View Full Version : The Spotlight - September 2017 - People

08-31-2017, 08:21 PM
Welcome artists!

Here is a quick recap of what The Spotlight is all about!

The Spotlight is an activity thread for pastel artists of all experience levels working from photos chosen by a monthly host. Most months, the host will choose photos from only one subject, putting that subject into “the spotlight,” so to speak! For example, one month the subject will be painting water, another month will spotlight flowers, etc.

Some months, rather than spotlight a subject, the focus will be on a challenge of some sort. In those cases, we might have a wider variety of photo references, but “the spotlight” will be on the challenge itself.

Since this is a group activity, we can pool our knowledge and resources, and grow as artists in a fun, “no-pressure” atmosphere.

And, remember, no critiques unless specifically asked for.

The intent is to have fun, try new things, experiment, and perhaps most of all, to see what our friends and colleagues are painting from the same reference material!

Please note: The photos this month were taken by me or are from the Reference Image Library. You have permission to use the photos as reference to create your artwork and to sell them and/or exhibit them. The actual photos still retain the copyright of the photographer. So you cannot copy the photo to your blog, for example, without the permission of the photographer, or digitally alter or reproduce the photo for any purpose other than for your personal use, with the exception of crops, digital alterations and posts of these photos within "The Spotlight" thread.

This month’s Spotlight is on…People!

Many artists feel reasonably comfortable painting landscapes, still lifes and even pet portraits, but when it comes to painting people – they feel quite intimidated. But in many ways, painting people is no different than painting any other subject.

Many times beginning artists here on WC (and other places as well) will ask, “How do I paint trees, or water, or rocks, or apples, or...well, anything! I think they are always disappointed to hear that I have no specific answer for painting specific things; that the answer is always the same….

“You aren’t really painting a tree, or water, or an apple – you are painting shapes of color. Don’t think about what the subject is – and don’t let your mental image of what you think the subject looks like get in the way – just observe the shapes and put them together like a puzzle!"
And that basic idea even applies to the theme of this month’s Spotlight – painting People!

What does make painting people a bit more difficult is that getting the correct proportions for those shapes is more important than with most other subjects. As people, we spend a lot of time looking at other people. So much so, that we can usually tell at a glance if the proportions of people in a painting are off or unrealistic. It often doesn’t matter if we paint some trees in a landscape, or an apple in a still life, with proportions that aren’t that accurate. In fact, we often intentionally change the size and proportions of other subjects in a landscape or still life to improve the composition. But with people, we usually have to get the proportions reasonably accurate, so we normally make some rudimentary measurements and use guidelines to help us get those proportions right!

Here are some examples:

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum

One popular way of getting proportions correct when painting people is to use the head as a measuring guide! This works especially well with standing figures, but can be used in most cases. In the photo on the left, you can see that I have drawn yellow lines that indicate the size of the head all the way to the feet. In this case, the figure is 8 “heads” tall. I have spaced out those 8 “head” lengths on the paper on the right. The measurements – as you can see – aren’t exact, but are usually close enough! I have also drawn two guidelines representing the angle of the shoulders and hips.

Another example:

Original photography used with permission, ©Marcus J. Ranum

Once again I use the size of the head as a basic measurement to establish the height of the figure (7 heads tall). I am also using another popular type of guideline. Yup, it sure looks like a stick figure! A stick figure is a good way to get the correct proportions and general layout or pose of your figure(s). It can help establish a “centerline” or the position and movement of the spine – an important feature in getting a pose to look correct. It also can help locate – and help us judge the distances between – those important guideposts in a person: shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles!

Another helpful technique to get proportions correct is to use horizontal and vertical guidelines to compare where various features are in relation to one another.


The yellow lines are all horizontal and vertical guidelines. For example, let’s take a look at the vertical guideline that starts at the left side (our left) of the figure’s head. That guideline shows that the hip is directly under the left edge of the head, and so is the knee – and the ankle is just a smidge to the left of that line. We also see that the horizontal guideline that starts at the figure’s upper hand shows us that the hand is in line with the nearer shoulder and that the other shoulder is slightly higher. These type of lines can help us locate the important guideposts in any figure. The lines don’t necessarily have to be drawn, they can easily be visualized since they are all horizontal and vertical.

