How to Add Figures to Your Landscape Paintings | Malcolm Dewey | Skillshare

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How to Add Figures to Your Landscape Paintings

teacher avatar Malcolm Dewey, Artist and Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Common Errors with Painted Figures


    • 2.

      Getting Scale Correct


    • 3.

      How to Position the Figures Correctly


    • 4.

      Part 2: Painting Demonstration


    • 5.

      Add Foreground Figures


    • 6.

      Gesture (Bonus Lesson)


    • 7.

      Figures on the beach


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About This Class

Do you want to add more interest to your landscape paintings? 

Without doubt adding figures to a landscape painting can do so much for your painting. The problem is making the figures fit in. You want the figures to look natural and part of the scene. But so often the figures end up being a jarring element.

In these lectures we will look at the most common errors and how to avoid them. You will have the tips and information to add figures to your painting. Then try out to exercise and see how effective these techniques are.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Malcolm Dewey

Artist and Author


Professional artist and author. I work in oils painting in a contemporary impressionist style. Mostly landscapes and figure studies. I have a number of painting courses both online and workshops for beginners through to intermediate artists. 

My publications include books on outdoor painting, how to paint loose and content marketing tips for creative people.

My goal is to help people start painting and encourage them with excellent lessons that they can use for years to come.

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Level: Beginner

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1. Common Errors with Painted Figures: right in this lecture began to look at adding figures into your landscapes. And the easiest way to bring your paintings to life is about putting in figures. So why figures? So let's have a look at a few good reasons to add figures. Firstly, they can add scale to the landscape. That cliff face or mountains scene looks all the more impressive, with a tiny figure at the bottom and helping to attract your ire to focal points in the painting, for instance, it also adds human interest and can help you tell a story. But do you figures look weird? A lot of people are worried about us. The figures don't look riel. They look like a bean pasted on war. It's like a sticker over the landscape, and something's wrong. A couple of examples of this remember one. The giant invasion. Your figure this out of proportion, that it's a biggest the tree or it's a towering above the doorways in the street scene, for instance, It's so easy to I forget the proportions or you've drawn us the big head that if you imagine meeting a person like this in real life line in the middle you have this gigantic ID taking up all the shoulder space? Well, you've got a weird perspectives running like some sort of hall of mirrors where people look too tall or too short and, ah, perspective is up and down and in the wrong place. This all happens if the figures are not put down accurately. So let's not worry about that. We can fix these problems right now with a few tips and tricks, and I'm going to show you how to add interesting new life to your paintings. Easy tips that you can use, whether you're a beginner or intermediate skill and ah, transform your paintings overnight. 2. Getting Scale Correct: So Step one, we need to look at scale, and this is very simple. Make sure your figures are the appropriate science for the landscape. They must be part of the landscape, not dominating it through scale. That is incorrect. So the way to do this is use comparison and relationships to help get this scale correct. In this example, the small figures have been drawn very loosely, but compared to the rocks and other natural features there in the correct proportion, not perhaps absolutely perfect. But in the scheme of things, they simply there to indicate scale, how large the surrounding natural features are. If they were his biggest, those boulders, you get a completely wrong impression about the scene, and it would not look correct. That's another common problem is getting the head right. So we want to avoid making the head too big, and it's very easy to do when you just make a quick jab with the paintbrush we the head should be, and the too much paint is on there, and but it looks more or less right. In fact, the figure in the landscape usually has a much smaller head than you realize and This is due to all sorts off aerial perspective and issues, off scale and proportion as well. Another thing is the facial features on the head. Very soldem. Are you going to put in any facial features unless the person is right up close to you, in which case it's more like a portrait. Keep the face blank used flett a plane off paint. Don't put in eyes, nose and mouth all years. Don't be tempted to do any of those things and just a small day for the head. Make sure it joins up with the body and is not floating above the shoulders, either. 