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  Value Sketch


This week I had the opportunity to attend a Don Andrews Workshop offered by our Allen County Public Library.  What a wonderful experience. I learned so much!

The above painting was created after he instructed about how to create a pathway of light by first doing a value sketch to use from reference material you choose. He spoke about how to lay in granular washes and what an artist can do to furthur enhance a center of interest and where it should be placed. I actually took the time to do a value sketch and found it less time consuming than previous times I have done this. I learned to simplify and bring out some of the important things I wanted to focus on. I painted in the darks on my sketch paper to save time (rather than shading with graphite) and I actually ended up using my value sketch more than the reference photo for this image. I found this to be totally freeing and, as I painted, I began to sense that the painting was telling me more and more of what I needed to do than the actual reference material. A day spent on composition was very helpful.


  1. Beautiful!

  2. Wow Leslie, I love this painting and how your subject has developed its own personality on the page. I guess it is because it is devoid of original details. It is delightful! I love the colors too.

    • The photograph for this was blurry with the exception that I could see the skyline and the elements along the water (more like what I take on my travels). I tried to select some things that made this scene Chicago such as the Prudential building and the ferris wheel as well as that red mushroom looking ride next to the ferris wheel. The roofline along the buildings on the pier were actually white so I just had to decide other small shapes of white off some of the other buildings to tie them in. It quickly turned into a dusky or night-like scene after I put the large granular washes in. At that point, I tried to let the painting tell me where it wanted to go and kept in mind that I wanted the viewer to end up on the ferris wheel. It was a fun learning experience. I was surprised with the way the color developed, so thank-you for that comment, Kirsty. 🙂

  3. I really do believe in dialogue between artist and artwork.
    Reference material should only ever be that.
    Something to use to make sure you’re not going too far.
    Sounds like a great experience and these studies are really cool as always

    • Thank-you, Richard. This was a very insightful thing for me and fun. I was concentrating on shapes and values and such and the pier sort of constructed itself.

  4. How exciting! A strong painting, Leslie. It is clear that you were attentive to the development of the painting and allowed yourself to step away from the reference material and onto the path of creative manipulation. What fun you must have had. How fortunate to be able to take a workshop with Don Andrews! A new door has opened for you.

    • Thank-you, Chris. I can not tell you how inspiring it was to watch him paint and talk about what he was doing. The way he explains things help to make you believe anyone can do these things. Sometimes I think we talk ourselves into believing certain things aren’t possible.

  5. What a great value the value sketch has as a reference Leslie! I also love the granular effect on the colours – reflective yet lively! Another good piece!

    • Thank-you, Lynda. Those granular washes? He says it is so easy we can get better and better at it in just weeks. I believe him. It is going to take me some time to learn what different colors look like together. I did not mind doing the value sketch. It is only to determine where to place darks and lights and he gave us ideas about how and where they might be placed. I think that, alone, helped me to begin to use both the sketch and the reference.

  6. I want to live in your final painting. How nice to be in a chromatic city full of interesting shapes and architecture. I guess the pathway of life method has you working from dark to lights a little more than the usual watercolor technique? ……Hmmm…need to edit my comment. Make that pathway of light, although as artists we are also concerned about the pathway of life too!

    • Thank-you, Al. May I call you Al? I hope it is OK that I put your two comments together. First of all, Don said that designing those lights in, at the beginning, is step one at bringing your painting to “life”. I thought it interesting that you mentioned both in your comment. Thank-you for that.
      No, I did not work from dark to light. It was light to dark. I’m grinning, here, in answering this. I was so excited to get into those big granular washes all around that I got carried away. Then, when it was time to come in with the darks, I had to go really dark. I didn’t mind it though. I wouldn’t mind living in it either, so thanks for this whole comment!

  7. This is a very strong painting! Wonderful colors, I like the softness of the background contrasting with the sharp lines ! Thank you for reminding us about the value sketch, something I need to incorporate more… What lucky thing to be able to take a class with such a master !