Not all guidelines need be horizontal and vertical. Angles are often important in painting people, too.


Sometimes visualizing or sketching in triangles can help get the angles and proportions of arms and legs correct. If the triangle on your paper is the same shape as the one on your reference, you’ve got the angle right! Guidelines drawn at an angle can also help with placing features. The line drawn from the figure's elbow to shoulder continues and lines up with the edge of the head, for example, as well as the line at the top of the belt continues on to help place the elbow.

Starting with a stick figure or a quick sketch using guidelines allows us to get the basic proportions in place at a stage where we can still make quick and easy corrections. We don’t want to get too far along and then notice that something is out of place or out of proportion (although, yes, it happens!).

Here’s my stick figure sketch of the woman in white. It is very basic and there certainly could be more sketching and measuring done if needed.


The next stage may be to look for those big shapes that we are always talking about! In many cases, the block-in will be the shapes of all the various colors, which might include the various articles of clothing, hair, and skin tones. Sometimes, as in this example, I block in the shapes of light and shadow. Here is my block-in of the shapes that are in the light.


Now I will add the “shadow” shapes.


Keep in mind these are just examples of how I might begin this painting. They are certainly not rules! Each person may take a different approach. But as you can see, I was not really painting a person – I was just painting shapes!

(Note: These photos and examples are taken from my portrait and figure lessons (from 2008-09), which can be found in our Soft Pastel Learning Center here:


Special thanks to photographer Marcus J. Ranum for the use of his photos.)

OK, now it is time for the references!

Photo by redwood

Photo by Jolanta

Photo by Valleysk

Photo by Yorky

Photo by devymarie

Photo by graymare

As always, feel free to modify the refs any way you wish! Share any thoughts, techniques and questions you may have regarding painting people!

And have fun!


09-01-2017, 05:41 AM
Brilliant lesson Don! I'll read it properly later. I have even done a painting from one of these, way back in the past. I'll try and find it to post. Then maybe I'll try it again.....but this time using your process as I am finding drawing correct proportions very difficult these days. I usually start and just draw the outline of a face or figure. It used to work but recently I am getting worse and worse!
I'm also just about to go to the studio with a friend's ref photo of a boy on the beach. maybe it would be OK to post that?

09-01-2017, 08:23 AM
Brilliant lesson Don! I'll read it properly later. I have even done a painting from one of these, way back in the past. I'll try and find it to post. Then maybe I'll try it again.....but this time using your process as I am finding drawing correct proportions very difficult these days. I usually start and just draw the outline of a face or figure. It used to work but recently I am getting worse and worse!
I'm also just about to go to the studio with a friend's ref photo of a boy on the beach. maybe it would be OK to post that?

Ruthie, Good to see you! Yes, feel free to post paintings on our theme even if they aren't one of the "official" references!


09-01-2017, 08:46 AM
Nice to see you back Ruthie!
Don, very thorough and clear explanation of the basics and thanks for the reference links...I often forget the Learning Center..... and a brilliant variety of photo references.

09-01-2017, 12:55 PM
This looks wonderful Don. Thank you. You make it look reasonable. Now if those dusty sticks could just cooperate!!! References are great. thanks

09-01-2017, 02:22 PM
Haha, I can't believe that I framed this and offered it for sale. Here's the one from the refs that I did back in 2010. I do hope you can tell which ref it came from! Are her legs too short?

Oh, well, my internet security will NOT allow me to post an image! It says the url for upload is not a valid address! Will try again tomorrow :wave:

09-01-2017, 02:24 PM

Hmm, changed browser and no problem. What is that all about I wonder?

09-02-2017, 12:59 PM
Well, Ruthie, even though this is an older painting, I still like it! The blue and violet background create a real mood - and the figure looks fine! I didn't compare the legs with the ref - they may be slightly shorter - but, luckily there can be a fairly wide range of length when it comes to legs! It's sometimes interesting to see how some folks can have long legs and short torsos and others the opposite - even among siblings!


09-02-2017, 02:43 PM
How lovely Ruthie! So graceful....

water girl
09-02-2017, 02:46 PM
Ruthie, short legs, long legs, everyone is different. I particularly like the piece of the costume that falls on her right shoulder. It is that one delicate element that speaks volumes.

