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What I Learned About this Painting, Making your painting relatable

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

"Just Us"

Mary Rylant Batson

I recently asked my readers to make a comparison between two paintings I did at the beach. Thank you everyone who contributed! One was an abstract that had pretty good composition, values, and clarity. By an artist's point of view it was a better painting but this painting above won by a landslide . The responses that were given helped me see that it was more relatable. Honestly, the reason it was relatable is because it had people in it.

I learned these lessons:

  • Most viewers aren't artists and don't care about the rules of art. They only know what they like. That's not to say they don't know good art when they see it!

  • Putting figures in a picture brings the painting to life. Just a suggestion of a figure is needed to make the intent successful. All it calls for is a simplified figure- really just a few marks. The figures give the painting a focal point, and can portray movement and energy to an otherwise static painting.

  • Figures give a sense of scale. With them you can see that the view of the ocean is vast. It helps you to interpret the ground the figures are standing on, and even what time of day it is by their shadows.

  • Figures give a sense of depth. Because these figures are walking away from you it helps point your focus toward the distant landscape.

  • Figures help tell a story. Several viewers were able to put themselves in this painting. That gives the viewer an emotional viewpoint. I even had one sweet person say she saw my husband and I.

In drawing figures there are a few things to remember. Since figure drawing is really just about drawing shapes remember to simplify.

It is important to pay attention to the size of the head on the shoulders. The smaller the head the more stylized it is and works well for street scenes. Avoid making the common mistake of making the head too big for the body. Avoid facial features the further away they are. If you start to paint features it becomes a portrait rather than a landscape!

When your figures are in the distance their edges become soft and begin to fade into the landscape. This is because of atmospheric perspective . If you would like to know more on this phenomenon read last weeks blog ' Four Ways to Use Atmospheric Perspective'. Realize If the figures are too crisp they will look like stickers stuck on the painting. So, The further away they are they become one dimensional, and have a flat perspective.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

This might just look like a lot of hieroglyphics to you but these were some figures I practiced in my journal several years ago. They are a mixture on two schools of thought in figure drawing.

The first to discuss is the carrot method. Draw a carrot pointing down with a dot on top to make a traditional man figure. Female figures tend to be wider in the middle like the MW method drawn mostly on the right hand page. The M is drawn on top to make the shoulders and arms, the W is drawn just underneath- touching to make the legs. Use one of these methods or many others and figure drawing becomes simple. The rule of thumb is men's shoulders are broader and women's rears are wider. Huh, Imagine that!

One of the hardest things to do is draw figures into an already painted landscape. The scale can cause real problems and it's hard to touch up a finished landscape if a figure is drawn too small or large. Lets say you know the size of the figure you want to paint One trick is to cut out a square the size of your figure and lay it on your painting in different places. You can see where the figure should be to make it in scale with the trees, sky, etcetera. Then you will be able to picture it in your painting. You will see the figure gets larger in perspective as you move it back into the painting.

Art touches us all on an emotional or intellectual level. It is a reflection of the artist's life experiences and their unique response to the world. In my unscientific survey 95% of the respondents preferred the picture with the people. Maybe it is because it allows him or her to put themselves in the story of the painting.

Thank you so much for reading my blog once again. n I hope you found this Facebook and Instagram response as interesting as I did! Please sign up for the latest at:

Onward we go,


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