- Lesson Details
World-renowned painter Steve Huston breaks down a painting by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn and analyzes the artist’s use of shadows and overall approach to value using only black, white, and grey paint. You will learn how to control your tones and to emphasize certain features within your painting, as well as how to clearly define your mid ranges, shadows, and lights.
- Gamblin Artist Grade Oil Colors
- Simply Simmons Paintbrush
- Canvas Panel
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painter Rembrandt van Rijn and analyzes the artist’s use of shadows and overall approach
to value, using only black, white, and gray paint.
You will learn how to control your tones and to emphasize certain features within your painting.
You will also learn about the importance of solid draftsmanship and how to clearly define
your mid-ranges, shadows, and lights.
I have a little study that you saw at the beginning, the little insert at the beginning
of the lesson, and you saw the original.
It’s a Rembrandt.
It looks like a lot of the Rembrandts.
You have a lot of heavy darks.
The face goes into three-quarter shadow.
Most of the outfit is black.
You have a background that is a dark gray.
We’re going to talk about that in just a moment.
The paint that I have down is black and white, and I have a lot more white than black.
I have almost as much as in a little tube of paint.
That’s one of the downsides of painting.
You use a lot of paint when you paint alla prima as opposed to rendering.
There will be classes for rendering.
This is painting from life, painting in a sketch style.
Alla prima is what it’s called, meaning wet into wet.
You end up using a lot of paint.
There are recordings or records of students watching Sargent paint, and they said they
couldn’t believe how much paint he put down on his palette, and how much paint he would
mix together into the pots of color that he’d work from.
Yet, by the end of the painting, it didn’t look gobbed on at all.
So you end up needing a lot of paint.
One of the things with paint is once you put down a color or value on your canvas, if you
need to modify that, change it because it’s wrong, render up to light half-tones and highlights.
Anytime you try and cover what’s on your canvas, you really need about twice as much
paint on your brush as is on the canvas.
If you put down a nice stroke of juicy paint and you want to cover it, you have to really
load up your brush to cover on top of it.
Now the other thing you can do, you can come in and take a palette knife and scrape off
most of that paint, but sometimes you’re not able to do that because it’s the rendered
side of the face, maybe, and you’re just trying to build up that surface to your final color.
If you come in with a big old palette knife,
you’re going to end up mucking up the surrounding area.
In general you have to do a lot of coverage.
We always want to paint nice and dry so that we have a dry foundation to put more paint on.
You’ll be able to build more paint up, and you could actually build a tremendous amount
of paint up.
That’s called impasto, when it’s extra thick, way thicker than it would need to be
for the rendering involved.
There will be all sorts of tricks and problems we’ll run into as we start painting.
Last lesson we found that when we painted our one value up against the next, it dirtied
our brush, and that becomes a real mechanical issue, a process issue, where you have to
be disciplined enough to clean your brush off each time it’s polluted by a neighboring
color or value.
So all sorts of fun stuff like that that we’ll get to you, but we’ll work through that
as quickly as we can.
You can work in a smaller brush or a bigger brush.
The bigger brush—and this is not a huge brush—but we’ll work in something that’s
basically a thick pencil in effect, the shape of it, so it’s somewhat familiar if you
sketch at all.
The bigger the brush the quicker you can cover, but the less nooks and crannies you can get into.
Now, this lesson we’re going to work rather crudely, and I’m going to show you value,
kind of the range of things we can do with value, or as we would say tonal composition
is the fancy way of saying it, but just designing in value.
When we design in value, we want to work rather crudely.
Notice that the little sketch that I have here took me maybe two or three minutes to do.
All I did was I took some newsprint and used a Sharpie that was partially dried out.
I love working with these.
I’ll actually do work from the model and do 5, 10, 20-minute sketches with these.
The nice thing about this is that I can’t change my mind.
I can’t erase it.
That’s good for sketching.
When you’re working and you change a lot, you’re just going to be stumbling around.
You might change and change and change and end up with a masterpiece, but oftentimes
you don’t know how you got there.
You’re better off making a decision, covering your canvas with your paint or making your
marks on your paper as you’re drawing, and if it’s wrong, stop there and start over.
Then do another one and see if you can’t do it better.
That way you create your own kind of how-to lesson.
Do it this way, no.
Do it this way, no.
Do it this way, yes.
Then you start to see why it’s getting better or why it’s getting worse.
Each time you have to make a major change better to start over and try again.
These markers work great because you can’t change it and you’re forced to start over.
What I do is in these little studies—we’re going to do it in paint.
I did this to show you, I’ll keep a sketchbook just of little sketches like this where I’ll
look at my favorite paintings.
In this case, it’s a Rembrandt portrait, but it could be a photograph that you see
in a magazine.
It could be sitting on a park bench and seeing some little seen from life.
It can be very simple things, still lifes, a coffee cup with a black coffee inside the
white cup on the middle value tablecloth, all sorts of basic scenes.
Just start copying them, really not copying the.
That’s a bad choice of words.
That’s what you’re really trying to do.
You’re trying to work that creative muscle so you can see the world and have a solution
Translate it into something that is hopefully meaningful, but at this stage, in terms of
just learning our craftsmanship, is useful.
It gets us down to a simple—I’m tempted to say easy, but nothing in art is easy, unfortunately.
But a simpler version of the world that we can work with.
If we can simplify it we can redesign it.
We can get control of it.
We can render it more easily.
If we can simplify what that simple statement says a lot right off the bat.
In two minutes we have the most important things about that Rembrandt.
It’s not masterpiece yet, but the most important ideas about that were the values and the shapes.
Notice even the shapes aren’t that great.
I didn’t try and get the head turned just right.
I just kind of squiggled it down.
I never even made a line.
I actually made a line right there.
But I just filled it in.
It can be ragged and loose and incorrect.
It’s not quite the right proportions to the original.
He should be smaller in the frame.
I don’t care about those nuances.
I’ll work those out in the drawing stage.
This is the painting stage, the tonal composition stage.
What I want to know is what are the darker values and what are the lighter values?
Specifically what I want to think about is the three values.
Now, when we rendered our snowman last lesson, we did two values.
Anytime you do an object, the flesh or the red shirt or the blue denim pants, whenever
you do a local object you’re just going to render that, design it in two values, the
light side against the shadow side.
When you end up with a scene that has maybe several different local color objects, the
costume in this case, his hat, the cloak, the metal neck piece,
the flesh and the hair maybe.
You’ve got four or five or six local objects and even a rather simple scene, and you have
the light and shadow pattern on each.
That doubles it up.
If you have five objects you were painting, you’d have ten values to deal with.
The light and shadow side of each object.
We are going to reduce that down.
Well, if it was just painting the flesh, we’d reduce it down to two.
But since it’s a foreground, background relationship, and we have all that other stuff
thrown in, we’re going to make it three, three values.
Now, when we do that, notice how much we’ve lost.
We’ve lost, in this case, the light and shadow pattern on the cloak.
We’ve lost the light and shadow pattern on the hat.
We’ve had to simplify the background into just a simple gradation.
Then we’re leftover with a light and shadow pattern on the face and the gorget and maybe
And so we’ve simplified most everything to focus you right here in the portrait area,
the face and that collar that acts as the face.
That’s the trick in art.
It’s always the trick in art.
It’s simplifying things down and editing most things out so that what is leftover is
That’s what we’re after.
These little studies.
Creating a sketchbook.
It doesn’t have to be a ring bound sketchbook.
It can be loose pieces of paper, Xerox paper or a legal pad or something, just sketch on that.
Just start translating whatever you see.
Look at old master works, photographs, all that stuff.
Just translate it and do it into three values.
No matter how complicated, make it three values.
Most of the Brown School painters would work in three values.
Every once in a while you can sneak into a fourth.
Once you get into five, there is too much going on to really control it.
Now you’re kind of copying everything because you’re trying to match every up there, in
What we want to do is reduce it down to three.
We’re going to get light against shadow, foreground against background, and a lot of
those contrasts are going to get lost.
We’ve lost the light and shadow here.
Maybe in another area we lose the foreground-background relationship.
It’s all gone.
All that other stuff is gone, I should say, for the most important area, what I deem the
most important area.
That’s how we get our style too because when we start making these big choices, they
are going to be different choices sometimes than somebody else.