09-02-2017, 04:04 PM
You are all too kind! I think it's something to do with the tutu I gave her. maybe it should start at the waist, then, maybe, the legs would appear longer? I don't know, or care. I only posted because I remembered I had painted from that ref in the past. Thank you anyway. I think i may fancy doing the old men on the bench.....

09-07-2017, 08:41 AM
ok, one little kid of the three. (one step at a time.) This is 9 x 12 pastelMat. White. Just Nupastels These is a lot of texture in this paper which surprised me because the paper is fine. I need to build up the white of the wave foam but I am impatient to put the child in the lesson. I'm not crazy about the colors of his clothing. I should have chosen more beach colors. I used pastelMat so I could have fine line for the child. Does not work well with waves, IMHO. Please Feel free to comment. Thanks

09-07-2017, 09:04 AM
I don't need to critic this piece, you've been more than critical all on your own!:lol:
I see lots of good things and great potential :heart:

09-07-2017, 10:09 AM
Thanks Leslie! Even complimented my critique! Thanks.

people are fun! I am practicing so hopefully..I'll relax about them. As long as they don't have tiny faces..

09-07-2017, 12:25 PM
I am working..i'm trying. I did the old man on the right, on the bench. But my old man turned into an old woman. His jacket turned purple and his hat looks like a turban. She is a very kind old lady but not what I was expecting.

The old man looked good on paper but when I transferred him to Mi Tientes Touch and tried to add pastel...the transformation. I didn't use pastel pencils this time but regular sticks. I think Id better stock to people that are far far away...mearly suggestions of people. safer that way!!

09-07-2017, 01:09 PM
Jay, you sound just like I used to....and still do sometimes, self critical! Well, that is a good thing IMO because it means you can see any shortcomings and work out how to overcome them!
The proportions of the boy look pretty good to me and you chose your one of the three wisely.
I agree about the colours not being "beachy" as such. But all you need to do is ensure that the most saturated colour in the painting goes into the subject and he will stand out nicely. One alternative that comes to my mind is, if you wanted to, you could make the sea more of a blue violet, with hints of turquoise, to complement the golden colour of his top, which will be the most striking thing at first view of the painting.
Hope that makes sense.

09-07-2017, 03:04 PM
Thanks Ruthie. I'm thinking of maybe changing the boys shirt color. I think it's the Orange that bothers me. Might be easier to change that than the sea. I'll play around a bit with different colors, dress him like a paper doll!

And I need the practice. People practice.

When you do people, do you do them directly in pastel? Do you draw first in pencil? If I do, I lose the features immediately. That's where my old lady came from!!

09-07-2017, 04:01 PM
Jay, I have tried different ways, especially in portraits. While some of my most successful portraits have been started simply blocking in the darks, then lights, then working from there, some of my most horrendous ones have also been done that way! I guess mostly I draw first, either with charcoal or, on sanded paper, a pastel pencil. These take longer and are way more frustrating but I think my success rate is marginally higher with drawn ones! Yes, you always lose the drawing once you start out in pastel. I tend to mark the dark areas, nostrils, mouthline, so that I can still see them once I get to work with the sticks. The eyes I try to be careful with....so easy to make them too big. My worst problem, almost always, is with the line of a jaw/chin. Why I don't know!

09-08-2017, 06:16 AM
Thank you Ruthie. I appreciate your taking the time to answer. So you lose the face too. And you mark a few dark spots to show structure of the face. Thanks.

I'm going to do some practice on little faces. A couple a day. Practice practice!

There is an artist around here who does portraits in pastel. He uses pieces of pastel as big as tic tacs. Amazing work.

09-08-2017, 10:36 AM
The stylist I mentioned is Mario Robinson. He does portraits by criss cross hatching in layers. Amazing work

09-09-2017, 09:31 AM
Jay, I think your boy on the beach is looking good! You've captured the simple light and shadow shapes well. What might be bothering you about the orange shirt is the color of the shadow areas. They seem more brown and less orange on the ref. Before changing the color, you might try just reducing the intensity of the shadow shapes with a more neutral, possibly slightly darker, brown. Just a thought.

