Australian Fine Artist

Final Workshop 2016

Tutor: David Chen

Value and Contrast

As we learn to paint we often think about what we want to paint, but not how we are going to do it. Planning is an important part of any painting, even an abstract, as where you place colours, the tonal value you give them, the palette you select, the light source and the focal point/s will all determine if your painting is a success. A good beginning is to design your values and then to apply the colours that fit the values. Tonal painters often start with a monochrome (single colour) tonal sketch to work out where all their darks, mid tones and lights willl fall in their painting. This concept is the same. Work out where all your darkest darks will go, your mid tones and your light areas. What ever colour you choose will need to be the correct tonal value for the area you are putting it in.

Colour to Value

If the tonal value of the colour is correct, it can be any colour you like. Just because the sky is blue, you don’ t have to paint it that way. If the tone is correct, the colour is now a matter of your choosing to work in the composition. You may decide that today you would like to paint in all cool colours, or try out a split complimentary composition, so select the colour from your palette to suit the tone for the area you are painting.

Do a Test

Before you apply your colour, do a test mix. Starting with your darkest darks for oil painting, mix up a sample and test it to see if it matches the tone you have set for your darkest area. You may need to adjust it, as the colour on the palette often doesn’t match what you imagined when applied to the canvas, especially when it is applied near other colours as you work your way through the painting process. So if you are unsure, or want to get the exact colour and tone, try doing a little test for each colour to tone match before going ahead with a large area.

Checking Progress

A good way to check your tonal values is to take a photo of your work as your go and change it to black and white. Most DSLR cameras do this, and you can also use software like Photoshop to do the same thing. Removing the colour will immediately show you if the colour you have selected is the tonal value you expected.

Another older method is to use what is sometimes called a ‘red guy’ by an artist friend of mine. I have one of them and they are handy if you want to quickly check your values. It is a piece of red plastic, glass or acrylic that you hold up over your head to allow the painting to be reflected into. This will not only show you the tones by removing colour, but will reverse the image to show whether the composition is working. This is similar to using a mirror to check the composition. If you want to just check the tones, look through the ‘glass’ at your work and check the tones. Many art suppliers will stock something similar, so it is worth asking. They are a very good addition to your painting kits.


Something you can try out as much as you like is to do multiple versions of the same composition using a limited palette. By limiting the colours you will learn how to select the right colour for the tone and how to get a variety of colours from only a few tubes of paint. Try starting with the basics of blue, red and yellow plus white, then move on to analogous by selecting three colours from each side of the colour wheel, and then split complimentary etc.

My Work for the Day

For the final workshop in this series, were had a limited set of colours suggested, and I decided to give it a go. I wanted to do a seascape, so applying these colours was gong to be a challenge, but that is why we learn, to push ourselves to do new things and attempt to improve our skills. My palette for the day was: Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Red (any red, so I chose Alizarin crimson), Ivory Black and Titanium White. My attempt is below (first) and the corrected version after David made suggestions about how I could take it to the next level (second).

Additional Important Note

Something else that is very important that I want to point out here is the importance of lighting. I used the same camera to take the shots of this painting, but in different locations. The pinkish cast in the photo on the left is a result of the warm lighting in the studio where we did the workshop. Just a faint hint of warmth in your lights can change the way you see a picture, and this will affect the way you paint. The photo on the right was taken in my studio, where we have just upgraded the lights to 6500 Kelvin LEDs and Fluros. This is what is called “Daylight” so an important thing to think about when you plan your studio space.


Enjoy your painting and if you are interested in beginners lessons I am available for private classes. Places are limited due to my university studies and studio time schedules. Also, see David’s website details below.

David Chen’s workshops are in very high demand and many are booked out in advance, but you can go on to a waiting list as sometimes spaces open up. If you would like to go on the waiting list, you can contact David via his website:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: