Find your own voice but build it on a strong foundation of understanding value, color, and design.

I thought I would share three new paintings created by different students to highlight their approach, application, and level of details each created in their finished works. First and foremost, in my work and my instruction, I push value and constantly remind all of my students the importance of creating a strong contrast in value. The strong value contrasts grab a viewer’s attention from across a room and pull them in. My students can tell you that the phrase they hear from me the most is “Go darker.” In the pieces below, you can see that the black and white version holds up very well in black and white.

The other part that I wanted to highlight is the approach to each painting; one student approaches her painting as I do in the indirect painting method, building the painting with layers. Another jumped right in using the direct method and created the painting in one layer. And the third painting was created in the indirect method as well but only using an underpainting and an overpainting layer. Are any of these approaches better than the other, no. It comes down to what each of us enjoys when creating a painting, which is an essential part of being an artist. If you enjoy building your painting in layers, then fantastic. If you enjoy sitting down and painting a piece in a few hours using the direct method then fantastic.

The last part I wanted to highlight is the design part of being an artist, particularly the painting of the Eagle in the snowy landscape. I like to encourage my students to look beyond what they see and design (compose) their paintings and drawings. The original reference for this painting had the fence line and the eagle small and off in the distance, after discussing the painters’ purpose to paint this scene, which was the eagle. We recomposed the scene and made the eagle and fence line larger giving it more of a presence in the painting and making the eagle the dominant focus.

Learn as much as you can about value, color, and design, use them as your foundation, find your own voice, and enjoy the process.


This painting was painted using the indirect method, first creating the tonal layer, then the underpainting (blocking in color), and finally the overpainting layer (refining the colors and values). As the painter worked through this, we worked on balancing the painting by adjusting the painting’s values, which helps the viewer’s eye move throughout the painting.


This painting was painted using the direct method, completely in one sitting by applying a thicker layer of paint. This piece was a breakthrough for the painter, and I guess myself as well; it is never my intent to suggest or force a student to paint like me, and I probably need to say that more often. Because the painter just the other day told me that she enjoyed creating this piece because it was done in one sitting and not like how I paint. Perfect! We have just found the beginning of her artistic voice.


This painting was created using a shortened version of the indirect method. She blocked in the colors in the underpainting layer and then revised and adjusted the overpainting layer’s color and values. For me, this piece is more about the composing of the work, after we discussed the design and changed the piece to make the eagle and fence larger I can remember hearing the painter say, “I never thought about changing the size of the eagle and fence.” Just because something is in our reference doesn’t mean we can’t change it or remove it completely.