I’ll show you a little bit of that.
That’s going to make it personal and unique and important.
When we see something new and fresh and unique, that’s important to the world to see that
That’s what we’re after, three values.
The other thing we want to think of—let me take a little bit of my black paint and
thin it out with turpentine or equivalent solvent.
I’m going to make a little scale here.
Here is 10.
This is black.
Here is one.
This is white.
Now, we’re not quite to white because we added newsprint, which is a light gray paper,
so we weren’t quite to white, but we’re awful close to black.
Let’s say I made that a nice black marker, and we made it totally black.
My value range is in here.
It could have been in here.
The very lightest thing in my painting is way up here.
The very darkest thing in my painting—well, it’s not truly black.
The very darkest thing in my painting is here.
So I’m working from maybe 2 to 9 or 2 to 8-1/2 or somewhere in there, not one white
or 10 black, somewhere in the middle.
That’s typically the realist range.
When you look at reality, usually nothing gets dead black because there is not only
the direct light source but there is reflected light, bouncing light.
So nothing gets dead black.
Usually it doesn’t get quite true white.
Even a bright highlight on the nose or on a ring that’s catching light.
Usually it’s not dead white.
It’s a little bit off that.
If you could imagine the spotlight which is almost always off camera,
that would be the white.
Maybe that’s even the white because the sun shines even brighter.
There is always an excuse to find something brighter and lighter on both ranges.
Generally, something that’s going to look realistic, our experience is we’re going
to back off our very whitest, lightest value, and back off our very darkest value.
When you’re designing your tonal composition, ignore little dabs.
Maybe you get a nostril or an inner ear gets super duper black, but it’s just a little
dot of black.
You get a highlight on the nose that is super white, but it is just a little dot of white.
Don’t look a those little accents, the little highlights and little deep, thin crevices
between the fingers or something, look at the silhouetted areas.
A big shape, this against this.
The light and shadow pattern, maybe the cast shadow on the background.
Look at those big, mapped out shapes, those big designed shapes and plot those out.
As we learn with a snowman, if we’re going to do the light side of the flesh, we want
to start out a little gray.
We don’t want to be pure white.
We want to be a little gray so that we can put that highlight on the nose at the end.
We might even start down here to begin.
That gives us room to put our highlight in at the very end.
We key into the highlight.
We’re looking at the big shapes, not the little dabs or little accents.
Now, if we were to make it a three-value system.
Let’s say we’re here, we’re here, and here’s number five right in the middle,
Pure white, pure black.
Middle value of five.
We have a middle value on our painting we’re going to do too.
It’s a gradation.
But let’s just think of it as a flat pattern at the moment, a flat shape, a flat value.
We’ll make it number five, let’s say.
So now we’re at, let’s just say 2, 8, and 5.
Let’s make it 2, 9, simpler, 2, 9, 5.
It’s broken up equally.
Typically, what the tonal painter wants to do is you want, you’ve got three values
Everything has been reduced down to three values.
You want two values to be closer together and one value to be different.
Look what happens.
Let’s get rid of our gradation and push the background down to a middle value.
Typically, what the artist will do is they will use two values and make them quite close,
in this case a 7 and a 9 or a 6-1/2 and an 8-1/2, whatever it is.
Get them pretty close together.
What they will do then is those two close values will frame and surround the more excited,
the more separate, the more different value, in this case the light value on the face and
maybe the highlights of the gorget.
By pushing my middle value down a little closer to my darkest value, it’s framed this light
value and made that more impactful.
As a tonal composer, one of our choices is not to make it 1, 5, 10, but back off our
values a little bit, and then take the middle value 5 and move it down.
Or we could move it up in another situation.
Move it down in this case closest to the darkest value so the overall painting is dark with
a spot, a little pot of light that catches our attention.
That framing technique gives weight to it and makes it more dramatic, more exciting.
What we go to is the area of greatest contrast, the difference.
If that one area is quite different than everything else, we go there quickly, strongly, we get
a great powerful read to our painting, and it feels more dramatic.
We could push it the other way too.
We could make the background very very light so it’s maybe a 3-1/2.
Then that would frame and make more interesting, that hat and the cloak.
By doing that, the face would become less interesting because it’d start to fade away
with the background.
We’d see the dark spot of the hat and the dark spot of the cloak.
You can start to see, we can make, even in the simplest of setups we can start to make
quite different choices and specifically different choice than our friend next to us is painting,
and that’s going to make it unique.
That’s what we’re going to do right now.
We’re going to do several little studies of this in value, and I’m going to show
you the possibilities just in a very simple setup with only three values.
We can come up with a bunch of little tonal compositions.
And so let’s do that.
How I’m doing it in paint is more or less how I did it in marker here.
I’m going to do one here.
If you need a little bit of information to work with just do something very, very crude.
Now, I’m going to get my light face.
White gets polluted much more quickly.
Here is a very light gray over here from our last painting adventure.
White gets very easily polluted.
I’m going to tend to make my structure vertical when I can so it doesn’t get glaring.
I’m going to put my lighter value down first because it’ll be cleaner that way.
You can see how crude this is right off the bat.
Now I’m going to do my background value.
I’m going to thin this out just slightly because I know I’m not going to paint on
this and render it any farther.
I’m going to thin it out a little bit just for speed, just so I can move through this
quickly for your benefit, and we can get more done in a single lesson.
You can see how I’m scrubbing that paint on.
I could put it on real thick but if I do my initial lay-in scrubbed on then it’s not
super thick to build on top.
If I decide that’s a nice start, I’m going to start rendering that.
Finish that out in a really beautiful little jewel of a painting.
I could build on this easily.
I wanted a technique that starts me out ringing true, and then I can build on it and refine.
Here is my very dark almost black.
I left the lighter gray, that middle gray on my brush.
And you can see it’s no masterpiece.
I’m not trying to do anything clever.
I’m just trying to get some ideas down.
There is the gorget.
I want to make sure that white canvas is gone.
I want the basic big spots.
Let’s get that lighter.
Big spots just like that.
One, two, three values.
Let’s do it again.
Now just for fun, I’m going to do my dark value first because when I do my light value
it’s going to be easily destroyed by this dark.
It’s good practice to have to try to do that.
I’m going to make it, let’s make it a little bit lighter so we’re not dead black again.
We’re just going to change one thing each time.
I don’t know if you can hear it.
There is our geese.
There are Canadian geese in the area.
They fly over every morning and tend to say hi to me right when I’m doing my morning lectures.
Okay, there is that.
Now I’m going to do the background value.
This time I’m going to make the background much lighter.
I’m lightening this up.
It’s a dark gray to begin with, and every time I add white it kind of sucks down into
that gray and doesn’t change much.
I’m going to take a little bit of it and come out here, and you can see how quickly
I’m using up a lot of the paint.
Now here is the—notice I turn my brush this way.
I’m pushing it up against the edge.
If I do this I’m going to do drag that black out into the light value, and it’s going
to buck me up.
I stroked it like that.
Got that side dirty.
I flipped the brush over.
Stroked the other side.
Now both sides are dirty.
Wipe that off, reload.
Even something this crude, you can see I dragged a little bit of that dirty paint out so I
have to cover it up, reload on my brush to cover my dirty little mistake.
Just pushing it up against.
I’m not worrying about the proportions.
I don’t try and make each one exactly the same, just ballpark.
Clean that off.
Now I’m going to wipe my brush off.
Come and get my lighter load.
There is my face.
Oftentimes I’ll just move along and make them almost little swatches just trying to
get the relationship.
Notice now that the light face and the middle value background grouped together and framed
the shadow on the face and the costume.
Now we have a very different effect than what Rembrandt did by just changing one value,
the middle value.
We just pushed that up.
Now it’s quite different.
Alright, so we have three values.
Generally we don’t use the full range of values.
We don’t go dead black.
We don’t go dead white.
There will be times where you want to.
If you’re painting a guy in a tuxedo you might want to just go ahead and push that
down to a black or the shirt up to a white.
You have that full range to work with.
That middle value, we want to play games with.
We want to—it could be right in the middle or it can get much, much darker, or it can
get much, much lighter.
We could do a third one here where this gets much darker.
Maybe this got a little darker here.
Maybe we pushed this down even darker.
That goes darker and we get an even more dramatic effect which is more or less what we had here,
and that’s why I didn’t do it.
