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Painting Workshop 43

"Sunset Beach" 15.5x20" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Sunset Beach" 15.5 x 20" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Sunset Beach

This is one of my favorite painting spots, and a great place to slide down sand dunes. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this inspiring sunset beach scene. Painting a large glowing light effect, atmospherics and making beautiful brushwork 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

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

"The Beach 2" 11x14" Acrylic on canvas by Susan Burke

This looks great Susan. The photo was too dark so here's an edited version:

Altered image

I used a free online image editor to change the levels and lighten the whole image. See the free editor here:

I opened the image, chose Adjustment > Levels and then pulled the right hand slider left to the edge of the curves. This is a common adjustment I make to photos of paintings that have been taken in the shade. I usually use Photoshop to do this but this free online software does the same job.

Anyway, you've got a lovely glowing effect happening here with a everything getting lighter and warmer as it approaches the sun. Nice job. You could perhaps have gone even lighter where the sun would be with white and a touch of bright yellow. Your drawing of the cliffs is very good but you could have done a little better in the distance by leveling and straightening the horizon and making the waves reduce in size as they recede from us. Also the most distant hills could do with being a little lighter to help them recede further. Other than that it's very good, especially considering it's painted in acrylics which make it more difficult to achieve soft atmospheric effects due to their quick drying time. Good job.



student painting - click to enlarge

"Maui Morning" Oil on Canvas 5x7 by Laurena Beirnes

You've got a pretty good glowing effect there Laurena, principally because of the background gradation from warm light to darker cool, and secondly from your effort to make the palm trees in the foreground a little warmer as well. The shadow cutting across the grass and beach is a nice touch too though I would expect the shadow on the beach to drop down slightly lower than shadow on the grass rather than curving upwards. The drawing of this and the curving edge of the distant beach are the two main things holding this painting back.

Compare it with the straight edge of the beach in my painting below.

click to enlarge

Hanalei Bay 12x16" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson

We tend to exaggerate the curves we see in beaches because we KNOW they are curved, rather than painting what we are actually seeing. The key is simply to measure the angles carefully against the straight edge of a brush held out horizontally in front of you. Consider adding more sand colour into the water in the foreground as it will help give the appearance of translucency.


student painting - click to enlarge

"Sunset Beach" Oil on canvas 25x30cm by Marisa Comana Pessina

Not too shabby Marisa! Nice glowing effect there. Hey see those purplish shadows on the beach? They're not really fitting in with the warm colours surrounding them. The darker area of brown at the base is not helping either. Take another look at my painting to compare. The hills in the distance are a good colour though you've outlined one a little with purple which spoils the effect.

Beware straight edged hills too! You've achieved a good variety of grass shapes in the foreground which is always tricky since we have a tendency to clone similar shapes in our paintings. The stark edge where the foreground sand meets the dark hill could be softened by breaking the edge with some stray grasses. Hope that helps. Overall you've achieved a nice effect.


student painting - click to enlarge

"Sunset Beach" 16 x 12" Oil on Canvas by Denis King

Hi Denis, there's a lot working really well in this painting with just a wee adjustment needed to turn it into a real cracker. Your drawing is spot on, your shapes are nicely designed and the values are mostly perfect AND the brushwork is beautifully succinct. However... all that beautiful warmth in the hillside is not apparent enough in the background, which is looking chalky with too much white. When painting the hills back there start with a warm colour first like a light gray yellow ochre, then go from there, injecting warmth into the sky too and reflecting it in the beach and shallow water. THEN you'll have a complete glowing effect.

Beware those light diagonal sand shapes in the foreground that are creating a pattern of similar shapes. I would love to see this painting with those few changes made as I think it'll be outstanding. Great work Denis.


student painting - click to enlarge

"First Glimpse" 16 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Kadee Hughes

Hi Kadee, welcome to the group. Quite a striking painting you've made here with the contrast between the vibrant red and the gray greens in the ocean. I like the way you've compressed the image into a square format which has made the hills appear even steeper. You've grasped the idea of the glowing effect and the next step is to be a little more subtle with the colours. The yellows, oranges and reds could do with a little more gray in them, which you can do by adding the colour's complement, which is opposite it on the colour wheel. In general, our first paintings tend to be very bright and colourful and over time our colour sense develops greater subtlety. We can not only comprehend more subtle colour shifts in nature but we begin to be able to paint them. Yay! Just takes time.

Anyway, your drawing is very good, the grays are pretty good but the lights in your foreground sand could do with some variation. The distant hills should be the same value or darker than the ocean, not lighter. The cast shadow from the yellow section of the hill on the beach should not end with a dark line. Also, just have a look at the resource photo and see how close the colour of the hill is to the colour of the shadow. Very similar really.

Actually a lot of the colour problems in this painting could be solved by more carefully comparing one colour to another. Use the fuzzy one eye to help compare colours. Close one eye and make the other eye go out of focus so all you see is the big blurry shapes. Then compare colours that are similar. Ask yourself is it lighter or darker? Warmer or cooler? Grayer or more vibrant? That should help. Ok good luck and happy painting!

Use the fuzzy one eye to compare similar colours in a scene.



My final painting

"Sunset Beach" 15.5x20" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Sunset Beach" 15.5 x 20" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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Painting Workshop 43
Sunset Beach

This is one of my favorite painting spots, and a great place to slide down sand dunes. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this inspiring sunset beach scene. Painting a large glowing light effect, atmospherics and making beautiful brushwork are all demonstrated in the video.

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