In The Studio: Figures in the Landscape “Snow Field”

In this painting I have just put a few figures in for interest and a few cows up in the field for a bit more focus in a very important part of the painting.  The triangle of white where the simple cow shapes are painted is a directional lead into the center of interest and it pulls your eye away from the little white corner on the bottom left.  The figures are really necessary in that they take a really generic scene and give it a real center of interest.DSC_0018In this painting the goal is to merge the figures into the shapes around them, door, and grass and to treat them as symbols for people not actual figures.  This is a real jump up for most painters, to not treat a figure as a precious and perfect piece of information but just a detail which adds humanity and focus.  Just get your drawing right, a smaller head than you originally think and the proportion of about 7 heads high whether you see the feet or not.  I am using a palette for this painting of cerulean and cobalt blue with a touch of cobalt violet for the sky. I am using burnt sienna, raw sienna, olive green, and new gamboge for the foreground applying the paint with the side of a number 16 round.  The buildings are cadmium scarlet and burnt sienna for the small barn on the left leaving enough value difference for the shadow and cobalt blue, cobalt violet and burnt sienna for the building on the right.  Apply the paint directly with very little rubbing and the colors will remain fresh and translucent.


Position your figures in relationship to the door and the space between the two barns.  Make sure you like the figures before you begin to paint.  Heads are about a third of the width of the shoulders and leave out details.DSC_0004A light cool wash for the sky and then a quickly applied piece of back ground trees, raw sienna and olive green.  Cut around roofs and cows in the field.

DSC_0008Blades of grass are scratched out with a sharp knife and I varied the direction and depth of the scratch marks giving them a nice textural but harmonious feeling.  Keep the paint loose and don’t rub it in to the paper.  You are looking for the impression of grass and weeds not perfect grasses.

DSC_0012Cut around the figure in the door but make sure you really capture the pose, don’t just leave a halo around the figure make it the actual shape, take your time with this.  Make the doorway dark enough that you don’t have to come back and repaint it, less trips across the paper and the fresher the color and more translucent the wash.

DSC_0018Put in the trees with a rigger, and drop in the cow shapes on the hill side.  When you paint the figures really try to just think color and form not details.  I wanted a warm color for the figure against the cool door and a cool figure against the light sky.

Pick one of your favorite subjects and add a few figures and see how this small addition with bring a professional focused quality to your work.  If you struggle with the figures, just practice drawing them on a separate piece of paper.  See you tomorrow with another demonstration about putting figures in your paintings. Thank you for visiting my blog, dont’ forget to register your email and get updates.

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  • PatOctober 20, 2013 - 9:38 am

    Love this painting-all the elements are integrated so smoothly! Great lesson in how to paint the figures so they don’t stand out (like mine) like sore thumbs. Thanks for posting this, Steve.ReplyCancel