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Painting Workshop 45

"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Old Timers

I find this sort of nostalgic subject hard to pass by - call me sentimental. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this classic scene of a 53 Chevy. Painting a consistent light effect, simplifying a background, lost and found edges and building up to crisp details 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  

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

This month we have the honour of having my own painting mentor John Crump as our critiquer. Who better to judge a painting than the teacher of the teacher?


Student Painting

"Old Blue Truck" Oil on Canvas by Stuart J. Gourlay

You've made a very nice job of this painting Stuart. Good tone and colour with a nice confident feeling in the brushwork. Although there are a few small drawing errors in the truck itself, you've managed to convey the character of the vehicle so that most people would recognise the model.

One of the difficulties of picking a subject like this is that the drawing needs to be accurate - unless it's in poor, beaten up condition, which your truck obviously isn't! If you study the photo carefully, you'll see that the front bumper is too large and is falling off the left hand side, the left front wheel is too far forward, (it would be scraping the wheel arch), and the side of the tray is sloping down towards the back - the photo shows that it slopes slight up to the back if anything.

I don't want to be 'overboard' about such detail - but I think it matters!! It's a bit like portrait or paintings of animals - accuracy is important. Lastly, I noticed your comment about the shed roof. I think you're quite right - it is too vivid - along with the other sheds behind the truck. Especially the roof above the truck's tailgate. They are all vying for attention.I can't look at your truck without being aware of the shadows on that roof. You can obviously paint well so it's easily fixed on the next one!


Student Painting

"Old Timers" 12x12" Oil on Canvas by Ana Murza

Ana has made a fine job of this painting with excellent drawing, good tone, and colour. There are two areas that I would suggest could be improved but I'm possibly being a little "picky!" The shadow cast by the truck could be darker ( compare with the photo ) and the shaded area under the shed roof to the left of and behind the truck could be cooled a little.

These changes would increase the sense of depth in the painting as the truck would then come forward from the background. Never the less, a great effort.


Student Painting

"Just Married" 5x7" Oil on Canvas by Robert H. Smith

This painting I found interesting in two very distinct ways.

The first is a negative and not really of Robert’s making –  the canvas he has chosen to use is too small and really too grainy for the subject he is painting. Because of this, it has a distinctly soft edge over almost the whole area of the painting. Barely a sharp edge anywhere!  If it was me, I would be switching over to a much finer grained canvas and working on a bigger scale. That way, I would then have far greater control over whether I achieve sharp detail or lost focus.

 However, having said that, I think the lighting and colour in Robert’s painting is amazing.  It speaks so beautifully of the heat and brilliance of the sunshine, and the coolness in the shadows. Well done I feel.


Student Painting

"1953 Chevy"12x12" Acrylic on Canvas by Walda Juhl

Hi Walda, Before I make a comment about your painting in particular, I should say to all of you folk who have contributed to this particular workshop, that painting this old truck and the sheds and yards behind is not an easy project – in fact, I would consider it quite a difficult subject. Having said that, I think you have all done very well.

Your painting Walda has a number of nice features – (although the yellow in the foreground is a little strident), generally, the colour is good and your overall design has worked out well.

However, there are one or two things that bother me. When we draw symmetrical mechanical devices like this truck, it is really important that we draw it accurately. If you look carefully at the bonnet of your truck, you will find that the far side is bigger it appears than the side that is closest to us. The same is true of the windscreen. I know that when you look at the photo, it does appear to be the case but as they say, it's "a trick of the light"and in this situation, I would compensate so that it would look correct in my painting.

The other point I would make while we are talking about drawing is that if you look at the photo carefully, you will see that we do not see as much of the back of the truck as you have shown. This is a common error often seen when people draw things like cars and boats. It doesn't take much of an error when you're drawing to make the object look seriously wrong! I'm going on a bit here, but if you have a careful look it the roof of your building, you may notice that the striped roof is shouting for attention. Those stripes on the photo are old rust, not nice neat strips of new paint. A very good piece of work despite all that.


Student Painting

"Ready for a Drive!" 25x30cm Oil on Canvas by Christophe Borrel Ducroz

Christophe, this is a very nice painting of the truck itself–good drawing skills and nicely placed in the painting although I might have been inclined to allow a little more space in the foreground– the bumper is almost sitting on the frame.

However, I find the background a little less convincing. The detail and design on the left-hand side of the truck could have been almost lost into shadows. They are tending to crowd up on the vehicle and the shapes are confusing.

There is a commonly used term when you get into areas like this– "fudging it" where you barely indicate the detail– Just enough to convince the viewer that it is not a black hole! That is basically what sharp detail and lost focus are about–losing focus on the lesser items in the painting ensures that the focal point draws the eye All i.s not lost though. The quality of your truck "saved the day!"


- Many thanks to John Crump for his insightful critiques. You can see John's own paintings and teaching dvds at

Building up to detail

If you focus on the details too early it's all too easy to get lost. Much better to paint the big shapes first and then put the icing on the top.

Simplifying the background with unified colour

Why the soft shadow o the beach?
Any of these background colour options could be used - it's a matter of preference, but the key is to keep the background simple by making its colours very similar. Let the foreground be the star of the show.


My final paintings


"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson. Painted en plein air. (Outdoors on site).


"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Old Timers" 13 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.




Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 45
Old Timers

I find this sort of nostalgic subject hard to pass by - call me sentimental. Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this classic scene of a 53 Chevy. Painting a consistent light effect, simplifying a background, lost and found edges and building up to crisp details are all demonstrated in the video.

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