“I can’t draw people.”
“Easy for you, maybe.”
“Oh, I could never paint something like that!”
When I was testing some paper a few months back, I did the quick painting above, just to see what kind of effects I could get. It took 15 minutes, trying a little of this and a little of that. I considered it ‘easy’ and said so when I shared it on my social media. People liked it, but to my surprise almost all the comments were a variation of the ones I wrote above.
This painting seemed so simple to me, and I started trying to convince people of that. Then, I decided to listen. One woman’s ‘easy’ is another woman’s ‘Oh heck, that is crazy hard!’
So, I tried to come up with ways to make this kind of painting easier. I’ve come up with some ‘cheats’ as it were, that will still keep you in the creative seat, but might help you with the harder parts. If you are more experienced and feel good about painting people you won’t need some of these steps.
This is what I came up with.
Painting this will take you less time than reading this tutorial. You can follow the instructions exactly, or add your own touches and either way create something dramatic and eye-catching. No need to have the exact tools – use what you have or feel comfortable with.
I video’d this tutorial, so you can see what I’m doing. The written tutorial has more tips, and you can take more time with the things you find most difficult.
Distortion from the Storm
We’re doing a painting in an urban setting during a severe rainstorm. People, umbrellas and buildings can be a challenge but you are not going to worry about scale, perspective or detail. It’s a storm! People are dressed in layers of clothing with weird hats, and hoods, and they’re hunched over in odd poses. The wind is blowing their clothing and umbrellas all over and the rain distorts everything. So, if a building is crooked – it’s distortion. If a person looks like a blob – it’s distortion. You are free! Just paint and let the storm carry you away.
- Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pens
- Signo Uniball White gel pen
- Sakura Gelly Roll, Fluorescent Yellow
- Hahnemühle A5 Report & Art sketchbook
- Zebra PM-701 Permanent Marker
- Grafix Acetate Pad
I realize that many people don’t have the time to practice drawing, or are really just looking to relax when they do art, not add another task to their busy lives. I’ve come up with some step-outs, like steps to a pattern, to help you draw fun people.
People are just a collection of shapes. Mix and match shapes and create people of your own.
If you want people who are a little more challenging, here are a few. Notice there are still shapes – they’re just less defined, with a few curved lines here and there.
If you aren’t at ease with drawing people, you are probably inclined to erase. This can damage your paper. A plastic sheet – transparencies, acetate, overhead projector sheets – can be very helpful.
You can cut the plastic to size, erase without damage (if you use a non-permanent pen) and use it to create a stencil. You don’t waste paper and you can use the same piece of plastic over and over.
First, make sure you are using a pen that will erase. Write on the plastic, erase with a paper towel. You want something that wipes away completely. I used the black Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pen but almost any non-waterproof pen or marker will work.
Nope. Don’t like this one. Away it goes.
Ack! This one is too tall for what I want! Away it goes.
Yes. This one will do. Now, I’ll confess. The downside to plastic sheets is that they are hard to see, even once you’ve drawn on them. I sat this piece down and never found it again. So, I had to redraw my person.
If you are feeling comfortable with drawing people at this point, you can draw your person on paper, but if you are still feeling uneasy about that, then create a stencil.
Creating a Stencil
You have two options, you can cut a person-shaped hole inside the plastic sheet or cut the person-shape out of the sheet of plastic. It was easier for the camera to pick up if I cut the figure out instead of around.
I fold the sheet loosely – not enough to crease it, and snip in the center of the piece to be cut out. This creates a hole where I can start cutting from the inside out.
When you have the shape cut out, lay the plastic on the paper, and trace around the edge of the stencil cut-out. I recommend using a permanent pen for this so you don’t smear the lines when you start adding watercolor.
Another use for plastic sheets. I cut them to a size just a little larger than the book I am painting in, and use it to protect the paper underneath.
Painting the Painting
I’m using Ecoline Watercolor Brush Pens that go on like a marker, but re-wet and spread like watercolor. You can use almost any medium though. The results might be a little different, but you can still get that dramatic feeling of someone walking in a storm.
The main color for this painting is ‘Sky Blue’. In other mediums, this might be called Cyan or Phthalo Blue. You don’t want the blue to be too light or it won’t seem as stormy. Black needs to contrast so you don’t want the blue too dark, either.
