Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Starting with a Plan

Evening Shade, pastel, 8x8
This is a demo from a class I held this evening in which we focused on the basics of establishing values. Using a monochromatic underpainting (my favorite type of underpainting these days), we set the stage with our value structure, and build upon that structure with a fairly limited color palette. We worked from a black and white photo, one of the best methods I've found to teach values.

I always encourage my students to do preliminary thumbnails in order to plan two key aspects of their painting: composition and value. Here's a very brief explanation of how I do this:
1) Composition: Consider the balance of large and small shapes, the placement of your focal point (often using the "rule of thirds"), and avoid placing a key element in the center of the painting (horizontally or vertically). Of course many of these "rules" can be knowingly broken, but that's another blog post for another day.
2) Values: Try to simplify the composition down to 4 or 5 value groups. If done carefully in your planning stages, this makes the beginning of the painting faster, easier, and much less intimidating.

My thumbnail composition/value sketch.
Sometimes I work out my composition first and then do my value sketch separately, or sometimes I combine those steps as I did here. I used pencil for this sketch, but I often use 3 or 4 values of grey markers, which is a great way to force yourself to simplify your value groups. Notice that I also indicate lines outside my borders of the sketch to more clearly see the division of space within my composition. It also helps to size it up to my painting dimensions.

Black and white reference photo.
Except for rare occasions, I don't usually spend much more than about 10 minutes on thumbnails. But whatever the amount of time I take for this planning stage, I've found that it's time well spent to determine what I want to say with the painting, and what will make it artwork rather than a copy of a photograph.


  1. Great lesson and the result is beautiful!

  2. This is a great blog post - almost like being in your workship again. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Rick! It's really the preplanning part of the painting process that helps you to interpret your landscape rather than copy it, which is what I try to teach in my workshops. I really appreciate your feedback!