Now we have three distinctly different choices.
Is that all we can do with it?
Is that all we can do with it?
We can do even more.
We can keep going.
We can go 8 or 10 or 15 quite different possibilities.
Now let me show you something else.
Clean off my brush and put this one down.
Let’s do another one.
Let me make it smaller so we have room to work.
Alright, now I’m going to paint it again.
This time I’m going to put on my sunglasses.
Not actually but symbolically, I guess.
Now I’m going to make this the light side of the flesh, and I’m going to make a dead black.
Thin it out just a touch so I can cover.
You can hear the scratching sound.
That canvas has a real tooth.
It’s a bit of burlap.
My main goal here is speed.
I want to get as many choices as I can as quickly as I can.
If this is too crude and abstracted for you, you just can’t really see it well enough
to understand whether it’s a good choice or bad choice then we can do another version
of this using exactly the same values and do a more careful study.
We’ll do a more careful study of another lesson where we make it a little prettier.
This is not pretty.
We’re just trying to cover, get down our ideas.
It’s important, actually, to stay crude because we’re trying to get the big ideas.
We don’t want to get seduced by the beautiful drawing of the face or the hands or the shiny
metal textures of the different surfaces.
If we get caught up in those, we’ll miss the design issues.
What we want is a design choice that is striking, interesting, and hopefully different.
Hopefully our choice is different than everybody else in the gallery or in class or whatever.
You can hear that scratching.
I’m wearing that brush down like sandpaper.
It’ll take a few paintings to do.
Let me give him a more flamboyant shape here, turn those vertical so they don’t get glossy.
Okay, there we go.
I put my sunglasses on, and what I’m saying is if you put your sunglasses on the world
Now instead of starting way up at the top and going way down to the bottom as we did
in these near the top or near the bottom, now I’m going to start out maybe here, maybe
4 or 4-1/2 all the way down to 10.
So, this is the full range I could use.
Nature uses a tremendous amount more.
They can get way lighter than us.
We can use this much.
But of all of that, I only use this much.
In fact, I backed off the blackest a little bit and I was in here.
Now I’ve got room if I need to do a little black rendering on there for the darker folds.
I’ve got room to go into the blacks.
Look at—dramatic pause—look at how bright the highlight would be on that.
That is not even white.
I took that out of my light gray.
That’s not even white and look at how it pops off.
The moral of the story is we can play games with this scale.
We can say I’m doing to do a full range, extra contrasting, all the way up to white
and black to make it super contrasting because most people are going to work in the realistic
They are going to back off those extremes.
That’ll make me different.
That’ll make the setup, this painting more interesting, more beautiful, more exciting,
more dramatic, more whatever.
Now, maybe this next painting I’m going to paint down here in the lower half.
Now you can start to see where we’re going.
Let’s do another one.
There is my face.
There is my background.
Notice what we’re doing by this exercise.
We are designing a better painting.
Better might not absolutely be better.
It might be but it will be different than everybody else in that gallery.
When they come to that group show exhibit yours is going to stand out.
Everybody else did this and you did that.
Let’s get rid of that white highlight.
We wouldn’t want that in there.
It’s a subtle dark painting so we want subtle dark details.
And so really ease into it.
That might be the highlight.
Just subtly different.
Now I’m putting in real dark darks.
What everybody else in the gallery made is black because they saw black.
The model came in with a black outfit.
Look what I’m doing.
Notice also whatever my rendering technique, however much I want to render it, however
skillful I am at rendering it, this design stage doesn’t affect that at all.
I can render this beautifully, and we’ll do some paintings where we take them farther
in these different registers.
I can paint this absolutely beautifully.
I wish I could paint it as well as Rembrandt, but I can paint it as well as I can paint
I can paint it as well as the next person maybe.
Mine will be more striking because it’s different.
It’s a different.
In my world we look through gauze at everything.
We look through the screen door.
Everything is a faded, misty morning at the beach.
And so this is my world.
Very different than everybody else.
Everybody else is going to try and copy the world.
Even artists who spent years and years and years working, they’re going to copy.
We’re translating it into something that’s different.
Just by making it different it makes it more interesting.
You might say I hate light value paintings and I love putting in those deep dark blacks,
so maybe that’s not the choice for you, but understanding that you have the choice
is very important.
You can make other choices.
So now what did we do?
We could have gone from white to black.
Everybody else in the gallery went from 2 to 9.
We went now from one to 5, let’s say, one to 4 or something like that.
Could we get it one to 3?
Could we get it one to 2-1/2?
How far could we push that up the register or how far could we push that down,
We could another one which is super contrasting and we could do another one that’s in the
mid ranges in here.
All of a sudden we’ve got realistic and we’ve got contrasting, let’s say.
We’ve got dark registered down in the bottom half of the value range, high registered up
in the upper half of the value range.
You’ve got five distinct different ones.
Then we could come back and say, well, that middle value should be right in the middle,
2, 9, 5.
No, it should be closer to the upper end.
In my realistic one I can push it in the middle, push it to the upper end.
I’ll push it way down in the lower end so that the background is very close to the darkest
Three choices, three new value studies based on where you’re pushing that middle value.
You can do that for each one.
Three here, 3 here, 3 here.
There is 15 all of a sudden.
Now, on top of that, we can do gradation.
Gradation won’t completely change your value composition, but it will refine it.
Let me show you what gradation does.
Let’s do it.
I’m just going to work over the top of these just to save time.
If we do gradation now here is what happens.
You haven’t changed your overall tonal composition.
It’s still realistic or contrasting or in the light range or in the dark range, but
you’ve fine-tuned it.
Now I’ve taken that mid-range background, and I’ve pushed it much darker or a little
darker at the top and much darker or a—or I’m sorry, much lighter or a little lighter
at the bottom.
By doing that, I made the hat less interesting, and I made the outfit more interesting.
I could also gradate it this way.
I’m also going to gradate it this way.
Now I make the right side of the canvas less interesting and
the left side more interesting.
Now I can fine tune this any way I want.
I could do three or four more studies, fine tuning that.
Maybe I’m going to gradate that down this way so that the face is more interesting.
By gradating that mid range down darker until it gets to the bottom, I’ve made the face
Maybe by gradating this lighter on this side I frame the whole silhouette of the head and
made the whole head more interesting.
But I can reverse it the other way.
I can push it down darker here so that that cloak is less interesting, meaning it separates
less well, less contrastingly from the background.
The foreground and background start to get lost.
Now that cloak is a less interesting part of this composition than it was.
The hat becomes more interesting.
Notice the face and the background still are all but lost.
The difference between those is very very close, the middle value and the light value.
But now through gradation...I’ve made the hat more interesting.
I can make it more interesting yet.
Let’s do this.
Gradate at an angle across this way.
Think of a compass.
You can go north to south, east to west, northwest to southeast, any direction you want, light
to dark or dark to light.
Now I really push that part of the hat stronger, and I’ve made the top of the forehead even
I’ve lost those completely, and only at the bottom—I’ll make it just slightly
stronger here so you can see it—only at the bottom of the face does it separate at all.
I could also do a gradation in the costume, just the costume.
There is that hat.
I’m going to make that even darker, black now.
I’m going to make the cloak just a dark gray so the cloak is almost completely lost
down at the bottom.
Any silhouette I can gradate.
I can gradate the face, just the face and light from light to dark or dark to light
or dark to light to dark.
Any which way I want.
I might have to hop, skip, and jump over interruptions going down to the white pants interrupted
and then the black shoes are part of it.
I jump and gradate all through the blacks.
Hopscotch all the way down through that.
I can do the background, of course.
Every single silhouetted value in my composition can have a gradation from dark to light or
light to dark.
I’m going to make my neckpiece and face gradate from light to dark.
That’s what Rembrandt actually does in his paintings.
He will always have the light strong here.
It’ll blast out the forehead and it’ll slowly roll off the face getting darker and
darker and darker.
If the hands are in the lap it’ll go way dark and oftentimes even be in
shadow dropping off.
And so he does a gradation from the face through in this case a lighter collar.
Let’s pretend we can see the hands folded across the chest.
The hands would be even darker down here.
We did a gradation all the way through.
We had to leap over this interruption.
Look at the possibilities now with gradation.
