Australian Fine Artist

Workshop Number Two of Five 2016

Tutor: David Chen

Attending life drawing classes whilst learning portrait painting, I have discovered, is a very good thing! The observational and drawing skills learnt at one place are very transferrable to the other.

The first thing we are asked to do at the portrait workshops is to do a drawing of our model to get our eye in, and start to understand what we are focussing on for the workshop. This is a great opportunity to get to know all the little differences in your model’s face and body that make them unique.

Learning how to merge these two methods of representing the human form, in pencil and paint, is very useful, after all how can I be a good teacher if I don’t practice what I preach? I hope readers will enjoy this series of painting workshop blogs, and get some valuable information from them.

As always I defer to my tutor David Chen if readers would like to follow up by attending workshops to learn more about what I am covering. His contact details are at the end of this blog.

Light and Shade, and Applying These to Local Values

Values help to create form and organise your painting. When deciding on how many you will use, IE: 3 value from dark to light, or 5 or more, for a drawing or painting, you are in fact deciding how  much form you will give it. It is therefore, important to learn how to:

  1. Control values
  2. Organise values
  3. Group values.

Grouping values means that you are using them to create larger shapes to unify your painting. This may mean putting them into areas where they don’t exist in your reference or subject. Grouping and organising values helps to avoid a painting looking disjointed or disunited. By linking up values you can unify a composition, and avoid having too many unrelated shapes.

This can be achieved by:

  1. Looking for the shapes on the outside of your subject,look for the interesting shapes that you can ‘link’ or join, or ones that may be distracting and that need to be removed or de-emphsized.
  2. Looking for the smaller ‘inside’shapes or details within your subject that you can group together. This can be by using shadows for example. Keep the ones that you need to create form and create a larger area of similar values, and see if you really need all of the smaller ones that may be a distraction.

Local Values

By merely painting exactly what you see, you may end up with accurate local values, but a lack of form. Form required at least three values, so that you have a mid tone between the lightest and darkest areas.

Local Colour

Remember that you are also taking into account the local colours, but as an artist, and considering tonal and local values, you need to modify these to create form. So recapping, local colour is:

  • The colour of major objects in your composition unaffected by changing lighting conditions
  • Colour unaffected by shadows, highlights or reflected colour or light.


Remember also that all surfaces are not the same. Materials have softer values and the edges may not be a sharp, as perhaps glassy or shiny surfaces. Shiny surfaces may have brighter highlights and darker shadows, and sharper edges.


Find an old family photo of a person you would like to draw or paint. Start by doing a line only contour drawing . Don’t break your line, do it all with one continuous line. this will help you to only concentrate on the big shapes and not get too detialed.

Create some clear boundaries between your darks and lights.

Then make 3 copies (scan or photocopy, or trace). Then add values to the copies, working on 3 or more values for each piece. As you add your values keep in mind the form of your subject and see how you go as you progress from one version to the next.

Remember also: to keep practising. These are not easy concepts to master, so don’t be disappointed if it takes time. You may also find, as I did, that parts of your painting look great and other areas obviously need a lot more work!

Below are my efforts for this first workshop (preliminary sketch and painting). I am very happy with various parts of each, but not the whole of both – yet!  That is where David made suggestions for me to work on until next time. I have since worked over his marks, but there are still areas I could improve a lot. A nice result though is that the model really like both of my pics and asked to photograph them to show his friends and relatives, which we allowed.

Sketch Portrait of Max-LR

For more advanced classes refer to David’s website details below.

Please note that David does not allow photography in his workshops. Students may photograph their own work at home after the sessions, but any alterations by David should be acknowledged.

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.


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