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Painting Workshop 30

Demo Painting

"Southern Light - Studio" 13x13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson



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This Month's Challenge

Broken Colour (no, it doesn't need fixing!)

Today we're painting boats but the subject of this workshop is really more about seeing your painting as a piece of music, where a painting is not just a study of a tree or a mountain, it's a harmony of shapes and colours, lines and textures that all add together to leave the viewer with a feeling for the scene. Using broken colour is a big part of achieving this goal, where various colours are woven throughout the painting. I'll show you how to do that successfully in the demo video.

Workshop Challenge

Feel free to follow me step by step in painting the same scene or use the photo 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 big shapes with broken colour and beautiful brushwork. Happy painting!

Click image to enlarge.
Demo Painting

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 using broken colour 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

"Supper Time" Oil by Aurelia Sieberhagen

Great painting Aurelia and a good example of the clever use of broken colour - thank you. You've managed to keep delicate control of your values so that from a distance each colour block has the appearance of a shimmering area whereas up close we can see the individual colours that add together to create this beautiful effect. Great to see you simplifying the overall value scheme too and also turning the forms of the animals by changing colour temperature - beautiful! I don't have anything helpful to add sorry, just wanted to point out the good work to others and give you a pat on the back.

student painting

"Dor's WS 30 no symphony tweaked" Oil on Canvas Paper 13x13" by Dorian Aronson

I love the intense colour in this painting Dorian and you've done very well to push the broken colour idea to its limits without changing the values in each area. Great work!

There are a few areas you've smudged over which I'm sure you're aware of that could use some attention and some of the rigging could use a bit of tensioning to get them straighter and headed up to the right place, but other than those obvious points this is a great painting - a feast for the eyes.


student painting

"Online Workshop #30" Acrylic on Board 30x30cm by Marisa Comana Pessina

Good work Marisa, you've got the basics of this working well. The drawing is good, although the dock is at an odd angle and the reflection of the first bumper needs to start where the bumper touches the water. You've started to play with the broken colour idea in the water but it's absent elsewhere. Being acrylics, you can paint right over the top of this without delay so I encourage to do just that - have another think about adding broken colour into all the other areas of the painting and just as you've done so well in the water, keep the value the same as the colour you're working into. Don't be afraid to paint thick and leave those brush strokes showing!


student painting

"Harbor Scene" Oil on Canvas 60x70cm by Jon Main

Good work Jon. The first thing that strikes me is the design - quite daring to include the snippet of the boat in the front left corner there, reminding me of Sorolla's impromptu compositions which give more the impression of a view of something from everyday life, not something careful posed. Great to see you using the broken colour idea in the sky especially and threading colours throughout the painting. I think the only thing letting this painting down at the moment is the drawing. The red sale coming in from the left bends as it goes up for instance, and the waterline of the black boat on the right is below that of the white boat in front of it and there's a sail tucked in between those two boats which doesn't make sense. Some of the masts and their reflections are at odd angles too. Some of the reflections are brighter than their sources too which spoils the illusion of reflection. Fix those sorts of drawing issues and you're onto a real winner here. Good stuff.


student painting

"Morning Light" Oil on Canvas 20x20cm by Steinunn Einarsdottir

Nice work Steinunn, great to see you combining the ideas from a previous workshop into this one as well with the very simplified light filled background. It certainly gives the scene a different mood altogether. You mentioned having some trouble with the canvas soaking up the paint. Just giving the blank canvas a coat of gesso will help a lot with that, or even a coat of white acrylic. Getting a smoother canvas will also help as it takes less paint to fill the weave. I use Fredrix Ultrasmooth at the moment.

Your reduced palette has worked really well with this painting and that's adding to the more subdued mood. Great to see that. It's reminiscent of some of Charles Movalli's work which has been some of my inspiration for this particular workshop. The subtle bits of broken colour you've introduced are working well, although I challenge you to push that further in the next workshop. See how much visual vibration you can add into the painting before the whole thing shakes apart.

Your big brushwork is great but I would highly recommend switching to a finer brush for the detail work of ropes and poles etc. A smoother canvas will allow finer brushwork to show more clearly.


My final paintings

Demo Painting

"Southern Light - Plein Air" 13x13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson

Demo Painting

"Southern Light - Studio" 13x13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 30
'Southern Light' : Broken Colour

Today we're painting boats but the subject of this workshop is really more about seeing your painting as a piece of music, where a painting is not just a study of a tree or a mountain, it's a harmony of shapes and colours, lines and textures that all add together to leave the viewer with a feeling for the scene. Using broken colour is a big part of achieving this goal, where various colours are woven throughout the painting. I'll show you how to do that successfully in the demo video.

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