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Painting Workshop 9
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This Month's Challenge

'Landscape: Light and Shadow Families'

Okay guys you've got a bit of reading to do this time, but there is also the video to watch which covers all this and more. Enjoy.

Landscape is often called the most difficult of painting genres, however I think it depends more on what you're used to painting. I blanch at the accuracy required for portraiture for instance. Certainly I can see that landscape painting requires more skill in wielding our artistic license. We can't move trees and mountains around in the scene like we can apples in a still life, and we can't adjust the lighting as we would in a figure setup.

Most beginners get confused by all the detail and variation in the landscape so learning ways to simplify our subject is one of the biggest keys to successful landscape painting. In this workshop I'd like to focus on light and shade families as a way of simplifying our scene. We will learn more about these families using a 'two value statement'.

Light divides our visual world neatly into two families - the light family, where objects are touched by direct light, and the shadow family, which is only touched by reflected light from objects in the light family. Light and shade, nice and simple. If you have previously taken the workshops on still life you will have learned about halftones which are in the plane between light and shade, but in this particular workshop we will be using the two value statement method to over-simplify our subject and we will be avoiding using halftones for the moment. In case you forgot, halftones belong to the light family anyway.

Click image to enlarge.    
Resource Photo

Resource Photo - Grand Canyon Sunrise
The Setup

Resource Photo - Grand Canyon Sunset
Resource Photo

Resource Photo - Red Rocks Canyon

The Process

To simplify our subject into a two value statement we just need to squint at our subject or throw our eyes out of focus in order to reduce the detail we're seeing. Now we are looking at the large shapes of colour and mentally separating the shapes that are in the light from the shapes that are in the shadow. Our next job is to paint those big colored shapes on our canvas.

Sketch in the big shapes on your canvas making sure to divide each object into light and shade. Now decide where your darkest dark is in the scene and paint that in. Then decide where the lightest light is in the scene and paint that in. This sets the limits of the colour in your painting so you now know their will be nothing lighter than that lightest light and nothing darker than that darkest dark. If you hold a black object in the shade of your hand in front of your darks when you are measuring them you will see they are really not as dark as you thought they were at first. Measure your lightest light similarly with a white object in the light.

Now that you've set your colour limits choose a big simple shape in the light family (not the sky) which has a colour that is closest to one of your colours straight out of the tube. That will be the easiest colour for you to match because it will require the least modification. Once you have that area painted try to match the colour of the shadow for that same object and paint that shape next to the light you have just painted.

The key here is to get the relationship correct between these two colours. Mentally measure the hue, value and chroma against each other. (These terms are covered in Workshop5 ) Where the light and shadow family meet be aware of what type of edge you want there - soft or hard. Avoid blending too much - the goal is to keep the light and shadow families visibly separate.

Once you have this first pair painted paint all the shadow families throughout your painting and then paint all the light families. Personally I also find it helpful to figure out what colour and strength the main light source is and remember that throughout the painting process. Getting all the colour relationships correct will achieve the same result though.

If you find yourself getting confused or lost amongst all the shapes of colour on your canvas just try to find one that you know is the most correct and start readjusting the shapes close to that one - and remember to simplify as much as possible. This challenge is all about seeing colour relationships, not about creating a masterpiece.

If this all sounds too easy for you then I encourage you to extend yourself and try painting these studies in a way you haven't tried before, for instance with very thick paint and a palette knife, or starting with a brightly toned canvas, or changing your normal palette of colours. Anything to make this a fun creative experience for you.

Either way, this is the process of the 'two value statement' that I would like you to follow for the following challenges. Feel free to use the photos I have provided as your resource, or use any other photos or resources you might have or paint outdoors from nature (the ideal).

Workshop Challenges

1. Break it down.
Print out the photo of your scene and using black acrylic paint statement the shadow families you see, simplifying them as you go. Be aware that even part of a dark object like a tree will belong to the light family if it is in the light. Similarly, a light object in the shade will belong to the shadow family. Try to simplify your shapes by excluding small detail and also try joining some areas together. This exercise will help you to see and understand the light and shadow families and begin to think about simplifying them to make a stronger design.

photo   shadow and light families

2. Keeping it Simple.
Paint one 10x8" or similar sized two value block-in of a scene keeping it as simple as possible. Be sure to follow the process above, placing your darkest dark, lightest light and easiest colour first along with its shadow. Now paint all the shadow families, and then all the light families. Take a photo of your painting at this point - before you get carried away with detail.

