All posts by dmgrayart

The Richard Schmid Color Charts

In this video I’m simply illustrating how to make the color charts as explained in the book Alla Prima by Richard Schmid. This exercise will not teach you color theory or how to see color, but it will teach you what your colors can do in terms of mixing. You will have to invest some time and materials but what you will learn makes it all well worth it.

I’m using my chosen palette of colors, of course. You need not feel that you have to use my palette. In his book Richard Schmid is using a slightly different palette. His choice of colors works for him. The colors I use work for me and they can do virtually anything I want to do in the way of mixing color for my particular expression.

My palette consists of:

Titanium white
Cadmium Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Red Light
Terra Rosa
Transparent Red Oxide
Raw Umber
Ivory Black
Quinacridone Violet
Ultramarine Blue
Pthalocyanine Green

By the way, if you don’t have Alla Prima you should. There is a new expanded version of the book available entitled Alla Prima II.

Contol Your Values — A Lesson from the Sphere

I’ve been drawing a lot and thinking about form more than ever. I have found myself almost obsessing about it lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we as pictorial artists must control the values we utilize in order to convey three-dimensionality. I know, you’ve heard this a million times, and so have I. The key word here is CONTROL. I don’t mean we must just have the facility to apply the values in the same way we see them. I mean we must not just be a slave to what we see but have CONTROL over how we apply our values in order to more STRONGLY CONVEY what we see. We must not just be copyists — like a camera. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Years ago I was quite content with my photo-like pictures. Even the ones I painted from life. But time went on, I developed and so did my sensibilities.

The more I teach, the more I have realized how I change what I actually see in my picture to make it more real. To give my forms more solidity. More volume. More “realness”.

Now for many artists, even realists, this is not going to be as important as it is to me. Because of photography many would-be realist painters have forgotten (or never learned) the fundamentals of pictorial expression. We don’t know what we don’t know. So we relegate ourselves to becoming “photo-realists” instead of realists. If you don’t know the difference, you will, if you continue to study light and form. (I know there may be a discrepancy here with the term “realist”. I’m not talking about the realism of Courbet and those guys. I’m talking about a naturalistic realism in our approach to painting our subjects.) The longer I paint, the more I loathe a photographic quality to my work. I want something more. (BTW — I don’t loathe photorealism as an artistic genre. Chuck Close is still a hero of mine. In this post I’m purely concerned with my own painting)

Okay, back to values and control. Here is an exercise you can do to help you in your understanding and control of values. When I paint any object I have become increasingly conscious of assigning my relative values to particular categories. I have adopted a 7 value system that makes sense to me and is not too complicated. It gives more leeway than merely 5 values, and is simpler than a 9 or 10 value scale.

Below I have applied my value system to drawing a sphere. The categories of values are as follows:

1. Darkest dark, or dark accent. This is the dark value where the sphere comes in contact with the table. This area is receiveing little or no light.

2. General form shadow and cast shadow.

3. Reflected light.

4. Half tone. This is the transitional value in my form as it turns away from the light into shadow. It’s STILL in the light. It’s just darker because it’s not receiving much light. Note, this value is lighter than my reflected light value. In this way I keep the light side of the form separate from the dark side of the form. There is a clear light side, and a clear dark side. Poor handling of half tones and reflected light values is one of the most common problems I encounter in the learning realist.

5. Average light. The overall average value of the light side of the form.

6. Light light. The planes of the form most perpendicular to the light source.

7. Highlight, or Specular light. This is the little mirror-like catch light we see on many forms. In the drawing this is the white of the paper.

Before I drew my sphere I did a couple of value strip exercises to help me quantify my values.

First, I marked out seven inch-wide boxes and filled in the first value as dark as I wanted to go. I am using Strathmore series 400 drawing paper with graphite pencils HB through 8B.

Now I have my extreme values — darkest dark, and lightest light. I began slowly building up the other values in order to control their relationships. I did very little if any erasing here. Also, I don’t prefer to use any blending tools (I’ve always enjoyed the pebbly texture of the paper as well as visible hatching).

You will notice I did a second strip where I tried to create a seamless transition between values. In doing this strip I constantly referenced the strip above in order to help me not go too dark or light at any point along the value range. This second strip was just more fun for me and an exercise to see how well I could control the gradation of values. Okay, so I’m a control freak. Really, though, I want to be the master of my tools. Not the other way around.

Finally I used the value scale as described and quantified above to make a three dimensional image. The sphere. This was done without any reference. I simply used my knowledge of value, light and shade. I know it’s not scientifically perfect, but it conveys a convincing three dimensional form.

I have found that consciously organizing my values has really helped to give my forms more solidity. I often edit what is actually in front of me using the information above. It’s still a journey and I don’t feel I’ve quite mastered it, but I feel I’m at least on firm footing and have a good idea of where I’m going. Note that in using my 7 value scale, I’m not really thinking of the different numbers of values in a strict quantitative way. I’m thinking of them in terms of relativity. I don’t say to myself, “well, that looks like a value 3, or maybe a value 4”. No, instead I say to myself, “that reflected light value needs to go darker, because right now it’s competing with my half tone”. See the difference?

Be aware that these are general principles and can be broken if and when appropriate. They are mostly going to apply with a single strong light source situation. Its still good to have this understanding if you enjoy flat light or diffused light environments, but the value relationships will play out differently.

I highly recommend reading, or re-reading chapter 5 from Tony Ryder’s book, which will reinforce these ideas about value, light and shadow. Much of what I have written here is derivative of what I learned there, and other places.

You can also practice this exercise with monochromatic oil paint (or any other media).

Below are some images of paintings where this knowledge is applied, to more or less a degree. Note that the reflected light value on each of these examples in kept under control.




I encourage the learning pictorial artist to identify the lighting conditions of any painting you are viewing. Many beginners lack this elementary understanding. A way to develop this sensibility and understanding of light is to now go back to your favorite paintings and think about the light. Is it a single strong light source? Diffused outdoor light? A combination? Other options? How is the artist manipulating the value relationships in the painting to convey to you the character of the light? Obviously this exercise is only going to work with paintings completed with a naturalistic sensibility. Don’t try to do this with a Dali.

Kassan Fellowship Application Now Open

If you know of any eligible aspiring artists, now is the time to apply for the David Jon Kassan Fellowship. Awardees will receive $5,000 USD.

VISUAL ARTS | The Kassan Foundation provides financial assistance to underprivileged artists who work in a representational style of painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpting, are in the early or developmental stage of their career, and demonstrate a commitment to making art a lifetime career.

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To apply for this grant click this LINK.

You can learn more about David Kassan at

Demo — Painting the Portrait

In this piece I decided to do a more involved underdrawing in vine charcoal on toned canvas (which I spray-fixed). There are basically three reasons for this.1.) In a double portrait things get even more tricky needing to have the two faces and bodies in proper proportion to each other. I decided to take a little extra time with the drawing to make sure I wouldn’t encounter any unpleasant surprises later. 2.) I just really enjoy drawing and I found myself getting involved in the process. Normally I fight that feeling because of time restraints, but I gave in this time. 3.) I like to do things a little different from time to time. When it comes to art making I am a firm believer in having a good solid method (that works) to fall back on if and when things go awry. But, as you know, we artists have to mix it up now and then. Granted, I’m not drawing here hanging from a chandelier or anything like it, but it did lead me to get out of my comfort zone, which I will explain next.

What’s so uncomfortable about a locked in underdrawing you say? Well, it caused me to forgo my normal underpainting and put everything I had on the line to properly execute the overpainting without the safety of a basic color scheme laid in. Sure, I could have done an underpainting. In fact, I started to do so. But I found that the underdrawing was sound enough not to need it. Also, there was a sort of “grisaille” in place as well due to my blocking in the essential value pattern with the charcoal (not just the contour, which is my normal method). So I just went after it. I do want to note that I have painted like compositions with like color schemes before. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary in terms of subject or color. If I would have been, I probably would have laid in an underpainting, or at least done a color study (or two).

