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Painting Workshop 41

Demo Painting

"Gondola in Venice" 11x14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson after Monet.



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This Month's Challenge

Monet's Gondola in Venice

Claude Monet was 68 years old when he fell in love with Venice. He stayed 2 months and painted 37 paintings, but he never finished the last painting he started there. What would it have looked like? Let's find out in this workshop. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to recreate this beautiful scene of a gondola on the Grand Canal from the grand master of Impressionism.

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
"Gondola in Venice" 81×65.2 cm 31-7/8 x 21-5/8"
Oil on Canvas by Claude Monet 1908
  "The Red House" 65 x 81.6 cm
Oil on Canvas by Claude Monet 1908
Resource Photo   Resource Photo
"The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore" 34 x 44-5/8"
Oil on Canvas by Claude Monet 1908
  "The Grand Canal" 73.7 × 92.4 cm
Oil on Canvas by Claude Monet 1908

See all Monet's Venice paintings here:

and here:

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 - click to enlarge

"Monet's Gondola at Dusk" Oil on Canvas by Aurelia Sieberhagen

Really interesting colour combination Aurelia - it's made such a nice shimmer with the blue and orange complements. Some really nice brushwork there too with the strokes in the foreground bigger and more impasto helping create more depth. The shape of the boat is not quite right - could do with some more attention. Don't forget the detailed iron prow too - that's a nice feature to include. I love the really subtle colour work in the church. If you spend a little more time working the edges between the lights and darks in the foreground reflections and reshaping the boat this painting will hit the ball out of the park.


student painting - click to enlarge

"Monet Study" 12x16" Acrylic on Canvas by Jane Cerami

Great work Jane. The warm glow coming off the church is great contrasting against the cool blues and greens elsewhere. I also like the grey you've used in the sunlit prow of the boat which does seem more realistic than my attempts to add punchy colour there though I do miss the strong colour note. Your drawing is great - nicely done, because it's so easy to lose the drawing while applying the paint so loosely. It's a shame you left speckles of canvas showing through in places because it breaks the illusion somewhat in this case. Better if you'd toned the canvas warm or cool beforehand. Overall, really nice work.


student painting - click to enlarge

"Gondola at Twilight 2" 10x12" Acrylic on Canvas by Stuart J. Gourlay

Stuart, good to have you back - though you've sure not been idle as I can see from all the paintings you've uploaded recently. I love the design of this painting! I guess you spotted that I flipped Monet's church over to suit my painting. I prefer yours in some ways because it reads left to right for us Westerners. Your colour work is good, although like mine it's beginning to look like a black gondola dipped in a pot of orange paint rather than glowing with the fires of a sunset. You could have transitioned that orange better through reds and crimsons to get to the dark blue/black to help with that. A similar transition could have helped in the sky too, instead of just mixing the warm yellow base a cool zenith together which invariably makes mud.

You did well to subdue the background with glazes in order to let the foreground dominate. You could have helped this further by lightening all the background by a value step or two. It's good to see the variety of edges you've used - quite soft in the background versus sharper in the foreground - nicely done. Overall it's great work Stuart - just a few things to think about.


student painting - click to enlarge

"Oil after Richard's Monet" 11x14" Acrylic on Canvas by Candi Hogan

Nice work Candi, I think you've captured something of Monet's work here, especially in the church and sky. You've really done a great job of copying my painting. The only advice I could give on this one would be to strengthen the darks in the gondola and remove some of the reflections in its middle which are confusing the shape somewhat. Great work!


student painting - click to enlarge

"Monet in Venice" Oil on Canvas by Colin L. Williams

Hi Colin, there's some great paintwork going on in here - all that shimmery broken colour in the sky and water - terrific! I like that you've thought to include the spiralling red line so many of the poles in Venice have - a nice touch. Another nice touch was adding the little gondolas in the distance. The drawing of the big gondola could use a lot of fixing whereas you've drawn the distant buildings admirably well, though the oranges you used there are too dark which spoils the illusion of depth.

At the front of the gondola you could have transitioned the colour from light to dark better (orange > red > burgundy > dark blue). I'm in two minds about your foreground water. I could either implore you to use techniques like mine or congratulate you on using various techniques as Monet often did. It depends on what you were trying to achieve. Do you think you succeeded? If so, well done, if not, take another look at the demo video.



My final painting

Demo Painting

"Gondola in Venice" 11x14" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson after Claude Monet.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 41
Gondola in Venice

Claude Monet was 68 years old when he fell in love with Venice. He stayed 2 months and painted 37 paintings, but he never finished the last painting he started there. What would it have looked like? Let's find out in this workshop. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to recreate this beautiful scene of a gondola on the Grand Canal from the grand master of Impressionism.

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