At some point in your landscape painting you arrive at this dilemma. Should you add figures to your landscape scene or not? You would like to give it a try, but will the figures look weird? Will you spoil the painting? Is it really necessary? All of these self-defeating thoughts crop up for beginners. But it need not be so scary. Here are a few useful tips to help you.
Will the Figures Add Something?
This is important. Certain landscape scenes will not require a figure. A quiet country back-road where the natural elements dominate, light and shade, trees and so forth make figures superfluous. It may be okay to add a distant figure, but keep it a secondary focal point.
Where figures add a lot are in lively scenes like a beach, street or other active environments. Here a few figures make all the difference. If you are not confident with figures then use the distant figure concept.
The Advantage of Distant Figures
Avoid These Traps
I do encourage you to try adding figures into your landscape. In the video below I offer helpful tips for you. The main points are:
Have a Go!
Most importantly try adding figures more often. It can be the difference between ordinary and exciting paintings. Look at the impressionist's and how they dealt with this topic. You can get away with surprisingly loose brushwork while still suggesting much. This is the secret.
I find that my figures look best when completed in one pass. A few strokes and done. When I start to labour them a bit is when I know that I should scrape off the figure and start again. This is always the better option.
Gesture is Key
Another important idea is to observe the gesture of the figure. Watch real people going about their business. What does a walking figure really look like? Maybe bending or carrying parcels? Get the basic shape of the gesture and you have succeeded. Practice making quick gesture studies with paint before putting them onto the canvas. This helps to get your eye in.
Hopefully this has given you a bit of inspiration to try out figures in your landscapes. Have fun!
Figure Painting Demo:
Now for the situation where the figure is closer to you, but not close enough for the painting to become a portrait of some sort. In this case the painting is about the figures more that it is about the landscape. it is more intimate, but not personal either. Kind of like a day at the park where you can observe people around you without getting too close. This is one of my favorite ways to paint figures and is the subject of the demonstration below.
Once again gesture is key together with shape. These two qualities should be enough to describe the person fairly accurately. Especially for you to identify what the person is doing. In this way the figure becomes a part of the overall scene.
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Please note that the demo painting and more lessons are available in my course How to Solve Painting Problems.
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Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa