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Building Blocks
Student Comments
"Thereís no
way your
paintings canít
improve after
this course"
"Iíve been painting on my own for a while and thought I was doing okay. Now that Iím taking this course I see so many things I can learn from that will make my work so much better. This is the stuff you canít get in art school anymore, sadly. Thereís no way your paintings canít improve after this course. Thatís how strongly I feel about it." ... Bob Akers., Crystal Lake, IL, United States

"...really superb"

"I find your courses really superb in two ways: first they are very complete and comprehensive, and second they go straight to the point, to the essentials. Both my wife and I paint and we both agree that these art instruction courses are one of the best sources of education for people who want to learn to paint in a direct or alla prima style" Bernado Martin, Alicante, Spain.

Erika is
her dream
"This course is truly well run, professionally handled -- and I can only echo the great comments of other students: I am glad, I enrolled in this course!! I got so much out of it already -- lots of explanations, areas to study up on, other artists to learn from. AND I am not at the end of the course, yet. I am getting more and more confident and bold enough to follow my dream -- to become a proficient and sensitive artist. Erika, USA, 2009
"...already noticed
in my work"
"In my opinion, your material is the best I have found. It builds the basics, from the ground up, recognizing that there are no short cuts.....Your course puts all the right info into one package, and even more important, it gives me an organized, building block way to get these things into my head, and I have already noticed an improvement in my work," George, USA
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Building Block: Observation

You look, but do you see like an artist?.
What is included in the Observation Building Block?
This was a difficult set of courses to name. It could easily have been called "color" or "drawing", but that would miss the essential point of the lessons. When trying to make things look real, a lot of artists think the problem is that they do not have enough skills in painting and mixing the right color. That is not the problem - it is most likely that you are not seeing things clearly. This Building Block shows you how to focus on seeing, not on painting, and to bring more realism into your painting. Only by mastering the skills in this series of courses will you ever master color. This course is the essential companion to the courses on color.

This art instruction also includes a very important course of study on how to become a 'colorist' - in the true sense. That is to say, an artist who captures the beautiful colors seen in nature and represents them faithfully (not an artist that randomy splatters bright color everywhere!). There are no quick fixes in this module, but it will set you on the right track for becoming really good with color.

The six units in the observation series are all about how to see accurately. The realism in your painting comes from accurately depicting in paint what you see in front of you. You do not need to learn how to paint trees, skies, rocks, water, and so on, you need to learn to see trees, skies, rocks and water. Once you see it, painting is easy. When a student says "I cannot seem to mix the right color," the problem is always in an inability to see the color. Not only is realism affected by your ability to observe color accurately, but so is color harmony. The color of sunlight together with the effects of atmospheric perspective and reflected light often (but not always) produce a natural color harmony. If you can observe this harmony accurately, then your painting will have automatic color harmony. The color problems in our paintings are often our left brain taking over and telling us what the color should be as opposed to what we are actually seeing.
Some of the things you will learn:
Seeing values: the most important skill you need for achieving realism in your work
How to see color using block studies: an essential skill for learning color harmony
Color mixing: strategies for mixing just the right color
Atmospheric perspective: the key to giving your landscapes depth (it also applies to still lifes and figure work)
Itness: how to capture the true feel of a place or scene
How does it work?
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  Academy membership costs $79 USD per month and gives you a private account on our system where you can access our lessons, assignments & online community. Access to the online campus means you can upload your assignments and share them with other students from across the world, as well as access to supplemental learning materials such as videos and examples. You can cancel your membership at any time.
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"The material is very well presented and easy to understand - no lengthy explanations but short and condensed paragraphs with a load of very valuable information. Along with plenty of illustrations, this makes it a fun and easy study."

What is included in each course unit?


Unit 1 - Values

Ninety percent of the realism in your painting is created by achieving accurate values. Value is much more important than color (or more strictly, "hue") in this respect. In addition, if you do not master values completely, you will never be able to master color in your paintings, since no matter how accurate you match the hue, if the value is not correct you will not get a good color harmony. This is because there is a strict relationship between the colors on the light and shadow sides of objects. If you get this relationship correct, the object looks real. Get it wrong and the person looking at your painting will know that something does not look right.
To help you master this process, before going to full color, you can also go to the intermediate stage of painting a limited value study. This has some real advantages, not just as a learning tool, but also as a means for further exploring and refining your notan composition (I often do this stage when planning a large studio painting). With this study you can explore: light/dark patterns, edges of form and cast shadows, and much more advanced things such as lost and found edges. It is much quicker and easier to explore these aspects of your composition in black and white, rather than going to full color right away. This unit is all about how to observe values, and will give you all the tips and techniques learned over the years.
In this unit you will learn how to simplify the process of seeing color by breaking it down into three simpler choices of value, saturation, and temperature. You will learn:
  • how to simplify the process of seeing color by breaking it down into three simpler choices of value, saturation, and temperature
  • how to see values accurately
  • how to create powerful limited value studies - an important prerequisite for achieving realism in your work, developing powerful compositions, and ultimately having great color

Unit 2 - Color

Mixing color is a similar process to observing color. You can break it down into two steps: matching the value accurately, with only an approximation for hue and saturation, and matching the hue and saturation accurately. You cannot match the colors you see in nature precisely to colors you can create in paint. This is because paint has different optical properties compared with light bouncing off objects and textures in nature. It is more important therefore to look for relative differences of color spots in nature rather than for absolute colors. You need to represent in paint those relative differences.
Look at the painting above and the photograph of the original scene. The relative color spots are the same, even though the actual colors are different. Combine this course unit with the series of units on color to fully understand how to use apply color in your paintings. Do not forget to look at Observation Unit 1 on values to get the full picture on color. Value is an integral part of learning how to see color. This unit is concerned with learning how to see and match colors accurately. You will learn:
  • the best sequence for matching hue, saturation and value on your palette to keep your color lively
  • how to adjust values without getting muddy color
  • how to create warm and cool color variations without getting muddy color
  • how to avoid the common problems associated with using black and white in color mixtures
  • how to control the saturation of your colors - an essential skill for creating depth in your paintings and for creating an interesting color design
  • the best way to mix colors on your palette if you want to keep your colors harmonious
  • how to train yourself to see color more accurately

