Exercise on Planes of the Head

I really like learning new drawing techniques and theory and YouTube seems to be a good place to do this.  Yesterday I watched a couple of good videos.  One of them was by Sycra and was about looking at anatomy in a simplified way which I thought was great.  His website is at http://www.sycra.net/. 

And his simplified anatomy model is here.

This got me thinking about the planes of the face.  Now I’m OK-ish drawing a front view and a side view of a face but I find the 3/4 view quite difficult.  I often mess it up.  SO I thought I’d work on that a bit.

I followed the technique in this pair of videos by “My Drawing Tutorials”.


This one…


And this one…


I watched them and then had a go.  My first two tries were pretty awful but it was fun to mess around with it.  I tried the first two times in ink which was a not a great choice because there’s no going back from a mistake.

3 quater head try 1


3 quater head try 2


Then I had a go in pencil which was much easier.  It’s still not perfect – I’m going to have to work on this some more, but at least I have a good solid method to work with now.   🙂


3 quater head._FIN_WEB

Painting Composition and a Little Rabbit

Today I’m going to move on to learn a bit more about how to compose a painting.  Previously I’ve always done this by eye and by just “having a feeling for it”.  However in my painting tutorial book – “The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted” by Kathleen Staiger – there is a whole chapter on it and I’ve not even heard of most of the technical terms before, let alone know the theory.



The first part of the theory is the “Format” of the painting.  This means the shape of the paper or material which is being painted on.  I frequently work on A4 paper as I’m studying paintin becuase this provides enough space for em to try things out without using too much paint or taking too long for each study.  I am aware that you can have all sizes of canvases but I’ve never really though of having an irregular canvas or a circular one.  It’s interesting to think about that.



The second section of theory is something called the “Interval”.  This is the space or spaces between objects in a painting.  Bascially instead of look at the picture as what it is you can look at it as a set of shapes which form part of the painting. There are spaces or somtimes lack of space between each of the main shapes an this has an effect on how a viewer looks at the painting.  Now I quite like things lined up in a regular pattern but this is not generally regarded as artistic so instead I try to follow the patterns I first saw in chaos theory and in fractals which mimic natural forms.  Apparently having a painting with good intervals means having each interval different from the others.



The third aspect of composition is shape.  The idea here is to get a variety of shapes and sizes of shapes in a painting



The fourth thing to think about when composing a picture is “Space” this means creating a sense of depth in the picture.  This is done by making things which are further away smaller and less intense and by overlapping things.  Giving the viewer a picture to look at which appears to have depth also makes a good painting.


Leading the Eye

This final element of composition is the hardest for me to understand and put into practice.  Basically the principle is to make some part of the picture the main ‘point of interest’ and make this part stand out a bit using a wide tonal range and stronger and more intense colours.  Then you use the other things in the painting to kind of point to the main place of interest.  So, for instance you could surround the main interest of your painting with a pattern of objects which provide a contrast to the focal point which makes it stand out a bit more.  Or you could get some inanimate objects to literally point to what you want the viewer to look at.  Another method is to use a figure in the painting and make them look at the point of interest.

So thinking about all of this I did a quick illustration today of a little rabbit in a flower meadow.  I first saw this little chap on a birthday card and I just really liked him.  Hoever on the card he was centred in the middle of a plain field of grass which was just drawn as lines.  Because of the way the card was designed I saw an opportunity to completely rework the composition.

Here’s my sketch with a bit of painting done:

rabbit beginning

I chose to move the rabbit, my point of interest, to the left slightly and then have the grass and flower stalks poke up in a spray heading upwards and outwards – like a spray of flowers.  I also positioned some flowers around the rabbit to frame him.  I kept the flowers simple with him between them to try to make him stand out even though he’s kind of popping his head up in the meadow.  I painted him with my darkest darks and lightest lights to make it clear that he’s the subject although I did use a couple of dark greens int eh foliage on the left and in the centre to balance the heavier foliage on the right hand side.

