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Painting Workshop 35

Demo Painting

"Whiskey Slough III" 13x14" Acrylic on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Glowing Colour

Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to flood a scene with warmth, glowing colour and beautiful textures. This old boat and shed in Canada is the perfect subject to explore these powerful techniques.

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. Happy painting!

Click image to enlarge.        
Resource Photo   Resource Photo  

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 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

"Workshop35" 30x40" Oil on Canvas by Leslie Irvine

Nice work Leslie, and BIG! Your drawing is great, as is the colour and your control over the variety of edges - soft and sharp, and your glowing areas are really glowing. You've given the design a little more quiet space which is adding to the peaceful feeling of the scene though these big spaces could perhaps do with a little more textural interest. Variety in everything.


Student Painting

Student Painting"Sanctuary" 15x19" Acrylic on Canvas by Russell Kells

Great glowing effect Russell and a strong design where you've linked all your major lights together. The success of your glowing effect is in the control of the values, keeping everything in the glowing area in the mid to light value range. You've done that really well. The drawing of the boat could be a lot better unfortunately - especially look at the angle of the waterline.

I've done a little photoshop work on your painting to try out a few other ideas. For instance, more unified colour in the glowing area to the right, darker shadow area in the rocks on the right and more contrast in the pole there. Vertical strokes in the water help with a more reflective feel. Cooling off the background into warm muted greens helps it to sit back and provides a colour complement for the reds in the boat. I hope that helps a little.


Student Painting

"Vance Birthplace, Weaverville, NC" 12x16"Oil on Canvas by Eddie Morris

Great glowing effect through the trees Eddie and beautiful shape work and subtle colour work there too. Your dilligent work on trees for the past year has really paid off in spades. Beautiful interesting texture through the painting. A good design where the fairly central building has been offset by the bulk of the trees on the left. The path leading us in is good but I have the feeling it's a little too perfect - dead centre and the s-curve is 'just so'. How about a shape that's a little less expected? Just breaking it up a little more perhaps. Maybe it's just me - I've seen enough paths like this in my own work perhaps. Adding a few more neutral grays throughout the scene as you have done in the tree trunks will just pull it back from looking like a sepia toned photo. Also beware the dark outlining effect around the cabin which tends to flatten it a little. A hint of structural detail on the front roof will add some more interest there - a loose panel for instance. Small things. Overall it's a great painting.


Student Painting

"Workshop35" Oil on Canvas by Casey Toussaint

Student PaintingHi Casey, nearly there with this one - just a few changes I can suggest as I've illustrated in the photoshopped version. I've added more colour vibrant colour (less grey) to the bushes behind the boat and given it some form with a shadow on the right and also the cast shadow onto the building which breaks up that big rectangle shape. I've added more yellow to the highlights on the boat so it fits in with the idea of a large yellowish glowing area amongst the grasses with I've also lightened just where they merge with the light on the boat. The dark transition you had there was interfering with the glowing effect. I also straightened the building a little. Other than that it's great to see you using plenty of paint and being free with your brushwork.


Student Painting

"Workshop35" 9x12" Oil on Canvas by Hyun (Jane) Kim

Nice work Hyun as usual. Great colour, values and attention to the glowing areas. The drawing seems a little askew on the boat, I think mainly because the roof extends further to the right than to the left, and the chimney isn't parallel with the boat's centre line. The flowers in the foreground are spaced evenly which is making a pattern of them - easy to do! The right-most post on your walkway is not connecting with it's reflection convincingly. Other than those very few minor things I think you've done very well with this. Good work.







My final paintings

Demo Painting

"Whiskey Slough - Plein Air" 14x14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.


Demo Painting

"Whiskey Slough II 13x14" Acrylic on Canvas by Richard Robinson.


Demo Painting

"Whiskey Slough III" 13x14" Acrylic on Canvas by Richard Robinson.




Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 35
Whiskey Slough : Glowing Colour

Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to flood a scene with warmth, glowing colour and beautiful textures. This old boat and shed in Canada is the perfect subject to explore these powerful techniques.

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