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Painting Workshop 50

"The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

The Yellow Rose

Love painting flowers? Start here. Learn the best studio setup for still life painting, see the structure of a flower and paint its subtle beauty. We're starting off nice and simple with a single yellow rose (great for beginners!) and we'll get progressively more complex in the next 3 lessons. Enjoy!

Workshop Challenge

Feel free to follow me step by step in painting from the resource photo below, but you'll learn even more by painting from life as I do in the demo video. You can paint this any size or shape you like using any medium. Happy painting!

Click image to enlarge.
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

"Roses" 40x50cm Oil on Canvas by Elena Sokolova

Beautiful movement and simplification of forms in the painting, Elena. That's something I strive for in my own work too. The variety of colour in the background is adding a lot of interest as well. The drawing could be a little better and some of the shapes in the two large upward roses could be altered or removed in order to make the rose shape more easily readable. When I paint an object that has an odd looking shape in it that somehow spoils the form of the object, I modify or remove it for the sake of readability. Overall a very pleasing painting - something to be proud of.


Student Painting

"My First Yellow Rose..." 24x30cm Oil on Board by Silvana M Albano

Nice work Silvana. I can see from your painting that adding more space around the subject suddenly makes it a quieter, more restful image. The drawing is pretty accurate, colours are good, brushwork a bit tentative in places, like the centre of the rose where you've lose a few more edges than necessary because of dabbing, whereas a single confident stroke would yield a crisper edge. I like that you've thought to lightly over brush the textured board to suggest the texture of rough cloth. Nicely done.


Student Painting

"Valentine Rose 2" 9x12" Oil on Canvas by Sharon Casavant

Wow Sharon you've really looked hard at this beautiful rose and seen all the subtle variety in there. It looks great! The low key (overall lower value) treatment adds a touch of mystery to this as the flower reaches up for the light. The only thing I could pick for improvement in this painting would be the drawing of the subsidiary roses that look a bit clumsy compared to the big one. Loose is good, but not at the expense of good drawing. Touch those up and you've got a winner here. Good one.


Student Painting

"New Zealand Rose" 20x20cm Oil on Canvas by Siobhan

Great work, Siobahn. Plenty of subtle colour changes, strong drawing, bold design, elegant brushwork and interesting shapes. Perhaps an edge or two could be softened around the perimeter but that's really nit picking. Good job!


Student Painting

"Yellow Rose" 11x14" Acrylic on Canvas by Mike Robles

Beautiful job Mike! Nice to see you really focusing on the drawing in this one and also achieving that vibrant glowing effect in the centre of the rose. Great to hear too that you scraped off the first one and painted it again - persistence! That's paid off in spades and I also noted others saying how they improved from one painting to the next in this project.

That's the beauty of small studies like this - fast improvements! If there's one thing I might look at changing in your painting it would probably be to add a little light on the table cloth.

Student Painting

You can see in the altered image how it makes the fall of the cloth more believable and also breaks up that large dark space. Other than that, great painting!



My final painting

"The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Sketch for The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Pencil on Paper by Richard Robinson.

It's so instructive to just focus on drawing before we dive into the paint. In this sketch I was first trying to see the structure of the rose - the way each petal revolves around the centre line, and then focused on the way the form is revealed by light and shadow. Remember to find your lightest light and compare each light to that, and do the same for the darks, comparing each dark with the darkest dark. Always compare like to like. It's not helpful to compare a dark to a light because the gap is too big to be meaningful to us. I used a 6B pencil to make this drawing, hence the grainy look. For a smoother finish (but lighter darks) use a harder pencil like a 2B.

"The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"The Yellow Rose" 8 x 8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

When painting flowers it's important to use as few brush strokes as possible in order to keep the colours clean, especially in the lights. To help with that we can paint with a large brush first and finish off with a small brush. It's also vital to keep squinting at the flower to be able to see it as an interrelated whole - to be able to compare lights with lights and darks with darks.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 50
The Yellow Rose

Love painting flowers? Start here. Learn the best studio setup for still life painting, see the structure of a flower and paint its subtle beauty. We're starting off nice and simple with a single yellow rose (great for beginners!) and we'll get progressively more complex in the next 3 lessons. Enjoy!
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