The Watercolor Figure and Susan Weintraub
“The human figure is a source of endless inspiration,” says artist Susan Weintraub. “Every figure and every pose is unique.” The watercolor figure paintings that Weintraub creates are built on delicate washes and fluid, graceful brushstrokes. See what this artist has to say about watercolor figure painting, painting from life and more with several examples of her inspiring paintings.
What’s the appeal of painting the figure?
The human figure is a source of endless inspiration. Every figure and every pose is unique. While a challenging subject, the skills you acquire in painting the figure, composition, selectivity, judging values, etc. are the same skills you need for any subject. If you are successful painting the figure you can paint just about anything. Because I generally paint figures for short poses, it helps me to paint quickly and focused and to edit out unnecessary detail.
Poses where the model is lying down are usually not my favorites. I find it difficult to compose a long, stretched out figure on a quarter sheet of paper, my usual size for these quick studies. But on this occasion the raised knee and somewhat foreshortened torso created a pleasing arrangement of forms and some interesting negative shapes. I also liked the way parts of the figure moved back in space rather than existing in one horizontal plane.
How regularly do you paint the figure? And how does it impact your artistry?
I actually began my watercolor painting in a weekly figure painting class almost fifteen years ago that I still attend. You will find me there most Friday afternoons. Unlike my landscapes and cityscapes, the figure painting requires no advance planning or thought, no acquiring or sorting through reference material. The model takes a pose and painting begins. The process is therefore far more relaxing and a welcome “break” from my more serious efforts. I try to carry over some of the fun and spontaneity of my figure studies into my landscape and cityscape work.
I love painting models with thick, curly hair. You can just load your brush with a juicy wash and have fun splashing it on the paper. The room where I did this was crowded and I couldn’t pick my view, but on this particular occasion I had a lovely three quarter pose where the angle of the light made the features stand out clearly.
Why use watercolor for capturing the figure?
Watercolor is a wonderful medium for working quickly and spontaneously. It’s the perfect medium for capturing the dominant shapes and gestures of a pose while editing the less significant details. I love watching washes of different colors mingle on the paper to suggest the cool and warm tones of the figure. I love contrasting soft edges for modeling forms with hard edges for depicting cast shadows.
There’s something very freeing about a ten or twenty minute pose, especially doing a series of them in an afternoon. You don’t get too anxious about them. You’re not concerned about producing a masterpiece. Most of all, you don’t have enough time to really screw things up. Although, I do have to discipline myself to avoid getting hung up on insignificant details and leaving important things unexplained. In this back view i was happy to have captured the essence of the pose.
Can you describe the materials you use?
For my figure studies, I generally use Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece round brushes of various sizes, Winsor & Newton paints with a palette of alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, French Ultramarine, cobalt blue, and cerulean blue, and Arches 140 lb. cold press paper in quarter sheet, or occasionally half sheet, size.
Meet the Artist
Susan Weintraub is a signature member and Dolphin Fellow of the American Watercolor Society. She also holds Signature memberships in the North East Watercolor Society, the Philadelphia Watercolor Society, Allied Artists of America and is on the board of directors of the Hudson Valley Art Association. She is a recipient of numerous prizes from these and other artist organizations, among them the Salmagundi Club, the Ridgewood Art Institute, the Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Adirondacks National Exhibition of American Watercolors.
Susan was a featured artist in the February 2016 issue of Watercolor Artist magazine. Her work is also featured in Splash 18. Another one of Susan’s works will appear in Splash 20, to be published in June 2019.
Discover the power and beauty of depicting the human body. Download your free eBook of 13 Gesture Drawing Techniques! Then work alongside a master artist when you Paint the Figure with Thomas Schaller.
BONUS ART GALLERY of WATERCOLOR FIGURE PAINTINGS
No two people are exactly alike. We all have our own internal and external variances that make us unique. Likewise, there are no two figure artists that approach the subject in the same manner. With an endless supply of figures, styles and techniques, the human form remains an intriguing subject for artists such as George James, Bev Jozwiak and Vi Gassman to portray. Enjoy this gallery of additional paintings.
For more artists and watercolor figure painting, get your subscription to Watercolor Artist magazine now!