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Painting People: How I Do It

Updated on December 10, 2014

Painting People Takes Preparation

I love being an artist and sharing my passion with others is something that I find very fulfilling. I teach art courses online and at a local art school so I have some experience inspiring students with the joy of creating art. Most people think that a painting just happens because someone is talented. If only that were true. A lot of preparation and planning go into a painting. Join me in the step-by-step instruction that shows you the behind the scene process I use for painting a person in an environment. There are no shortcuts in solving the problems of a complex composition like this but they can be managed if you know how.

Sharon Weaver Painting in the Eastern Sierras

First Take Lots of Photos

A Digital Camera Means Unlimited Photos

I prefer to paint from life but sometimes, like when I am painting people or animals, it just isn't possible. Those times I rely on my digital camera to capture the scene. With the convenience of a large memory chip I will click away and worry about editing out the bad shots later. Sometimes I know when I take the photo that it will make a great painting. Other times I will crop the photo until I am happy with the composition. Either way I take a lot of reference photos and always have my camera handy. I never know when I might see that perfect image for a painting just waiting to happen.

Step One - Find Your Photo Reference

I took a trip to the Pacific Asia Museum with my husband and as usual took my camera with me. The museum has a great garden and koi pond and I must have taken dozens of photos outside but when I took this photo inside at the exhibit, I knew it would make a great painting. The shapes created by the beautiful kimonos and my husbands silhouette were very interesting. With just a little cropping the composition worked perfectly.

Photo taken by Sharon Weaver

Find a Great Little Camera - Panasonic with a Leica Lens is My Camera of Choice

Having the right camera is critical. I look for something that is small, easy to use but with a good quality lens. I want to have the ability to zoom in, have settings for different lighting conditions and fast action for capturing moving animals and people.

I use the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8. with a Leica lens. Every photo on my website is taken with this camera or its predecessor, also a Panasonic. I take zillions of photos so I need a couple of large memory chips and I always carry an extra charged battery, just in case.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 14.1 MP Digital Camera with 16x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) (OLD MODEL)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 14.1 MP Digital Camera with 16x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) (OLD MODEL)

This is the camera I use to photograph all the images on my website. I is rugged, small, easy to use and has a great quality lens so even though it isn't fancy it takes great images.

 
SanDisk 32GB Class 4 SDHC Memory Card, Frustration-Free Packaging- SDSDB-032G-AFFP (Label May Change)
SanDisk 32GB Class 4 SDHC Memory Card, Frustration-Free Packaging- SDSDB-032G-AFFP (Label May Change)

I try to carry a few memory chips so I never have to worry about how many photos I take.

 

Step Two - Convert Your Photo To Black and White

In order to see the basic shapes of the composition I like to eliminate the color. This helps me decide if I need to make changes or adjust something which will improve the layout. The best way to see the basic design is by reducing the photo to its simplest form so I eliminate all the "noise" by polarizing it to only two values: black and white. I use my Photoshop program for this effect.

Step Three - Add Detail With A Midtone Value in Grey

With Photoshop I refine the image by adding a third value: grey. The third value connects the dark shapes, defines the important design elements and allows me to emphasize the figure. Note how I created interest with the use of values and consolidated the shapes.

Photo enhanced by Sharon Weaver using Photoshop

Step Four - Sketching the Image Helps with Visualization

Sketching the composition is the last step before I actually start to paint. I find this is the best way for me to understand the subject and see it in my minds eye. As I sketch, I visualize the finished painting. I work out the more complex aspects of the values and really start to understand how to approach the image on canvas. The more clearly I visualize the finished painting the easier it is to complete the painting.

Sketch by Sharon Weaver

Sketching Materials I Use

Canson Artist Series Universal Paper Sketch Pad, for Pencil and Charcoal, Micro-Perforated, Side Wire Bound, 65 Pound, 9 x 12 Inch, 100 Sheets
Canson Artist Series Universal Paper Sketch Pad, for Pencil and Charcoal, Micro-Perforated, Side Wire Bound, 65 Pound, 9 x 12 Inch, 100 Sheets

A good sketchbook is essential. I like one that is small enough to carry with me everywhere but big enough to do a nice drawing. For me 9"x12" is perfect.

 
General Pencil 497BP Semi-Hex Graphite Drawing Pencils 4/Pkg-HB, 2B, 4B, 6B
General Pencil 497BP Semi-Hex Graphite Drawing Pencils 4/Pkg-HB, 2B, 4B, 6B

I like to use four different pencils, from a harder, lighter HB to the softest and darkest 6B.

