Painting kids on beach...do you pencil figures in first?

Hi, I want to do a painting of my grandson on the beach...I have sketched it onto my canvas, and now wonder, is this the best way to go about it? Or should I paint entire background first, or leave unpainted where he will go? Or?...This will be my first attempt at a figure too. Any suggestions and advice most appreciated!

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Hi Marion!  This should get a few different responses, for sure.  I prefer to work from the background to the foreground.  Foreground masses may get blocked in or drawn, but typically they get paint overlap while doing the background.  It is not unusual for me to change the relative size or position of foreground shapes, either, so I don't get too precise during the early stages.

Is it fair to ask what sort of composition you have in mind?  Are you cropping the photo?  The dominant theme may either be the beach or your grandson depending upon your composition.

Hi Charles, I attached a pic of what I want to paint. I would think it harder to paint the background and have to stop at an object (figure), but if I don't draw him in, how will I be able to paint him?...do the background, then outline him in, in fine paint outline? Guess that would work. I purposely chose a photo where I didn't have to add facial features, challenge will be in getting proportions right, not a really complicated pic. If he comes out looking like a little martian, I can always paint over him. Lol. I am using an 11 x 14 canvas. Thanks for your help.
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Your concern is valid, and why I stated that there is often paint overlap on my drawing/underpainting.  To maintain a smooth brush stroke, I cannot stop on a dime, or a line - the stroke goes beyond the line. No problem!  When working back to front, the nearest objects/masses are done after the background, so any wayward brushstrokes are covered up at that point.  Your outline may not be intact, but usually enough is visible to connect the dots.  If you block in the figure with rough values before doing the background, it is even easier to find than a pencil outline.

Composition.  Look closely at the photo.  Do you see the yellow shapes behind your grandson?  They are drawing the eye away; they act as another center of interest.  You do not want any bright colours competing for attention.  You might either eliminate the shapes altogether, or play them down with very muted hues.  Same idea with the beach umbrellas. 

Cereal box cardboard can be used to make a viewing frame.  Cut two "L" shaped pieces about 3/4 - 1" wide, with the long arm of the "L" being about 6" long and the short arm 4" long.  Then use paper clips to form a window in the same relative proportions as your canvas.  By looking through this at your image, you can move it closer or away, and left to right to see the effect of different cropping and figure placement.  I would not crop the image the way you have, but that is me.  Using a simple tool like this helps us to understand the power of composition and the various possibilities within each scene.  One can also purchase adjustable plastic viewers that essentially do the same thing, but this is free and works just as well.

Well don't know why my (long) reply didn't post, guess I was computer challenged yesterday, sorry Charles.  Thanks so much for all your advice, great tips.  I am going to block it in and see how that works for me.  I was wondering what was bothering me about the pic, and it is the boat colour, will definitely tone down the colour.  Love the viewing frame idea, so obvious now that you say it. thanks again, much appreciated!

Hi Marion!

This is where acrylics is especially forgiving. As Charles mentioned you can "block in" your large areas first, no detail, just accurate values and ballpark colors. It's important to get those values right first.

Then I start in the background and move forward. It's easier to get nice sweeping strokes if you don't stop and start. Once the background is in, you can always redo your sketch if needed. You can use a light or white colored pencil or hard pastel if your pencil doesn't show up.

It's easy to get too stiff of a look to your painting if you are trying to carefully draw within the lines. Instead try to use a good sized brush - not too small. And focus on shapes and values, ignoring the small details. Squinting helps!

Have fun, this is going to be lovely!

Hi Karen,

thanks so much!  I try to paint without my glasses, that about equals squinting, lol, until I want to do more detailed work.  I will work on my values, I just printed a black and white pic of this to help guide me, after reading your comments on another work.  Can't wait to start now, thx.

Hi Marion, what a good discussion! You have some great suggestions from Charles and Karen. When working from a photo like this I usually do a number of different thumbnail sketches to get a pleasing comp and placement of all elements. I'm also looking for eye magnets (things that lead the eye to the main subject). Ask yourself "what if " like what if I move the boy's head above the shore line? Would the shore then point to him better? I realize you already have your sketch on, but never hurts to take another look at things before painting. First things first sort of speak.

If you are interested in proportion and compositional placement then research the golden means and the golden ratio spiral. The spiral helps in placing elements to lead the eye around and to the main subject. This is ancient school stuff and so very interesting! There are boo-coos of u-tube videos on it now. This is basically where the rule of thirds came from which is also a good one.

Also, if you are concerned about getting the proportions right on this cute little guy you can purchase a proportional divider. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and a good learning tool. You can find them online. A Fibonacci gauge is awesome for drawing figures also, it coincides with the golden means ratio.

Didn't mean to go so deep and bypass your main questions, but hope this helps in some way. I know you will do it well like you always do!

HI Mark,  thanks so much for all the info.  As far as moving the boy/shore etc, no problem, I have an eraser, lol, and I will look at that tonight. I guess I am still convincing myself that I can change the photo, doesn't have to be an exact replica, especially if it's not really working for the best.  Artistic license.  I have heard of the Golden ratio/Fibonacci numbers (quilting related research), and am going to google the proportional divider.  So great to get so much advice and ideas.  I find sometimes I am just too "into it" to see the sometimes obvious.  Really appreciate your comments, thanks!

what a great discussion! thanks for sharing here. i so love to learn from all of you :) i cant wait to see your painting of this little man!

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