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Painting Workshop 55

"Sunday Repairs" 14 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Sunday Repairs" 14 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.



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This Month's Challenge

Fishing Boats

Paint this classic boat scene with broad gestural brushwork. Learn how to match colour easily and how to paint with masses (not messes!) and finish with calligraphic details. Follow me step by step or use the resource photos below to paint something more your own. Enjoy!

Click image to enlarge.        
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  

Painting Critiques

Student Painting

'Getting Summer Ready' 9x12" Oil on Linen Panel by Chris Bloom

Great energy in the brushwork here Chris and you've got the shadow and light colours in the hull just right. The only small thing spoiling this painting for me at the moment is the too-thick painting of the rigging which seems to be fairly common among the other paintings.

If you remember in the video I demonstrated first how not to do it (not intentionally!) and then scraped it off and repainted the rigging using a mahlstick to rest my hand on and painting each line in one swift stroke with a rigger brush (also called a liner brush). The thickness of the paint on your brush is all-important when you do this so it pays to practice on your palette with different viscosities of paint before you attempt those few crucial lines on your painting. Other than that, great work!


Student Painting

'Dry Dock' 30x40cm Oil on Canvas by Gunther Andree

Beautiful detailed work here Gunther, especially in the modelling of the form of the hull with light and shadow. Love the sky glinting of the window too. Nice! The drawing of the boat is excellent, but not so for a few other details - the placement of the bases of the stabilisers on the ground, the spacing of the rungs on the ladder and the left most boat. They're letting the team down, but the team is great.

Last thing, the cast shadow on the ground is looking a bit flat and stand-up-ish. To connect this better to the light on the ground you can run a couple of subtle darkish lines from the foreground light, through the shadows and into the background light. The lines should diminish in size darken with the shadow. When you do this with shadow areas it makes them irrefutably connected to the lights. Here's an example:

Student Painting

Foreground directional lines added to make the shadow areas lie flatter and to help direct the eye.


Student Painting

'Drydock' 8x10" Oil on Panel by Jim Baldoumas

Great energy in this Jim, beautiful colours versus subtle greys. Your drawing like many of the paintings submitted needs some tweaking and for that I suggest viewing this reversed in a mirror. As SOON as you do that you'll be able to see the problems in the drawing. Works every time.

Student Painting



Student Painting

'Boat Repair' 16x20" Oil on Canvas by Jim Delk

Great work Jim - LOVE the brushwork and colour in this. Again, check the drawing in the mirror. You've inadvertently made a bit of an Escher illusion by moving the base of the ladder. There's something odd happening in the tree with the blue-grey painted over top of them - needs reworking. Shadow on building is too blue. Overall it's great - just a few things to look at.


Student Painting

'On the Hard' 8x100" Oil on Canvas by Laurena Beirnes

Love the bold design here Laurena. Good drawing. Great sense of the power, colour and direction of the light. Note that you've mixed your shadows a bit though - a strong light like this would give the boats sharper edged cast shadows on the ground. I'd like to see you try using much thicker paint in the lights - this will help create a more painterly look.


My final painting

"Sunday Repairs" 14 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

"Sunday Repairs" 14 x 16" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson.

This scene was a joy to paint. It took 90 minutes to paint, but only the last 15 minutes were spent on detail. The majority of the work lay in building the big beautiful shapes containing subtle colour shifts. The few details are the small stitches that hold the whole garment together and give it realism. The most difficult colour to analyse was the shadowed white sides of the boats. In the video I show you exactly how to see, analyse and mix these subtle greys.



Get the Demonstration Video

Demo Painting from workshop

Painting Workshop 55
Fishing Boats

Paint this classic boat scene with broad gestural brushwork. Learn how to match colour easily and how to paint with masses (not messes!) and finish with calligraphic details. Enjoy!
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