How to Paint People using Watercolors or acrylics

Painting people with watercolors or acrylics can be done as a comprehensive portrait or as a mere suggestion of a figure. Either way, adding people to your paintings is an exceptional way to ignite attention. The viewer will spend more time gazing at your painting when there are people highlighted in the scene.

One way of summing figures or people to your painting is to add them instantly and without much detail. When painted this way they are observed as a suggestion, even without the detail a viewer knows what they are. You will see development in your figures if you exercise them often. They can be done from life or photos or even from your imagination.

Some examples include showing people walking. Like a pair walking hand in hand or someone walking a dog. My sister, who paints since she was 9 (she is 31 now) often brings her watercolors when we go to the beach. She paints small, quick watercolors of kids and adults walking, swimming, playing in the sand, or sitting on colorful towels and chairs. When you get the opportunity try to exercise painting outdoors and don’t overlook having fun with it! 

Facts about painting people:

  1. There are approximately seven heads in the whole height of the figure.
  2. the apex of the legs or waist is half the height of the figure.
  3. arms stretch to about halfway down the thigh.

Watching people is the best way to get the right proportions. You can always look for the light falling on a figure and you use that to create form. Look for the shadows on people and use light marks next to dark values. Try not to express stick figures, notice how people stand and walk, and the angle created with arms and hips.

Be sure to scale people to their surroundings. People closer to you are bigger than people far away. Be sure that your characters are the exact proportion of buildings, doors, cars, etc. Use the largest brush possible and paint shades to create your figures and add as little detail as feasible. My sister recently painted a small quick watercolor of a man sitting in a beach chair. He was chilling right at the water’s edge staring out to sea. She used a large squirrel mop brush for the entire 5 inches by 7-inch painting.

Imagine any scene without the people, the entire scene is dead or muffled. Your painting will come to life when you paint people into your subject. Painting people is all about embracing imperfections. Try not to be precise and your figures will be more expressive.

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