Here’s a picture of my drawing with the main shapes put in via the computer:

rabbit main shapesTwo of the flowers are seperated from the rabbit but one is overlapping and they have different intervals vertically and horizontally.  I didn’t put anything over the rabbit and let his large ears extend into space to give the feeling of him being in the open and free.

I’m not sure if all of this theory works but here’s the final picture:


The Wave – Light Through Water

Today I did another exercise following a painter on YouTube.  Again I wanted to look at light and highlights.

This video is by a chap called Mural Joe.


What I wanted to concentrate on in this exercise is how to get the wave to look like it has light coming through it.  I applied the same rules as I did on the mountain study for glowing light – I made the sections where I wanted light to glow through the water lighter and of a stronger colour (in this case a blue/green).

I painted this in gouache.  I began with a simple background gradient:


Then I painted in the wave and then had incredible fun playing with painting the foam in the foreground.  I really loved working on that bit!

Here’s how it turned out:


I’m really pleased with this painting.  I can see some improvements I would make if I painted it again – like I would work on the curvle of the wave as it falls in the centre of the picture making that fall more gradual from left to right.  I would also put the main wave higher in the picture next time so there is more room for all that fun with the foam on the receeding wave.  Generally thought I like this one.  🙂


Looking at Light

Thanks to a brilliant idea from Earthbalm I’m going to deviate from my painting book for a couple of days and have a look at tints and other highlights. It makes sense after looking at shadows.

I had a look on the internet to find out some basic stuff.  Apparently a tint is a lighter tone of a colour caused by adding white to it.  This is the basic definition which I’ll use, although I have noticed that the tint which you actually get in real life is not always white – it mixes the colour of the object which is being lit with the colour of the light.  So if you had a red object under blue light the tint might be a kind of purple.  A grey object under red light would have a lighter red tint.  More importantly to a lot of painting, landscapes under yellow or orange light (during a sunset) will pick up yellow and orange tints. (I think.)

Then I found this great video on You-Tube:

It’s by a chap called Richard Robinson – he’s clearly a really good artist and I think he’s a super teacher as well.

I decided to have a go at the exercise he’s doing in this video – it concentrates on light, especially glowing light and the subject is simple enough for me to handle ok.  I don’t have any oils at the moment so I’m going to use gouache, nice and thick so it performs light oil paint.

Like Mr Robinson does in the video I used paint to sketch out my shapes to begin with.  It’s the first time I’ve painted with no pencil underneith.  I found that, although the mountains themselves are quite simple shapes, the lighting effect I was trying to do was actually really difficult.  I got so engrossed in it that I forgot to take any process photographs.  I tried to lighten and deepen the colour of the glow as I got closer to the sun but it was hard.  At first I failed because I wasn’t concentrating hard enough on my mixing, but I think with this kind of exercise the mixing of the exat colour you need is the most important thing.  Eventually I got something down which began to look a bit like the lighting effect I wanted.  It will take more practice to really get the hang of it though.

Here’s my first try:

MountainLight1_fin_webAnother thing which I found really interesting whilst doing the painting the above was that, at first I was feeling reticent and a bit stingy with my paint.  Because of that I kept struggling to get the paint thick enough to work it how I needed and that almost ruined the painting.  What I learned from this is that there is, I think, a generosity needed in artistic endeavour, a giving kind of spirit which lays the paint down fully and freely even though it’s not exactly cheap and you have no idea, at the beginning if it will work out.  It is an act of faith.

The Blue Fish – Shadow exercise.

To help me really consolidate my new understanding of painting shadows I painted a blue fish today as an exercise.  The idea is to really make use of this new way I’ve learned to reduce the strength of a colour as it get’s darker.  When I first tried this I was using orange to drop the strength (saturation) of the blue colour (since orange is the opposite to blue).  However, orange has a very bright natural tone and it kept lightening my tone too much so I used an orangy brown to drop the colour strength of the blue and that worked really well giving me a bluey-black colour.

