OCAD Studio: Landscape Sketching Part 1

Landscape sketching is a great way to begin working directly from the landscape. It will help you to understand general principle about landscapes before attempting to work in paint (which can be a bit daunting!).

This lesson will introduce two key principle which will help you to make sense of and arrange the shapes and values in the landscape. I won’t go into technique too much, we will cover this later. For the time being, I want you to gain an understanding of these two important concepts.

Carlsen’s Theory of Angles

One of the most useful resources for landscape painting (and drawing) was written in the early 20th C. by an American painter – John F. Carlsen. It’s called ‘Carlsen’s Guide to Landscape Painting’.

One of the most useful principles in the book is his Theory of Angles which is used to group features of the landscape into value masses based on their relation to the sun. As we have seen in previous lessons, planes that face towards the light source will always be relatively lighter than planes which face away from the light source.

As the source of light in a landscape is the sun, all features of the landscape are brighter or darker depending on how much of their surface faces towards the sun.


These are the four value groups that are used in the theory of angles:



The value of the sky can vary depending on the position of the sun and the amount of cloud cover but is almost always the brightest value mass in the image as it is the source of light. Somewhat counter-intuitively, the value of the sky is usually slightly darker on clear day and brighter on overcast days. This is because light rays travelling through a cloud bounce around within the cloud before eventually hitting the ground, whereas they fall directly on the ground on a clear day. Light refracting within the cloud illuminates it, and also reduces the amount light reaching the ground. This phenomenon means that the sky can look almost pure white on an overcast day, whereas it is a slightly darker value (and more blue) on a clear day.

To help understand this concept better, find a frosted pane of glass and compare it to a clear pane of glass. The frosted glass looks brighter because the light bounces around within the glass before carrying on its way.



Flat (or reasonably flat) sections of the ground tend to face directly upwards, which means that they receive a lot of direct light from the sky and are generally brighter than other features of the landscape.


Upright Objects (Trees, walls, people etc.)

Upright (or near vertical) objects only catch slanting light rays so the will tend to be the darkest parts of a landscapes (excluding shadows of course).


Angled Surfaces (Mountains, top of buildings etc.)

Angled surfaces include mountains/hills, rocky outcrops and manmade structures (roofs of building are often slanted. These will vary in value depending on their angle – the nearer horizontal they are, the lighter they will be.


These general principles are of course quite variable, obvious exceptions include:

  • A setting sun is so low that vertical objects will receive more light than the ground plane.
  • On a stormy day the darkest parts of cloud will be darker than other parts of the landscape.
  • Local value is important – the white walls of a house will be lighter than green grass on the ground, despite receiving less light than the grass.


However, being aware of the overall concept will help you to mass parts of the landscape when sketching. This will help you to arrange the scene more simply and confidently before adding detail.

Aerial Perspective

Aerial perspective is a bit more straightforward than the theory of angles, and tends to be a pretty consistent rule. As we look further into the distant part of a landscape the lighter it becomes. So the darkest values will always occur in the nearest part of the foreground. This is because of particles in the atmosphere which are not visible to the naked eye. While we can’t see the particles they bounce light which makes them glow a little. The further into the distance we look, the more of these tiny glowing particles we look through, resulting in a veil of illuminated atmosphere increasing into the distance. As a result, the further into the distance we look, the lighter things get.

OCAD Studio: Nōtan


All compositions are essentially an arrangement of simple abstract shapes. Nōtan is an ideal way to study the shapes and patterns that serve as the foundation of every composition. Nōtan is a Japanese word that means “light-dark balance.” Nōtan uses an extremely limited range of values: just black and white. This type of flat design notation is well suited to expressing a composition in its essential shape-terms.

The traditional way to produce a Nōtan image is by cutting out black shapes and laying them on white paper (or vice-versa). These images were typically abstract rather than representational. Today we will be looking at this traditional approach and how the theory can be adapted to representational works of art.

