With a medium like watercolour that can sometimes feel imprecise, painting people can seem daunting! As humans, we are pretty perceptive to proportional flaws in artwork depicting fellow humans.

These factors discouraged me from painting people for years and years! I'm thrilled I started painting people because it is humbling and rewarding at the same time, and with helpful FREE Demos such as the one from Bianca Rayala, I'm more confident with every figure painting I create. Let's dive into the demo and learn Bianca's technique! 

Step 1: The Sketch 

To practice the basics of painting a person, we’re going to paint the back view for now. Create a light sketch to begin with! 

Need a quick crash course on figure drawing if you want to learn more. 

Step 2: Preliminary Shading 

Shade the hat and the hair ever so slightly with a neutral colour like either Payne’s Grey or a brown and ultramarine mixture. This will add some dimension and give you confidence since the page isn’t totally white. 

Step 3: Hair, Layer 1 

Add some warm brown in a light layer on the hat and the hair. Smooth gradients with a damp and clean brush whenever necessary, and take your time. Don’t forget to leave white for highlights! 

Step 4: Hair, Layer 2 

Take a darker and cooler brown, and lightly cover the first layer of brown on the  hair. Leave some of the first layer showing, so that there’s a sense of light gradient. Let  each layer dry completely before moving on.  

Step 5: Hair, Layer 3 

I used a mixture of rusty brown, ultramarine, and anything else I  spontaneously decided upon to make a deep brownish-purple for this layer. Shadows generally become cooler as they get darker; making the brown more purple makes the painting look real.  

Step 6: Greenery 

Use any splattering, dotting, and dry-brush techniques you like to create the leaves on the branch the lady is carrying.

Some green reflects on her dress too. I recommend being a bit less zealous with the green on the dress than I was because not all green pigment blends and lifts well. 

Step 7: The Dress 

Make a muted blue mixture using whatever colours in your palette make the most sense to you. In my case, it was a hodgepodge of blue, brown, and some leftover paint on the tray that all came together into a lovely slate blue.

Paint the dress in this colour,  allowing the lower part to fade into splatters and drops to match the leaves. It can be hard to make this part smooth, but it takes practice, so don’t give up. 

Step 8: The Skin Tone 

Skin tones are a complicated subject because no person’s skin is absolutely the base colour it appears to be from a distance. However, since this picture is indeed from a  distance, we will only worry about the base colour of brown.

Start with the same brown you used for the first layer of the hair, and then layer the second shade of brown you used on top of it. Keep in mind that arms are not uniform cylinders!

They bend at the elbow, and the bones in each part of the arm give distinct curvature to each area. Anatomy will get easier over time as you paint more people, so don’t worry about this step.  

Step 9: Bringing it to Life 

Let’s tie this all together now! Use the dark purple mixture from before to add outline details to the hat, but don’t go overboard because if the outline is 

too solid, then the realism won’t be consistent in that place. Furthermore, you can add some final deep shadows and details to the hair while you’re at it.  

Then, add some shadows to the dress. Bianca got her shadows crisper than I  did because she hadn’t overworked the dress layer. I overworked mine, so it was more challenging to layer clean lines on top.

If you’ve overworked any part of your painting, don’t fear! It’s a learning experience, and you can still have a beautiful painting even if one area is overworked. 

Next is my favourite part: Flowers! Wet the area where you want the flowers, and then let splashes of magenta bloom into the flowers. This is pretty satisfying to watch and delivers such a beautiful reward for working hard on the details of this painting! 

If you found this painting just as satisfying as I did, and you want to do more figure painting with Bianca’s techniques, then I highly recommend clicking here for her 90-minute art class!  Also, if you subscribe to our email newsletter, you’ll never miss a new artist’s FREE Live Demo! 

Elsa Wahlstrom is an illustrator/writer living in the south Idaho hill country. She  loves to create cozy, homey pictures and populate them with funny little creatures  having surreal little adventures. Her biggest inspiration is the music and comedy that  came out of England in the late 60s. When she’s not busy making art, she goes for long  hikes, plays a few instruments, and collects vinyl.


  • Peri said:

    I watched the free demo then signed up for the mini workshop which was great! I’ve since started practicing doing sketches and watercolour of people more often when I’m out and about. Thanks for posting the article with steps summarized. It’s very helpful

    June 01, 2022

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