As far as portraits go, I tried to pick references with very little or no face detail so folks didn't have to worry about that aspect! As Ruth mentions, there are many ways to approach portraits, ranging from starting with a detailed drawing to starting with nothing more than big shapes. For anyone interested, my portrait class had some examples of measuring and laying out portraits in various ways.



09-09-2017, 02:32 PM
I did notice you chose refs with no faces. Thank you. And thanks for the suggestions about the shirt. Maybe the browner tone would look better with the turquoise water anyway. Thanks.

I'll spend some time with your portrait class too. More hours in the day please?

09-09-2017, 04:51 PM
Here's the one I was working on when this Spotlight started. I did draw it freehand and I didn't use Don's guidelines :angel: although I did measure the relative lengths of the head, trunk and legs. I am not absolutely sure that this child's body is in proportion as it was only after I was half way through the painting that I became aware that the ref photo was taken from quite close to the child by an adult, therefore we are looking down on him somewhat. Anyway, I called it "Shadow Play"
I will try to get one done from the refs this month and actually pay heed to the lesson and try to break the habit of a lifetime and do something scientifically!


Jay, with figure work no face is always a good thing! :wave:

09-10-2017, 08:16 AM
Ruthie, love this. And I love the title you chose. I notice that you downplayed the water. That made the figure stand out. I like your figure, especially his legs and toes. Good job. (Tanks for the face tip.).

I did some practice with Don's rectangle around the head tip and it worked well for me, at least with one and ink. Helped a lot. Just sketching tiny faces in the news. All toward learning. Thanks Don. Now to get some pastel on those faces. I'll give it a try.

09-10-2017, 09:09 AM
Thanks Jay! I used greyed down colours plus the lighter of the turquoise I used on his shirt for the sea. The beach was also low chroma colours which all helps to make the bright colours of the boy's clothes stand out. I used every colour from the boy somewhere in the painting too, even the red, though that is restricted to in the shadow. I have learned that helps to add harmony to the whole. :)

09-10-2017, 10:54 AM
all good tips, Ruthie. Thank you. Sometimes i get hooked on one aspect of the painting and forget about the "whole."

I'm putting up one of the men. Just a suggestion of him. and some faces I did in pen to learn about faces. they are all only 1.5 inches tall, the man's face is one inch. I'll try to do those little faces now in pastel. I'll use pastel pencil.

does anyone see a familiar face there? suggestions must welcome

09-14-2017, 10:12 AM
Great exercise Jay. With features so small it is essential to give up on any detail. But it's also essential to make it look like a face! That's something I ahve no end of trouble with myself sometimes....work, re-work, overwork, brush off, start again....sigh.
So I too will try the measuring on the old men...or some of them. In theory if I get the features in the right place and the body proportions right from the get go the painting will be a breeze........

09-14-2017, 02:44 PM
Ruth, Very nice painting of the jumping boy! A good example of colored shapes without a lot of detail!

Jay, Small faces and pastels are difficult since a pastel stick may be wider than the face is! Sometimes all you need is a shadow color for the eye sockets and a shadow on one side or under the nose. Or wherever the shadows are.


09-14-2017, 04:12 PM
I thought I would see what I could do with the men on the bench - at least their faces. I did this on the computer - but my intent was to see if I could simplify the faces into simple shapes. The lighting is not direct in the photo, so trying to divide the shapes into light and shadow was not as easy as it might often be. In some cases I had to improvise a bit. At this size, likeness was not really a concern - just trying to break down the faces into simple shapes was the goal!

Here it is full size:






09-15-2017, 12:24 AM
Dear all,

Lovely topic, great paintings by Ruthie and Jay, and such nice discussions. The sketches of men is really very nice too.

Am attaching my own attempt with wax crayons on drawing book paper for whatever it's worth.

Thanks. Comments and criticisms welcome.

- Srineet.


water girl
09-15-2017, 12:18 PM
Nicely done, Ruthie and Jay. You can't go wrong with a child at the beach. It just puts a smile on your face.
And speaking of putting a smile on your face, Srineet, you have added a bit of happiness to your portrait of the gentlemen on the bench. Well done!

09-15-2017, 12:56 PM
Thanks for the encouragement, Ruthie.

Don. MOST HELPFUL! You got the essentials without the fuss. Thank you. That's a good post to refer to at a later date.