3. How to Position the Figures Correctly: Okay. The other thing to look out for is position. All right. Say, for instance, you are doing a street scene, and that's it. Ah, normal head, heart. You got to try and keep all the heads off the people at the same level. I'm talking here about adults. Of course. We're not worried about distinguishing between adults and Children, just general people on the street. And if there at eye level with you, all the heads are gonna be at the same level, but not the feet. The feet is where you indicate distance. So, for instance, here, in this little beach scene, your figures are receding into the distance. But the head hearts are pretty much at the same level. But the feet and legs are different to indicate distance. Okay, so that Ah, keeping the heads parallel is important. All right. Staying with legs and feet. You can use some distortion in the length of the legs I ever And this can help to indicate movement and other dynamic things going on with the scene. Our details off the feet, etcetera. Don't even worry about that. Make the legs slightly longer. One leg slightly longer than the other if the person's walking or running A Z you saw in the previous picture. And, yeah, we can see the person in the middle there, one leg shorter than the other that indicates, is taken a step forward with his left leg. Right leg's been raised behind, and you could do similar sort of things with the arms as they swing at the side. But notice no details of the feet. It's all vapor wrists, and it seems to disappear, which is helps to make the figure part of the landscape, not a sticker put on top of the painting. OK, so details. Very minimal. It's all about the gesture that we're interested in. Can an overall harmony as well? The figures must be part of the landscape. It mustn't be a jarring feature. So what does the figure heir to the whole idea? We don't want to simply throw in figures for the sake of it, trying to paint them, waiting to which as well keep in on those ages. Make sure the edges are not hard because then it looks like as sticker has been put over the painting. So these are just examples. Were figures are very loosely painted. And they form a part and a whole with the painting and contribute to the scene rather than looking to artificial. Okay, now we're going to look at a demonstration where I'm going to show you some of the details . And remember, you can see mawr at Markham. Do we find out dot com? 4. Part 2: Painting Demonstration: okay. Lets ever look at a demonstration where I show you these lessons about putting figures into landscapes and especially what to avoid. And I'll do some prick brush exercises to show you what I mean. And you can also see more or less the method. I used to quickly put small figures into a landscape. Seen. I've got a basic senior Imagine this is a beach scene, and we're gonna put some people on this beach to add some life to it. The first thing to look at is the scale off the figures. There's a send, you know, over here. So we go Teoh, make sure that if we're putting figures in the distance that there are in scale to the other objects in the scene. So let's look at other objects to get scale. I'm just using a rigger brush the surface is still with, so it's nice to paint figures that citrate weight into it, but hopes with keeping the ages software necessary. And because this is a small scene on, we're putting a figure in the distance. A small brush like this is fun. So looking at the scale, I don't want to have a figure that it's about a hit up there and he's standing over there because I know this June is in fact, much larger. Forget that figure out on Get the Thing in proportion will see that, in fact, the correct proportion would have the figure like that on. Uh, it's a small difference, but from water was previously to there. Now it's right now. I can do figures closer in the foreground as well. No, best explained a few other things. Yes, they keep the head off, the figure quite small compared to the body. The mistake often made is to put put the head too big. For instance, we have headlock that and then body underneath legs. Citra Head is in fact, so big It looks like the alien was that the predator never struck. So let's get rid off. Taxes will with the head. Andi, where just put that figure back into skull 5. Add Foreground Figures: and so Okay. Now I want to have a figure closer to the foreground. And because I'm standing yet, I I level with these figures. Remember to keep the heads more or less aligned, but just obviously the legs. So that's, uh I figured you off. Got during the head, body and legs. Okay, that's just a rough figure out. Touch up a few details, so their heads are more or less alone. But obviously the legs are completely different, which indicates key. That he was figure is much closer to me. Okay. Other things I wanna point talks is I have done the figure with the door color. I can develop that if he's getting a bit more Santa can bring a little touch of color to the first walking towards me. Perhaps on, uh, maybe hard lighter, too. On the forms, wearing short sleeves on a beach, murky, etcetera, and but off diffused color was wearing a red shirt. Can bring some color into it as well. And closer to me, I can wants to see some shadows. Always good to suggest shadows and during the shadows with the feet. It could be longer than that, but let's say the sun is NPR, so you can see this. They get suggesting that the legs are walking. Report. There's a gap in the solid form off the body. Also, I'm not showing the feet themselves, Um, so before show the feet, Citra looks a little bit more aesthetic on, and also lakes are a bit blurry. Even the homes are moving. One leg is longer than the other, which suggests that persons walking on leg moving forward, so few things like that or suggestive off figure that's in motion. If this was a street scene, I'd want to make sure that the heads are below door levels or the figures are not as tall as the lampposts in the street. Things like that. Overall, you also