I used a strong midtone background to my fish so that I would have to work to get the fish to show – creating much lighter areas and much darker areas.

It was a fun little exercise.   🙂

Here’s the felt-tip doodle I based this exercise on:

Felt tip pen sketch of fish

This is my plain mid-tone background:


And here’s the competed exercise:

BlueFish_FIN_WEBIt was painted in gouach but I tried to use the colour a bit more like watercolour, especially near the top.  I could have got a similar effect using white gouach but I though that the interesting mottled watercolour effects suited a watery subject.  What I was aiming for was to have a fish which looks like it’s local colour is the same as teh background, so that it’s shape is picked out only by shadows and highlights.  I think it’s almost there.

Practicing Shadow Colours…

I did a quick exercise on shadow colours today.  I used red, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink and then worked out how to make a suitable shadow colour for each.  Rather than just painting blocks of colour I make it into a little owl.

SHadow Colour Exercise

Here’s a table of how I made my shadow colours:

shadow colour tableIt worked reasonably well.  I found that, with the yellow shadow, I needed to use blue as much as purple to reduce the saturation.  I think this is because the darker shade of yellow is a brown and this has some red in it so having blue in the mix counteracts the red.

The bit that worked teh best is in the greens:

Saturation and tone diagram

I can see in this one that the midtones have a higher saturation than the darker tones – this is what I’m trying to do.

I’m going to do one more shadow colour exercise tomorrow and then I think I’ll have cracked it in terms of understanding how it works.  I’ll still have a long way to go with actually putting this into practice, but at least I will know what I’m aiming for.


Owlets and Shadows – Part 2 of 2

Here is me second little owlet painting (A6) where I’m using the advice on how to paint shadows from my painting tutorial book.

I realised when I painted my first owlet (last Friday’s post) what adding a complementary colour is doing to my shadows – it’s reducing the strength of the colour and making it more grey.  I really understood this when I looked for that effect in real life.  Here is a picture of some curtains:


I can see in this how as the colour gets put into more shadow it gets darker but it also looses strength (the colour washes out of it and it looks more grey).  Looking at the shadows in the material above they are going more grey and right down to a greyish brownish black.  If chroma didn’t reduce when light was lower then the dark sections of these curtains would be a very rich strong dark brown.

Thinking about this it makes sense.  In our eyes we have two types of light sensing cells – rods – which are very sensitive but only pick up greyscale images – and cones – which pick up colour.  Now our cones are less sensitive than our rods so as something gets darker they pick up less colour because they are functioning less well.  This must be why this effect happens with shadows.  It all makes sense.


So I made a quick (10 minute) painting of a couple of owlets:


Owlet2_FINFor the shadows here I used a darker brown and then added a little blue (of the same dark shade) to drop down the strength of the colour.  I think it works OK.

Because it’s taken me ages to really understand this shadow colour method, I’m going to do a few more little paintings over the next few days to really make sure I keep hold of this new understanding I’ve got.

PS:  It’s been really interesting over the last week or so while I’ve been struggling with this shadow colour issue to see from both the perspective of a teacher (which I am) and from the perpective of a student who’s simply not understanding (which I also was).  I found I had to use the teacher part of myself to help the stuck-student part of myself.  First I just kept getting myself to try again until I realised that it really wasn’t working.  Then I found out and removed the obstacle I had to learning which was that I was still too interested in how the gouache works to focus on the problem.  And then by isolating the actual part I found difficult, I finally understood it.  Now I’m just going to push that understanding in with some practice.  🙂  It’s been a really interesting journey.

Owlets and Shadows – Part 1 of 2

Finally I’ve understood the lesson from my painting book on shadows – the penny has dropped!



I decided to sketch a couple of owlets (baby owls) just coming into their adult colours but still a bit fluffy and ragged – on account of their awesome cuteness!

I’m posting one of these today and the next on Monday.