We can gradate in any direction in any silhouetted value we want for any effect, to make things
more contrasting, less contrasting, to create just a movement so we feel like we want to
move through that painting.
It’s that boring background.
It gets a little interesting because it changes as it moves from left to right, let’s say.
But also, by doing that I make the right side of the costume less interesting.
Now how many little studies do we have in value.
I don’t know.
It’s a lot.
We can do realistic super-contrasting dark value, light value.
We never even did the middle value.
We can move the middle value of our three-value composition to the light so it’s closer
to the lightest value, or we can move it down toward the darkest value.
Then we can put gradation in any of those silhouettes or all those silhouettes in any
direction we want.
We’ve got hundreds of little composition we can work out.
Each one is going to be a very sophisticated that most realist painters
never even think about.
All they do is they go, now, what value is that?
Let me see what value that is?
Then they try to paint that value.
Then they go to the next spot.
They try and paint that value.
They desperately try and cover the white canvas with realism.
You’re not a realist painter.
This will never be realistic.
Even if we do a great, great rendering.
Rembrandt is not a realist painter.
These are abstract ideas.
This is just values of mud, dirty mud that we’re putting on there.
Later it’ll be colored mud.
It’s just abstract marks.
There are marks that reference the real world, though, and suggest ideas in the real world,
and we can make that connection just like in an animated—or not animated, in a comic
book or a comic strip.
If I do a little shape like this and then put words in that, you understand that the
character down here is saying those worlds.
If the worlds are in bold type you understand that the character is shouting those words.
There are certain conventions.
If I do a smiley face, even a little baby will get the idea.
There are certain conventions that we all agree on.
And so if we reference the real world through that different value, different plane idea.
Notice what we’re doing here.
Once we have an environment we say the light side is a different value than the shadow
side, different value, different plane.
We get that boxy idea very crudely here.
It’s just a design idea.
We’re going to do our careful drawing and a careful rendering on top of that another time.
We’re getting that idea.
Different value, different plane.
If we make it the same value it’s the same plane.
The hat and the cloaks and the shadow of the face all stay on the same level.
They go flat.
Here is another way that formula works.
Now watch, different value, different plane.
Same value, same plane.
Different value, different plane.
Same value, same plane.
If you make the background a different value or when you render it a different value range
in the foreground it will separate.
That’s what the tonal painters, the Brown School indoor painters like Rembrandt and
Titian and Caravaggio did so beautifully well is they made the environment a different value
or with our gradations a different value range than the foreground, and we get this powerful,
beautiful emotive pop of shape and space, and it moves us forward as a figure and back
in the background.
You do to a Rembrandt, you feel like you can reach your hand in and pull your missing keys
out of that background.
It feels so deep.
That’s the values working.
The Impressionists, the outdoor painters did it through color, temperature shifts.
Temperature and intensity shifts much more than the value, but they had their own strategy
for showing that depth.
But as a realist painter, and we’re not truly realist painters, but trying to capture
the ideas of nature, we have different value, different plane.
Same value, same plane.
Different value, different plane.
They are going to separate in space.
If you can make the background a wholy different value than the foreground.
In Rembrand’s world, the foreground is full value and the background is middle value.
Rembrandt gets very light and very dark almost always in the foreground and stays in the
midrange almost always in the background.
We get that distinctly different value range from background to foreground and it says
depth to our eye because that’s our experience in the real world.
That is tonal composition.
That is a lot of fun, I think.
We can just play.
There is no pressure to make it perfect.
It can be teacups.
It can be eggs on a towel.
You can take it out in the backyard and paint.
You’re just translating what you see into three simple values and then playing games
with those values and value ranges for effect.
Make it all dark.
Make it all light.
Make it middle.
Make it super contrasting.
Make it back off into more of a realistic contrast.
Then middle value can crowd the dark value or crowd the light value.
We can do gradations every which way but just pick—when you do them just pick one.
Gradate one and leave the others.
Then gradate another.
Then do another set of them where you just do a couple.
You gradate a couple and then leave the rest.
Just ease into it.
You’ll end up with scores and scores of these little studies.
Each one takes you maybe 5 or 10 minutes at most.
You can do it in marker.
You can do a grayed-out maker or you can cross-hatch the middle value.
You can have two markers, a black marker and a gray marker.
If you want to get fancy you get a whole range of gray markers so some of the markers, the
middle grays are almost as dark as the black.
Others are almost as light as the light.
You can play those value games again and play that third middle value up and down the scale,
crowding one of the other values.
You’re just going to translate, translate, translate.
What you’re doing is you’re teaching yourself how to start a painting, which is crucial.
We’re learn to do the same thing over a more careful drawing.
We’ll just slow down as we scrub in our three values and make sure that the shapes
are a little better design.
We’ll refine the shape design.
But the value will be exactly the same thinking.
The tonal composition will be exactly the same thinking.
This is exactly how Rembrandt worked and Sargent worked and Titian worked and Zorn worked and
All these guys worked the same way.
They may have done it with thinner paint or thicker paint.
They might have done it over more careful drawings, but the process was exactly this.
If you want to learn to paint anything like them you want to get control of this.
Listen to this lecture several times and sketch while you’re listening.
Just knock them out.
Do hundreds of them over the next few years.
Do it all through your career constantly seeking to translate, constantly thinking for a new
voice, a new way to see that same old idea.
If you have fun with it, I think this is lots of fun.
It’s something you can do if you’re never even picked up a brush before now.
It’s something you can do if you’re at the top of your career and have been doing
it 20, 30 years.
We’re going to take that Rembrandt that we pictured and analyzed in value last lesson,
and we’re going to do a little quick demo of it this lesson.
We’re not going to take it too far.
We’re going to get the basic shapes down so we’re going to do a little more careful
We’re going to get a little bit of this structure and form.
Not lots of it.
I’m not going to talk too much about specific structure.
We’ll save that for a different lecture.
But I want to show you how I can get a painting going so you can kind of visualize how it
would go towards the finish if we were to take it farther.
Now, what I did on my surface here, this is the same surface we had last lesson.
I just took a big—you can see my scrubbed down brush.
It was a flat that got turned into a poor man’s filbert here.
I just put a little bit of turpenoid, little bit of solvent on it and scrubbed it down.
You can even see a little bit of the old scale here, some of the boxes and stuff in there.
I just rubbed it, scrubbed it down, took a paper towel and rubbed it down
so it was fairly even.
The paper towel, when you scrub the little paper fibers tend to come off and stick to them.
You get the little goobers on there.
I took a cloth towel and wiped it down to get the last of it down.
Then I did just a light little sketch here of the face.
I’m not doing the same composition.
I’m doing a little bit more close-up of the face so it’s bigger for you and the
I just started to sketch it out and then rubbed it back just to place it here.
We’re going to sketch it again.
I’ll show you how we do that.
I’m going to use a thinner brush, a smaller brush here, and I’m just going to thin out.
I’m dipping down into the solvent.
I’m just going to thin out some paint.
I have the same little pots of mixed gray that I had in the last lesson.
I just left them.
Now, if this were a color painting, these were colors that we’d use last lesson, I’d
scrape then down and get rid of them.
Since it’s a black and white I don’t have to worry about my colors getting dirty, I
just have to worry about my values getting dirty.
I want to make sure that doesn’t happen, but short of that I can use what was there
before rather than wasting it.
I’ve got the image down below me here so I’m going to glance down to it as I work.
Make it just thin enough.
Not so it drips but so it glides smoothly over the surface.
That’s one of those nature of material things.
You’ll have to play with it until you find that mix that works for you.
You don’t want to have to scrub too hard or work too hard to get the line.
You don’t want it too sloppy and so you find that balance in between.
The face is looking off this way.
Sometimes a little center line and then you can build the features on each side.
This is a Rembrandt so that means there is little or no information in the shadows, which
is a good thing.
It’s less work for us.
It’s more dramatic for our audience because all they will see is the light side, and they
will imagine for us the shadow side.
We get a little bit of this eye socket here.
He has kind of a broken nose character that Rembrandt chose to paint in this one, or in
this case, was commissioned to paint.
You can see it takes about five minutes or so to get a simple construction here, simple
I’ll explain what I did here in a second, the way these portrait artists think.
The original comes way down to almost his waist.
