Painting Lessons

Painting Lessons Free Painting Lessons Student Testimonials About the Artist Painting Blog Painting Lessons Help Contact me Special Offers
  Your Shopping Cart
Drawing Color Landscape Still Life Figure LIVE! Tools Biz ALL

Painting Workshop 23

Demo Painting

"San Francisco" 14x14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson


< Previous Workshop | ALL | Next Workshop >

    Quick Links
    Join the Current Workshop >
    The Challenge
    Student Gallery
    Painting Critiques
    Video Tutorial
  Workshop Signup

This Month's Challenge


Well I never thought I'd want to paint a city street but San Francisco changed my mind. The subject of the painting is really the light and atmosphere and the interesting shapes found in a street scene. This workshop also explores how you can free up your colours by working from a black and white photograph, and how we can use images from the internet to paint from.

Workshop Challenge

Feel free to follow me step by step in painting the same scene or use the photos below or your own resources to design a piece that is more your own. You can paint this any size or shape you like using any medium. Either way the main learning goal for this workshop is to focus on learning more about painting streets and inventing colour. Happy painting!

Click image to enlarge.    
Resource Photo - click to enlarge

The resource photos in the album above are provided by our members. They are free of copyright for this painting project. Please ask them first if you wish to use their photo for a painting to sell or any other commercial purpose. Thanks.


Using photos from the internet

You can see the painting is really quite different from the photo and that's largely because I worked from a black and white version of the photograph and also because I cropped it and made some creative adjustments. The photo of the street was mine but the photo of the cable car I found on the web so I won't show it to you here for fear of breaching copyright, which raises a common question - can you use images from the web to paint from?

I've researched it a little and my understanding is that every image and creative work is protected by copyright from the moment it is created, BUT if we want to use someone's image to paint from it pays to ask them first, UNLESS it's purely for individual educational purposes (which means you won't sell the painting) OR if you only use a small portion of the image or transform the image substantially in your painting so that it is quite different from the original. Saying that, it's always nice to ask anyway - it shows someone that you appreciate their work and most people are excited to hear that someone wants to paint from their photo. and and are good sources for photos free of copyright.

The Process

Here's the general process I follow when painting in the studio:

1. Find a scene that moves me.
2. Find the visual concept for that scene. What's the big idea?
3. Draw or imagine the notan design. What's the dark/light design?
4. Paint or imagine a limited value study. Where will I place the main values?
5. Paint or imagine the colour study. Where will I place the main colours?
6. Paint the final painting. Dark to light, big to small, thin to thick.

Visual Concept

Every good painting begins with a strong visual concept. This is something that beginners usually miss completely because they are so concerned with trying to capture the likeness of their subject.

Here is a list of visual concepts written by Robert Bissett:

Interesting Shapes
Great Color
Unusual Texture
Sharp Contrast
Quiet Simplicity
Fascinating Complexity
Morning or Evening Light
Weather Effects
Back Lighting
Horizontal Movement, vertical counter-movement
Light Shape suspended amid darks
Light Shape moving against Dark Shape
Light Shape separating dark shape from mid-value shape
Eruption of fragmented shapes and colors
Etc., Etc....

Note that they are concepts, not things. For example it's not a 'beautiful tree' or 'big
clouds'. A good painter begins with a strong visual concept to base a painting on. The
visual concept is usually suggested by the subject itself, especially in plein air painting,
but you can just as easily apply your own visual concept to the subject or even begin with
a visual concept in mind and find a subject to suit your idea. More often than not the
visual concept will be the very thing that you love most about the scene, the thing that
compels you to paint it, like the dramatic lighting or the strong colour or interesting
shapes. The important thing is to clearly understand this motivation at the very beginning
and write it down so you keep it in mind through the entire painting process.

Here are a few examples of some of my own paintings which began with a strong visual

visual concept

Notan Design

Notan is a Japanese word meaning the balance of light and dark. Using small notan designs is the best way I know of to begin designing a painting. Most of the way we see our visual world is in terms of
light and dark patterns. Colour is really just the icing on the cake. Our brain recognizes the silhouettes of objects first and needs very little other visual information to work with.

