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The above is a simple watercolor sketch I used as an example for my landscape class. This week we talked about putting “Little People” in our landscapes. I look back through all the landscapes I have painted and less than a third of them have people in them. What’s that about? People create interest for the viewer and can be used to lead the eye through a landscape or support a story the artist may be trying to tell, or just give life to a scene. Sometimes they are like little stick figures and sometimes they are a little larger, like I painted, here. I will outline how I created these. However, there are two very good tutorials for this on You Tube here and here.


This is the simple sketch I drew on my paper. If the figures are really small, I skip this step or frisket them out in advance. Note that I do not include a lot of detail. If the people face me, I often eliminate eyes nose and mouth on them and just use shadows I see to suggest facial features.


I usually begin with painting my skin tones, first. If the figure is tiny I may cover the entire figure with the skin tones and let the additional colors for their clothes run through that color. In larger figures, I look for how the light hits the people and leave the lights unpainted. Note: the stripe of white on arms and legs


I then give then clothes and allow the pigment to bleed into the skin tones. If it is too dark, I lift some of the color while it is still wet. I pay attention to where the clothes are lighter and darker. Note: the light on both figure’s shoulders and shorts


Select a color that you are using and puddle a shadow at your figures’ feet. This grounds them to the page and enhances the feeling of light. I then painted the hair a on the woman and the hat on the guy. The lady did not have a ponytail in the reference photo. That was all mingling pigment, a happy accident, and I decided to keep it. Added the frisbee, at this point.


I chose to frisket the splash around the dog. The two things that made the dog work was the highlight on the body defining his form and the shadow that grounded him to the page.


The last step was to fill in the landscape around them and remove the frisket from the splash.




  1. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Brilliant!! As a beginning watercolour semi-artist…this is so good. Thank you, Leslie. Raye

    • I don’t consider you a semi-artist at all! Your linework, your use of color and your writing amaze me! Thankyou for this comment and continuing to visit my site!

      • I have on today and most days when I view your site…my “envy” outfit!! Raye

    • Inese Poga Art Gallery
    • Posted December 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm
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    Your work is fantastic!

  3. True Leslie, figures do add value and interest to a landscape composition, I haven’t thought about it much so far, you made me give a thought to it.Very interesting to see how the final beautiful piece evolved, thanks for sharing.

    • It’s like your birds in the last painting you did. They were having a conversation, a story was made there amongst the paint and values. I, too, need to consider adding figures to some of my paintings that are devoid of them. I enjoy painting them. I also need to rememeber to carry my camera with me when I am out and about and in places that offer up so many ideas!

  4. So sweet! And great progress pics! I vote also for animals. Landscapes can have more animals. 😉

    • I could not agree more. Animals and more animals, Cindy! Thankyou! 🙂

  5. You’ve captured the soft beauty of water here, Leslie. I find myself wondering at what the couple and their dog are looking at out in the distance. Any painting that makes me wonder…I don’t know. I find them the best paintings. Love the tutorial. I always work so hard to prevent bleeding and maybe I need to settle down on that score. There is so much more life to a piece when you let the watercolors work for you.

    • There were a lot of people exercising their dogs on this beach. I think this particular couple had two Dobies and the man had thrown his frisbee and the first Dobie was beyond this one and this one ran out to chase it, too, not waiting for the lady to toss her’s. Ha! The people were watching the other Dobie. Thankyou for that question so the story could be finished. This was on a dog beach on the north side of Chicago just south of Northwestern.

  6. Thanks for sharing the process, Leslie 🙂

  7. Leslie, Thanks so much for the instruction. I still feel like I have a lot of catching up to do but I have certainly improved and feel much better about my painting.

    • You just made my day, Margaret. Thankyou. I think we all feel like we are catching up, mostly to our own visions of what we think our work “should” look like. You do beautiful work and will continue to get better and better. The funny thing is, we never quite get where we want to be. I think that is the element, for all of us, that keeps us painting. Thankyou, again, there is nothing better, for a teacher, than knowing they have helped someone on their path of discovery. 🙂

  8. This was so interesting. Students are fortunate to be in your class.

    • Thankyou, Gretchen. It is such a good group and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

  9. Very helpful tutorial Leslie. I like the composition with the heavy weighting on each side. It is amazing how much the dog with his splash balance the larger figures because of the contrast in values. Very nicely done!

  10. What a sweet watercolor. People are hard. Animals are hard. Water is hard. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and all we can do is persevere. You are an inspiration to me.

    • I know, I’m right there being inspired by you, too, as we try to record what we see, Ruth. Thankyou for this comment! 🙂

9 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. By A Busy Scene, Simplified | Leslie White on 28 Feb 2014 at 1:42 pm

    […] What an experience when I began to work in color! I saw I had simplified the restaurant or the bar, in the background too much,  so re-added some of the lettering. I really simplified all the color and lettering in all those windows on that building. They had a lot of different colors and lettering on them. I just used them to cast the glow of light on the scene. I thought the building in the background was too busy so had the fall tree expand and reach across it. I imagined more light coming from a building to the right of the people and indicated that in the cast shadows from the people. Since I had changed the center of interest to the old man and omitted the busy fruit stand and bicycle, I decided the scene was more about the people heading to the subway and followed my guidelines for painting “little People”. Refer to posts here and here. […]

  2. […] the last night of class, we practiced painting “little people” to use in our landscape paintings in the […]

  3. […] the fifth week we practiced painting “little people” described before here and here. They learned simple dimensions of the human form, how to allow the colors to run […]

  4. By The Red Boots | Leslie White on 24 Jul 2015 at 11:40 am

    […] Little People are fun to paint. Here are a couple sketches to ad to the mix: […]

  5. By Watercolor Portrait: Fall 2015 | Leslie White on 21 Oct 2015 at 1:49 pm

    […] learned how to paint little people because we have a landscape class coming up and are thinking we might like to work toward including […]

  6. By Beginning Watercolor | Leslie White on 13 Dec 2015 at 1:25 am

    […] The fifth week was devoted to learning to paint little people. […]

  7. […] fifth week was devoted to learning to paint “little” people to insert into our landscape […]

  8. […] love painting “Little People” […]

  9. By A Pool and a Beach | Leslie White on 24 Dec 2017 at 1:03 pm

    […] above watercolor sketch was done as a demo for painting little people in my landscape and beginning classes this […]

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