LESSON SIX - PEOPLE IN PAINTINGS
Why put people into landscape paintings? Isn’t landscape pure nature, an escape from humans and a trip back to nature? Certain landscapes of course are devoid of people. Alpine meadows, deserted beaches, deserts, forests, and other places where human presence is limited, are abundant. But, painting on Hawaii’s beaches is rarely a lonely experience. Tourists and locals enjoy the beaches all day long, even on cloudy days. So, it’s more true to reality to include some of these figures on our beaches when we paint. I wouldn’t paint an urban scene without cars and people, the same rule applies here.
Also, figures allow for scale. Some of our volcanic rocks at beach sites are huge. Without some known reference, the size and scale is impossible to ascertain. Trees are varying sizes so don’t work well for this scale. People we know the size of, between a few feet for children to about six feet for adults. Wave scenes especially show their height with a few surfers present.
Figures also wear bright colors, and have bright colored objects with them. Umbrellas, coolers, towels, surf boards, boogie boards, and kayaks are all very colorful and these touches of color add pop to a painting.
You don’t have to be an expert figure painter to include figures in the landscape. Just choose those in the distance and all it takes is a few strokes to make it work. One artist whose work I admire, Richard Robinson, says to paint standing figures like a carrot with a cherry on top. In the distance all it takes is a muted brush dash and our mind will create the figure.
Let’s look at some examples. Here is a cropped close up of Hookena Beach on a busy day. A few tan colored torsos and legs, with some blue shorts in the center of this image, create a couple of standing figures in the background. Umbrellas are just dots of colors, as our blankets, towels and other beach items. Very little figure drawing skill is needed, only a loose touch with a small brush loaded with color.
Above is a photo of figures on the beach. Note that in the water all you see is tan shoulders or torsos, with a touch of darker hair. I keep a few photos handy when painting in case I need a reference for a figure that has moved or left. Get a photo like this and practice the figures and objects on a scrap piece of canvas and you will be most of the way there.
Below is Waikoloa Beach on a very busy day. I counted about 60 figures among all the dots and dashes I included. Just make the distant ones small dots of color, with closer ones a tiny bit bigger with more color or contrast. Our mind reads this as a very crowded beach scene.
Figure practice is easy to do. I keep a small sketchbook handy to draw figures in various poses. For standing figures, you can use letters are starting points. V’s, right side up or upside down are good starting points. So are the capital letters A and H. Seated figures need just half these letters. The V is like the carrot idea. The shoulders are the top, the feet to bottom, just add a dot for the head, you’re done. Sketch a few of these before you put down the paint and it will become easier and easier.
Here are some more examples from paintings:
Most of the figures at Magic Sands Beach are 2-3 touches of paint - torso, head, colorful suit, and legs on the beach. People at the rock wall are 2 touches or less.
Larger figures require only a few touches too. Here a couple have two tones on the skin, darker touches for the hair, and a colorful touch for the suits. These are about 1 inch tall in the actual painting.
Below are even smaller touches on a 4x12 inch painting of which this is about 2x4 inches. It just wouldn’t be the same if I left the beach deserted.
So, to get scale, activity, and extra color into local beach paintings, put in the figures. It only takes a few small jewels of color to draw figures, and the painting will be better for it.