Painting a figure is daunting for many beginners (and many experienced artists, too). There is so much going on with human anatomy, even before incorporating enough expression to look alive and real.
You can do several painting exercises to make the process less intimidating, and today we’re going to learn an enjoyable one from a Live Demo with Reginald Roquemore! All you will need are your watercolours and a pencil, with an ink pen being optional.
Step 1: Capturing the Movement
Reginald’s term for finding the emotional essence of a figure is “finding the song”. Think of when you’re listening to your favourite music and matching it with different scenarios in your head.
When you look at a picture of someone and see their posture, movement, and emotion, you’ll find that there’s a certain rhythm to it that perhaps matches a particular kind of music in your mind. Reginald doesn’t specify what he thinks the “song” of each figure here is because we should decide ourselves.
In this exercise, colours are simple because the emphasis is on movement. For near shapes, use a warm orange, and for far shapes and colder emotions, use blue. The first figure here is energetic and warm, so we’ll start with orange and loosely paint just the motion of his pose rather than any detail.
Step 2: Filling it in Slightly
Contrast the orange in the first figure with some blue for dimension. Begin thinking about the anatomy, but still, you want to focus on the scene's emotion. It's not really about anatomical accuracy at this stage.
Step 3: Another Figure
Reginald decides that blue should be the primary colour for this image of a defiant girl. When we’re doing this style of figure painting, we start with the motion behind the pose rather than the accurate anatomical details. Think of it as filming a video from a wide-angle shot and then zooming in later.
Step 4: A More Rigid Pose
This figure is challenging to paint in this style because his pose is more rigid with fewer dynamic shapes. In this case, identify the main lines running through the figure and focus on the direction of the lines and angles to add visual interest.
Step 5: Pencilling
At this point, we begin to define the shapes of our figures a bit more. Reginald talks about the phrase “lightning in a bottle” here: The painting, in this case, is the lightning, and the pencilled lines are the bottles, capturing and directing the lightning to be more effective.
You must use both the reference image and your painting as a rough guideline, but not adhere religiously to either one when doing the pencilling. If you compare Reginald’s reference photo and drawing for the first figure he pencils, they end up looking different.
Reginald places a high value on individual expression, so to follow his technique, all you have to do is follow your instinct. My third figure ended up looking quite a bit different from Reginald’s — I interpreted the image as less massive and more angular than he did, resulting in some sharper angles and narrower lines on mine.
If your figures look different from the demo or this tutorial, that’s okay! You’re drawing like yourself, and that’s what you’re supposed to do here!
Step 6 (Optional): Inking
This isn’t essential because you can shade or do anything you see me doing with the pen with a pencil as well, but for the sake of discussion, Reginald inks one of his figures, so I thought I would join in. To get maximum line control, I used a brush pen.
If you’re a beginner, a 0.1 fineliner might give your more control, but a brush pen lets you make micro-adjustments second by second, so if you’re comfortable with a more difficult pen, I recommend it.
Even in the inking stage, Reginald makes new decisions about how the figure should look. He decides during the inking here that the figure’s left leg should be in complete shadow, and his instinct turns out to be the right choice!
Don’t be afraid to experiment on a whim when you are drawing. You learn fastest that way.
Reginald Roquemore is a wonderful teacher, so if you got as much out of his Live Demo as I did, be sure to check out his 90-minute art class too! Also, you can subscribe to our email newsletter to receive updates about new instructors and products!