We’re just making kind of a bust shot of it which is not unusual at all in portraiture.
Just doing it kind of from the chest up or mid rib cage up.
Raphael did a very famous painting that was this proportion, and that kind of started
the fad of it.
Okay, so there is my lay-in.
Now, notice since we’re working on a toned surface here, look what happens as soon as
I add any lighter value.
It just pops right off.
If I put the highlight on the nose which we won’t do yet because that’s a little idea;
we want to get the big, simple ideas.
If I were to do any light immediately jumps off.
The advantage of working on toned paper when you’re drawing or doing pastels or a toned
canvas is you get rid of that nasty white surface.
The white canvas is your enemy.
It’s going to destroy the idea of an illusion of light, a mood and atmosphere.
As long as we have the white there, it’s doing to fight us.
One of our big hurdles is just to get rid of the white and put in values and/or colors
Where if I tone the canvas, now immediately I’ve gotten rid of that killer of illusions,
the white canvas, and I can go right to work.
I can come in and add the darker shadow or the lighter lights, and I’ve got it.
Typically, when I tone the canvas, I’ll make it kind of the mid to dark half-tones,
and so I’ll need to go darker yet for most of the shadow, most or all the shadow and
lighter yet for most of the rendering up to the lighter half-tones and highlights.
I have a mid-range that I can push in both directions nicely.
We can go either way with this.
We can start with the shadows we can start with the lights.
Let’s start with the lights because it’s easier.
If I put the white paint down or the lighter value paint, I should say, in this fellow
you can refer to the beginning of the lecture you’ll see a picture of him, this character
that we’re painting.
He is pretty blasted out with light so I’m going to start with a pretty light color.
Notice that the drawing I did was not a super drawing.
I didn’t really work out the eyelids and exactly where the eyebrow is.
I didn’t do any of that.
I didn’t do it on purpose because if I do I’ll try and paint around those ideas, and
then I’m just going to be copying a drawing, really, kind of filling in around the drawing.
It’s not going to do well.
I’m going to lose that little, where the cheek meets the nose meets the mouth, I’m
going to lose a good chunk of the underside of that nose that was in shadow.
Here are the lips.
Anytime I see thin dark lines or thin little shapes, I’m just going to paint
right through them.
I’m going to paint the light of the mouth out, and I’m going to catch our chin here.
There is also a beard and a darker side of the jawline that I drew in there and that
I’ll want to render in there.
I’m going to take that out for now.
I’m disrespecting my drawing.
Little bit of a highlight down here, little bit of a highlight here.
Kind of the gun metal gorget, it’s called.
It’s a piece of armor.
Okay, so there is my light.
Took about five minutes or whatever to put in, probably less than that.
I’m going to let this be my shadows because they’re fairly light shadows and I want
this really black, dark outfit to really stand out.
I’m going to back if off of black.
I’m going to make it a very dark gray.
I don’t want to use full black.
I just want to save the last little bit of value.
Little darker than that, there we go.
Just scrub it in.
When I come up to the shadowy forehead with the brim of the hat, I move along the border
between the two and ease up to that line.
If I go over that line I’ll correct it later.
Now, Rembrandt worked thinly in the shadows.
We’re not going to do that.
We’re going to work like a Frans Hall or a Zorn, Sorolla.
We’re going to paint thick everywhere.
In a different lecture I’ll show you wet over dry techniques, wet over dry.
They are wonderful.
You can do some terrific effects with it.
You can get much more careful detail than you can usually working alla prima, wet into
wet as we’re doing now.
But in terms of mileage producing a lot of paintings, specifically a lot of starts of
paintings, we’re going to get kind of start to midrange or maybe not even midrange on
this little demo, but we’ll get the mileage, learn how the relationships work.
There is nothing that beats the alla prima styles.
You can just get more mileage.
You can learn so much more so much quicker.
You’re not going to learn a lot about different techniques doing this.
The wet on wet is a specific technique.
It has its advantages and its’ problems, and it has its limitations.
Now I’m going to stroke these things vertically so it’s not so shiny.
Anyway, we can’t have all things for all people, these techniques.
So we’re going to work this way.
I should point out now, when you’re trying to figure out, I’m just doing a copy of
He’s made all of the creative choices.
I’m just trying to understand and match these choices.
In that sense I’m really copying what’s going on here.
If I had the model up on the stand over here looking up as I paint, what I’m going to
have to do is make those decisions myself.
Since I’m looking at a printed page, I can match exactly the values on the printed page
and put down here.
With enough time I can match all the details.
I’m never going to match the beauty of Sargent’s paint quality, but I can get all that basic
craft stuff down carefully.
But when we’re working from nature, when we’re working from life, that model on the
stand, the model on the beach, the landscape, the still life, now we’re trying to capture
nature onto the canvas, and we’re working in pigment.
Nature works with light.
The two don’t get along very well.
Nature has way more ammunition than we have.
There is no way we can do it.
If we were to put that model into a fluorescent light situation, a real soft kind of ambient
light, kind of a fill light.
Then we could get pretty close to what nature is doing because it’s kind of a dead light
without a lot of kick to it.
Cloudy day we can get somewhat close.
But still, we’re not going to match it.
Anytime we get a direct light source we have a huge problems.
Here is the biggest problem.
We’re painting with white paint.
As far as nature is concerned, this is a gray, a middle value gray.
We consider it the very lightest thing we could put on our page.
What I have here is slightly darker than this.
I can go even lighter than that.
That’s not nature’s light.
We are back in the shadows, in effect, painting that figure.
He is spot-lit with his cheek inside of his face in the light.
The spotlight is on him.
The north light is on him.
The sunlight is on him.
It’s not on us, oftentimes.
We’re back outside of that light source painting it.
We’re in the shadows.
Or we can say we’re going to put exactly the same north light spotlight sunlight on
our painting as we have there.
Well, if we did that then our white paint would match the white shirt he had on or the
almost white flesh he would have on it.
Then our shadows wouldn’t be true shadows.
This would be black paint in light as opposed to there it would be his black outfit, whatever
the fabric is, velvet or something, going into shadow.
In one way or another we’re never going to match nature’s range.
Either our painting, since it’s flat, is all in light, or more likely, it’s all in
Then we can’t match the other side.
Nature is getting both.
Nature is doing light and shadow.
We’re just doing one or the other.
I say usually shadow because that’s usually what you want to do.
If you’re outside, typically you’re going to have an umbrella or you’re going to turn
your canvas away from the sunlight.
If you put it right in the sunlight it’s going to glare, and it’s going to be hard
to see exactly what you’re getting down there.
The paint is going to get glossy and shiny when it’s wet, and it’s going to destroy
your chances of seeing it.
We want to be outside of that strong direct light.
If you’re in a studio where you’re lucky enough to have north light, skylight, then
you can be in the light if you want.
But again, you’re not able to get those shadowy colors.
I’m thinning this paint out a little bit just to speed things along.
I’m not going to do any rendering down in here.
We’re going to spend all of our rendering time in the face and head area.
You can see that’s a little blacker.
We backed off that gray.
Now let’s get our background here.
It is, I need to get a little bit more paint up here.
It’s a little darker up top and lighter at the bottom.
We’re going to do that.
We’re going to get it darker at the top.
Again, I’m going to thin this out.
When I think the paint out it goes down quicker.
Also, it’s wetter on the surface.
Remember, when we toned the canvas, I scrubbed it down.
I scrubbed it down and that dried it out and embedded into the texture.
And so even though it’s somewhat wet because I did it right before we started, it’s somewhat wet.
It’s not drippy wet.
I’m just going to scrub this in, and the top of the hat then is going to be less interesting
than the bottom of the hat because it’s almost the same value as our background.
The bigger brush you have, the quicker this will go.
I could even switch to this brush and scrub it down.
You can see how scratchy and crude that is.
I could go slower and more carefully.
I could also take a rag, just grab a rag here.
Take a rag and get a clean area, and I could scrub this in like this.
Since it’s thin paint.
It’s really thick paint.
If it was working over fine detail I couldn’t do this.
But for a big area I could rub this out.
I’m going to let that top of that just get lost for now, and then it’s going to come
You can see how pretty quickly I got a decent gradation there.
Then let’s just accent it a little at the bottom here for effect because that’s what
We can recover our number 10 from our last lecture, that little bit.