When I see a notan design I see the absolute core of a painting, the skeleton that everything else is built on. Notan is a great way to sort out the placement of the major masses before you dive into your painting. What I try to achieve with my small notan designs is an interesting abstract design which expresses something about what I want to say about my subject, or the 'visual concept'. To help with that I often write the visual concept at the top of the page which sums up what I want to express in the painting. In the case below I wrote 'Bold Shapes, Strong Contrast'. Then I went ahead and did a few different notan designs.

Resource Photo   photo
Original Photo by Lorna Allan   Notan Designs
Can't see this video? 
Watch it on Youtube here:


Limited Value Study

We've looked at Visual Concept and Notan and the next step is to figure out the value structure of your painting. We can see the value of a colour if we convert it to grayscale, like in a black and white photo. Value gives us form. When everything is the same value, like in a whiteout fog, we can't see anything. Your limited value study or studies will be based on your favorite notan design.

Goals for your limited value study:

1. Design a strong value structure from your scene based on your visual concept and your notan design.
2. Learn to see colour in terms of value.
3. Understand the principle of conserving your values. That is, practicing compressing the entire visual range into 5 premixed values.
4. Explore the elements of your scene and how they relate to each other.
5. Explore the possibilities of variations in sharp and soft edges. How far can you push these to help enhance your focal areas?
6. Keep a simplified value structure by keeping your pre-mixed values separate and don't create large gradations. Soft edges yes, gradations no. Simpler is stronger. Don't mix the values together on your palette either.
7. Paint from dark to light, big to small, thin to thick.
8. Use your palette knife if you wish.
9. Enjoy the freedom of using expressive brushwork without the worry of colour mixing.

photo   shadow and light families
Notan Designs   Limited Value Study

For more information on notan and limited value studies please view the workshop video or refer to these earlier workshops: Workshop1 and Workshop2.

Colour Study

Painting a small colour study before getting to the final painting is a great step towards figuring out your colour scheme and ironing out any problems before you commit to a larger painting. Bigger painting, bigger mistakes. It's often easier and faster in the long run to correct those mistakes on a much smaller scale.

Resource Photo   Completed Painting - click to enlarge
Original Photo by Lorna Allan   A completed painting showing notan design, limited value study and colour study as well as the gamut mask used for the colour design.

Here's a video explaining how to analyse colour and value with a colour checker:

Can't see this video? Watch it on Youtube here:

Get The Ultimate Painter's Tool here:


You can learn more about painting Form here.

Note: If you can't see the videos on this page (above) or on Youtube, I can't help with that sorry - there will be something wrong with your computer settings, but I'm no computer wiz. You would need to contact a computery person to fix that problem.


Gallery of the Month's Workshop Challenge Entries  

Painting Critiques


Student Painting

"San Francisco" 50x50cm Oil on Canvas by Elena Sokolova

Hi Elena, I like your take on this scene. Strong colour and a good range of values from dark to light. The Sky is a bit flat though - could do with more of a gradation in value and hue from right to left. Your drawing of the buildings and a few of the cars is really good (except that much of it seems to be leaning to the right a little) but the drawing of the cable car lets the painting down. Well, mine could have been better too. It just needs some panel beating to straighten it up and the figure needs some serious physical therapy.

Your recession of colours is working beautifully up the street except for the trees which seem to have stayed the same green until right at the top. Some of the shadows on the street are a little too blue and because they've been drawn fairly wobbly it gives the appearance of being shadows of trees cast on a dirt track rather than straight edged shadows cast on a slightly curving but otherwise flat concrete road. Other than those few points though I think it's really good and I can tell you've knuckled down on this one and been quite studious with it. Good job.