    • I am so glad you took the time to comment on this, Isabelle. I actually thought of YOU!, during this workshop, and how much you would enjoy Don’s approach to painting! Your work is so free and colorful, like his, and you traverse that representational and embrace what is happening on the paper. I actually felt where you go when you create. I have to work on my edginess. I will approach that topic in the next post. The value sketch? He presented it in such a way that I did not find it off-putting as I have in the past and am going to try to discipline myself to do one each time. Thanks for this wonderful comment.

  8. I love your Chicago painting Leslie! And even the value sketch is great! It is very good to plan what you are going to do. And it is great to learn from somebody who can.

    • I agree with you on the planning. I just didn’t realise I could do these sketches so quickly. I also thought I might lose inspiration for the piece, but didn’t. It actually helped me to envision more possibilities and made the creation a more pleasant experience. Funny how that works. Yes, learning from someone who said the things that clicked, for me, was great! Thank-you for for your comment, Jan! 🙂

  9. Love the concept not sure I fully under stand it but I like the results. Is he telling you to focus on shapes and design? I would find that an interesting exercise. Any how great idea.

    • I imagine it is a little confusing. Sorry. I felt it is not OK to share what he said exactly. Yes, he was able to simplify composition to the point that it made perfect sense. The way he spoke about a value sketch sounded so less time consuming and actually enjoyable. He demonstrated the granular washes and that was the easiest part of all. Everything he taught is on his video. By taking the workshop, I was able to see, firsthand, his sketches and paintings. I also had the benefit of pointers for my own work. Thank-you, Richard!

  10. I think i do understand a bit about the concept It seems like storyboarding when doing a movie, so for painting, its a pre planning for an actual painting. Sometimes for some complex drawings, i will do that as to plan ahead when can and what will work. Just wish i have an opportunity to watch a master at work. Very nice painting Leslie. As always your colors are just amazing.

    • You do understand. It is like that storyboarding. I was so excited about the colors that came from these granular washes. I think it is OK to say that he had us work on an angle and we would wet an area and lay in one color, then another and then turn our boards. That is what made some of these colors like the sky. Thank-you, Francis.
      Your painting of Alicia Keys is beautiful!

  11. First, I have to tell you how jealous I am! *giggle* How wonderful it must have been to attend that workshop!

    This is a gorgeous painting and the colors are singing in harmony… right out loud!!! Amazing!! It’s going to be so much fun watching your blog. Well… it already is, but it’ll be exciting to see all your new skills unfold! 🙂

    • Thank-you, Beth. I hope I can stick with this plan. I think I can. I learned so much that it would feel like going backwards, now, if I don’t. As far as the jealous? It was a wonderful opportunity our library offered us. I am so thankful.

  12. Leslie, I can see the influence of Don Andrews but this painting is all you – lovely color, exciting design. I am really learning the value of doing a value study and I like yours. Doing it with color might be more fun. Don Andrews is such a generous teacher I can’t wait to see what else you learned.

    • Thank-you for saying you can see me in this. I was really concentrating on the values and the design as that was what he wanted us to concentrate on. I think the influence of Don shows up in the washes and the area left white. I don’t do many abstract-like things, so this was really an adventure for me. He had said, “There is no rule that you have to do your sketches in graphite. Swish some color in there and it will save you time.” You know what? It does. I think the sketches are taking me 40 minutes to do and that is not a long time, to me. I figure I can always do some in spurts of time, when I don’t have time to paint and there will be sketches in my sketch book three or four ahead of the paintings I do. He is generous, Linda. Have you taken from him?

      • Hi Leslie, He did a workshop and a 3 hr demo for the Watercolor Society of Indiana last June. I attended the demo and was REALLY sorry I did not take the workshop. He is funny and GREAT!

  13. Leslie, this is very different from your usual work, it seems participating in the workshop evolved your style a bit as well. I like it!