Add a few refining details if you like, but don't get fiddley! You can make colour variations within the individual shapes, but make sure you keep the lights light and the darks dark. Take a photo of the finished painting and compare it with the previous photo. Did you go overboard with detail or not? Was the painting stronger before you added detail or did it lack something? There is no right or wrong answer, only your artistic opinion.

"Sunrise Grand Canyon" 10x8" Oil on Board by Richard Robinson

"Sunrise, Grand Canyon" 24x30" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson
Note: This larger studio painting was painted after the study above and is not part of exercises in this workshop
- I have just included it here for your interest to see what became of my studies from the Grand Canyon.
Here is what I learned with this painting: Learning from Monet.


3. Optional
Paint as many studies as you like - this workshop is a springboard so feel free to dive in the pool and splash around!

Notan design and thumbnail sketches really should come before consideration of the light and shadow families, so if you want to brush up on those topics please refer to Workshop and Workshop2.

My palette was:
Ultramarine Blue
Cad Red Medium
Cad Orange
Yellow Ochre
Cad Yellow Light
Titanium White 

I learned the term 'Two Value Statement' from Barry John Raybould's Virtual Art Academy Course.
To learn more about that and more about Seeing and Painting Form - click here.

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:

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

painting   painting
"Grand Canyon, Study 2, Bock-in" by Jim Delk   "Grand Canyon, Study 2, Final" by Jim Delk
Viewed in Grayscale   Viewed in Grayscale

That's getting there Jim. You've certainly been looking at simplifying the scene and figuring out the major light and shadow families. It looks to me like you copied my own study as much as you looked at the photograph, which is fine but I think you'll get even more learning done next time by trying to figure out how you want to simplify the scene.

As is often the case your painting was actually working better at the end of the block in stage (shown on the left) before you started fiddling with it. By viewing both paintings in grayscale we can see clearly why the block in reads better. You've lost the background's dark/light value structure you had achieved in the block-in. It looks like what you did was lighten all the blue-gray shadow family in the background but left all the lights which made the lights too dark comparatively. You've also exaggerated some warm colours there (that big patch of brown in the middle background) which is out of place - it needs to be much cooler due to atmospheric perspective.

Squinting at your scene really helps with this. Our common problem is that as soon as we focus in on one small area of the scene we lose it's relationship with the rest and in fact our brains go ahead and exaggerate the differences in colour and contrast there so that we can see it better, but that is really confusing for us painters.

That reflected light you have added into the shadows in the foreground rocks has really livened them up and you managed to hold back from adding too much detail there which is great. In fact the foreground is looking pretty good and I would just like to see you tackle the background again. Nearly there! Great to see you have already done two separate studies too - great work!


painting   painting
"Valley of Fire" 10x12" Oil by Marina Laliberte   Resource Photo

Great work Marina. It's paintings like this where I start to think, 'well, should I critique it or not?' because it's so nicely done it's hard to offer any improvements. Looking at your previous work, this one seems to be such a big leap ahead, especially for your landscape work, that I'm going to have to take all the credit as a fantastic teacher and take a bow. There, now that that's done I can start pointing out some of the good points and some of the not so good.

You have simplified! That's the biggest achievement of this piece I believe. There is a lot of complexity there in the photo but you have managed to keep squinting and keep painting what you're seeing when you squint. You've kept a close eye on the shadow and light families and managed to keep each area roughly within one value - changing hue, but not value. That's great!

You have designed! You have cropped the scene nicely and you've moved that bush on the right to make an s-curve of light through the painting, leading us into the background. You weren't a slave to the photo. Awesome!

Because you've simplified and kept your head on straight your brushwork has a bold directness to it which I find very appealing and you've been aware of your hard and soft edges too, although some of those crisp edges in the background just behind the main foreground rock on the left could do with softening a bit to help with creating more space. Watch out for those little white gaps here and there showing white canvas - I often go back over these with a finger or dry brush at the end of the painting.

