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Painting Workshop 39

Demo Painting

"Streets of Vernazza" 14x17" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Streets of Vernazza

Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this complex street Italian scene. Glowing light, reflected light, sky shine, perspective drawing and figure painting are all demonstrated in the video.

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   Resource Photo
Resource Photo   Resource Photo   Resource Photo
Resource Photo   Resource Photo  


Special Extras

This workshop requires a lot of subtle colour mixing, so here are some extra lessons to help you deal with that...

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

"Bellagio" 16x12" Oil on Canvas by Dan Johnson

Hi Dan. very strong drawing in this, and your colours are great, and you've especially made a good job of the glowing light along the front of the building on the right by lightening and warming all the darks. Good job! If I could make one suggestion I would just add a little stronger and sharper details to the facades on the left which seem too indistinct compared to the crispness of the buildings across the street. The soft edge you've made around the shadowed building doesn't make visual sense when the sunlit buildings further back are in sharper focus.


Student Painting

"Dor's Street in Vernazza" 14x17" Oil on Canvas by Dorian Aronson

Some good work here Dorian, the drawing particularly with the majority of the building angles looking good and the central figure is great. Most of the greys in the mid tones have been dealt with nicely but perhaps the blues have taken over too much in the darks. The yellow pants on the left could do with toning down a little compared to the depth of shadow they are currently in. There is some trouble with the clump of figures in the middle who are blurry and have their feet too far down the canvas - actually in line with the feet of the green skirted woman, which is making them look like ghostly hobbits. It's a good lesson to triple check the relative positions of heads and feet in a scene with multiple figures.


Student Painting

"Italian Village" 9x12" Oil on Canvas by Olivia O'Carra

You've got a lovely fluid feeling to a lot of the brushwork in this painting Olivia. Perhaps you could have ironed out a few more of the wobbles in the archway and the shadows on the pavement though. You've exaggerated the blue glow from the top even further than I did which is good but you're also breaking the spell a little with some of the brownish windows extending up into the blue. With that strong a glow those browns should be more in the bluish realm. Your colour work overall is really rich in variety which is great to see although the darkest darks are tending to black too much which sucks some colour and life from the painting. Overall it's a very pleasing painting.


Student Painting

"The street of Stockholm with Italian restaurant" 40x50cm Oil on Canvas by Elena Sokolova

Good on you for using a different street scene Elena. You've done some subtle work with the glow from the sky quietly affecting the buildings. Was that glazed/scumbled over the top with white and blue? It looks very even and subtle for alla prima work. You've spent considerable time getting the drawing correct and that's paid off. The highlight of this painting for me is the subtlety of the tower - so close to the value of the sky it's nearly lost - not an easy thing to do. As for the composition I feel like the cafe needs a bit more space, which could be taken from the right hand side of the painting as if the viewer just turned their gaze to the left slightly. The cafe with its colourful awnings and flag is the more interesting side of the street so why not focus on that? I suppose it has a lot to do with the photograph to begin with.


Student Painting

"Streets of Vernazza" 9x12" Acrylic on Canvas by Cristina Mihailescu

Beautiful rosy colours in here Cristina. Your dark shadows have gone really black unfortunately which sucks some light and chance for more colour from the painting. That could just be the digital image of it here though. It's interesting how a slight change in perspective has made this look like an entirely different street with the archway seen front on and the tops of the buildings drawn less steep. Not better or worse I think, just different. I like the addition of the planter box flowers too. I remember overhearing a tourist guide in Assissi saying that many of those plants are there more to ward off mosquitoes than to look beautiful, but I'm glad they do both. Your central figure is beautifully painted and I think I prefer your table and chair to mine with the flowers and glinting objects on it. Interesting how much you blurred the edges of the red banner in there when the surrounding edges are quite sharp but I suppose it lends some movement to it. Your glowing interior lights are really well done going through the spectrum of yellow orange red as they do, but rendered loosely (like a pro!).



My final painting

Demo Painting

"Streets of Vernazza" 14x17" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

Demo Painting

"Streets of Vernazza 2" 14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.
In this painting my goal was to enhance the glowing light effect from the sky and street and to warm the whole painting overall. I had the circular canvas lying around the studio so thought I'd give it a whirl.




Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 39
Streets of Vernazza

Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this complex street Italian scene. Glowing light, reflected light, sky shine, perspective drawing and figure painting are all demonstrated in the video.

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