I borrowed this phrase from the recently deceased Canadian painter Robert Genn who believed that there is only so much we can learn about how to paint from the many fine instructors and resources available today. The true learning comes from going off on our own and just doing it - Go to your room!

I have had the good fortune to take instruction from outstanding artists in Canada and the USA. I continue to work on my own development ( Going to MY room!) . I share, through this blog and workshops, what I have learned and what others have shared with me.

I created this blog primarily for those attending my workshops to keep in touch and to further share as we grow together. If others are interested in following that would be great.

Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday 2 May 2012


Learning to paint well is hard - damn hard. There are so many "balls to keep in the air" that it is easy to get off track, especially at the early stages of a painting and particularly when learning to paint plein air. Anything we can do to simplify and to remind us of the issues is helpful. I can remember that my first pochade - a Judson Gorilla Box - had a four value scale and a list of things to remember stuck on it beside the panels. 

Having recently finished two workshops (a five day Fundamentals for Landscape Painters and a two day Preparing for Plein air) I am again reminded how hard it is to hold onto the fundamentals and apply them in the heat of battle.  

Lots of painters have little reminders. I have been thinking about one for a few weeks and tried it out in the workshops. It is my 6 Ws. It will probably evolve over the next while but it is a start that may be helpful for others.

These 6Ws are to be used during the planning stages. I encourage recording simple shapes to include in a thumbnail sketch, then organize the shapes into three or four values. I encourage making additional  sketches using the 6Ws below to strengthen the first sketch. Every time you put pencil to paper and consider what to include or exclude and where to place things (WHATSITS) your composition will improve and your painting will move ahead more quickly and with confidence. 


Know WHAT your painting is about
What is the centre of interest, etc . - the reason you have chosen to make the painting?

Know WHY you are attracted to paint the WHAT
What is it about the WHAT that attracts you? Might be the colour of light on it, the strong value contrasts, etc. Exaggerate the WHY to strengthen the WHAT

Know WHERE on your canvas your WHAT will be best and your composition will be strongest
Understand the guidelines used for placement - generally keeping your WHAT away from the middle of the painting.  

Know the WHATSITS available to help support the WHAT and the WHY
Identify the objects or elements available in the scene that  can be used to strengthen the compositon - clouds, trees, reflections, rocks, etc - that can be relocated, exaggerated , enlarged, etc and generally used as needed. They are all subordinate to the WHAT and can be handled as such but available as required
Choose WORDS to describe the painting - five or less
I have found it helpful to write down below my thumbnail sketches WORDS to describe what the painting is about or why I have painted it. These can be helpful during a self critique to see that you have simplified and that the painting is about what you intended. Can also help with the title. 

Choose the two big  WHAMMIES  - colour and value dominance
The two big eye catchers that create emotional draw to your work are value and colour. Having clear dominance of one value and one colour most often makes for stronger paintings. 

Simple flat two dimensional selection of shapes to include  in composition 

Separate light values  from combined midtone and dark values 

Divide midtones from darks 

Make additional sketches considering the 6Ws to strengthen the composition. If others have KISS systems that work for them, I would love to learn about them..


1 comment:

  1. This is VERY helpful! Thank you! I drove around for an hour on Tuesday thinking I would paint plein air and just didn't know where to start. So I just came home and did a still life.


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