Using the photos below make a painting or image in any medium and any size or shape. Feel free to use complete artistic license - move things around, add things, change colors - whatever it takes to make a beautiful work of art. Enjoy!
Click images to enlarge.
Pa Beach, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
Here's what I suggest you try for this workshop challenge...
Design your painting using small Notan studies.
Do at least four 1.5" x 2" notan designs before you settle on one. Keep them really small. Think about combining your darks - joining dark shapes together to create a simpler, stronger design.
The beginning design stage of the painting process is where paintings are won or lost right at the start. No amount of pretty colors or fancy brushwork can save a poorly designed artwork. Many of you might have already seen my video painting tip on Notan Design but you can see it again below to refresh your memory. Actually only the first half of the video really applies to this workshop where you look at the elements in your scene and move them around in several small notan sketches before you decide on a final design.
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.
Use no more than 5 values from black to white (you need not necessarily include black and white) to paint a small study based on your notan design. Use this study to explore your subject more and prepare for the final painting.
Sample Limited Value Study from Workshop1. 6.5x4" Acrylic on Board
Consider Warm/Cool relationships
Warm/Cool variation is what makes color sing. Every cool note is an opportunity to place a warm note next to it and vice versa.
Consider Atmospheric Perspective
As the landscape moves away from us it takes on more of the color of the atmosphere in front of it. Look at the color of the sky just above the distant mountain - this is the color of the atmosphere in that region. When we are looking away from the sun the atmosphere tends to cool and lighten things further more and more as they get further away from us. The values also come closer together since both the lights and darks are equally changed by the color of the atmosphere. In other words there is less contrast. Edges also get softer, detail gets smaller and less distinct. To help see what's really going on simply squint your eyes at the scene or throw your eyes out of focus. Now paint what you see while your subject has lost its confusing detail.
"Pa Beach 2" 11x14" Oil on Canvas Board by Nancy Sands
Your design is very nicely balanced and that sinuous shadow leading in from the bottom left is nicely done, giving the foreground a sense of undulating form as well. I would have been tempted to extend the tree over into the left hand corner as presently it seems a little unbalanced to the right. That corner of sky does little for the design - in fact it draws the eye away from the centre of interest without much reward so in my eyes it's better to subdue and simplify it.
Your lights are carrying most of the colour and it's beautifully rich and vivid. There's very little colour in your darks however, which is a symptom of painting from photos and does provide a slightly punchier image with it's higher contrast but misses out on the opportunity to have more colour in the painting and a truer sense of reflected light within the scene. The only way to get any better at this is to paint from life to gain a better understanding of light and colour, but you've done well with the resource photos provided.
I'm enjoying your brushwork in this piece - it's pretty bold and to the point with a nice balance between large and small brushwork. There are a few overworked and scumbled areas which could have been more freshly dealt with but on the whole you've created an interesting paint surface with plenty of movement. Some of the tree foliage looks a tad chunky and the trunks could have done with some closer inspection of the actual forms in the photo - they look a bit more like celery than Pohutukawa tree. Also, something I often like to do at the end of a painting is to revisit the main light areas or interest areas and hit them with some really juicy gobs of paint either with a brush or palette knife, just to give it a bit more dynamism. You might like to try that out.
This rates pretty well for realism because although you've simplified the scene and pushed the colour a little (both things I like to do) you've not strayed too far from the resource photo and where you have made changes like pushing the distant hills backwards with atmospheric perspective you've shown enough understanding to keep it looking credible, so, good job. I am also pleased to see you using the infused light effect in the blue edges of the tree and the cliff on the right - subtle touches which with practice makes for paintings that really glow with light.
"Pa Beach Christmas Sail" 11x14" oil on canvas panel by Stuart J. Gourlay
Nice idea for the design Stuart - I especially like the addition of the yacht and the red sail to go with the Pohutukawa blossoms and complementary green. The foreground silhouette is a bold concept that you've carried off well with varied shapes - I feel you could have made more of a feature of the wiggly root/s and perhaps a touch more light in there, but that's being picky. Your design works well to emphasize the inviting turquoise water which is the main subject here. I also like how you've parted the distant hills to give us somewhere exciting to sail to - a nice subtle touch.
The colours in the water are really well done - you've not only captured the subtle shift from blue to green to brown but you've also managed some detail on the bottom, some smooth swells reflecting the sky, and those complex shadows cast by the trees. Nice work there! Sadly, the rest of the colours are not so well observed. The shadow and light areas in the tree are not clearly defined, the major background hill is too gray, the sky is too light and the rocks on the left need some more cool grays reflected into them.
When I say 'you're a dab hand' at this, that's not always good! A bit to much dabbing going on here for my liking. I want to see you paint over portions of this with a bigger brush and thicker paint, whilst yelling the battle-cry of a passionate painter - "This is a masterpiece!". Try painting an apple with only 20 strokes - there's a good project.
As I said, the water is great, although the drawing of the waves could be better, the colour is really good. Nice to see you've put a little reflected light into the foreground rather than leaving it pure silhouette because this really helps with the realism there. The form of the rocks on the left could be better - needs clearer distinction of shadow, light, warm reflected light (from other rocks) and cool reflected light (from the sky) and some good hard edges here and there. It is a very complex subject what with the dappled light on them as well, but not too much harder than the water which you've done so well. The form of the tree similarly needs to be looked at more critically. The yacht has been very well placed and shaped which is a tricky thing to do, so well done there.
"The Kiwi Christmas Tree" Acrylic on canvas panel. 12x16" by Bob Mitchener
Really nice design here Bob - I love the lead in you've created with the large rocks, the positioning of the sun and even the curving wave echoing the other major movements. Couple of minor things I would personally have changed would be the tree kissing the top of the painting and the flax plant cut in half at the right edge. I like to make sure major elements are purposefully in or out of the picture edge - not kissing it which draws the eye to the edge of the painting. You've achieved a nice balance with plenty of movement which is the main thing with this scene.
The high key approach you've taken here has added to the sense of peace which is enhanced by the glowing light effect you've added into the sky and tree. Although you've pushed the colour in some areas you've managed to balance those with large areas of grays so the painting hasn't become gaudy, so good work there too. In the water you've achieved a good subtle colour gradation towards the sky but it seems there's a little colour information missing in the foreground water that would account for reflections of the cliffs and transparency through to the sand beneath the shallows. Missing those small colour hints results in the water looking a little plastic. On the whole it's very pleasing colour work.
Your brushwork is strong and deliberate which is a pleasure to see with a rich variety of marks and textures. I particularly like your use of dry brush and will make a note to explore that more in my own work.
You've really made this scene your own and it's clear you've been painting for a good long time and have developed techniques and symbols for dealing with different subjects. There are only a couple of things really hindering the realism here that I can see and those are the somewhat symbolic drawing of the tree and the lack of a strong shadow concept. By that I mean that yes you have creating a clear position for the sun but it's not backed up consistently by the placement of your shadows. For instance there should be a deep shadow area under the tree and also a shadow cast upon the water. Some of the rock groupings seem to be too a light for their position, so you've achieved a high key painting by doing that and an interesting surface but sacrificed a powerful sense of solidity. Concentrating more on your shadow areas will also help unite your masses and strengthen your overall notan design (dark/light design) which is currently a bit fragmented. On the whole it's a great painting though and I hope my comments have been more helpful than critical.
"Pa Bay Great Barrier Island" Water Soluble Oil on Stretch Canvas 18x24 by Barbara Stucki
I like the design which is quite close to my own studio painting design except that with mine I was careful to add colour interest into all that gray foreground - something that you haven't managed to do which makes the whole foreground look a bit like a desolate moonscape. So the grayscale design itself is good and strong but it would work better with more colour interest in the foreground.
That foreground gray would look better with more variation thrown in - like a good salad, lots of colour is yummy. You've tentatively added some warms in there but before you go adding colour in there willy nilly you need to understand where and why the colour variations occur. In my own painting I was concentrating on warm planes and cool planes. Warm planes occur where the warm sunlight hits them directly. Darker warm planes occur where they are tilted towards sunlit areas of rock or sand which are a reflecting their own warm colours into the shadows. Cool dark planes occur where they are turned to the sky or away from the sun, reflecting the blue of the sky. The tree could do with some light thrown on it and the hill behind could have been pushed further back in space by lightening and adding gray/blue to help separate the tree from the background.
You've used a variety of large and small brushes which is good to see and you've created some interesting texture in the rocks. The water seems to be a little overworked as does the sky and furthest hill, removing most evidence of brushstrokes which takes a bit of the interest out of it. Some waves or wind lines in the water would have helped to add interest there and softening the edges of your distant hill and clouds would have helped push them even further back into space.
