When my children were little they were, as most children are, in an almost constant state of motion, at least while they were awake. While we seem to move less dramatically as we grow older, the reality is, as humans we are in a state of motion, in one way or another, nearly all the time. When I’m painting a scene that includes a human form, I strive to include elements that indicate the motion and movement natural to everyday life. With a sense of movement comes a sense of emotion and by adding a few simple elements I am able to move the viewer from detached observer to active participant in a painting.

My Ride, watercolour, (35.5x28cm).

As you can see, the person is riding a bike. Scale was created by the placement of the trees. The rider’s legs are compressed so we know the person isn’t standing or straddling the frame. One leg is up, the other one is down, indicating a pedalling motion. What we see in the painting is a solitary rider. What we don’t know, however, is if this is a person riding alone, or someone who is simply out ahead of a group of other riders. This is where the viewer gets to have fun with the story.


In order to relate people to their surrounding environment, I first have to understand how the human form changes relative to what it is doing. For example, if the person is stretching to reach something, I know that I have to increase the proportion from the standard eight heads high. On the other hand, if the person in the painting is bending over, kneeling, or seated, the proportions are going to compress, depending on their action. In order to give a sense of scale, regardless of what action is taking place, I typically juxtapose my figures against seemingly static forms of buildings, trees, or expansive landscapes.

Story lines

My particular style of painting relies heavily upon the notion of viewer completion. I start the story, but it is up to the viewer to fill in the details. Perhaps they see a city skyline that feels familiar and they are able to place themselves into the story. The people represented in the painting then become part of their community.

I will often add definition to one or two people in the way they dress or relate to one another, while the others fade into the background. By an angle of the knee, a tilt of a head, or the swing of an arm I am able to tell a little bit about who they are and what they are doing. Are they cold? Are they happy? Are they holding hands or walking close together? Does their distance indicate they are together or strangers passing by? Are they wearing business suits or evening attire? By adding these elements, the viewer is drawn into the story and rather than just glancing at the painting, they might stop and linger as they develop a deeper story that connects them to the scene. The sense of action and movement embedded in the painting adds an emotional element that draws the viewer in.

Coffee Shop, watercolour, (35.5x25.5cm)

In a scene that involves a café, restaurant, coffee shop, or pub, patrons are generally represented by being

seated on a stool or in a chair. The server is standing or bending slightly. Or, perhaps the server is holding an elevated tray. The seated figures are painted six heads high, or a little more than half the height of the standing server. Again, in a scene such as Coffee Shop (above), I have indicated a slight stoop in the waiter, giving a sense of action. Is the waiter now taking an order? Delivering food? Clearing a table? Providing the final bill?

On The Fly, watercolour, (28x20.5cm)

Sometimes action is represented in a painting, not so much by the angle of the body but by the elements included in the story. On The Fly (above) shows a fly fisherman and his dog standing relatively still in the water but our eye takes us to the whipping motion of the rod and fly.

Third Gear, watercolour, (20.5x25.5cm)

Returning to a biking example, we know the bikers in Third Gear (above) are in motion by both the placement of their feet and the bend of their knees. The figures in the background were created with simple washes that indicate the presence of a crowd but with no real definition. Are the bikers in a race? Are the background figures spectators or merely people gathered in a park or along a pathway? Is this a leisurely bike ride, or an attempt to reach a destination by a particular time? The story develops as the viewer relates to what is happening. All I have done is present them with the opening statement. The viewer fills in the remaining details.

Spring Holiday, watercolour, (25.5x35.5cm)