Tuesday, May 19, 2015

People Who Need (Watercolor) People

Tuesday Tips and Tricks:

Often in urban sketching we focus on the architecture or landmarks we encounter to tell the story of our surroundings. There are times though, when we add people to the scene, even when they’re not the focus. They add an element that can make it easier for the viewer to connect with our visual story. People give scale, energy, life, and an invitation into the scene. When you need or want an extra spark in your landscape or cityscape including people can be the trick you need. In this post I give you tips for using watercolor to add figures to your work.  

Carrots and Rectangles

There are many approaches for quickly adding figures to watercolors. I use a combination of two different methods – carrots and rectangles. Both ways employ similar mind sets.

  • Think simple.
  • Think shape 
  • Think gesture

The Carrot:

     1. Start with simple carrot shape            2. Add a head                     3. Add a little gesture  
                                                                                                                    and shadow
The result from just four strokes, a simple basic figure!

Repeat the process and add a little embellishment. 

Now try playing with just slight changes to the gesture and size of the carrot shapes. Add more, create a crowd or a parade!

The Rectangle:

1. Paint a rectangle    2. Add two strokes for legs    3. Two strokes for arms   4. One for a   
Tah Dah! A person!

Urban Sketching

 Saturday Morning at the Green City Market, Chicago

Using these simple methods as a starting point you can add the attitude, personality, the
 character of a place, through it's people.

Character Builders:

  • Paint a group of carrots and rectangles together.
  • Let a few overlap and let the paint mingle.
  • What happens when the head stroke touches the shoulder line? When it doesn’t?
  • Experiment, add line to emphasize or embellish some of the shapes.
  • Try adding just a little detail.

As always, have fun!


  1. OMG! This is just what I needed! Thanks, Barbara!

  2. Thanks, Alex! I'm so glad you found it helpful.

  3. Barbara, your solution is perfect for those who constantly tell me "I can't draw people." Solution: don't draw people then. Draw carrots instead. This is also a great solution when you are sketching in such a tiny sketchbook that it defies any kind of detail, so you are forced to simplify. Hahaha.

    1. Yes, Wes, I was hoping this post would help and encourage everyone but especially the sketchers you mention.

  4. Replies
    1. Yay! I love them, too. David Becker got me started with these years ago.

  5. I didn't have watercolors with me when I saw this - but I tried with a brush pen - very great tutorial. I love how these look.


    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Adam, I don't know how my original reply was deleted but this does work well with a brush pen. I've been using one to sketch figures while I'm watching TV!

  6. Thanks so much for the tutorial. So simple and so effective. I will keep practicing and put more figures in my sketches.

    1. I glad you found it helpful. Keep it simple is my mantra!

  7. Replies
    1. Have fun with it! You'll be surprised with how many different personalities your people can have.

  8. So happy that I found your work. It's amazing : the simplicity.

    1. Welcome, I'm glad you found it too! Yes, simplicity is key. Keep it simple is my mantra in most things!

  9. Barbara, I stumbled on this and all I can say is THANK YOU THANK YOU for making this simple! Do you have other tutorials?

    1. Thank you, Karen. I'm glad you found it helpful! Check out the other Tuesday Tips and Tricks posts. There's a lot of great information there. If you're familiar with Pinterest this link is to one of Urban Sketchers Chicago boards https://www.pinterest.com/USkChicago/hints-and-how-tos/ Enjoy!

  10. Lovely trick there! Amazing! Now I'm gonna try it ASAP!

  11. Very nice work. I tried it this is very helpful.
    Please tell me the paper on which you do these paintings?