Except for the few things I've mentioned the realism is pretty good in this piece. The dappled light over the rocks is such a complex subject you've done well to try to paint that at all whereas some people avoided it altogether. You haven't quite managed to convey the effect of a tree casting a shadow - the shadows need to be linked together the same way a tree is linked together. Good try though, and hey, I didn't manage it even in my studio painting either which I spent a week on. The cast shadow on the water is a bit conspicuous too - it should be bluer and the shape larger, because it looks like it's not quite sure if it should be there, and the white foam isn't helping either because it should be a blue grey in the shadow there. Those are pretty minor things though. Good work.
"NZ Beach" 14x11" Acrylic on Canvas by Catherine Spencer-Whitehead
I like how you have simplified this scene Catherine and made a somewhat symbolic or iconic artwork. The path to the beach is a bold addition which gives the painting some narrative. The top of the cliff on the right was somewhat problematic in the photo but you have solved that nicely with a tree which also helps to balance the main tree. I think that a shadow across the foreground would have helped to unite the two patches of foreground grass and also would have helped to shape and lend perspective to the somewhat flat path.
As with the drawing, you have simplified the colour which gives it a sort of naive charm but also reduces the amount of time it might hold a viewer's interest. If you do wish to begin adding more colour into your work you'll need to spend more time analysing the subtle colour differences found in every object and the way light is reflected from one object to another. There is not one speck of the universe which displays flat colour so let that be your guide.
Part of your trend to simplify has been to remove evidence of brushstrokes which again removes interest from an artwork unless other factors like detail or colour step in to take its place. What does hold my interest is the detail you've put into the tiny rocks and pebbles in the pathway which is really a delight for the eye.
There is no strong sense of light direction here - something that can be remedied with cast shadows, and again the simplified forms lead this piece away from realism, but perhaps that's not your goal. It really reminds me of Giotto's fresco work if you care to google his name. Sometimes by simplifying objects we make them grander - they become symbols of themselves.
"Pa Beach 2" Acrylic on canvasboard, 65 cm x 54 cm by Leif Jensen
The overall arrangement of lights and darks in this painting is interesting and organic but the colour design is what really needs looking at here.
I have actually been on a pink beach in Western Australia made up of billions of little pink shells, but it still didn't look this pink. :-) That's really pink! Perhaps you were trying to paint the foreground rocky path which leads down to the beach and yes there are some pinky tones in there, but... mmm. If you want to subdue (gray down) a colour you need to look at adding it's compliment (green in this case) or add a gray to it.
To get that transparent look of shallow water you need to think about changing the colour as it approaches the shore - it becomes more like the colour of the sandy bottom the closer it gets. You will see that in action in the demo video. Your greens look very much the same all round like you used a tube of green without mixing it. I can see you lightened the green a little bit in the distant headland but it's still far too green for that distance and needs to be toned down with a blue gray.
Good to see you trying some different paint application techniques there like spattering, thin washes, impasto and scumbling - good work! As you gain experience you'll gain confidence and that will show through in your brushwork. I suggest you try a few simple small still life studies with a larger brush because once you get the hang of a particular subject it frees your brain to be more confident and expressive with your brushwork.
The spacing of your waves are too close together and it's making it look like a long stretch of beach is trying to squeeze itself into a small area which throws the size of everything else into question. The straight regular edge to your rock grouping on the left makes it look more like a garden wall or a damn rather than a natural scattering of rocks. Have a close look at your tree and the tree in the photo and see where your drawing differs. It's all there in front of you but when you're painting it's a case of how many balls can you juggle at once so it often helps to segment your studies into specific areas like drawing, colour, texture, form etc. Depends on your level of self discipline too of course and everyone's different thank goodness.
Some ideas I was working on in the studio painting:
1. I wanted to present every large sunlit area as a light source in itself, so for instance the sky has a glowing blue area around it, objects around the beach are infused with a warm yellow light and the grassy hill gives off a golden glow - that was the idea anyway.
2. I wanted to lessen the dominance of the tall cliff on the right, so I used a strong glowing light effect from the sky to lighten the cliff as it went up.
3. Painting the rocks required some thought as to where each plane of the rock was pointing to determine whether it should be warm or cool. Warm planes occur where the warm sunlight hits them directly. Darker warm planes occur in shadows where they are tilted towards sunlit areas of rock or sand which are a reflecting their own warm colours into the shadows. Cool dark planes occur in the shadows where they are turned to the sky or away from the sun, reflecting the blue of the sky.
4. Painting the effect of shallow water required a gradual colour change from the horizon, where much of the sky is reflected, to the shore where the colour of the sandy bottom begins to show throw. There were also land reflections, wind lines, swells, waves, foam, the cast shadow of the tree and the glow from the beach to consider.
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