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Painting Workshop 48

"Balcony in Bloom" 10 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Balcony in Bloom" 10 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Balcony in Bloom

It may look like this project is about a beautiful flowering balcony in Spain, and that doesn't hurt, but it's more about raising the vibrancy of the colours in a scene that could do with a little more OOMPH. It's not as tricky as you might think (and we might even cheat a little). Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this classic scene. Drawing techniques, creating interesting textures and boosting your colours 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

"Balcony in Bloom" 33x25cm Oil on Canvas by Jan Duarte

"For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to finish using up some old student grade paints I had laying around and after trying out artist quality paints, I realized I had made this exercise 10 times harder.

I'm quite happy with the texture I achieved at the bottom but I'm aware that my brushwork needs many more years of practice to avoid muddiness, just haven't quite learned how much oil to use with my stiff paints." - Jan

Hi Jan you've done a great job of your drawing, brushwork and your colour work despite using student grade paints. I really like the way you've massed the wall creepers and lightened them off to the right to add some depth. A few things I would like to see done better:

1. The shadow under the roof could be softened and the right pole connected better to the wall by rounding it there and shadowing it.

2. You could have used more flowers to add more strong colour.

3. The texture at the bottom needs more work to add interest there. You can still add this once it's dry. Go crazy with it! You've really got to to cut loose to get interesting texture. Some faint hint of blockwork to the sides might be nice too.

Overall a great result with a little more work to take it to the next level. Nicely done!


Student Painting

"Provencal boutique with balcony" 30x40cm Oil on Canvas by Jessica Futerman

Lovely painting, Jessica, brimming with life and colour. Great to see you employing a range of contrasting brushwork from dainty to bravura, needle to broom. The green and red make a nice counterbalance. Nice too, to be able to walk into the shop and explore a little.

There are just two things I might look at changing if this were mine:

1. Break the hard line of the balcony across the middle of the canvas by allowing more wall on the right and solidifying some of the drapping foliage. This would give the eye easier paths to follow from top to bottom.

2. Consider the quality of the light more. I would expect to see soft shadowing beneath the balcony and window ledge and possible soft or cast shadows on the main green sign from the plants overhanging it.



Student Painting

"Blooming Balcony" 25x30cm Oil on Canvas by Marisa Comana Pessina

A beautiful job of the texture and colour in this painting Marisa. I can see you've really worked on that texture and had a good time with it. The drawing is a little different from the photo - it seems like your viewpoint is higher up but it doesn't look bad despite that. The only thing I'd change in this painting would be to just darken the line of the floor of the balcony which seems to have been lost a little, oh and a few darker accents in the shadows of the foliage on the railing too. Great work!


Student Painting

"Blooming Balcony" 10x13" Watercolour on 300gsm Arches Paper by Ana Murza

Wow this is fantastic Ana! Beautifully done. Great colour and drawing and I especially love the fading out of the foliage at the top and the long soft shadow cast under the balcony. Congratulations on a painting well done - there's nothing I'd change.


Student Painting

"Waiting for you.." Oil on Canvas by Cristina Mihailescu

Nice to see you coming up with something slightly different here Cristina - the painting is now much more about the bright yellow wall and the scattering of falling leaves as if the scene itself is being dissolved from the ground up, or a sprinkling of fairy dust. As a design this works really well.

Architecturally, your flattening of the horizontals has made the balcony seem more frontal whereas the window and roof appear to be at a different angle. The central roof pole meets the wall is off centre too, so there are quite a few issues with the drawing, but apart from that it still looks beautiful. Good job.



My final painting

In Photoshop I raised the saturation of the original image by 50% and then lightened the shadows a little. Most recent smartphones or tablets can also easily perform this alteration to give you an idea of how a more strongly coloured image could look.
Lightening the Shadows in Photoshop
Resource Photo   Resource Photo
Original image.   Saturation raised by 50% and shadows lightened a little.
Resource Photo   Resource Photo
For rectangles seen at an angle, the true centre is not halfway between the sides. It is found at the intersections of its diagonals.   The centre line of each part of the window is different.
Resource Photo
The lines we would expect to be horizontal actually converge to points on the horizon, which is always our eye level. (Click image to enlarge).



"Balcony in Bloom" 10 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Balcony in Bloom" 10 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 48
Balcony in Bloom

It may look like this project is about a beautiful flowering balcony in Spain, and that doesn't hurt, but it's more about raising the vibrancy of the colours in a scene that could do with a little more OOMPH. It's not as tricky as you might think (and we might even cheat a little). Follow me step by step as I show you the techniques I use to paint this classic scene. Drawing techniques, creating interesting textures and boosting your colours are all demonstrated in the video.

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