Your colour recession has worked really well here and I think the star of the painting is really that big wall of interesting muted colour on the right - nicely simplified and with just enough variation in colour and texture to make it very convincing from a few steps away. If there is one thing I would personally change in this painting it would be the bottom left corner. With those few diagonal strokes of gray you've gone halfway between making a dash of light or making an edge of rock with the sky light reflected off it. The value is too dark for light and too light for reflected light, so I'd just decide what it was, scrape it off and do it again, or even put that bush in there softly - if it was mine. Other than that, it's all good. Nice work!


painting   painting
"From Up High" 29x42cm" Oil by Sandra Kelly   Resource Photo

Great work Sandra. Finding simplicity was the goal of this exercise and you've managed to keep things simplified despite the larger canvas and the complex subject. You've even managed to simplify the colour banding of the rock strata into four distinct layers. Making all the background have soft edges was a really nice idea and that's lent a real photographic crispness to the foreground rocks.

All the the colours have a lovely warmth to them which is great to see and in that respect you've jumped ahead of my small study and created colour unity throughout the whole painting which is something I only managed to achieve in my larger studio painting after 2 weeks! Beautiful subtle work there with warm grays in the background and you managed to keep all the values in good relationship with each other there which is not an easy task at all. I do feel that I would like to add a little area of slightly lighter interest in the background area somewhere to the the eye more reason to travel back there.

The one thing that is spoiling the effect of light on your foreground rocks is the colour of the cracks there. If you make those cracks that are within large areas of light just a slightly darker version of the rock colour rather than adding blue to them it will really help with the illusion of strong light. Keep up the good work!


painting   Resource Photo
"Red Rock Canyon" 10x8" Oil by Ivana Jackson   Resource Photo

Very nicely done Ivana. Firstly your drawing is very accurate. Compared to the photo you seem to have transferred the image to the canvas remarkably well - so much so that I assume it was traced on. No sin there in my book if you did trace it. The only trouble I ever find with tracing is that it's very easy to then become a slave to the drawing. Either way the drawing is good here and the scene itself is already cropped and organized fairly well in the photo so you can't really go wrong there, and you have made a few conscious changes to the layout that have helped it along a little like removing the little noble of rock in the top left corner which would otherwise attract the eye to the edge of the canvas. You've also given the tree a little more breathing space which is a good idea and introduced a subtle pathway of light in the foreground. Nice work!

In terms of your colour decisions it looks like you have some knowledge of plein air painting because you've corrected the under-exposed shadows by lightening them which is great to see but personally I feel that you've missed a couple of opportunities to introduce some slightly punchier colour in the foreground and midground which would have helped to spice up the scene. You have thought clearly about the light and shadow families which is great to see but perhaps added a little more detail than I would have expected when the goal of this exercise was really about simplifying our subject. Hard to stop sometimes! Anyway, I hope you're proud of this painting because you've certainly done a lot of things well in it and I hope you'll enjoy the next workshop challenge too which leads smoothly on from this one.


painting   Resource Photo
"Red Rocks" 12x15" Oil by Pauline Le Merle   Resource Photo


Congratulations Pauline on a really interesting and appealing design. It has the classic S-curve pulling our eye through the canvas and plenty of variety. The shapes are beautifully organic with your own distinctive rhythm to them. The only thing I would have changed is the rock kissing the top of the canvas - moved slightly up or down it wouldn't draw so much attention to the edge.


You have simplified your colour and kept and eye on your light and shadow families which is what we were focusing on in the workshop and you've done well to keep that green subdued in most places except it seems to jump out a little in the midground. I particularly like your little rocks in the foreground which add so much interest and lead your eye into the painting. The colours in your shadows are nicely varied and for the most part painted with thin paint which is good to see. You could have lightened the darks in the background to add more depth to the painting as they are tending to flatten the image out at the moment by bringing the background forward. It's good to see you did lighten and blue the big cast shadow on the ground as it receded though.


Your brushwork is really interesting in its variety but there are a few places I personally would have removed some detail like the midground bushes and that little speckled bush right in the foreground. Your tree is in need of a bit of reshaping with a stronger sense of light and shade and that dark crevice in the rock behind it isn't helping much. The rocks just to the right of the tree could do with some stronger shadows to give them some more obvious form.

Overall you've done a great job and I hope those few tips help in some way.


My final painting


"Sunrise, Grand Canyon" 10x8" Oil on Canvas by Richard Robinson
Purchase the fine art print here >>


Demo Painting from workshop 5
Painting Workshop 9
'Grand Canyon'
One of the biggest problems we encounter with landscape painting is the sheer amount of detail and complexity we are faced with. How do we deal with all of that!? This workshop teaches you about simplifying a scene with the light and shadow families and then using a two value statement to simplify even further. What better place to do this than the Grand Canyon - one of the most complex scenes on Earth!
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