want the figures to make sense and add something to the picture. Let's say, for instance, off go figure right up close to me. I can then bring in a little bit more detail. We're talking about figures some distance away from you, so you don't want to bring in facial features. It doesn't really add anything, and it looks on natural. So let's say I figure a bit closer to me. I've got the head joined to the body. Body has a certain shape, sort of broader at the hips. Andi. Then, of course, tapering to the legs. If this was one long picture, I could, perhaps to one leg longer than another. It's permissible to sightly exaggerates the length of the Legace well for dynamic movement effect and what have you. So if you distort anything, it can be the length of the leg without looking to stretch. Also, keep in mind where the arms would be. This will not hanging down false. The knees, more or less reached onto Hoffer down the talk of the leg if they want to the side and also , if they're moving one back up. What? You're shorter, then the one coming forward. All right. So this figure being closer to Esa's. Well, I'm going to put in a little bit more de toe. What's their bit of sun is getting two face could lightened that up. Leave the airport dark. That's the case. Remember we which more interested in the gesture than being able to identify facial features? Fert fourth sleeves, for instance on and perhaps but off our lot, then touching a chop with shoulders. Have you talked to the head? Something like that, with a lot effects, possibly some of the shirt giving court so use. And you can it just weariness history, but don't spend too much time refining the figure because then it looks over worked and aesthetic and pasted on. So I'm or interested in the scene as a whole. Keeping an eye on edge is making sure the ages of softer remakes history. You just needed touch up things like Put it, made some sun through, do some gaps like that and so on. And there you you are. So we've got our figures and they look like part of the scene, and there's some overall harmony on. There you go. So include figures where it hopes, and it's quite often that you can add figures in and really improved the painting, and I hope this helps you put more figures in your landscapes. 6. Gesture (Bonus Lesson): In this video, I'm going to look at how you can incorporate figures into your landscape paintings. And more particular, I'm going to be looking at how to try and get the gesture of the figures and then also paint them in a loose and dynamic fashion. I'll enter figures to look like they're moving, that they are animated in something, talking to other people, generally active and not static. And I want them to look part of the landscape as well. So it's not like the figures have been sort of pasted on. So we're looking at tips and techniques that I like to use. Maybe you can try it in your paintings as well. So let's have a look at this reference, this figure, and imagine a line being drawn through the head, torso, and legs, almost like you're creating a wire structure in a sculpture perhaps. And this indicates the gesture of the figure which is moving to the left. And then I also want to get proportions. And sometimes I use this box method to help me map out the proportion. So I'll draw a box around the reference more card key points of the figure. Then draw a similar box according to whatever scale I need on the canvas. And then marking those reference points in proportion. And this gives me some accurate proportional points. And I can then do the drawing in proportion as well. So gesture and proportion is important. And then when I paint the figure, I'll start off with large brush and paint a large shapes. Then refine the shapes to get the final figure study. So simplicity of shapes and gesture is what we're looking for. Now let's have a look at a demonstration painting where I'm going to show you how I do this in practice. These two figures on the left are going to be painted J in a sort of loose impressionist style. I'll start off with a dark, large shape. So painting the big shapes, I'm using a number eight brush here. And you'll see our paint, the legs in a dynamic figure, somewhat blurred towards the feet to suggest movement. And from this point on, I'm simply painting shapes of light and dark. And this helps me get a figure that is more descriptive of a dynamic figure that is part of the landscape. I'm not trying to put in any small details. I'm interested in where the light is on the figure as well. And no details in the face, simply. A shape of colour, few highlights to add points of interests. And then of course, the important shadow to attach the figure to the earth as it were. So it's not floating. And the other figure as well, starting off a similar fashion, launch, dark shapes, working in smaller shapes of light and color on top of that. Very gestural as you can see. So these figures complement the landscape as a whole. They create points of interest and activity and life and scale. All the things that I'm looking for in figures within the landscape, bringing the background, and that is it. So you can easily use this method in your landscape paintings as well. 7. Figures on the beach: Alright, let's put all this information together and create a beach scene with some people on it. This is taking things a little bit further where the figures are quite close up. And I'm painting these two seated figures on the beach. Really not very difficult. It's all about those lights and darks and the gesture of the figures just getting that light element side of the figures, transitioning to some shadows