Making Traditional Nōtan Artworks

Cutout Example 1.jpgCutout Example 2.jpg

  • The aim of traditional Nōtan is to place positive and negative shapes next to each other, with edges touching. This creates a pattern – a shadow image and a blank image.
  • All you need is white paper, black paper, scissors and a pencil.
  • Begin by lightly drawing shapes on the pieces of paper, cut them out and then assemble them on the page.
  • You can keep adding and reducing from these shapes as much as you like, to play around with the light and dark shapes.
  • Take a look at the examples above for inspiration.
  • If you like you can also begin to make more representational shapes – such as trees, people and animals – and see how shifting them around the page affects the composition.

Using Nōtan in Representational Artworks

It is useful to see the underlying shapes that make up a composition because when looking at a scene we are presented with lots of information; many different elements with differing shapes and sizes, infinite gradations of tone and colour and enormous detail.

So much information can make starting an artwork overwhelming. The power of Nōtan is that when a design is expressed in simpler terms, compositional dynamics such as general movement, weight and balance become much easier to see. You can think of it as a variation on the gesture drawing lessons in the course; this time using massed shapes as the basis for the composition.

Working with Nōtan will allow you to see the abstract composition that lies below the representational surface of your artwork.

Nōtan is not the same as a traditional value study, as a value study tries to determine the primary value relationships in an image. Nōtan, which is just black and white, cannot do this. What it can do very well, is make the basic shapes and patterns that are at the basis of the composition, more clear.


Repin Portrait.jpgThis is a portrait painting by Russian 19th C. artist Ilya Repin.

  • The piece relies on carefully modulated tones and a clear contrast between light and dark.
  • This sort of painting will have a pattern of light and shadow that closely matches the pattern of white and black expressed by the Nōtan. However there are still sections of halftone that have to be grouped with either the light or dark shapes.
  • Deciding whether these halftones will be grouped with the white shapes or black shapes is the most important aspect of the Nōtan process. Observing the patterns of light and shadow, and arranging these patterns in a way that emphasises simplicity, balance, cohesion, and movement is what you’re trying to do.
  • In this example, the Nōtan demonstrates the strong triangular shapes that form the core of the composition. The head and beard make up a central diagonal triangle with several smaller triangular shapes intersecting below.
  • I recommend making Nōtan studies of paintings and drawings that you like, in order to explore how the artist has designed the image. You can also use this method when planning your own work. I made this study on Photoshop on the computer but you can make them in any monochrome medium – pencil, charcoal, ink, pen, paint etc.
  • Working with simplified shapes and reduced values can help to refine the patterns that underlie the image. Impressive use of colour, bold brushstrokes or detail will never rescue a weak design. That’s why Nōtan is such a helpful concept to bear in mind when planning and producing both abstract and representational paintings.

Venice Painting.jpg

Another Nōtan from ‘A Church in Foggia’ by Edward Seago.

Here are the original versions of the Nōtan studies I made in the video above. They are both oil paintings by John Singer Sargent.

Task 16: Mixed Media

Mixed media art refers to a visual art form that combines a variety of media in a single artwork. For example, if you draw with ink, then paint over it with watercolors, then add some highlights in colored pencil – that’s mixed media!

The use of mixed media began around 1912 with the cubist collages and constructions of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and has become widespread as artists developed increasingly open attitudes to the media of art. Essentially art can be made of anything or any combination of things.

Picasso and Braque were the first artists to put into question whether art could consist of pre-made materials. Collage questioned the separation between art and life—ideas so many artists of the 20th century—such as Duchamp, but also the Dadaists and Neo-Dadaartists like Robert Rauschenberg—would later also take-up.

Pablo Picasso, ‘Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper’ 1913

Pablo Picasso
Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913


This task asks you to use your own photos for inspiration. This gives you a personal touch to the work and makes it increasingly unique. Recreating elements of that photo, or even recreating a previous artwork you have done, could be how you begin this task.

Everyone should start by thinking about the surface which is going to be used for the mixed media art work. If you are thinking of producing a painting, then adding other mediums to it possibly, then don’t just paint or draw on white cartridge paper and nothing else. Not that there is anything wrong with cartridge paper, but being able to experiment on various other textures and surfaces, will add to your dynamic variety of work. Painting onto something unexpected brings with it differing colours, textures, marks and irregularities of its own. So do try it as a starting point.