Okay, so now I’m going this way to push my gradation of light into the middle and
darker tone I already have there.
The danger is I’ll go across into here and drag it back out.
I want to be careful I’m not pulling that paint out, and I can kind of scrub around
that edge and work its way up.
You can see how we can get that glowing effect.
Again, I could come in with a paper towel or a rag and work that into the surface and
scrub it up.
You can see I dragged a little bit out so I can get a clean spot and scrub it in and
work it out.
We’ll just stop there so we don’t spend too much time.
You can see how I can get a nice glowing effect with a little bit of work.
Spend 10-15 minutes and you can get a lovely gradation there.
We don’t care quite so much about that because that’s not our point of interest here.
Alright, now typically with a Rembrandt the light drops off a little bit as it goes.
It doesn’t drop off as dramatically on this one as it does on some others, so we’re
going to go ahead and give that little bit of drop-off at the neck.
What I’m doing is I’m just searching for my value.
I mix what I think it is, but it’s over here outside the painting on my palette.
I’m not sure what it is.
One of the things that happens is you’ve got to get to know your painting.
What you’ll end up doing is these spots of color that you mix here will slowly become
the crux colors as you adjust them that you need here, and then you’ll start to have
3 or 4 or 5 values for your half-light, your half-tone, your shadows, your background.
Maybe 8 or 10 of them that you know you can go right to.
That will be your darker half-tone.
This will be your lighter half-tone.
And so I did a little bit of gradation there.
Now, Rembrandt has that glorious light flooding up here, and it’s so light that there is
no real highlights there.
It’s just blasting out the whole area.
A highlight can hit a little area of tone, or it can blast out a whole silhouetted area.
It can hit a little spot, I should say.
I could show you what that means.
We talked a little bit about that when we did our laws of light lecture, but I will
go back over that and tell you what those highlights are going to do for us if you happen
not to watch that lecture or you forgot.
It’s just good to hear it again.
Okay, so now I’ve stroked in kind of a painterly, I’ve kind of hatched it in.
I can come back and do this carefully down, but then I’m going to get my strokes going
I’m going to keep this more painterly.
I’m going to hatch it.
What I’m doing is as I’m going down I’m going to ruin my nice background here now.
As I’m up here, I have a lot of paint on my brush, and as I go down there is paint
already on the surface.
As I go down, the paint on my brush mixes with the paint on the surface, and maybe the
first couple of strokes there is enough load on my brush that it completely covers what
But after a couple of strokes, that underneath value is going to start sneaking through and
mixing on the canvas.
And so as a painter, I have two strategies.
Well, there are three strategies really.
I can mix the value or color I need on my palette and apply it to my painting and get
enough of that color onto my brush that it covers whatever is on that painting.
Or I can mix, I can take the mixture that I have on the palette, put some on my brush,
and then hatch it or zigzag it onto the painting, and very quickly it’s going to mix with
what was underneath and you’re going to get a natural gradation.
That’s going to be one of our strategies for turning the form, for making it turn or
having something drop out of light.
I’m going to let the amount of paint that’s on my brush fail.
I’m going to end up leaving most of that paint on the surface of the painting up at
the top and then slowly drag down what’s left and let it mix with what’s already
on the painting.
In this case, it’s just scumbling over the top and we’re seeing through.
Here it’s thick enough that it’s actually mixing with the paint that’s on there.
If I need to do a little more carefully, there is a little dab of lighter so I wiped off
most of the paint off my brush, I came back and zigzagged that in more carefully to make
a careful gradation.
Now, once I get that silhouette, I’ll look back at my shadows.
Shadows are pretty good.
My shadows are a little lighter than Rembrandts, but that’s okay.
We’re going to leave that lighter.
Let’s get a little bit of the hair.
The hair is a bit darker in value, although there are little scintillating highlights
but we’re not going to worry about that.
He has kind of tight curled hair.
I’m just going to let my strokes go every which way to kind of suggest those curls without
having to draw little curly-Q shapes and render all that stuff.
When we’re painting alla prima, when we’re doing a sketch, we’re translating the world,
or in this case the painted world into something simplified and hopefully more interesting.
Now I’m not going to be more interesting than Rembrandt, but if we’re painting from
our model, a more interesting idea.
Your audience sees the world every day, but they don’t really see it.
They don’t see it the way we see it.
I’m just adjusting the ear shape with the hair shape there.
Our job is to translate the world, to teach the audience what that world can really look
like, the possibilities.
That means oftentimes simplifying, almost always simplifying because we can’t match
nature’s complexity even if we’re a photo realist.
But we can match nature’s relationships of relative light to middle to dark and notice
our three values here.
We have a dark value, a middle value, and a light value.
Now I’m starting to get a light value range as I’ve got a dark value range, but we’re
in that three-value range.
You can see how quickly we start to read that.
Now you’re doing most of the work for me at this point.
You’re seeing a face in there when it’s really not a face.
Let’s get a little bit of this gorget, that metal neck brace that shows that this is a
warrior, a warrior businessman, I guy with an honorary knighthood or something like that.
He gets to wear, they had commissioned his armor that he’s probably never really worn
except for costumed occasions.
But that may not be the case.
I actually don’t know the history of this painting.
It was maybe that he was part of the militia.
The famous painting, The Knight Guard by Rembrandt where he paints the city militia, basically.
There is a little bit just scrubbed in with gradations.
I did the same technique here.
I had a lot of dark value on it.
I scrubbed it on and let the less paint that’s on my brush.
There is less paint on the painted surface.
I get a natural gradation.
There is also a little bit of a white collar here poking through.
I can always let that be as that.
Alright, now, when we paint ahead.
Of all the things in the world to paint, the human body is the most difficult to paint,
the most difficult to draw, the most difficult to sculpt of the bodies.
Usually it’s the head that’s the most difficult, especially those eyes.
Now, one of the reasons I picked this Rembrandt is he hid most of the eyes, all of this eye,
and most of this eye in shadow.
I didn’t have to do much to it.
I won’t have to do much to it.
It made it easier on me, made a quicker demo for you.
Every portrait painter out there pretty much is a realist portrait painter is going to
paint that head as an egg.
Now it’s actually terrific to do this when you draw or paint.
More often people are willing to do it when they draw, but we’re going to do it when
Let’s put a little egg off to the side here.
Let’s render the egg with the same kind of light source.
Here is our light source coming down.
The God light from Rembrandt, that mysterious glowing light.
It’s a religious light for Rembrandt.
That lovely, beautiful, glorious light.
The figure isn’t all that attractive a guy.
It’s the light on him.
It’s the spiritual religious light on him that is glorious.
That was Rembrandt’s reasons behind painting chiaroscuro, just a basic artist technique
for creating form on a flat surface, the illusion of form on a flat surface.
He viewed it with this whole religious dogma, this religious idea to give greater meaning
to his painting and motivation for himself as he worked those hours on each surface.
There is my egg.
Just for fun, let’s put a little contrast here to separate that egg from the background.
Remember we could do our gradations and we could rub it more carefully if we wanted to
be a careful one.
Let me make it a less contrasting gradation.
That little glow helps separate the head from the background.
I wanted to do it here so you could see it better.
That’s why I did it on the head to match.
There we go.
See how easy it is to paint an egg?
That’s all this is.
The top of the egg and the left side of the egg get lighter.
The bottom of the egg and the right side of the egg darker.
That natural drop-off of value going down.
This egg is on a little popsicle stick.
The neck that pulls down here.
This egg is a bumpy egg because of the eye socket.
Eye socket is basically a ball on a hole.
We’ll learn to paint that structure another time.
I’ll do some demos of the body parts, the features and stuff.
I’ll show you the structure of them and paint as we go on.
You can see the concept is very simple.
That doesn’t make it easy to do.
It’s still going to be devilishly difficult to do, but it gives us an in into this, a
way to approach this that makes some kind of sense.
There is my egg.
There is my egg.
This little egg has a little earlobe stuck on it there.
It’s got a wedge stuck on it here.
It’s got some creased lines here for the mouth.
It’s got a ball in the hole, a little egg on the big egg for the eye socket, all that
stuff that makes it so hard, but the concept is easy.
Now we know every time any form turns up and/or to the left it gets lighter.
Any time a form turns down and/or to the right it gets darker just like the egg.