We're packing to go to the wilds of Vancouver Island in Canada. So looking forward to the Wild Pacific Trail. So I'll be gathering photographs. I hope the weather cooperates and the bear are not hungry!

Srineet, I really like the guys in the yellow sweater and the one in the blue sweater. Aren't those hats hard? Very tricky. Good job.

Karen, I missed your post. Thanks.

09-15-2017, 02:58 PM
Went home and changed his shirt. I'm much happier now. Pulled off the orange and yellow with painters tape to get rid of excess. Not perfect but it's ok..ish...

09-16-2017, 04:25 PM
Back from the summer vacation and the first busy days of starting school are done.
Here is my contribution to the challenge, a mixture of summer vacation (August challenge) and figure (September challenge).
Modern mermaid (my daughter with her diving googles)


Pan pastels and pastel pencils on PastelMat (24x30cm)
The shadow on the right side is only at the photo
C&C always welcome


09-16-2017, 04:33 PM
Jay, your boy at the beach looks really good, very vivid.
And the blue shirt fits better than the yellow one.

Ruth, I really love your jumping boy, movement, light, colors and water work so well together.


09-16-2017, 04:45 PM
Esther, Thank you

Your daughter is lovely! A happy sensitive painting. Very nice indeed!

09-16-2017, 08:48 PM
Srineet, Thanks for joining us! Your work has such a unique style! You've captured the personalities of the men on the bench!

Jay, The boy is more harmonious with the rest of the colors in the painting!

Esther, Absolutely wonderful painting of your daughter!


water girl
09-16-2017, 09:08 PM
Esther, what a treat! There is a wonderful story there.

09-19-2017, 09:41 AM
Thanks Karen, Jay and Don for your kind words. Yes Jay, the hats were a bit tricky :)

Esther your daughter's painting is very nicely done! Nice caption too.

- Srineet.

09-19-2017, 05:02 PM
Thank you for your kind comments Jay, Don, Karen, Srineet

Karen, yes and the story is that she really did not want to get out of the water.
It was getting late and everyone else wanted to go to dinner but it was difficult to persuade
her to leave the water. And this is what I wanted to capture, leaving but still with the desire to be in the water.


09-20-2017, 05:00 AM
Thanks for the nice comments about my jumping boy!
Jay, yep, that looks much better, even though I'm a fan of orange! The boy is very well drawn and his pose looks completely natural.
Srineet, Love your old men on the bench. You've added to their character in your depiction.
Esther, wow, that's a beautiful painting of your daughter!
I doubt I'll have time to do the old men now as I planned. :( I'm off on a trip to Santorini on the 24th and won't be back until october!

09-22-2017, 01:25 PM
Thank you Ruth for your kind comment.
Wow, Santorini what a great destination for a trip.

Here is my second (and last) contribution for this month.
I also go on a trip this weekend till the beginning of October. Italy in my case.
Again my daughter (seems to be my favorite model at the moment :)) in
"Reading with cat" . Soft pastels and pastel pencils on PastelMat (24x30 cm)


C&C always welcome


water girl
09-22-2017, 06:25 PM
This is another painting that makes me smile, because we all have a favorite place to sit and relax.

09-22-2017, 09:14 PM
Esther, Another wonderful painting! You really are able to make poses seem very natural!


09-23-2017, 12:52 AM
Lovely on Esther. Really like the subject, as well as the texture on the clothes and cat.

- Srineet.

09-23-2017, 05:43 PM
Esther, how lovely. Her face seems to glow as if she were reading a magic book! You did a great job. Have wonderful fun in Italy.

I'm in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island in Canada. This is a magical place of trails along the edge of the Pacific Ocean, walking until ancient tall trees. I do hope my photos come out!

09-24-2017, 02:35 AM
Thank you very much for all your kind comments Karen, Don, Srineet, Jay.

Jay, so I hope we will see nice paintings from Ucluelet. :)


09-24-2017, 10:33 AM
Hello all,
I've been away but look what I've missed....Ruthie, Esther, Jay, Srineet you've been very productive!
Doubt I'll have time to contribute...lots of laundry,emails, bills, etc. etc to catch up on first.:(
Looking forward to those Ucluelet photos as well!