I am going to explore fibre art to open your eyes to a totally new way of approaching your art work. But you can use any media you wish 🙂


You need a theme… it can be food, nature, portraits… or a chosen artist like those mentioned above, or, Klimt, Chuck Close, Frida Kahlo, Hundertwasser – the reason I pluck these names out of my head is that I’m thinking ‘colours’ and maybe something abstract. Hundertwasser used foils and other mediums in his work so it is great to see how he did this. You will find many mixed media artists but you don’t have to find influence in this particular style of art, maybe just the patterns and textures in other art works which you then recreate yourself.

Going abstract could free you up when doing this art work as you have no pressure of trying to make it realistic… but go with your interests and choose a theme and artist that really interests you.

So for my example, I could combine both the ideas of ‘Nature’ and the artist ‘Klimt’.

So first I need to draw up some patterns and ideas from his artwork, so I look at Gustav Klimt’s work to get some inspiration-some are close-ups:

I can combine the colours and patterns found in these works with my own nature photos; by collecting fabrics, scraps of papers, wrappers and anything else I can find, it will help me to piece together my experimental mixed media. I have picked up on the use of metallic, bold colours of Klimt, and this is helping me to decide on my colour scheme. Also metallics can be found in a variety of materials so I will begin collecting with this in mind.

Find out what drawing and painting mediums will go onto the surfaces you are going to use. For fabric, I would hold it in an embroidery hoop to stretch the fabric firm so that I have a sturdy base on which to draw. I will pick out the textures and patterns I see in my photos to see how I can recreate these… I am not really thinking of creating a ‘flower’ but my abstract mixed media will have been inspired by them.

Patterns from flowers:

By experimenting with all of my images, I can now bring the two themes together to create something more unique and personal to me. The key to successful ideas is good research. Collect and study many aspects of your chosen theme to develop ideas into something great!

Here are some examples of how others may have used a range of materials to create their mixed media:


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Why not have a go at this and post your artwork for me to see. Maybe I or the community can offer support, encouragement and helpful feedback.  – share your work on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM – POST  using our hashtag #ONLINECOLLEGEART

OCAD Studio: Quick Portrait Sketching


This is a great method for making quick sketches from fleeting subjects. If you’re on a train or in a cafe and you want to quickly sketch the faces of people around you in a few minutes ( and discreetly) this stripped back approach will make it possible.



  • Sketchbook
  • Pencil
  • Kneadable eraser


Key Points


Keep it small

Keeping your sketch small will make it manageable, as when you’re drawing in pencil, it takes time to lay down a tone (particular darker tones). So with a big drawing, it will take a lot longer to lay everything in. You’re only looking to capture an impression of your subject, not reach a photographic level of detail.


Look for shapes not features

Look for shadow shapes rather than specific features. This will make the drawing more accurate and interesting. If you focus on the features there is a risk that you will lose the character of the face as we have a tendency to revert to generic versions of nose, eyes and mouths if we think too much about them. Just look for large masses of shadow and their relationship to one another. This is how I always recommend you approach representational drawing and painting so it’s no different if you’re working quickly (if anything it’s more crucial that you simplify the image into shapes).


Keep it loose

Don’t get hung up on details, use quick and  loose pencil marks, don’t fret over getting really even tones. A loose approach will give a nice fresh look to your drawings.


Don’t blend too much

Use large tonal planes in the lighter areas rather than shading with gradients. Adding complex shading will take too long and won’t add much to the overall effect of the piece.


Choose a Point of Focus

You can give the impression of higher level of finish by selecting a specific part of drawing to render more. Usually in a portrait this will be the eyes, nose and mouth. Once everything is loosely in place and you’re happy with the proportions you can return to the nose, eyes and mouth with a sharpened pencil and refine those features a bit. This will make the viewer focus their attention on that part of the drawing and it won’t matter if the rest of the piece is very loose.