How To Paint People

Posted on: 25 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Brush up your skills with our tutorial from artist Marilyn Allis.

You'll be painting people like a pro after this step-by-step tutorial.


  • Rough 180lb Arche paper
  • SAA All Rounder brush
  • SAA Wash brush
  • SAA Water Colour:

Marilyn Allis art tutorial - colour chartRaw Sienna

Cadmium Orange

Light red

Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Red


Cobalt Blue

Intense Violet

Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite flying reference photoFigures are just blobs of light and dark shapes. Look for the light shapes you can see in your reference material and then the dark shapes you can see rather than any detail. Use these as the basis of your drawing. Keep it simple, and your subject will spring into life.

Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite flying reference photoWhen looking for ideas of something different to paint, old photographs can be useful. Just make sure that they have strong shadows and the water colour will work for you.

I found these old photographs of two of my children flying a kite. The energy and movement is captivating, and should work really well for an interesting composition in the finished painting.

I will keep the background almost white, by doing this it will extenuate the energy and moment in the children, rather than distracting the eye away from the purpose of my composition and make far more impact.

Marilyn Allis art tutorial - drawing kiteI have altered the composition to make it slightly more dynamic and flowing. I have moved the two children closer together, and also lowered the kite into the frame. The kite needs to be in the painting to tell the story of what Ben and Ellie are doing.




Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 11. The flesh tones are a mix of Light Red with a touch of Sepia. Using your SAA All Rounder add a little Raw Sienna to the top of the boy's head where the light is hitting it, and the Sepia to the very dark shadowed area. You will be amazed at how the tones vary on blonde hair from almost white where the light hits it to almost black where it is in shadow.



Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 22. Put a well watered down wash of Alizarin Crimson on the boy's jumper and whilst this is still wet a well watered down wash of Cobalt Blue onto his trousers. If the colours run slightly don't panic, this all adds to the movement and looseness of watercolour. Where the light is hitting the boy keep this very pale and washed out, and a medium wash on the other areas.



Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 33. Use an Intense Violet for the shadow areas of the boy's trainers, now dry completely.

Squint at your photograph and any dark shapes you can see add some Intense Violet to your Alizarin crimson and apply your dark shapes then do the same with Cobalt Blue and Intense violet to the dark shapes on the trousers.


Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 44. When completely dry add some Sepia to your mix and add a few dry brush mark for the areas that have creases in the fabric on the clothes. This will really make your figure come alive.





Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 55. Complete the second figure in exactly the same way. Use Light Red, mixed with a small amount of Sepia for the skin tones. Use a Cadmium Red for the girl's top and Cobalt Blue for her jeans. Her hair is dark so use a little Cobalt Blue for the highlights and Sepia for the darks. Work through in exactly the same way as the boy. Remember to use the rough paper to your advantage and leave some rough dry brush marks along the trousers and so on.


Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 66. Using Intense Violet add this to the Cadmium Red and Cobalt Blue and after squinting at your reference material add the very dark shapes you can see.





Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 77. Using a nice bright Cadmium Orange and Cadmium Red paint the kite. Use dry limited brush marks for the flowing ribbons and the flying string.





Marilyn Allis art tutorial - kite stage 88. I needed to balance the composition by getting some colour in, so using a Whopper brush I have washed in some Cadmium Orange to the base of the painting.

I will now finish by anchoring the figures to the ground with shadows using a mix of Cobalt Blue and Alizarin Crimson.



Marilyn AllisAbout The Author

Marilyn Allis

Marilyn lives in Dorset, where she teaches and writes.

She won the SAA's Artist of the Year 1999 award with the painting 'Ben at Weymouth'. Winning the Daler Rowney front page competition offered the opportunity to hold a trio exhibition in the Royal Commonwealth Society, London. In the year 2000 a watercolour was accepted by the Royal Institute in Watercolour while 2003 saw a painting reach the final of the International Artists competition.

Galleries where her work can be viewed are The Studio, Mill Lane Gallery, Wimborne, First View at Stourhead, The Wiltshire Gallery in Fisherton Street Salisbury and The Langton Arms Inn in Tarrent Monkton.

Web Links - The Society For All Artists

Marilyn Allis art tutorial - DVDIf you've caught the painting bug from Marilyn's tutorial and want to practice, or if you’re not feeling confident enough to try and paint Marilyn's kite scene, Marilyn Allis' instructional DVD, People Aren't Scary (Really!) offers your own private teach-in from Marilyn in the comfort of your own home. It's available from SAA.

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