Human Figure Painting Tutorial: How to Paint Figures and Gestures

Figure painting is what every artist aspires to do well, and there is an incredibly amount of diversity in the genre—but plenty of challenges when it comes to painting figures with power and depth. It’s a lot of ground to cover for any artist, which is why you’ll love Artist Daily‘s free eBook. It covers all the bases of how to paint figures and inspires you with incredible artworks that are sure to motivate you in your studio as you start your own painting odyssey.


First, discover how Old Master human painting techniques can guide you in your own studio practice, starting with the classic traditions of painting figures and portraiture. Next find how to express emotions and comment on any situations or circumstances you desire, from social and political evens to personal happenings. Finally, pastel painter Sam Goodsell reveals why he finds the genre so rewarding and a process that, to him, is fundamentally human.

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Follow along as experienced painters discuss the many facets painting figures.

What’s inside?

Mastering the figure is what so many painters desire to do. The reason for this is the compelling nature that dates back to the Old Masters but is still being reinvented and revitalized by contemporary artists of today. That is why Human Figure Painting Tutorial: Painting Figures Like the Old Masters and Using Figure Paintings to Express Your Feelings is sure to inspire you. It is a resource that delves into the processes of the masters that are being used by artists in the here and now, shows you how expressive gesture painting can be, and offers insights into how artists make figure paintings mean something to them—and how they can use the figure to "say" something or capture the essence of a person that is every artist’s goal.

Painting Like the Old Masters

Painting Like the Old Masters by Molly Siple

Artist Leonid Gervits gives a tutorial of his own process, which harkens back 400 years to the Spanish master, Velazquez.


In this article Gervits discusses his surface, what brushes he uses, his palette, and what goes into both his glazing mixes and his mediums. He uses a six-step process when which he shares with you here, and tries to capture a figure’s personal history and character with every gesture. Painting this way—with careful observation—allows Gervits to excel at his chosen art practice, and he shares his insights and tips with you. These include:

  • Trusting nature – You need to see what is in front of you and not feel obligated to adjust shapes and lines for the sake of a composition.
  • Value and color – The unity of these two aspects of a painting are what assure success.
  • Ask the Masters questions – Go to museums and look at the paintings of Rubens and other Old Masters. Peer at the corners of their canvases that are less finished and you’ll see the layers of paint they used and the color of the primer.
Using Faces and Figures to Express Your Feelings

Using Faces and Figures to Express Your Feelings by Alex Powers

Emotions, situations, and circumstances can all be powerfully articulated in your human painting, according to artist Alex Powers. In this section he breaks down his approach to painting figures in these understandable sections:

  • Composition – Placing the figure in the center might be instinctive but it isn’t the only way to go.
  • Backgrounds – Let the content of the painting guide you in this. What is it you are trying to express with each gesture? Painting the background with the same awareness will serve you well.
  • Line and Texture – You can get a casual, sketchbook feel or a more formal portrait vibe depending on how you use these elements in your work.

You’ll also love all the artistic insights Powers shares on how to render the face and the figure, painting from models or photos, and more.

Sticking With the Figure

Sticking With the Figure by Bob Bahr

Painting people, pastel painter Sam Goodsell attests, is the most emotional element an artist can include in a painting. In this section Goodsell discusses how his level of confidence in painting figures began with his determination to always start with a fresh approach. As figure painting artists will tell you, the figure is powerful but familiar so you have to make your compositional arrangement unique in order to do your subject any kind of justice.


For Goodsell, the process of figure painting is one that begins with a simple sketch and grows from there with special attention paid to trying to capture the essence of the figure more than correct anatomy. And more than a lesson on how to paint figures, Goodsell inspires readers with his journey back to art after years away from it, and how he came to be able to practice his human painting full time.

Learn figure and gesture painting from these experience figure painting artists!


Find a unique approach with each tutorial.