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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learning to Design with Value

Value study demo - oil 6x6"

In order to learn sophisticated painting techniques it is valuable to break them down into simple exercises and build up from there.

Something that skilled painters excel at is designing with value. What this means is that you don't paint objects or things. You see the shapes of light and shadow that these 'things' are made up of, and paint those.

The skillful part comes in knowing where to push values, making some slightly darker or lighter than they actually are, in order to link shapes. This creates a pattern of light and shadow that forms a strong design - the structure of your painting - and when done well, everything else that is built upon it will hold together in a powerful way.

The challenge for this simple exercise is to create your value study with only 4 values (+ white for highlights). By limiting values you are forced to designate the same values to some shapes that are in reality different in value. Shapes will naturally connect into an interesting pattern as a result.

Things to Keep in Mind As You Proceed

  1. Determine the important big shapes that fill the painting surface. Remember the shapes of the shadows and background are AS important as the shapes of the objects themselves.
  2. Draw out these shapes, filling the canvas.
  3. Block the shapes in with paint using only 4 values.
  4. Begin modelling form by introducing intermediate values within the shapes.
  5. Refine edges - hard and soft edges can be determined by squinting down. If an edge disappears when squinting - make it soft. High contrast areas will often be harder edged. Use your powers of observation to lead you.
  6. Finish with highlights and accents (small lights and darks) to complete the story.
The most magical thing happens when you find a great place to connect two shapes and the design starts to find its way. I definitely find this way more fun to do in paint than doing a little thumbnail sketch in pencil, not sure why. Give a try and see what you think.

Since I paint these studies alla prima with impasto passages, I don't then paint a color version on top. If you want to follow with color in a grisaille fashion, you could either paint your value study very thinly and wait for it to dry, or paint it in acrylic (as long as your canvas isn't oil primed) followed by oil on top.

If I want to do an actual finished painting, I will start a new painting using the value study as reference for the underlying structure I want to stay true to. If the colour or detail start to make things busy and the structure gets lost, I have the value study to lead me back to a sound design.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Daily Painting and Heli Painting

"Late Dinner" - oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

After a 5 month hiatus, my instructing calendar is firing up again. Click here for my full 2013 schedule.

First Up - Daily Painting

Coming up very soon - April 20th-22nd, I will be teaching a Daily Painting workshop in my Canmore studio. I keep this one small, limited to 8-10 students, which allows for an intimate environment and a lot of personal feedback for each artist. We have a lot of fun and build some high quality connections. The focus is on really getting a handle on the key fundamentals of value, color and strong design.  More info / Registration

Heli Painting - A Totally Unique Experience

Robert Genn and I take a group of painters into the Bugaboos each summer to spend 3 days heli-painting. Last year Robert's daughter Sara joined us and added a whole new twist to the mix. The 3 of us are quite varied in our teaching approach and philosophy which exposes the group to a broad range of stimulating concepts and ideas.

I appreciate that many people can't afford a trip like this but here are some things to consider if the idea of coming along has you teetering on the edge of diving in:
  • It is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
  • There is a lovely bond that is created when a group of artists get together and share this kind of experience - it's more than a workshop, it's a captivating adventure. 
  • Robert is fascinating to spend a few days with - and he won't be doing this forever.
  • You benefit from the experience of 3 very diverse instructors. 
  • I was a heli-hiking guide for 10+ years so from experience I can tell you that flying around in a helicopter to paint in stunning mountain places is a unique and super cool thing to do in your life.
Finally, if you are a professional artist, the trip will provide you with all kinds of valuable reference material, and of course it's a write off. It easily pays for itself if you are productive with the inspiration you gather when you're there.

If you're ready to leap, we'd love to have you join us!
More info

 "Late Dinner" - detail

Here's my latest NYC painting - yay! I had a ton of fun with the bits and pieces of color in this painting - it is one of the reasons I'm finding city scenes so incredibly captivating to paint!