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Painting Workshop 52

"Petunias" 11 x 11" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Petunias" 11 x 11" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge


Love painting flowers? This is the third lesson. Get the first lesson here. Learn about building a textural background, premixing greys, painting with shapes, focusing with edges. This intensive study will teach you as much about painting as it will teach you about who you are as a painter. Enjoy!

Workshop Challenge

Feel free to follow me step by step in painting from the resource photos 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   Resource Photo   Resource Photo
Resource Photo   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  

John CrumpPainting Critiques

This workshop we have the privelege of having master artist John Crump critique our paintings.

"I would like to make 1 or 2 general points about flower paintings before I hone in on particular examples.

I know this was a study of flowers without too much concern about the design of the total painting so I can understand everyone's tendency to place the flowers in the middle, but if you then go on to develop the theme, there are a few points to remember….( and you should - flowers are GREAT to paint. )

Make one flower (or maybe two or three if they overlap each other) the focal point with colour, tone, possibly harder edges, size, whatever it takes to make that focal point slightly dominant.

Design your painting so that focal point is off centre.

As you design the painting, make sure that you run some of the flowers off the edge–it makes the whole thing look more natural rather than a carefully organised setup.

Make sure that many of your flowers overlap each other. If you think of flowers growing in the garden or even an arrangement in a bowl or a vase, most of them will overlap.

That's 4 points already! …..Lastly, flower heads look better when they are amongst their leaves- it makes them look established rather than plucked from their natural habitat. Some flowers would argue with that point of course - lupins or lilies for example, but there are still enough leaves around to do the job.

I suspect that all of you in this particular study have been uncertain about how to handle the lower area of the painting– especially the stems. The secret is to paint them with flourish, using the whole arm in a gestural way so that they portray confidence.

Overall, you have all done a very good job with what I have always felt is quite a difficult subject.
Now…. your paintings.


Student Painting

'Petunias' 11x11" Oil on Canvas by James Delk

A nice painting James. Good tonal work, very nice colour, and the brushwork looks easy, competent.Three things you could look at in the future.

1. Which flower is your focal point - the tallest one or the one on the left? They are competing with each other.

2. Hard edges shout for attention - soft edges are less strident! See how the far edges on those two main flowers are leaping to the front. Make closer hard, more distant slightly softer.

3. Avoid making halo effects with your brushstrokes. See how your brushstrokes in the background go around the flowers, stems, etc.


Student Painting

'Japanese Anemones' 6 x 6" Water Soluble Oils on Canvas by Candi Hogan

Some very nice colour Candi. Good to see some leaves in there too. I would like to see a little more variation though in your background. You will have read in my general comment about overlapping some of the flowers to help form a focal point. However, I did not mean that you form a bunch quite as tightly as you have! They need a little more breathing space– perhaps some gaps here and there.

I think it would be good for you to try working on slightly larger canvasses. 6" x 6" is very small and immediately limits the broad brush strokes that flowers 'thrive' on!


Student Painting

'Petunias' 30x30cm Oil on Canvas by Marisa Comana Pessina

This is a very nice piece of work Marisa. Very sensitive tones and colours on the flowers that work well with the warm russet colours in the background. You have a similar problem to the one I mentioned in James' painting–you have two flowers competing to be 'number one. 'It's good to see that you have run one of the flowers off the edge of the painting but you may also notice that those particular two flowers at the bottom right corner are a matching pair. Much better if they are different in size, or set at different angles, or perhaps one in the shade and one catching the light–anything that makes them look different would be good.

I do particularly like the two dominant flowers–they are very well painted.


Student Painting

Flower Study 11x14" Oil on Panel by Thomas M Sarradet

Thomas, the flowers in your painting have a lovely fresh feeling with good tonal work and nice colour. The background colour you have chosen at the top of the painting works very well around those flowers but it would have been better if you had carried more of that colour down towards the bottom edge. You can see that those top flowers sing but those at the bottom simply can't match up.

My other comment is that you have spread their stems too far apart and given a feeling of disunity at the bottom of the picture. They would've been better, looking as if they came from a common source and some of them painted a darker tone so that the flowers felt as if they had something solid holding them up.


Student Painting

'Petunias 1' 8x10" Oil on Canvas by Larissa Svinoukhova

Yours too is a very nice effort Larissa. It's good to see that you have made one of the flowers an obvious focal point. Your tones and colours are good and I also like the way you have been a little more flamboyant with your background colour–a little more strength at the bottom and more obvious brushwork adding a little more interest.

There are one or two things that bother me a little. The three flowers in a fan shape towards the bottom right corner are all too similar in size and shape. The other thing is the unopened flower that is sticking up in the top right corner. It looks at odds with the rest of the painting. Better to have put it more within the other flowers and to have sloped it to the right, not the left. ( Have a look at Richard's one.) Working on a bigger canvas may be better for you too."

- John Crump


Thank you John for your insightful comments. Much appreciated! You can see John Crump's own paintings and instructional videos at

- Richard


My final painting

"Petunias" 11 x 11" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Petunias" 11 x 11" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

This study was painted with a textured acrylic and oil background, left to dry and then painted over with oils. It is a study of shapes, subtle colour shifts and edges as much as it is a study of your own ability to stay focused on a seemingly simple subject and not get lost in the details.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 52

Love painting flowers? This is the third lesson. Get the first lesson here. Learn about building a textural background, premixing greys, painting with shapes, focusing with edges. This intensive study will teach you as much about painting as it will teach you about who you are as a painter. Enjoy!
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