Student Painting

"S.F." 12x12" Oil on Canvas by Mariangela Margoni

Hey good colours Mariangela! I like the extra kick of warms you've injected into the sky especially. Your atmospheric perspective is working really well too as your building begin to merge in colour with the sky. The soft edges are really helping there too. I would just say that your shadowy blues going up the street and into the distant buildings are a little too light and that's creating some visual confusion there. You could either slightly darken those or slightly lighten the sky to sort that out. You could look closer at the drawing of some of the cars if you want to be picky but overall I think you've done a great job. Nice one!


Student Painting

"California street - San Francisco" 28x38" Oil on Canvas Paper by George

A very striking image George and I think you're onto something here. I'm a sucker for a blue and orange complementary colour scheme. A picture speaks a thousand words so I did a little photoshopping of your image to show how I might change the lighting in it if you don't mind. Note the placement of the cable car too. Good on you for even attempting such a technical scene - it's not easy getting all those lines pointing in the right direction! If you want to keep those verticals straight it pays to use a ruler or a guide and keep using it throughout the painting to keep it all in check.

Student Painting


Student Painting

"Streets of Italy" 16x20" Oil on Canvas by Sandra Harris

  Student Painting

A beautifully coloured and structured scene Sandra! I'm glad someone painted this photo because it was my favorite one that was submitted. I've included the image here to compare it to your painting. First of all I think it was a great idea to bring the orange jacketed guy out of the shadows and into that key spot there, however, it would have worked out better if you'd painted him moving. Figures standing still in paintings (unless they're in a group conversing) always have the appearance of posing for a photo.

The only other thing I would have changed would be to darken the distant hills and sky as shown in the Photoshopped version in order to simplify the the background area which seems to be a bit of a jumble. What about putting some really thick impasto paint on the light areas in the foreground too add more textural interest and help with the recession? Could be good. Great job!

Student Painting


Student Painting

"One Sunny Day #2" 12x12" Oil on Canvas by Jessica Futerman

Not too shabby Jessica, a nicely balanced composition and a good play of colour against grey. The drawing is my first concern here - all those straight lines are tricky with a wobbly paint brush right!? We seem to be having an earthquake in your painting as some of the buildings are swaying to and fro. I had the same trouble with my buildings. Using a ruler helps. Looks like you ran out of room for a sidewalk on the right too and so the tree on the right seems to be growing out of a crack - again just a drawing thing.

Looking at your colours you've done pretty well getting the buildings to recede in the distance but it could have been much more interesting overall if you'd put more oomph into your darks and mid values in the foreground, which is all I did with the Photoshopped version of your painting, as well as slightly lightening the lights. It creates a better sense of depth. I also changed the shadow of the cable car and the blue car. You're getting there.

Student Painting




My final painting

Demo Painting

"San Francisco" 14x14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson

Some great modern painters to look at for how they handle street scenes are:

Ken Auster
Alvaro Castagnet
Bryan Mark Taylor
Tibor Nagy


Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 23

Well I never thought I'd want to paint a city street but San Francisco changed my mind. The subject of the painting is really the light and atmosphere and the interesting shapes found in a street scene. This workshop also explores how you can free up your colours by working from a black and white photograph, and how we can use images from the internet to paint from.

All prices are in US Dollars.
Viewing online requires broadband.
Running time: 22 minutes.
Full Moneyback Guarantee.
View Online: $10
(also allows Download)
$ Currency Converter >

Workshop Signup



All Content Copyright © 2010 Richard Robinson. All Rights Reserved.
Learn to paint art step by step, tutorial DVD, Online Video, Ebook and Live Painting Lessons by Professional artist Richard Robinson.
Painting Workshops  Painting Lessons  Drawing Lessons  Color Lessons  Landscape Lessons
Still Life Lessons  Figure Painting Lessons  Painting Tools  LIVE Painting Lessons  Art Business 

FREE Painting Lessons  FREE Drawing Lessons  FREE Color Lessons  FREE Landscape Lessons 
FREE Still Life Lessons
  FREE Figure Painting Lessons  FREE Art Business Lessons

AFFILIATES    |    Powered by