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Painting Workshop 49

"Hay Bales" 11.5 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Hay Bales" 11.5 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Hay Bales

What a lot of paintings lack is movement. Find out how to use bold impressionistic brushwork combined with shimmering broken colour to produce movement in your paintings. In this project we only use two brushes and six colours - nice and simple. Enjoy!

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

"Strawbales 2" 20x20cm Oil on Canvas by Silke Sauritz

Wonderful movement in this piece Silke - a real Van Gogh! It's clear that you had a close look at how Van Gogh builds his subjects with thivk brushstrokes, one at a time like bendable bricks. I love how the spiralling forms in the bales are echoed in the clouds. When this happens it's like the whole world is in harmony. Speaking on harmonies (smooth segue) the complementary harmony of yellow/purple and orange/purple is working well. Nice job! Nothing I would change.


Student Painting

"Warm Evening" 30x25cm Oil on Paper by Christophe Borrel Ducroz

Nice work Christophe. You've done a decent copy of the photograph while simplifying the background and including detail where it was needed in the main elements. The lacey brushwork in the trees works well and it's good to see you experimenting with large gestural brushwork in the foreground. Couple of things to watch out for - you've outlined some elements including the haybale, roofs and the edge of the forground shadow. Doing that tends to flatten the painting, spoiling the illusion of depth created by overlapping objects.

Darks too dark: photos of high contrast scenes like this usually make the darks too darks, losing colour information there, and you've fallen into the trap of copying that without the knowledge to introduce more colour into the darks. Doing this saps colour from the painting making it look less lively, and using the same dark darks in the background trees as in the forground also reduces the depth that could be gained by slightly lightening and bluing the darks back there.


Student Painting

"Haybales in Matabuena" Oil on Canvas by Lori Ippolito

Great movement in this painting Lori! You really knocked this out of the park with brushwork. Great to see you putting the cool grays in there with the warms as well. The only thing I can see that would improve this is to straighten up the drawing of the tower a little which is making me think of Pisa. Oh and you mentioned your ochre colours lacking punch in the final painting, but you can easily glaze over some of that with an orange or yellow when it's dry to raise the vibrancy. I suppose that would help it match the vibrancy of the greens in the tree, though if you knocked those down a bit you'd achieve the same thing. Great work!


Student Painting

"Spanish Countryside" 12x9" Oil on Canvas by Candi Hogan

Nice work Candi - there's a lot of life in this painting. The drawing is good and you have a strong sense for light and shadow shapes. The brushwork is true to your usual style with a little more movement thrown in. I've noticed a tendancy to gray darks in all your paintings. I wonder if that's a particular dark colour on your palette doing that or a result of your dabby brushwork, which tends to make gray if you don't constantly reload your brush and clean it between making strokes where darks and lights have mixed. Maybe you just prefer grayish shadows.

The white flowers could be made a little more subtle by shrinking the ones further away and making the ones in the foreground shadow a blue-gray, and by changing the shape of them more since they wouldn't all be facing you. Overall you've done a very good job.


Student Painting

"Matabuena Hay Bales" 11x14" Alkyd on Canvas by Mike Robles

Mike I can see you trying to break out of your shell with this one! Normally your painitngs are very tight and detailed but you're pushing yourself into new territory here! Great to see. I used to work with alkyds too and found it tricky to achieve the fluid all prima look I was wanting because they dry so fast they tend to make you do thinner glaze type work. Personally I find oils less taxing to work with. Anyway you've made a good job of it. Couple of things I'd like to see changed would be slightly darker more vibrant shadows in the haybales and grass and lighter warmer windows in the distant buildings to stop them popping forward like that.

You mentioned getting sunspots on the painting when you photographed it in the sunlight and that you use Photoshop to remove the spots. Firstly I always photograph my paintings in the shade, and then if there are still any sunspots I use the Noise > Dust & Scratches filter to remove spots. Normally the spots show up worst in the darks so I sometimes select those areas with a soft edged lasso and then apply the filter selectively. Also, I usually photograph paintings at a slight angle to avoid reflections and then reshape the image to normal in Photoshop. To do that I select all, cut and paste the image, then use the transform tool to stretch the corners into place. That's probably the biggest clue I could give you about using Photoshop to perfect your painting photos.




My final paintings

"Matabuena 1" Oil on Canvas 11x14" by Richard Robinson   "Matabuena 2" Oil on Canvas 11x14" by Richard Robinson

"Matabuena 1" Oil on Canvas 11x14" by Richard Robinson

In this Plein Air painting (painted on site) I was focused on composition and values.


"Matabuena 2" Oil on Canvas 11x14" by Richard Robinson

Later in the studio I produced this painting focusing more on the colour and light.

"Hay Bales" 11.5 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Hay Bales" 11.5 x 13" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

In this painting I focused on creating movement using directional brushwork and broken colour.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 49
Hay Bales

What a lot of paintings lack is movement. Find out how to use bold impressionistic brushwork combined with shimmering broken colour to produce movement in your paintings. In this project we only use two brushes and six colours - nice and simple. Enjoy!

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