Learn Tonal Value via Black and White Photography

Seems I may have stumbled on some accidental learning.

Black and White photo of canon dslr camera in front of vintage book shelves of Hawaiiana aliciadrhankins

I’ve been playing around, taking black and white photographs. Composing pictures by using shapes, tones, and contrast. Guess what?

I’m starting to connect the importance of tonal value to my painting compositions!

By accident (and playful experience) you can

Learn Tonal Value via Black and White Photography

As if by childish play, by snapping carefree photos, playing with compositions, leading lines, large blocks of contrast, the experiences have given way to an a-ha moment.

Somehow, through reviewing the days photo collections, the “good” ones that appeal to the eye, that seem more interesting, that cause a time to pause and take note, are the ones that definitely contain a full range of deep dark black through greys up to crisp bright white.

Of course, many books say this, but to build on it, really create it, to recognize it, carry your camera, click away in black and white. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Color hues that you think will be dark tonal, may indeed be averagely medium. Bright colors you think would be white will show medium as well.

Wait til you see the world in tonal value!

Can’t wait to use these patterns to create paintings. Imagine the power your compositions will have after your new eyes show your new view.

What do you do learn tonal value? Are your experiences help you see these darks, mediums and lights?

Gesso and Watercolor – Fascinating Textures and Color

picture of gesso on watercolor paper showing texture and color

Gesso and Watercolor – Fascinating Textures and Colors

My journey with watercolor is like a travel down the rabbit hole of Alice’s adventures. One turn leads to another, then another, until the spiral side stops, this time on “texture”.


Just saying it causes the tongue to click, the mouth  to form. Texture awakens the senses, moves the body, stirs the soul.

Who can resist reaching out to touch what to the eye is soft, smooth, rough or bumpy? Texture demands a response.

One of those vehicles of such textures is gesso. Gesso is facinating.

photo of white gesso on watercolor paper swirls of texture waiting for color

With just ever so slight trials, you can manipulate and play with gesso to create subtle textures or pronounced textures. I had no idea what I was doing for this first application so I simply opened the jar, spooned gesso on on 140# watercolor paper, and smeared it with an old id card, a spoon, and a fork.

photo of entire sheet of watercolor paper covered with gesso texture waiting for watercolor colors

Here, if you zoom in to peer closely, you can see the randomness of my smooshings. I truly just let go and let it happen.

Now, bear in mind, my past few weeks have been filled with exciting new ideas of spontaneity, abstracts, and expressionism. So for this new discovery I was determined to release all the rules, leave them wayside, and just do. Experience the moments.

What did I find out? What joyful new discovery did I experience?

I love gesso.

The smoothness, the slurpy wet against the dry paper, the tactile excitement of this new to me substance was indulgent.

photo of close up of watercolor paper with gesso textures waiting for watercolor colors

The big motions you can make, swirls in liquid claylike material, peaks of rough protrusions you can create, all of it, purely fascinating. Did you know you can create with an underlayer, a base coat even before getting to the beautiful bright paint?

It’s a new play toy for your imaginative playground! What a way to explore!

But, what happens when you add color?

photo of lamp black watercolor disolved in water inky color

I used black. Yes, black, lamp black. Why? Because, why not? No rules, remember? And there’s just so much talk and discussion about black, to use it, not use it… what the heck? I used it.

photo of watercolor paints in tubes and watercolor mop brushes

And some red, some violet, some blue too. My tools are simple enough, a few brushes. You can see here a BIG mop all the way to a rather small bamboo round.

Remember now, the goal is expressive with texture and color.

The first layer of paint says that, don’t you think so?


photo of watercolor painting on gesso texture with expressive brush style painting bright colors


It’s what happened. I just let it come out.

Have you ever just picked up your brush and let go? No thoughts really, just let it happen.

(You could be surprised!)

My journey into texture has just begun.
It’s  like a flood gate has just opened.
With the rules tossed out the window a new sense of freedom is awakening.
A stir of creativity is bubbling.
Isn’t that what we are seeking?
What we hope to attain?
Creative inspiration?

What’s your thoughts? What fuels your creative spirit? Could texture be a start?

Click on the blog title and comment in the box, tell me I’m not the only one.

First Marks on the Blank Page

In the last post it was all about the fear of the white page and  a change in mindset. With that change, thinking a little differently than usual,  I went for it!

And this is the result.

picture of the first marks on the blank page experimental watercolor splashes of color

Ready to make the first marks on the blank page.

The paper needed a friend, a pal, to keep it company.
Why not make a splash, let it happen, lose control?
Look, it made something on it’s own!
I gave it a few drops of alcohol to stir up the party.

One of the most fun qualities of watercolor is it’s ability to be unpredictable.
You give it a stage, great paper, you give it music, water, could it dance for us?

The Joy of Watercolor is it’s nature to run, to bloom, to travel, to be free. Part of why I love this medium over any other is this thing that it does, have a mind of it’s own to move and spread, travel and mix. Why do you love it? Do you like to watch it do it’s thing?

Here’s my first brave mark. What did you splash on your blank page?

Click on the blog title and comment in the box
Share your idea in the comments, could I try it too?