Then I painted very simply with watercolour what is called ‘local colour’ which is the colour of something without any effects of lighting or reflection or shadow.  (Actually with no light all local colour would simply be black.  What is really meant here is the colour of something in steady, medium, all-around lighting.)


Now I failed at this a bit because my green paint flowed downwards and rather than correct it I decided to use that for shadow.  Also, because I’m working in watercolour and can’t add highlight afterwards I had to think about that with my owlet and his branch too.  So, not perfect but OK.

Now the rule I’ve been trying to understand is that to darken an object (so the ground for a cast shadow or the dark side of something for a body shadow) you do two things   – (1) you choose a darker shade of the same colour (e.g. paynes grey, to me looks like a darker shade of phthalo blue) and then (2) you add a bit of the complimentary colour (which is the colour on the opposite side of the colour wheel).


Now it’s part (2) which I have been having trouble with so I decided to use just that effect for this little A6 painting to see what it does for myself.

Here, I came upon another difficulty, brown isn’t a primary or secondary colour.  In colour theory it’s regarded as a ‘warm neutral‘.  According to a colour theory called ‘Munsell Colour Theory’ (which I know nothing about except what I read on the internet today) neutrals are regarded as a less bright version of a primary or secondary colour.  So I looked at the brown on my owlet and decided that it’s a less bright version of the secondary colour orange.  The opposite of orange is blue.  So I used blue as my complementary colour.  I added just this for the shadows – just to see what effect it has.


So here is my little owlet dude with just the complementary colour used for a shadow.  So now I can see what adding this colour to my shadow colour does – it dims the colour -it makes the colour more grey and pasty.


So my instructions for mixing shadow colours could them be written as:

(1) you choose a darker shade of the same colour

(2) you reduce the strength of the colour by adding a bit of the complimentary colour

So now I understand what this step is doing I’m going to paint some more owlets and put the whole shadow-colour-mixing-plan into action!  I’ll post that on Monday.    Have  a great weekend!  🙂

Shadows in an Autumn Landscape 2 of 2

I continued work on my autumn landscape painting today.  Yesterday I had painted in the foreground with white to allow me to put another layer over the top.


So today I worked on the trees, their leaves and the detail of the bushes neaby.


I used a tissue to apply the paint for the leaves still on the tree.  At the time I thought it looked messy and horrible and decided to overpaint it with brush strokes to some extent.  This is something I wish I hadn’t done now as I think it looked better before.

This is the painting with the additional detail to the bushes and the leaves overlaid on the tree:

autumntree not yet trimmed

I really think it’s lost something in that change.  However, unlike working in a digital medium, I can’t go back with real paint so I have to live with it.  Another thing I didn’t like is the small tree in the distance.  I just think it looks really quite silly.

So I decided to trim the painting to try to recover something from it.  This is how it worked out:

autumntreefinishedand trimmed

Although the painting hasn’t turned out as I had hoped I did learn something about how I’m handling shadows.  What I learned is that my mind is just not focused on them.  I had a think about this and I suspect that the reason I’m struggling to focus on the shadow work I want to do is because I’m using gouache.  The gouache is still very new to me and I haven’t fully worked it out in my own mind as a medium.   I’m still exploring it, not mastering it.

I very often find it hard to start something else if I’m not finished yet with something I’m already working on.  Even in conversation, if someone says something I don’t understand I get stuck on it – working away at that tiny proportion of the communication which I don’t understand and missing the rest of what is said.  I don’t know if this is an autistic response or just something I do.  Anyway, what I’m going to do tomorrow is paint a small picture in watercolour, which I’m much more familiar with, and really focus on the shadow colour.  I’m going to keep it really simple so that my mind is free to focus only on the shadow colour thing.  I might paint the shadows, not in smooth gradations of tone but more like a cartoon where there are sections of shadow in one clear tone and sections of light.  I could go for three main tones – shadows, local colour and highlights.  I think it would work as a simple picture but it would also free my mind to focus on what I want to learn.