Australian Fine Artist

Advanced Landscape Painting

Painting Workshop with David Chen

Understanding the Use of Intense Colour and Grey Tones

I sat in on an extra workshop this weekend, and this extra session was very helpful in pushing my use of colour. As a mainly tonal painter, my paintings tend to not push colour to extremes, I paint in a manner that uses a realist/impressionist crossover so my application of the paint can be conservative in a lot of areas.

The reason why I, and other artists, attend workshops like this one, is that they give you a new perspective and challenge you to go outside of your comfort zone. For me it means using more paint, lashing it on with broad strokes, and looking at my subject with new eyes. It means taking reality and bending it to my will, and creating a new vision. This may mean replacing one colour with another one, or several others. It may mean adding or deleting things from what I am looking at. It pushes me to be a creative painter and not just a copier of the real world around me.

The Importance of Dark Dominant Shapes


A major mistake artist make is going in too early with lights. I tend to do this as well, so I understand the temptation to put in your light colours to contrast with your early dark areas. Try to hold off and build up your major and minor dark objects first. You can always lighten up later.

This Session

For this workshop we were asked to produce two small paintings.

The first in the morning was to use strong colour. We were asked to really push colour, creating a vibrant painting, that reflected how we interpreted our subject, not how it looked in the photo or on our devices.

The second painting in the afternoon, was to be a ‘grey tone’ painting. this painting was to use mid tones, and employ more earth colours like yellow ochre, raw sienna, and burnt sienna.

The end result would be two paintings of the same subject, but approached from very different perspectives. They needed to look very different to each other. The mid or grey tone painting needed to employ colour to lighten the tone and not just the addition of white, which results in a chalky appearance. This is a habit that has taken me a few years to break, so don’t be concerned if you have the same issue. Try mixing lighter colours to keep the intensity and original colour but in a lighter value. If you add some white, you can add more colour to bring intensity back, so don’t panic if you automatically do it.

A tip here is that if you want to lighten a cool colour, lighten with a lighter cool colour, similarly, if you want to lighten a warm colour, add a lighter warm colour. For example if you have a darker yellow (eg: golden yellow), try adding a cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, or Naples yellow to lighten it. Naples yellow has some white in it anyway, so you can get your dash of white from that.


Some Tips to Remember

  1. When painting for strong colour, push yourself to mix interesting strong colours to see what you will get. this doesn’t mean ignoring perspective, as you can still tone down colours as they recede into the background, just push them more than you would for a quieter tonal painting.
  2. Tips from David for my example below were:
    Push the colour in the sky
    Push the colour in the background hills
    Lighten the foreground and vary it with BIG brushstrokes
    Try big bold application of colour and brushstrokes in the building
    Try more colour variations in the trees
    Push the representation of the fences for interesting marks leading into and around the painting.
    MOSTLY: Use more paint, don’t be afraid to apply it thickly and without fear.



Final Note:

Paint to make the painting work, not to merely copy how something looks. Unless you are doing a commission where the client has specific instructions or tastes, you are free to make of the painting what you will.


Below is are my paintings from this session. I have marked where David added to the stronger colour version to indicate how I can be more adventurous and bolder with my brushstrokes. The second painting was the more successful of the two, which he felt didn’t need discussion or adding to, showing that I am naturally a tonalist painter and not a colourist.

As you experiment you will find that some methods come more naturally as well, but it doesn’t hurt to push yourself to try others. As a professional painter and art tutor, I need to be able to do a variety of methods to at least an acceptable level to be able to pass on information about them. Therefore, I hope that you will find the above tips useful in your adventures with you paints.



If you would like to go on the waiting list for workshops with David Chen, you can contact him via his website at:

Note that David does not allow photography in his workshops so if you want to photograph your work it is suggested that you do so when you get home.

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.

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