Preliminary Sketches – Shapes, Values and Temperature

Reference Page for  the artists attending the follow up workshop days: For the Love of Art (and anyone else who might find it useful).

This is only one of unlimited approaches to planning a painting.  For at least thirty years, I never planned a painting.  Most likely, that’s why so many ended up in the garbage.  When I am sketching on my travels, I don’t plan much of anything.  I like it that way.  There are dozens of approaches to both drawing and painting that I play with, learning something new and useful each time.  Eventually, it is time to do something with what I have learned.  That’s when planning steps in.  

I will repeat … this is only one approach of many that will allow for more freedom of expressions, looseness, playfulness and success.  I find that when I verify that I have a strong structural design I can move forward with a creative approach to color and technique.  

Though I usually work from life, I think using a photograph is easier in a workshop situation.

Step One:  The Photograph

Rue des Solitaires, Belleville, Paris, France  - June 2015

Rue des Solitaires, Belleville, Paris, France – June 2015


Step Two: Rough Pencil Scribble Sketch

Rue des Solitaires Belleville Paris France values temperatures 091315 chriscarterartist workshops step one scribble sketch 600

A very rough sketch to determine what is exciting for me about this image and if it has potential for a strong design.


Step Three: Basic Shapes

Four Basic Shapes - Two white, two black

Four basic shapes – two white, two black

I try to find interlocking shapes of different sizes – Large, medium and small.


Step Four – Shapes within the Basic Shapes

Rue des Solitaires Belleville Paris France values temperatures 091315 chriscarterartist workshops step two shapes 600

I look for important shapes within the basic shapes that will enhance the design and help to tell the story, if there is one.


Steps Five and Six – Three Values (dark, medium and light) & Temperature of shapes

Rue des Solitaires Belleville Paris France values temperatures 091315 chriscarterartist workshops 600

These are the two sketches I will refer to when I begin to add color.  I will be checking to make sure my value is correct as well as mixing my hues so that they will create interest and movement with alternating temperatures without interfering with the grayscale values I have chosen.


Step Seven – Drawing on watercolor paper

Rue des Solitaires Belleville Paris France values temperatures 091315 chriscarterartist workshops drawing 600

I have drawn this in pencil (12″ x 9″).  I have drawn only the details necessary to start laying in the watercolor washes.  I need to know the exact positions and shapes of the people.  I also need to have a general idea of where each building begins and ends because of the warmer and cooler areas I have planned to contrast against the figures, redefining their shapes.  At this point I can start to play with color.

Notice that each step changes a few things from the step before.  Do not get bogged down with details.  You must leave room for discovering new relationships and details with each new step, otherwise it becomes tedious and boring.  By the time you get to the stage of drawing it on the watercolor paper your enthusiasm will have diminished and your drawing will be lifeless.  Your excitement should grow with each step, building toward the thrill of playing with the color.  If you are growing weary between the steps, take a break, breathe deeply and move around to get the oxygen flowing.  Come back to it with fresh eyes and a positive attitude.


The above example is complex, perhaps more complex than you wish to tackle in our next meeting.  I would like you to chose one of your own photos and follow the steps above.  Bring your photograph as well as steps Two through Seven to our next class.  After my demonstration, you will be able to jump right in and start painting.  If you wish to bring two photos and sketches as well as the drawing on watercolor paper, please feel free to do so.  You can alternate between paintings as areas are drying.

Don’t feel that you have to choose something complex.  Below are examples of less complex images.  I’m not showing each step, but I’m sure you can fill in the gaps.

Green Cups: Photograph

Green Cups photograph chriscarterartist workshop photos 091315 600

Green Cups: Preliminary Sketches

green cups sketches chriscarterartist 091315 600


I tried a few variations of values before moving on to my temperature sketch.  For my temperature sketches I am using a fountain pen filled with blue ink and a sepia, fine pint marker.


Model Builder’s Tools: Photograph 

Model builder tools photograph chriscarterartist 091315 600

Model Builder’s Tools: Preliminary Sketches

Model builder tools photograph chriscarterartist 091315 sketches 600

Remember that you start with the largest basic shapes and you keep refining one step at a time, always working from larger to smaller. As long as you refer to your initial value sketch and your temperature sketch as you are adding color, you will not lose the strength of your design.