Author: John Lovett

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