If we had an egg still life sitting behind him, same concept.
That’s what we’re after, those simple ideas.
Now, what I’m going to do is I’m not going to render so much as I’m going to use my
I’m going to use my gradation tool.
I’m sneaking my face in here so you can see me.
We’re so tight.
That’s all I did with the egg.
As I gradated it over, let me wipe that back.
Notice I can use any tool to do the gradation.
I’m going to zigzag the shadow side of the egg back into the light side of the egg.
All I did is do a gradation this way.
Then I did a gradation this way.
Notice how it was a ball and it gradated in every direction.
I gradated it across and then down.
Across first because I’ll have an ending pretty quick.
This light will end and there is nothing else here.
This light may end in shadow to the jaw and then pick up again on the neck, and then pick
up again on the gorget, and keep going down the chest, down to the hands and such.
Go across where you can get a finish.
I can finish across completely or at a simplified stage and then go down and do it again, and
then go down and do it again.
Down and across.
Down and across.
Let’s look at our eye socket here.
I’m going to take a little bit of my shadow paint.
I have to find that because it’s just scrubbed in.
I just put a dot there.
That’s too dark.
That’s pretty good.
As long as it’s close.
It doesn’t have to be exactly right.
I’ve got a gravely voice this morning.
There is the eye gradating out.
Here is a little crease of the lid.
Now I’m going to wipe my brush off because I got some light color on it.
I’m going to reload it.
I’m going to come down to wear the eye socket merges with the cheek.
I’m going to fill that in and I’m going to bring that over.
Then I’m going to zigzag it off.
Let it fade away.
One of the problems we have is we have shadow and we have light.
We have foreground and we have background.
To get them to feel like they’re one world, one environment means they have to integrate.
They have to relate on some level.
Half-tone is a terrific way of getting the shadows to relate back to the lights.
We have light and we have shadow.
When I did a little bit of the half-tone, that shows the audience how the one can turn
back and become the other.
Notice how I can kind of drag that tone, kind of hop, skip, and jump that kind of tone back
into the details of the cheek, in this case.
I’m not going to explain all that structure stuff.
We’re going to save that for another time.
I’ll go through all the planes of the head.
I just want to get kind of a mid-range halfway through our painting.
I’m going to add some white paint.
I’m going to keep building up this white paint.
This is one of the fun things in alla prima and one of the fun things about looking at
He will take, he’ll put more paint on there than he needs to to describe the form, so
that the paint itself is beautiful.
Rembrandt is probably my favorite artist because he’s a great realist painter, and he’s
a great abstract painter.
Everybody he ever talked to will say such and such is the first abstract artist for
this and that reason.
For me, my answer is Rembrandt.
He glories in the quality of the paint, and that has very little to do with the form he
is trying to describe.
Now what I’m doing here is I’m putting in lighter paint.
Every time the form turns to the left or turns up over to the left, and so this eye socket
in here, and we’re not going to do much.
We’re just going to do a little here.
This nose over here.
Notice I haven’t reloaded with my, I haven’t put more paint on my brush.
It has less and less paint on it.
I’ve got a ton of paint here, quite a bit of paint here.
Some paint here.
Not much more paint here on that nose.
There are really three steps to designing your tonal composition.
We talk about two of them last time.
Getting your values, your three-value system.
Now that we’ve started to render it’s becoming three-value ranges.
It’s still a dark, a middle, and a light scheme.
Then we do gradations.
We do gradations in big silhouettes to make things more, less, or more interesting.
We can also do gradations within a form to help turn the form as it goes for more direct
light to less direct light and eventually into shadow.
That also makes it more and less interesting.
Then there are edges.
If I wanted you to look at this side of the costume before this side of the costume, I
could make this more contrasting in value.
Make the background a little lighter.
Pretend I did a beautiful, lovely job of adjusting that whole background and/or making the foreground
Either one or both of those.
Now that side is more contrasting and so more interesting.
The audience’s eye and your eye will go to the area of greatest contrast, the area
of greatest contrast.
The lightest light against the darkest dark, but the thickest paint against the thinnest.
The most detailed against the most simplicity.
The organic against the architectural.
The big against the small.
The many against the few.
Any of those contrasts.
Bright color against gray color.
Warm color against cool color.
There is a million of them.
Of them all, most situations value with be your most powerful contrast, most powerful
area of greatest contrast, the biggest bang for the buck will be value.
The dark against the light.
So now that is slightly more interesting, let’s say, than this.
Or maybe a lot more interesting than this.
I’m doing a gradation.
I’m not going to do the gradation across.
Basically, I’m going to gradate this way.
I’m going to turn this way.
It’s just a black cloak.
I’m going to make it black here and a dark gray here.
It’s going to go from darker to lighter throughout.
With my zigzag technique I can make a lovely perfect gradation.
We’re not worried about that.
This is just a sketch.
It’s an idea maybe for a bigger painting or just a loose exercise or just an impression,
an energetic lovely impression of the subject, which can be just as viable as a more polished
piece and sometimes more valuable.
Anyway, now I’ve made this edge more interesting than that edge.
Now I’m going to keep this hard edge.
This is already slightly soft edge.
I’m going to make this soft edge and use that zigzag technique.
There are actually 7 different edges you can use.
You can use a hard edge.
You can use a soft edge.
You can use a lost edge, let’s say the feather gets completely lost in the background.
Hard, soft, lost.
Three major edges.
I said there are 7.
The others are just variations of the soft edge.
We can do a jagged edge.
Notice how here the paint is kind of jigsaw jag like this.
You’re getting the serrated edge between the two values.
It’s kind of a sawtooth or kind of this ragged, jagged.
Then you can have a broken edge.
You can actually have flyaways where some of the cloak, see the strokes down here, some
of the cloak actually breaks into the background.
That can happen, a nice place for that to happen is the hair, say.
Show that maybe it’s a girl with long hair on the beach and the wind is whipping it,
or it’s leaves on a tree and you’re not showing the connecting branches.
You’re just showing the breaking of the leaves out into space.
That’s a broken edge.
You can also have a 3-step.
Let’s say that jawline, I’ve got a shadow here.
Let’s push it really dark.
We’ll have to fix this later.
Now if I want that egg to turn up a nice, round gradation, I could do a blended, soft
edge, or I can do a 3-step.
Or it could be a 26-step.
What I’ll do is come back with a value that’s—let me find it—between the two.
It’s like facets of a diamond.
We have the light facet, the middle facet, and the dark facet.
It does this.
One, two, three and steps around the form.
We could do several stripes, several little facets as it goes.
I call it the 3-step.
That’s a great place to sneak in extra color, actually.
If you have an area where the color is okay but it could be a little more exciting, in
that little middle step, lay in a bright color between the washed-out lights and the dirty
shadows, maybe, and the Brown School painters will do that, quite a bit.
Zorn does that quite a bit, 3 step.
The last one would be to use the edge completely and then come back with line.
That’s what we’re doing right here.
Let’s say these values are the same.
They were before I put that little flare of light behind the background.
The cheek in shadow and the background in shadow are exactly the same value.
That cheek is completely lost.
You can come back and draw a little line and pick it up, or the details in the shadows,
oftentimes, you lose the eyeball, the iris, the pupil, and the skin around it, all into
You just do a little drawing of the eyelid or the eyeball or the pupil.
We’ll actually do a touch of that before we’re done here.
That would be the line, the lost edge with the line.
The line suggests it’s no longer lost because you put the line back in there.
It ends up being kind of a soft effect.
The strongest effect then is hard edge.
That will be more contrasting to our eye than any of those 5 different soft edges.
The soft edge will be more interesting than the lost edge.
The lost edge is lost.
And so we can control our read.
What do we look first?
What do we see second?
What do we see third, through the value statements?
This is light.
This is dark.
This is metal.
Maybe I’m going to make the two values closer, separate that third value, all that kind of
Then we can do the gradation so that the top of the costume is less interesting than the
bottom of the costume.
This is a black cloak, way more interesting than the black hat because the black hat is
lost, or almost black hat is lost into the dark gray background.
And then edges.
This side of the black cloak is more interesting than this side.
We did a little bit of gradation of value, but we also did the edges.
You can mix and match this in any way you want.
Be very inventive.
You can really fine-tune and manipulate the viewer so they look exactly where you want
them to see when you want them to see it.
