How to Paint People in Watercolor: 4 Useful Exercises
I was encouraged to create a thread about my approach to painting people in watercolor.
A word and a half about me:
My name is Liron. I’ve been drawing my entire life, but got started in watercolor a little over a year ago.
I love the journey and have been documenting it on my YouTube channel ^_^
Continuous growth with the medium
Before diving deep, I want to mention how, for me, artistic self-innovation is super-important.
I think that being “on the offence” in terms of always pushing yourself to learn new things, is an important quality that boosts your learning curve.
I constantly try to learn new things and get inspirations from different sources.
This led to me reading the excellent book “People in Watercolor” by Trevor Waugh.
I was inspired by the book, to create some exercises for this specific topic. Some are similar to the ones in the book, while others are iterations upon them.
I will present 4 exercises in this thread. They are all fun and simple.
To see the full version of some of them, be sure to check out the original video on YouTube as well: How to Paint People in Watercolor
Exercise 1 – Light sketching + a touch of color
I love this one.
All you need to do is create a very light pencil sketch. It SHOULD be simple and lack details.
Here are some good examples:
If you are the kind of person who is obsessed with details, sketch smaller.
This will help to ensure you aren’t too tempted to add too many details in.
A note about sketching people in general
If sketching people is hard for you (and it can be a great challenge), try simplifying as much as you can.
A basic circle for a head, square for center of body and two lines / thin triangles for legs.
Another good way to go about this is the cloud method, which is exactly how I did it in the example above (check out the original video to see this in action: How to Paint People in Watercolor
You loosen up your hand, and just try to create a scribble that resembles the reference you are looking at.
As long as you get the “height” proportions right, you’ll do good.
Then, all I do is add touches of paint here and there, just to give it some form.
The cool part is that you may find that one of the sketches captures you, and you may want to further develop it, like the couple on the right.
After deciding to develop them more, I simply created a wash that let all colors mix together on paper (as we will see in exercise 4).
This is more visible on the female figure.
Next I added another layer of darker values, and some background that contrasts the man's shirt.
Here is the result:
This is why I love these types of exercises.
They inspire me and can sometimes naturally evolve into slightly more detailed paintings.
I wash literally surprised by how good this one turned out. Very simple, but fun and full of light and shadow.
Here are some more examples of this.
Again – keeping it VERY simple. Almost too simple.
Exercise 2 – Painting shapes of light and shadow
In this exercise I try to get down to the essence of painting realistically – light and shadow.
What you do is choose a few reference pictures, preferably with strong contrasts.
Then, you just try and DIRECTLY PAINT the shapes that you see.
Here is an example (bottom group):
By simply suggesting the light and shadow, you can really create a realistic feeling, and the figures can read really well.
Notice how easy it is to make up a full picture of the person and the action, in our heads.
This is preferably done monochromatically, just to keep things simple.
You can create several values, or just go at it duotone, whichever you choose. I do duotone (or at least try).
This is such a great exercise, because being at a point where you are able to draw light and shadow is so valuable.
I don’t feel like I’m completely there, but I’m definitely on my way.
Exercise 3 – Negative painting
As the name suggests, in this exercise we try to negative-paint the shape of people.
This can be done in the beginning using pencil lines.
However, I’d encourage you to drop them at some point.
I believe taking the risk and going directly with paint will help you develop minimalism of brush strokes (one of the things I’m really trying to achieve – very challenging).
You kind of learn how to put those shapes in there, without guidelines.
Above are some examples of me giving this a shot, taken from my YouTube video about this topic.
I have to admit I didn’t quite get the results I wanted on camera (off camera I did great – the irony!).
Another cool thing about this exercise is that you can further develop the figures you painted negatively.
The simplest way to do so is by adding some darker values.
Here are some examples of this:
What’s so fun about this one is that it’s like a Rorschach test.
You need to look at it for a few moments and figure out what will be suitable.
I’m really proud of that very first example, of the woman in the striped dress
Exercise 4 – Letting it all mix
This final exercise has a double benefit.
First – you practice painting people.
Second – you go back to watercolor basics.
Watercolors are at their best when you take advantage of their unique characteristics.
Letting your paint mix on paper, is one of those unique characteristics.
In this exercise we sketch figures, and create an initial wash that is all blended together.
You let the dark hair mix with the skin tone of the shoulders and the bag and the pants and everything.
Here is an example of this:
It may be a bit hard to tell, but all of these quick sketches were done using this work process.
Most of them have been layered over, and I don’t have pictures prior to the layering, but if you look at the two female figures on the left, you can really see this.
You can notice some areas where the initial wash is still visible, especially on the left figure’s stomach area, and the right figure’s legs.
Another key point here is NOT to overdo that initial wash.
You want to lay it in, and let it do what it does.
Don’t dab into it too much with the brush. One stroke and it’s perfect the way it is.
Then, you can layer a darker wash on top, and later add even more, depending on how you feel.
Here are more examples of paintings that were done with this approach -
which really isn’t all that unique, it’s watercolor 101 (:
I believe that the basics are what makes a good painting.
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget them, which is why watercolor 101 is not that bad of an idea (;
I hope this thread was helpful!
Many of the examples are taken directly from my video on painting people in watercolor.
If you want to see more of it, you can check it out here: Painting People in Watercolor
And feel free to stick around my channel
I post a new video EVERY DAY, and so things are always fresh.
I talk about watercolor, sketching, art, business, creativity and life.
Also, here is a link to Trevor's awesome book: People in Watercolor
And to his YouTube channel, some great videos there: Trevor Waugh
Let me know your thoughts, and if this is helpful ^_^
And I’ll see you around in the forums!