Posing Groups for Portrait Paintings

By Alina Bradford

group of people image by Gabriella FabbriWhen portrait painting, posing groups of people can create a problem with composition. The trick is to use angles and symmetry to your advantage.

Group portrait painting is a challenge for any artist. The subjects need to be arranged so that the composition is pleasing in the finished painting. This can be done by positioning the people in tried and true configurations that have served the masters well over the centuries.

Using Angles in Portraits

With smaller groups of people, it is easy to just bunch them together and start painting, but a good artist will arrange the subjects in a symmetrical grouping that is pleasing to the eye.

People PossitionsA symmetrical grouping takes advantage of angular groups that look balanced and even. For example, take a look at the Example One diagram.

In the diagram there is three different examples of angular positions: inverted triangle, diamond, and upright triangle. These positions help the eye make sense of the jumble of subjects because they are put in familiar, balanced shapes.

  • To create the inverted triangle, have the tallest person sit with the shorter people behind her on each side. Children and babies can be placed in the sitting adult’s laps, if needed.
  • To create the diamond, have the tallest person stand in the back with the two next-to-tallest people standing in front of each shoulder. Have the shortest person stand in front of the middle row so that his head is in front of their shoulders.
  • For the traditional triangle, have the tallest person stand in the back and the shorter people in front with the group getting progressively larger.

Larger Groups

Pose Examples 2Larger groups will take a bit more planning, but they still can work with the angle idea. The angles that are used in this approach looks a lot like a letter ‘X’.

Take a look at the Example Two diagram. Notice how the people’s heads are positioned so that they resemble interlocking ‘X’s. This arrangement is great for groups with babies or small children because the children can be added to the laps of the adults in the front row without ruining the symmetry of the painting.

To create an ‘X’ pattern, the artist should have the tallest people stand in the back in a straight line. Next, another line of people should be placed in front of the back line. Their heads should be in-between the heads in the back row. The front row should be the shortest people (or they could be sitting) lined up in front of the second row. Their head should be positioned so that they are parallel with the heads in the back row.

Using these angles creates a composition that will enhance any portrait.

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