The most common mistake artists make when painting a figure is failing to take into account the fact that various parts of the body are closer to or farther from the viewer. This results in a flat, static composition instead of a dynamic one.
You should think about viewing distance and not just about lighting. If you don’t know what viewing distance means, then you might be making this mistake without realizing it. The effect can be subtle, but it’s very important in giving your composition life and energy, especially if you’re painting figures on canvas instead of on a flat surface, such as a panel.
The most common mistake artists make when painting figures is sculpting the head before the body. It’s a mistake I see all the time in student work and even in professional work. The problem is that when you sculpt a head to fit on a figure, there’s a good chance that it will look smooth or egg like, or have no real weight to it.
The great portrait and figure painters of history paint figures first. They think about what kind of body shape will look good with their subject’s face and then they paint the body first. This isn’t just because they can’t think of anything else to do while the paint dries – it’s because sometimes you can’t figure out how to make someone look good until you see them standing in their full form and full pose. Think about it: have you ever tried to describe someone over the phone? It’s hard! But if you could see them in person, it would be much easier. And so some of the best portrait painters actually don’t even begin painting their subject until they’re in front of them.*
There are two reasons why it’s helpful to paint figures first: one practical and one more conceptual, both equally important. The practical reason is that you don’t want to get too attached
The biggest mistake artists make when painting figures is that they have no idea what the figure actually looks like. When an artist paints a figure, she/he should always paint every muscle and bone in the body. This is true for both realistic and impressionist paintings.
What do I mean by paint every muscle and bone? I mean that there should be no part of the body that is left out or not painted. The muscles and bones should be visible to some degree on the surface of the skin. If you can’t see them, then, believe me, your painting will look fake.
You might wonder why I say “paint every muscle and bone” when I could simply say “paint every muscle and bone.” The reason is that you need to know where these muscles are located on the body (that way you can paint them) before you can paint them realistically.
The biggest mistake artists make when painting figures is not being able to see the figure in front of themselves. They may be able to see the figure in their mind’s eye and draw it to a degree but trouble comes when they actually paint it on the canvas.
Painting a figure is easy, you just need to be able to copy the reference!
That’s right, all you have to do is look at your reference and copy what you see on the canvas. But wait, isn’t that how many artists get stuck?
They spend hours and hours thinking about what colors they want to use and how they want the painting to look instead of using that time wisely by first learning how to draw what they see.
Before I show you how to paint figures there are a few things you should know.
When most artists paint figures they have one big mistake that they make over and over again. This mistake is especially visible in portrait painting, but it applies to all figure painting mediums.
The biggest mistake artists make is the same mistake that children make when they draw people. That’s because this mistake comes from trying to simplify what you see rather than trying to create a realistic image of someone or something.
Trying to simplify your image also means that it will lack depth, detail, and realism as well as be less interesting to look at. The problem with simplified images is that the artist always leaves out some of the information about the subject rather than being able to show everything about them in one painted image.
The result is that the viewer does not get a full sense of what the subject really looks like and so there are details missing from the portrait when it is finished.
A lot of artists make the mistake of trying to draw a figure from the outside in. They start with the body and work their way out to the details. They draw the arms and legs first, then the torso and so on.
Trying to draw like this can cause you some trouble. You might end up drawing your subject’s head as a ball or a football depending on how you draw it. Some artists even end up drawing the face upside down! So that even if they know how to capture facial features accurately, they still have issues with spatial perception.
A lot of people would say “just don’t do it” but for some reason many artists keep doing it over and over again, maybe because they think it’s correct or maybe because they don’t know any better. But no matter what kind of artist you are, it’ll still be useful to learn how to paint figures from different angles and perspectives.
It just takes a bit of practice and focus if you’re used to drawing figures only from one point of view.*
We have a lot of illustrations on instructables and I have noticed that there are many that are in need of some background work. I am not talking about adding a background, but rather shading the figure itself.
The main mistake artists make when drawing a figure is that they take the light source as if it were shining from the upper part of the page and straight ahead. At times this is fine, but many times it isn’t.
A good example of what I mean are most superhero comics where the light source is coming from behind them and slightly to one side, therefore making their shadows appear in front of them and to their other side. In order for this to work correctly you need to understand how light works and where it will fall on the body or object, which brings us to the first two points.