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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Surefire route to solid design

6x8" value study of a Maine shoreline

Just returned home from teaching a workshop in South Freeport, Maine. This demo was done to emphasize the value of values. :-)

Rule#1: Simplify, simplify, simplify. This is all about finding the large abstract shapes. If you take color out of the equation, it gets you looking at things in a whole new way.

When you're done your value study, stand back and ask yourself where you could link things together to strengthen your design. We need to remind ourselves again and again that we are not painting rocks, trees, water, sky. We are painting shape, value and color. And striving to employ a gorgeous variety of hard and soft edges to create depth, integration, texture and mystery.

Click for more tips on the whys of exploring your subject in this way.

The umbrella brigade hard at work. As offices go... I think we might be winning!

One of my students said she had an 8 hour car trip ahead of her and was looking for a way to work on her art while on the road.

There are a couple of games I often play when on long road trips. One is to squint down as I watch the passing landscape and compare the relative value of things. Use the number scale of 1 to 10, and really work on your ability to determine exactly what # one value is relative to another:
  • shadow on foreground bushes relative to shadow on background hills
  • blue sky relative to clouds.
  • what about the clouds? - sunny side to shadow side, verrrrrry subtle, half a value? Stormy? 3 values?
This will really fine tune your ability to assess value.

The other game is the "how would I mix that color?" game. As the landscape rolls by, ask yourself - what tubed colors would I use to mix the:
  • late evening sunlit hills
  • sunkissed mountains
  • what about the shadow sides? how would you neutralize the color?
  • morning sunrise filling the sky
  • is it one color at the horizon and another higher up?
  • what about the pavement? Exactly what would you use to nail that gray?
It's endless, and endlessly fascinating. You could even have a tiny palette in your lap and try to mix the colors you're seeing right there in the car (works better if you're not driving - steering wheel gets in the way.) If you decide to try this, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!

A huge thanks goes out to Bobbi Heath for inviting me out to Maine and organizing the workshop, including filling it with 12 AMAZING students! We had a fabulous 3 days together. You rock Bobbi!


  1. I confess to frequently finding studies and unfinished paintings much more exciting than the refined versions...

  2. Liz, it was a great workshop. I'm still processing what we learned, especially the design and composition parts. There is material here to study and apply for a while. Looking forward to seeing the results as I practice the exercises.

    I think the group really enjoyed how you get into people's heads and don't just teach technique. The life coaching training adds to your depth as a teacher, it was fun to watch people figuring out where they want to go.

  3. Hi!
    To anyone who is looking for a rewarding workshop take one from Liz. Not only does she help you with the academics but also with the daily personal challenges of painting. Liz, thanks so much and already planning on how i can get to Banff. Betsy