    • 🙂 Thank-you, Frank. I look at this and say, “Where did this come from?” I have to chuckle. In a way, I like it too. The real painting is a little more opaque or darker looking in real life, but this is as close as I could get the image.

  14. Leslie, I wrote a comment and now I have no clue as to where it went. It’s probably the heat!

    I love the abstract quality of this painting. The buildings seem to dance.

    • I think they look like they are dancing because some of them are crooked. 🙂 I don’t care. I love the idea of dancing buildings and embrace that comment. Thank-you, Carol. I know. Where did I get that abstract whatever look? I think it is because he had talked so much about letting the painting evolve, I took him literally! I need to tell myself that more!

  15. Hey Leslie! This is SO whimsical and magical. It reminds me of summer days spent at the pier where I grew up. Our whole shabang was much smaller, but there was a ferris wheel, and You captured that long, perfect day feel for me. How joyful! Pass the cotton candy! 😆 Really lovely. Thank You and Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

  16. like a dream and a reality perfectly portrayed leaving this beholder caught between the two..I love the first one because of the mysterious reality..and the vivid dreaminess of the second one is beautiful!

    • Thank-you, D.S. for commenting on liking my sketch as well as my painting. I am sometimes fascinated and can sit and look at sketches in books for hours. I think I never had words to describe it before. There is a mysterious reality to them. Thank-you for that!

  17. Such a great range of color in the painting. Didn’t know you were from Fort Wayne 🙂

    • Thank-you, Adam. Yes. It is not as pretty down here as up where you are, but I am midwest! Grew up in southern Michigan on a lake near Three Rivers which is like a ghost town, now.

  18. Oh Leslie, every time you paint ‘Chicago’ it brings back so many memories for me. This one of Navy Pier connects to the time I learned that my daughter does NOT like Ferris Wheels–unfortunately she never shared this information until she, me and her brother were riding the one on Navy Pier and it began to RAIN like it was never going to stop. Oh my.
    Hmm…oh Leslie….

    • Thank-you, Eva. My Granny lived there and I grew quite fond of the city and surroundings. I need to do more. I don’t like ferris wheels either. I am petrified of heights. I have ridden them though. Thank-you for sharing some great memories with me!!!!

  19. Great painting, the colors are gorgeous! I should do more of those value sketch, I kind of always feel in a hurry to start the actual painting 🙂

  20. i like the value sketch here, it has a raw edged drama against the graphite outline of the panorama. i just felt that there are some pieces of art that is best left out. and this is one of it.

    • Why, thank-you, Hames. I like this value sketch if only for the reason that it got me to do them. 🙂

  21. This is neat! I really like it! But you knew I would, LOL. I am just trying to figure out where from the reference picture was taken… Monroe Harbor? From the water perhaps?

    And I hate to say it, but there is one glaring omission in this painting… ME! 😀 😀 😀

    • Hi Alex! You are right! I should have put you at the top of the ferris wheel waving at us! Darn! Next time! I found the picture on wet canvas and it was probably taken from a boat as there was water in the foreground like it was taken parallel to the pier. I really enjoyed painting this and just concentrating on shapes. I would like to do more city ones.Thank-you, Alex!

  22. I was just in Chicago; how did I miss you?

    • I was out on a boat in Monroe Harbor painting. If I’d known you were there, I would have come in early or invited you along!!!!! 🙂

  23. Hey Leslie – this painting caught my eye as I scrolled through your blog – it is a very striking composition and your text is most instructive. Your classes must be so enriching – you are a teacher through and through – and I love your paintings – Stephen

    • The workshop was only three days. Wish it could have lasted longer! Thank-you for noticing this piece. I have a few more cityscapes in mind and I hope I can render them as playfully as I did this one. The geometric forms were fun to create with! Thank-you, Stephen!

  24. Leslie –

    I love this painting. Are you at all interested in selling it or possibly creating a customer piece? I have been on the hunt for the perfect Chicago painting for a long time. Please let me know!

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