In painting this way, it’s even more important to “keep those drawing chops working” (as I’ve said before). And it’s critical to constantly evaluate your relative values and colors. It’s too bad that the quality of video I’m currently using does not really show the color nuances that are present. In the real thing there are differing levels of chroma and neutrality as well as subtle differences in local color; all of which help to give life to the portrait and increase it’s illusion of “presence” or “reality”.

Thank you for reading this lengthy accompaniment to the video. And thanks for watching.

Until next time…

On Brushes

longfilberts-eclipse-500x500 (300x300)

Above: Rosemary & Co. Eclipse brushes – one of my favorites for a refined paint application.

Okay, so, brushes. As many of you know, I’m a brushaholic. Few things get my blood pumping as much as a shiny row of neatly displayed brushes at the local art materials store. I just can’t help myself. I have to touch them and feel them and commune with them and decide if I’m gong to blow another 8 bucks on yet another brush. Yes, I’m a junkie when it comes to paint brushes. Not good for the pocketbook.

Maybe this post is a bit therapeutic for me. Here I would like to outline what kind of brushes I like and that there really isn’t a need for a huge amount of brushes. I guess I’m partly trying to convince myself, and in the process make it simple for the learning painter.

What type of brush? This will depend on several factors, the most important of which is what do you want the character of the paint film to look like? Smooth and silky? Chunky and organic? And of course, you may want a variety of brush character in your painting. This question has really been central to my more sensible brush buying decisions.

A second and perhaps equally important concern is what are you painting on? Do you like toothy canvas? Smooth canvas? Panel? Your support will have a lot to do with what your paint application looks like.

The third item you may need to consider is what is the size and subject of your painting? If you are doing a small highly detailed still life on panel your choice of brush may be different than if you are doing a larger figural piece on canvas.

I like to have two types of brushes on hand at all times.

I mostly paint small to medium sized paintings. I like a smooth support whether it’s canvas or panel. I do not like toothy or overly absorbent supports. This suits my expression and temperament. A smoother support offers me the opportunity to leave behind subtle brushwork. For my usual work I don’t go in for a bravura, Sargent-like paint application. But I do like to show some mark making, much like subtle cross-hatching in pencil drawing. Clean, but not too clean. So my brush of choice is going to be either a sable or softer synthetic. These brushes are firm enough to grab some paint and lay it on when fully loaded. And I do like to load my brush. I enjoy an opaque but controlled application of paint as I build each form.

But there are times when I want a little more brush character. A little more impasto, or sculptural quality. For this I turn to Chungking hog bristle. There’s nothing quite like a loaded hog bristle brush. I love the raking lines left behind by the bristles. To me it gives a delicious tactile quality to the paint film — something I can “feel” with my eyes. Yummy. Also, I’ve been trying to paint larger lately. Canvases size 36×24, 30×40, something like that. For this size painting hog bristle brushes are my choice. I can lay down paint much faster and there is a more interesting character to the paint film. Not that I’m slopping the paint on. It’s still controlled, but the bristle just seems to be much more satisfying on a larger piece than my soft brushes.

What brands? This is really an important consideration. You need to buy quality. You need a brush that is going to hold it’s shape and not splay out after a few usages. Here are some brands I use that I highly recommend (though there are other good brands as well):

Sable or soft synthetic:

Rosemary & Co. Eclipse (synthetic) – I prefer the long filberts…just perfect!

Rosemary & Co. Pure Red Sable

Trekell Legion Synthetic Mongoose

Trekell Red Sable

Robert Simmons Sapphire (sable/synthetic blend)

Chungking Hog Bristle:

Rosemary & Co. Chungking Bristle

Trekell Hog Bristle

Robert Simmons Signet Series

And, oh, I prefer rounds and filberts for the most part. I do have a few flats and brights but they don’t get much use. Rounds and filberts are my shapes of choice.

Happy painting!