 

Step Five - Finally: The Painting

Once I completed all the preliminary work, the final painting was easy. Having worked out many problems before taking paint to canvas and establishing a strong visualization of the image in my minds eye, the actual painting was completed in just one sitting. Because of my preparation, I quickly got in the zone and three hours later had my completed painting

You may wonder why I need so much preparation to do a painting. The extended preparation allows me to execute the painting with confident, bold strokes. I can work easily with the paint because I don't have to worry about the composition, details or values. Those have been worked out before hand and now all I have to do is feel the paint.

"Dragon Stance" by Sharon Weaver 14x11 Oil on Panel

Oil Painting Supplies I Use

M. Graham Professional Oil Color Set of Six
M. Graham Professional Oil Color Set of Six

You don't need a lot of colors but you need the right ones. M. Graham makes great oil paints.

 
Art Advantage Wood Palette Value-Pack With Free Brushes and Knives
Art Advantage Wood Palette Value-Pack With Free Brushes and Knives

You don't need anything fancy but wood makes the best palette.

 
Silver Brush 1001-6 Grand Prix Premier Long Handle Hog Bristle Brush, Flat, Size 6
Silver Brush 1001-6 Grand Prix Premier Long Handle Hog Bristle Brush, Flat, Size 6

My favorite brushes are hog bristle flat in every size. Paint with the largest first and work down to more detail with the smaller brushes.

 
Art Alternatives Canvas Panel (8 X 10) (1-Pack of 12)
Art Alternatives Canvas Panel (8 X 10) (1-Pack of 12)

Some artists like a stretched canvas but I love canvas panels. They don't sag, never tear and are very durable.

 
Darice Studio Deluxe Floor Wood Easel with Wheels
Darice Studio Deluxe Floor Wood Easel with Wheels

Spend the extra money to get a good easel. I prefer one with wheels because in good weather I will wheel it out onto the back porch and paint there.

 

Artist Or Art Lover, Do You Think All The Preparation Was Worth It?

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    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @audrey07: Computers have made it possible to quickly make improvements to your photos so I will often work out small changes. The notan helps me see the image as basic shapes, a great help to keep the painting loose and spontaneous. Thanks for stopping by.

    • audrey07 profile image

      audrey07 

      5 years ago

      I like the concept here. Take a picture, convert it, sketch and then paint. I didn't know you can do it that way!

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @getupandgrow: Everyone has their own method but this works for me.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @delia-delia: Like painting a room, it turns out as good as the preparation.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @katiecolette: Doing the steps is fun and helps define the subject making it easier to paint.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you. I hope my efforts help another artist.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 

      5 years ago

      Wow! What you did is amazing.

    • profile image

      getupandgrow 

      5 years ago

      Everyone talks about preparation, but very few people seem to explain how to do it. THat is what makes this lens so wonderful-many thanks!

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 

      5 years ago

      Yes indeed! great instructional information on this preparation for painting...

    • katiecolette profile image

      katiecolette 

      5 years ago

      I think I might try your technique. What a great idea it is to take a photo and then edit it with Photoshop to define all the lines and shades. I am by no means an artist, but I like to sketch and draw every once in a while.

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 

      5 years ago from Diamondhead

      I enjoyed reading you lense. It is well written and explains a lot of the aspects of painting that most people need help with when they attempt to be creative.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @Gayle Dowell: You are right, sometime you have to be spontaneous but I find with people the more I plan the better the finished piece.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      5 years ago from Kansas

      Great painting lesson. I know that preparation is good, but sometimes I just have to get in there and paint.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @aesta1: Thank you. You are right, people are tough to draw. Proportions are everything when drawing people.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great way of doing the painting. I always have a problem with proportion when drawing a person.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @Splodgered: Glad to share some easy techniques that can really make a difference.

    • Splodgered profile image

      Splodgered 

      5 years ago

      thanks for sharing your technique. using photoshop to create b/w and greyscale is a great idea

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @Vera-S: thank you. I think that it is the artists job to improve reality.

    • Vera-S profile image

      Vera-S 

      5 years ago

      I love your final panting more than initial photo. You transformed it entirely in a process.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @Rosanna Grace: I enjoy the process as much as seeing the final painting. Thanks.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @hmommers: Thank You. I am glad you enjoyed the lesson. Hope it inspires you.

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @anonymous: Thank you. For me it is essential.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      I'm a photographer, not a painter, but I love that you start with the photo, then create the painting.

    • Rosanna Grace profile image

      Rosanna Grace 

      5 years ago

      I enjoyed reading all about your process and watching as the final product emerged. Thank you for sharing this story! :)

    • profile image

      hmommers 

      5 years ago

      Every preparation is worth it. Good tutorial :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Art lover. Your prep was definitely worth it!

    • Sharon Weaver profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharon Weaver 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      @artbyrodriguez: Thanks. I find my method allows me to be more spontaneous when I paint because questions about the design are eliminated.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 

      5 years ago from Albany New York

      Very informative. The preparation does free you to create art!

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