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Painting Workshop 42

"Country Road" 15x15" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Country Road" 15x15" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Country Road

Here's a scene just down the road from my house in New Zealand, right on the main highway. Most people will speed past it without a second glance but to me this is a beautiful little scene just waiting to be painted. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this rustic country scene. Simplifying a subject, creating glowing light, using edge variety and much more 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

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

"Snack by the Sea" 20x25cm Oil on Board by Silvana M Albano

Great to see you playing with the scene Silvana. The beach and sky itself are quite believable however you've placed the horizon too high which is throwing everything out of kilter. I've altered it in Photoshop so you can see the difference:

Student Painting - Click to enlarge
The painting altered in Photoshop.

Another few things I altered were to remove the seagulls which were too large for their positions on the beach and also to change the shape of the shadows in the right-hand track because they were making a 1,2,3,4 pattern of equal size and spacing. The horizon is now flat which is always important in painting the ocean like this. While I was fiddling with your painting I also darkened the tree and extended it to the left so it wasn't in line with the edge of the building anymore. The final touch was glazing a soft shadow across the foreground to see how that looked.

So there are a few ideas for you. There's plenty of good work in your painting - the colour is good, if a little muddy in places where you've let the cools mix with the warms in the halftones (between light and shadow). Your brushwork is varied and interesting, creating that rough tussocky texture nicely. Your drawing, apart from the horizon level, is very good. Keep up the good work!


Student Painting - Click to enlarge

"Country Road" 16x16" Acrylic on Canvas by Shoman Mohamed

A nice colourful piece Shoman. I can see you're a very careful person from your crisp edges down to your stylish signature - much like I started out till I got all painterly, which just takes brush miles. A lot of things are working well here from your punchy colour contrasted with the grayed backdrop, the precise drawing and the attention to tonal values. Some observations... the crisp edge where the cast shadow on the drive meets the grass could be more naturally portrayed by darkening the grass there somewhat and making the edge less regular.

A little more textured paint in the foreground and more attention to defining individual clumps would add more realism and depth to the whole foreground. Don't make the roof gutter line bend just behind the big pole because it makes us believe the pole is somehow influencing the shape of the building. The edges of your orange building are swelling outwards slightly which very subtly indicates health and ripeness to us. Better on a decrepit building to bow the edges slightly inwards. That should keep you busy. Well done.


Student Painting - Click to enlarge

"Red Barn" Oil on Canvas by Lisa Bower

Nice one Lisa! Great green/red complementary colour combo, subtly done - glad you didn't use a Kermet the Frog green in the foreground. The drawing of the barn itself is just about spot on - nice and crisp too, except does the peak of the roof actually overlap like that? I wouldn't know. I do feel its placement is a little odd with it nearly touching the edges of the painting, aided by the road and the top of the trees all pointing to that spot.

Maybe if you made a subtle swooping curve in the road swinging from left to right to left it would help there and bring our attention to that beautiful little spot of light behind the barn highlighting the sheep, which I think you could make more of and is the real hidden jewel of this painting. Because there's not a lot happening the background blue you could afford to crop an inch or two off the top without losing anything. My rule of thumb is that if it's not adding anything to the design then you might as well leave it out. Overall you've got a good painting here, but there are some things for you to think about.


Student Painting - Click to enlarge

"Lonesome Road" 16x16" Oil on Canvas by Candi Hogan

Good work Candi. You've got that strong light effect in the foreground working well and intensified the blues so that the complementary blue/orange colour scheme is much more obvious. Your brushwork is bold and varied and your drawing is good, all except for the window being at odds with the tilt of the building. Beware your background trees kissing the top of the canvas. If you scoop the shadows across the tracks a little it gives the appearance of a dirt or gravel road rather than a flat concrete. You could afford to have a little more depth in the grass shadows and more colour as it's looking a little chalky at present and the shadow sides of the grass aren't quite connecting believably to the cast shadows on the road. I hope that helps a little. Good work.


Student Painting - Click to enlarge

"Workshop42" 11x14" Oil on Canvas by Manneherrin

Great colour and exciting brushwork in this one, Mannerherrin. Those dark darks are really helping the colours pop off the canvas and you've kept the values really light through the foreground which is creating that beautiful glowing light effect we were trying for. It's a shame those three Stooges (posts) on the right are spoiling the illusion a bit. They're all the same and all the same dark gray which should be a warm gray brown. You see how the colour looks muddy around them too where the warm grass has mixed with the cool gray in the posts? Very easy to fix that.

I'm all for cropping a painting down to its minimum but I do feel that the building is just ducking into the painting - not quite enough head room. Again, your brushwork is really strong but if you'd taken just a little more care with the drawing in a few places like making the poles straight and the top most roof line more sure it would have raised this painting up another notch. Just a few points there because overall it's really a good painting.



My final painting

"Country Road" 15x15" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Country Road" 15x15" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 42
Country Road

Here's a scene just down the road from my house in New Zealand, right on the main highway. Most people will speed past it without a second glance but to me this is a beautiful little scene just waiting to be painted. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this rustic country scene. Simplifying a subject, creating glowing light, using edge variety and much more are all demonstrated in the video.

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