I draw lines diagonally across the page. All the lines should go the same way to show the direction of the rain. I’m using the side of the pen to create broad strokes and I’m leaving white streaks here and there – but none go from edge to edge. Try not to be too even with your strokes. Overlap them in some places. Leave some white streaks wide and some narrow.
Once I’ve covered most of the page, I use a waterbrush to wet the color and blend it. I still want the color to be streaky. Think STORM!
In some areas, I add more water and make circular motions. Normally you don’t want blotchy spots in your paint, but in a storm there will be places where the rain splashes, and things get misty. Notice that I’m making the paint really blotchy at my person’s feet. People splash a lot when walking in heavy rain.
I decided to make the umbrella bigger – yay! you can change your mind at any point during this painting!
Try to leave the painting lightest in the center.
You may feel uneasy about drawing buildings, but remember distortion is your friend here. If you feel the need, you can practice on plastic first, and/or create stencils for your buildings.
The only thing I’m doing to indicate perspective is to slant the windows. I did make sure all the windows slanted the same way.
I’m going to add some red to buildings. The camera doesn’t pick it up well, unfortunately. Because of the blue, the red turns violet. That’s okay. It adds interest and increases the range of values.
Rather than drawing all of the buildings, I do a little bit, and then I use the damp brush to create wet spots, and blot or smear some of it. In particular, if you paint lines you don’t like, trying smearing them. It’s a handy cheat, lol. Even if you like all the buildings you’ve drawn, smear in a few places to increase the sense of low visibility in a storm.
If you are comfortable with perspective, you’ll probably want to use it, but don’t worry about it if you are not. There is a charm to limited perspective. It is a feature of some art styles, such as naive art.
Look closely at this image. There are some important things to notice.
- The space between the edges of the umbrella and the buildings. Some overlap is okay, but you want your person to stand out.
- Look how little I’ve drawn for the buildings! You don’t need much.
- The buildings on both sides slant, slightly, towards the center of the page.
- I picked up color from the top of the right building and painted a very light abstract shape.
- A bridge maybe or trees in the park. It’s too stormy to tell, but you get the feeling of objects in the distance.
- I’ve dragged color from the bottom of the buildings, down into the street, while smearing the dark lines.
- This gives the feeling of reflections.
- There are two kinds of buildings. Light in dark and dark in light. More interesting if there is a mix.
I want darker violet, so I add some. Notice the faint shape behind the right building. It’s going to become another building that’s in the distance. And yes, I covered most of that abstract shape I pointed out earlier – it’s important that you feel free to change as better ideas occur to you.
Add whatever colors you like. We’ll be adding brighter ones in the next steps using gel pens, so what you add now should be dull and muted, colors blurred in the rain.
I continued to smear, and I also lightened the color in the buildings. I want the person to be the darkest object on the page.
I colored in the person with the black and I go pretty solid, but I do leave some streaks. Now, it’s time to add the person’s shadow. Are you uneasy about that? If so, I hope you kept your stencil!
Turn the stencil upside down and line the stencil feet with the drawn feet. Don’t color the shadow solidly. Leave some color showing through and give it uneven edges.
With the white gel pen, I make marks, just little lines and dots to indicate lights in the windows and along the street.
Notice how that distant building stands out more once I add the white lines to it.
As with the black, I smear the gel pen here and there. The difference is that you need to smear the ink almost immediately after drawing a line. You can re-wet but that usually washes the ink away altogether. If you don’t like getting ink on your fingers, use a bit of sponge or wadded up paper towel.
For more interest, I add some lights with a fluorescent yellow pen. Feel free to add reds or other colors. Glittery colors would be great!
After switching back to the white pen, I start adding splashes. I squirkle these. Squirkle – that’s a fancy term for scribbling, lol. And you guessed it – smear some of it. Things get awfully smeared in the rain.
The heaviest splashes should be around the person’s feet, and around the bottom of the buildings.
And I’m done. It takes so much longer to explain it all than to actually do it. I hope you’ll give it a try. You can do these over and over with different people shapes and different buildings. Try different colors and different mediums.
But most of all, have fun!Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in