Alright, so let’s do just a little bit more here.
Let’s go ahead and get that jaw line with our beard.
He’s got a bit of a beard here so I’m going to make them ragged strokes.
It fades up into the hair of the beard and a mustache.
Notice, again, I’m not reloading my brush.
That’s soft hair that’s just kind of a darker, grayer brown compared to the surrounding.
Now I’ve drawn inside my shadow.
I’ve not rendered in my shadow at all.
I’ve just drawn into it.
That’s a little too dark so I’m going to use the best tool in my toolbox, my finger,
correct that, let’s get our shadow shape under here.
Now I need to mix a lighter shadow and pick up.
The easiest way to add these little structures.
I’m going to do a stairstep where the cheek bumps against the mouth, a little dark edge
here against the nostril.
I’m going to stroke down the long axis.
Notice I went down the long axis of the jaw, the long axis of the mouth, the longest axis
for the underplane of the nose.
The longest axis where the cheek and eyeball met the bridge of the nose here.
When I’m trying to get a careful drawing, I always go down a long axis.
That’s the simplest way to get it, the cleanest way to get it because you’re just drawing
There it is there.
I’m going to use this same brush.
This is a soft edge here on them.
All these edges are soft because it’s a soft, mysterious light.
Let me get that a little bit darker.
All I’m doing is I’m correcting my drawing with the negative space, negative shape, I
I’m correcting the tip of the nose with the background shadow cheek.
Let this be a softer edge so you can’t see it as much.
Now I’m going to put a little gradation in the forehead because I see it in the painting.
It’s a lovely little note that gives interest to those shadows without having to really
render the shadows.
I’m going to make the top of the forehead a little darker and closer in value to the hat.
I’m going to push the hat a little darker to give a little kick of value.
Now, when I go that way it gets shiny.
I can’t quite see if that’s dark enough so I’m going to turn it this way
so I can see it.
You can see how my strokes dragged into that.
It’s a little sketch.
I think that’s charming.
I’m going to leave that.
I’m going to go ahead and make this stronger.
It’s not going to be as strong as this because this is a darker silhouette against this lighter,
relatively lighter silhouette.
I’m going to let this be kind of ragged just because.
I don’t want it to be all that interesting.
I’m not going to render it or even design it as well as Rembrandt designed it.
Now I’m going to push a little darker a hair there to help separate the face, pop
that face against the background.
There is a little drawn line.
I’m just pushing presumably the deeper, darker accents of the hair.
I’m drawing a few of those little folds in the neck.
When you get the wrinkles in the flesh pinching up, it’s just like stacking a garden hose.
You get light to shadow, light to shadow, light to shadow, and there are little stacked
I’m going to wipe my brush off.
I’ve got plenty of paint on here so I’m going to take this bearded area, the goatee
area and soften that up, pick up a little bit of sideburn area in here.
Soften this down a little bit more.
Notice it’s not real strong.
In this case it shouldn’t be real strong because this whole area is blasted out.
Where I put that highlight, the reason I put it there is when we have a shadow shape, let’s
make this less rendered so we can see it.
When we have a shadow shape, the beginning of the shadow we said was the corner.
It’s the corner.
Now we may make it a very rounded corner since it’s an egg shape.
That’s what we’ve been doing on most of the forms of the body, and that’s what we’ll
want to tend to want to do on most of the forms of the body.
The important thing is the beginning of the shadow creates a corner where the front plane
goes lighter in this case.
Side plane goes darker in this case.
That corner gives us that powerful impact of form even though there is no form there.
It’s just flat canvas.
So, shadows give us great corners, and that gives us great structure.
That can give us great illusion.
Highlights, I want to make highlights to do exactly the same thing.
I want to put a highlight right here.
Now, highlights are corners too.
See how that highlight sits on a corner.
In this case, it’s a corner where two planes meet in light.
Over here it’s a corner where one plane in light meets another in shadow so we get
the big value change.
In this case the value change, that big value change or that subtle value change is right
on the corner.
Here all the plane is in light.
All the plane or planes are in shadow.
Where those two values meet, we get that pop, we get that contrast.
The eye goes to that area of greater contrast.
We get that illusion of form even though there is no form.
When we put the highlight not on a plane but on a corner between two planes we get that
same kind of pop.
That’s what we had here, and we could have it all the way through our setup.
But when we do our highlights, the highlight is going to sit on a corner, in this case,
where the front of the nose met the side of the nose.
There is the highlight there.
The side of the nose is to the left.
The front of the nose is to the right.
Way over here the front of the nose met the far side of the nose.
That’s where our shadow shape began.
Now we have one, two corners, and what we ended up getting, then, if we looked at this
from underneath, is we got the side of the nose, the front of the nose, the far side
of the nose.
This is where I put my highlight.
This is where I put my shadow across that way.
We now get those three planes, and we get more impact of form, more description of form,
greater illusion of form, and so highlights are doing really great work for us.
They are not just pretty little accents.
They are really strong structural components.
They are just adjusting that a little bit.
The rest of this could be drawing.
He has these kind of little dot eyes.
There is the barest hint of an eye socket.
There is some stuff going on with the barrel of the mouth here that we don’t care about.
We’ll just leave it there.
You can see whatever detail I did.
This morning I just have a frog, I apologize for that.
Whatever detail I did in the shadows was really just drawing.
I just draw line in the shadows.
All of these thin shadows, and they were all relatively thin shadows that intruded into
We’re just drawing lines.
Sometimes they were really subtle white lines.
Sometimes they were darker lines.
Sometimes they were hatched lines.
Sometimes they were clean, crisp lines.
Sometimes those lines thicker and became little hooked shaped.
But that’s just really drawing stuff.
You can see in the alla prima style there is actually a lot of drawing that goes into it.
Where our easiest way to go is always drawing down the long axis of that shape just like
we go along the long axis between the two to zigzag, to blend the light into the shadow,
we’re going to also take those long axis, let’s make this now more
complicated than an egg.
Can you see how these are just drawing shapes?
I’m just drawing that hook line.
Or I could have done it with the dark, drawing in.
Now we can start to get these stairsteps of form as they go over one form, light into
shadow, and then they bump into another form.
Light into shadow.
It’s just a drawing problem and so the moral of the story is if you want to be a really
good painter, you want to be at least a pretty good draftsman, and that’s why I would encourage
you to look at mine and all the other great teacher’s drawing programs.
Drawing is actually harder than painting, I think.
But the painting, if you’re going to try and paint the figure, you have to be able
to draw the figure.
What you really need to do is be able to draw well enough that you don’t have to worry
We know that with a couple of tries.
When I draw this in, I might have to draw it three or four times to get the head the
right size, get it placed on the canvas.
That was too big.
Rembrandt had more down here.
I’ve got to make it smaller.
You might have to draw three or four times, but you want to have the confidence to know
that if you stick with it, you can find that drawing again.
You can find the nose even though it got lost in the painting process.
You can find the eye socket again.
If this isn’t the right shape we’ll redraw that shape.
If that’s wrong, we’ll correct it.
If we correct it, we’ll correct it with a negative shape against it.
When we add the detail, oftentimes those details are just little drawn marks.
Slivers of shadow or slivers of highlight or slivers of light shape stitching together.
Each of those stitching light and dark tones creates another stairstep that pulls us through
the masses and the lovely design of our painting.
We’re going to stop there.
I hope that gives us a sense of how to start a painting.
We have all the important ideas now.
We have most of the secondary ideas now, and then we could spend—from here on it might
take us another 20 hours to finish this off, but the initial idea we captured.
The main stuff, all the important stuff we captured in an hour or so.
That’s what we want to do.
We want to get this to a midrange where all the basic information is correct.
The drawing rings true.
The secondary forms are stitching together, and then everything on top of that is just
We will stop there.
We’ll come back next lesson and learn some new things.
Thank you so much.
Free to try
1. Lesson Overview46sNow playing...
1. Getting Started14m 42sNow playing...
Watch the whole lesson with a subscription
2. Value system15m 5s
3. Painting from top to bottom12m 8s
4. Dark to light10m 5s
5. Applying the technique14m 12s
6. Working with light14m 26s
7. Painting Structure12m 6s
8. Controlling your values14m 36s
9. Finalizing your painting8m 24s