Tell a Story With Your Figure Paintings

“Individuality” (watercolor, 21 x 29 in.)

“When I saw these four gentlemen sitting on a bench in Spain, it struck me how different their personalities and demeanor were,” says Lana Privitera. “To me, they didn’t feel like just another group of “seniors.” I saw them as individual human beings — each one with unique qualities and abilities to be admired, each one with a unique story of love and pain to tell.

“The background presented my biggest challenge. In my original reference photo, the men were sitting in front of a white wall, but I knew that I wanted to use the background as an integral part of my message not just as a decorative element. So I took my time to design it, to make it meaningful. The ’60s-like graffiti is an allusion to what a different life this group might have experienced when they were younger. 

“I painted the group of men first. Normally I only use transparent watercolors for my work, so it took multiple light glazes of quinacridone hues to get those dark values on their clothes. When I was finally ready to paint the background, I decided to use a variety of hues that were already present in their faces, to unify and link both areas. 

“Still, I wanted those faces to stand out, so I created further contrast between the group of men and the background by giving some texture to the wall. First I used scrubbers to lift some color and most of the hard edges. I finished by applying a large amount of random strokes of titanium white, creating a softer, hazier look on the wall, which lowered the value range and reduced the definition, thus increasing the contrast with the darker figures.”


“Individuality” won Best Figure & Portrait in the September PleinAir Salon art competition. “We artists need help to get recognition in the art world at large,” says Privitera. “In my case, art competitions have propelled my art career internationally. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get on the top lists for quite a while. Getting there takes time. The more hours you dedicate to painting, the better you’ll get at it. But remember, technical skills alone won’t win awards. Make sure you learn as much as possible about interesting compositions. Mastering composition will bring your paintings to the next level!”

Lana Privitera has just joined the faculty for Watercolor Live, your ticket to three days of premium watercolor instruction!

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


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