learn how to paint people and add figures to your paintings, tips and techniques for artistsHow to paint people with watercolors can be done as a detailed portrait or a simple suggestion of a figure. Either way adding people to your paintings is a great way to add interest. The viewer will spend more time looking at a painting when there are people featured in the scene. These figures can be done quickly and without much detail. People can be painted as a suggestion, even without the detail a viewer knows what they are. You will see improvement in your figures if you practice them often. They can be done from life or photos or even from your imagination. Some examples for adding people to your paintings is to show people walking. Like a couple walking hand in hand or someone walking a dog. It gives action to your paintings to add figures. I often bring my watercolors when I go to the beach. I paint quick small watercolors of kids and adults walking, swimming, playing in the sand and sitting on colorful towels and chairs. It is great practice to paint outdoors and don’t forget to have fun with it!

Some of the facts for drawing and painting people are: there are about seven heads in the total height of the figure, the top of the legs or waist is half the height of the figure, arms hang to about halfway down the thigh. Observing people is the best way to learn the right proportions.

I always look for the light falling on a figure and I use that to create form. Look for the shadows on people and use light values next to dark values. Try not to paint stick figures, notice how people stand and walk and the angle created with shoulders and hips.

pencil sketch of boy in the surf at the beachThe sketch done at the beach to the left shows a small boy in the water. The scale of the waves in comparison to the boy shows how big the waves were that day. This is important when painting people into a scene. Be sure to scale people to their surroundings. People closer to you are bigger than people in the distance. Be sure that your people are the correct proportion to buildings, doors, cars etc. Use the biggest brush possible and paint shapes to create your figures and add as little detail as possible. I recently painted a small quick watercolor of a man sitting in a beach chair shown above. He was sitting right at the waters edge looking out to sea. I used a large squirrel mop brush for the entire painting.

A story can be told when you add figures to your paintings.  This beach scene to the right is much more interesting with the couple walking along the shore. Imagine that scene without the people and I think the whole scene would be boring or without character. Painting people takes practice but have fun with it. Try not to be perfect and your figures will be more expressive. Practice these painting tips and techniques in your next painting and I guarantee your artwork will be more interesting and expressive.

To read a previous post on how to add figures to your paintings click here. Also be sure to check out the updated HOW TO PAINT PEOPLE II from February 9, 2017 that includes a video!