and the rest takes care of itself. Anyway, practice this as well. Look for your own references. Go down to the beach or the park, take a few pictures of people seated in sunlight so you get that light and shadow. And then just practice putting down the shapes with a bit of paint on your brush. Alright, let's get into the demonstration and I hope you enjoy it. And this is our reference, a nice figure study of these people on the beach. I'm going to draw that in very loosely and quickly onto the watercolor paper that I'm using. Two layers of JSON that, and when it's dry, I can start drawing on that with pencil. I tried to keep the pencil always in contact with the paper, so I'm not tempted to get into too many details. I just want the loose placement of the figures because I'm going to be painting in a loose and impressionist style. And although the waves and water is not visible in the reference, I'm going to bring them forward a bit. So they included in the top part of the painting, starting off with basically some yellow green for the talk, underlayer of the water, going into a bit of burnt sienna and then a pinkish Alizarin crimson, or to try and suggest a bit of wet sand later on. Then yellow ocher and titanium white for the sand color. Roughing that in fairly thick lead with bristle brush. I think we're using a size six and just cutting that in around the figures. Trying to work quite quickly. I know I am working in the studio, but trying to use the method that I would normally apply when painting outdoors. And this helps to get a more spontaneous and loose effect. So bringing in a little bit of yellow into the mix for the foreground. Have that foreground just a bit warmer. And with some burnt sienna and ultramarine blue getting into the dark parts of the figure. Then the flesh tones. I don't really have a formula or worry about how to mix flesh tones, mostly using some illusory on Crimson, burnt sienna, titanium white. But more importantly, unconcerned about the values of the flesh tones. So don't worry too much about a formula. Just focus on getting the values correct. Lights and darks and the mid value shapes. Then you, painting comes together by itself. And of course, color temperature is important. Where the colors are warm, they must visibly appear to be warm alongside the cool colors. So it's about those relationships. Notice on placing color notes down and trying to leave them alone, Only mixed back in or alter a color note. If it is markedly incorrect. Maybe it's the drawing or I made a mistake with a value. Like notes in a. In music, for instance. You try and place them correctly next to each other, they make a nice sound. It's the same with the painting. Get those color nodes in place. And as accurately as possible. So slowly building up the figures. Now of course, we noticed that the light is coming from the right to left. So we got to get that. Reading correctly in the painting as well. So highlights on the right-hand side and fairly soft edges. And then the cool shadow colors on the left. And it's amazing how it is just the placement of one shape. Brings a shape or the whole Shope together, develops painting. Just a few shapes. That's all it takes. For all the spend your time identifying a shape and getting the right color note to describe it. That is more important. But good, strong, and dark value makes all the difference. The lights only stand out. There's a good, strong dark value for the light to work against. Know fussy details. Just the basic shapes. Ultimately I want a light fold printing. So when you look at it, that is what you must feel. Bright, warm, sunny day on the beach. Few highlights on the hair. And then just to describe the shapes around the figures. Also. Just merely suggesting things. Trying to get a bit of thick texture in the foreground as well. So that will come forward. And then just slightly developed these shapes now to get a few suggested highlights in the hair. But a lot coming through there. I'm using a smaller brush now. I'm trying to put quite a bit of paint on it. So I'm always applying color notes, not just blending away. What's already the adjustment for value and color temperature. If you start painting too many details, just squint a bit until the details go away in your reference. And while that put down the shapes of light and dark and warm and cool, bigger brush to just getting a bit more life in the sand areas. Now, put some Latin color into the seawater, highlights above the 0 on the surface rather. And suggestion of some wet sand. As far as the sparkle of highlights on the water. Just scumbling in a bit of warm titanium white. The widths and areas, there's some pinkish color coming through. Dabs of titanium white mixed with yellow ocher to catch the sun. Settle for the food dark blues around it. And that's what it takes to get a nicer spontaneous and lose effect, suggesting sparkling seawater. Few little details in the sand to just repeat some of the colors. Few final adjustments to the shapes of the figures. Touch of light coming through there. We pretty much done with the figures now, just to lose oil, sketch on paper. I think it's come off, alright, quite happy with the result. But of interest in the surrounding sand areas. And then just turn to sign off. Paintings complete. And pretty happy with the result. Hello, there it is, a fun little painting. I painted this on paper as well. So you can do oils on paper or use acrylic or gouache. Anything like that, will be just fine. Have fun with your painting. Include many figures in your landscapes. And I wish you all the best with your next painting.