Figures! Ever struggled over placing little figures in your landscapes? When done poorly they can ruin a good painting because the eye is drawn to them so powerfully, but when they're done right they can add a wonderful sense of scale to a scene and the beginnings of a story to your painting. Anyone with enough patience and a small enough brush can paint a little figure well, but how do you paint it with a few 'quick' strokes that convey the movement and energy of a living person? Tricky! But can you do it!? Let me show you how.
Feel free to follow me step by step in painting the same scene or use the photos below to design a piece that is more your own. You can paint this any size or shape your like using any medium. Either way the main learning goal for this workshop is to focus on those little figures that are oh so important to get right. In the demo video I show you how to practice them off your painting and get them right using a few key tips before you immortalize them on canvas. After this workshop you will feel much more confident about adding little figures into your own paintings. Happy painting!
Click image to enlarge.
I fiddled with this one in photoshop.
Practicing on paper.
Here's a video explaining how to analyse colour and value with a colour checker:
Note: If you can't see the videos on this page (above) or on Youtube, I can't help with that sorry - there will be something wrong with your computer settings, but I'm no computer wiz. You would need to contact a computery person to fix that problem.
I think you're right about the texture caused by painting over a previous painting Hazel - too much interfering information for the background which should really be sitting back rather than drawing attention to itself. Other than that first obvious thing I think you've done really well with this painting, especially the subtle differences in colour found in the background because when I step back from your painting I can ignore all that texture and the painting really does work well with plenty of depth.
The size, colour and placement of the figures has been done really well too but they're just falling down on brushwork at the moment and it seems you've discovered how difficult it is to paint dark colours succinctly into a thick light background. Dabbing really is the killer here as more than one stroke in one spot will only make mud so I can only suggest more practice before you come to the canvas so you're sure of each brushstroke before you commit it.
Loved your painting of Spirits Bay with the lone figure in it - really nicely done.
"Beach Scene" 12x12" Acrylic on Canvas by Walda Juhl
Great looking figures Walda. The shapes are all good. Interesting how the medium you choose influences the style of painting. The figures do seem very still to me, without movement, and I believe that is simply due to their very crisp edges which is a product of fast drying acrylics. Very hard to avoid that with acrylics and it tends to give them a cut-out feel. Some softer edges can be achieved by first of all becoming aware that it's something you might want to explore and then using more paint (big juicy gobs of it) and a water spray bottle (add a little retarder medium to the water) and a stay-wet palette. Also have some of that sandy background colour mixed up ready to work back into the edges of wet figures, just in case they dry too fast.
The same can be said for your background too which is in need of some lost edges too. If you did this painting again you would be that much faster and that would help with conquering the fast drying acrylics too. Golden Open and Chroma Interactive Acrylics are both good choices for acrylic painters wanting a longer drying time.
You've got a good grasp of values Sheila and your colour is good too so you've created some good distance in this painting. I would have liked to see you try getting more of that sea spray along the top of the beach to add even more distance. Your figures are great. I especially like the guy with the surfboard under the umbrella - nicely done. The intense green in the foreground is a bit of an attention grabber which pulls the eye to the edge - would have been better grayed down some. A good job overall.
Wow very strong colour in this one Li - perhaps too strong with the background blue? It seems to jump out rather than be a backdrop. On the other hand the darker value you've got there does make for more of an imposing mountain and enhances the overall dark/light design. You figures are good too - lots of movement and nice and dark against the whitewater. A couple of those umbrellas down the beach are a bit too small - they should be slightly larger than the furthest ones. Nice fluid brushwork again - good to see. Overall a really pleasing painting.
"Summer at the Beach" 12x16" Oil on Canvas by Denis King
Nice to see you've made this one your own Denis by changing a few things around. You've made the layered hills much more of a feature which works well. Just a few things to watch out for there however: by painting the tree silhouettes all much the same size you've negated some of the depth you might have gained there. Your mountain shapes are echoing each other a lot which creates a kind of cookie-cutter effect - all too easy to do. Great to see you introduced the sea spray into the base of the background although a few errant dark strokes there have spoiled it a bit.
Your figures are wonderfully gestural and have the appearance of being not too laboured. The sitter in the foreground should be a fair bit larger or the scene can do without him entirely. You've used a strong blue for the figures in the mid ground and they would be more believable done in a mid value gray. Overall a pretty solid job.
When you're placing the figures in your scene you need to be very careful to measure where their head and feet go in relation to the horizon and in relation to any other figures you've already placed. I remember when I first started out I would sometimes cut out tiny paper figures and place them on the painting so that I could move them around easily and check where they would look right without messing up the wet paint. The video above on perspective is helpful for that too.
Some painters prefer to exclude all figures and signs of people from their landscape paintings, which I often do too, but sometimes a little figure can give such a powerful sense of scale to a vast scene that it's worth the intrusion.
Get the Demonstration Video
Painting Workshop 16
Figures! Ever struggled over placing little figures in your landscapes? When done poorly they can ruin a good painting because the eye is drawn to them so powerfully, but when they're done right they can add a wonderful sense of scale to a scene and the beginnings of a story to your painting. Anyone with enough patience and a small enough brush can paint a little figure well, but how do you paint it with a few 'quick' strokes that convey the movement and energy of a living person?
Tricky! But can you do it!? Let me show you how.
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Running time: 22 minutes.
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