Unit 3 - Atmospheric Perspective

As objects move into the distance, the lights get darker and the darks get lighter. This is just one of the effects of atmospheric perspective that gives a landscape depth.
This painting won an award medal prize in the Carmel Art Festival Plein Air Competition. A key factor in its success was the careful control of atmospheric perspective in each successive plane of the Big Sur cliffs as they move into the distance. There are also other more subtle changes in both hue and saturation in the cliffs that you need to take account of in scenes like these. By applying those concepts you will greatly increase the feeling of depth in your paintings.
Here is another example of atmospheric perspective, notice how the color of the landscape changes behind the group of trees. The warm oranges in the foreground gradually change to red violets in the further distance.
In this course unit you will learn how to observe the various subtle effects of atmospheric perspective that will give depth and feeling to your paintings. You will learn:
  • how distance affects the saturation of colors
  • the role of foreground, middle ground, and distance in giving depth to your paintings
  • how to use repeating shapes and receding lines to convey a sense of distance
  • how to use baselines to give a feeling of three-dimensional space
  • the use of overlapping forms to prevent objects from floating in space
  • when to use dark accents and highlights to add realism to your painting
  • the difference in behavior between lights and darks as objects move into the distance
  • what happens to values under different atmospheric conditions such as foggy, sunny, and overcast conditions
  • what to look for in moonlit scenes
  • the principle of value difference consistency and why it is important in adding realism to your paintings
  • how to make sure your colors are not 'out of place' as they move into the distance

Unit 4 - Land and Sky

When observing shadows cast by one subject on another, look for: value changes, hue changes, the colors of shadows in warm/cool light, and the color of shadows due to reflected light.

In this unit you will learn how to look at the land and the sky through an artist's eyes. By learning what to look for you will see much more, and your paintings will consequently achieve a much greater degree of realism. In this course you will learn to see:
  • the six important variations that occur in the dome of the sky
  • what specific value and temperature changes to look out for in clouds
  • what makes clouds appear to recede into the distance
  • what you need to observe about edges and value changes in foggy and misty scenes
  • how a change in the color of the light affects what you see
  • when additive color mixing is important for the artist
  • what to look out for in cast shadows and reflected light
  • five assignments to help you see the land and the sky in a way you never saw before

Unit 5 - Water

The most important thing to look for in flat water such as on lakes, ponds, canals and calm oceans, particularly when you have a consistent depth (such as in a canal) is the value transition from up close to the horizon. Beginners often completely miss this value transition with the result that the water looks 'flat' as if pasted onto the painting. Look how the water closest to you in this painting is a much darker value than the water in the distance.
This course shows you how to see effects in bodies of water, such as oceans, lakes and rivers. In this course you will learn to see:
  • how objects reflect in flat water
  • how those reflections change when the water is disturbed by ripples or wave action
  • how bodies of water reflect the dome of the sky and how this reflection results in a consistent value change in the water
  • what happens to the temperature and value of colors when they are reflected in water
  • how cloud conditions affect the color of bodies of water
  • how the structure of a wave and its associated foam pattern changes during the course of breaking

Unit 6 - Itness

For many types of objects such as trees, fruits, flowers, or rocks, there are certain characteristics that collectively define the 'itness' of that object and that differentiate it from all other objects of that type. For example, pines and cypress trees are both evergreens. Every pine tree is a different shape and every cypress tree is a different shape, yet someone who knows their trees can immediately tell which is which. This means that before you start painting a subject you need to spend a lot of time studying it (that is if you want to truly capture the essence of your subject). You can tell by the tall and compact structure that these are Italian cypress trees. You know from their 'itness' that they are not palm trees or oak trees.
Have you ever wondered why some paintings seem to capture the 'soul' or feeling of a place, whereas other paintings just seem to be of some generic scene? The reason these paintings capture the essence of a place has a lot to do with analyzing the character of the shapes of a particular category of objects. For example, the character of shapes of a particular species of tree or the character of shapes of a particular geological rock formation. This is the subject of the 'itness' of objects that goes much deeper than just copying the exact shape you see. In this course you will learn how to capture this essence or essential characteristic of a scene or landscape. The concept not only applies to landscape work, but also to still life and figure work.
Understanding this concept takes you far beyond the literal observation of nature that we have covered in units one through five, and can take your art to a completely new level once you have developed some mastery in it. Once you have learned to identify and then represent the itness of your subject, you can become far more creative with your compositions. In this course you will learn:
  • how to apply the principle of 'itness' to observing trees more accurately
  • how to see and capture the balance in trees
  • how to communicate the bulk of trees
  • how to represent delicacy in branch structures
  • the critical importance of silhouette to the 'itness' of a particular type of tree
  • how to observe the density and color variations in foliage
  • how to deal with sky apertures
  • the important things to look for in branching structures and trunk curvature that will make your trees more realistic
  • how the 'itness' principle applies to painting rocks and buildings
Our comprehensive 4 year program of study
for all levels

The Painting Academy is designed to be both suitable for beginners and professionals alike. If you are serious about improving your painting skills, no matter your current level, and you want to become an excellent artist and you are looking for a comprehensive in-depth program of study that's expertly organized, then look no further. You will get immediate access to:
192 Lessons
340 Assignments
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