Category Archives: Art Blog

Paint Shapes Not Things

I gave a workshop for the Calgary Chapter of the Federation of Canadian Artists last weekend.  It was a brand new workshop for me so I was super excited to see how it would go.  I’m really pleased to say that it was fabulous.  It was based on some new ideas that I’ve been working on lately, namely Paint Shapes not Things.  It’s a simple and very effective way to look at shapes.  It helps simplify and organize the shapes.  When you paint the shapes accurately you are painting the things accurately.


How to See a Subject as Two Shapes

Here are the first 2 demos I did.  Both are based on seeing the subject as 2 shapes: One shape is everything in sunlight and the second shape is everything in shadow.  Such a simple idea but what a difference it makes!




Painting When There is No Sun

This last demo is based on a subject where there is no sunlight.  I have to admit that, for me, it’s the hardest to teach but the most fun.  It’s a chance to play with colour and mood.


These are most of the student samples.  All are works in progress.

Just a note.  One participant worked in pastels and it was very interesting to see the watercolour instruction converted to pastel.

A great workshop and many thanks to the FCA!


What Is Notan?

Notan is a word taken from Japanese art.  It refers to seeing a subject in terms of flat shapes of black and white.  It sometimes uses just 2 values: black and white.  More practically we can use 3 values: white, black and mid grey.  You can of course use more values but I find the real benefit is to translate a subject into 3 values.  It’s a fabulous discipline. 

Why Bother?

The point is if the 3 value study works then you can be pretty confident that the painting will work.  If your pattern of lights and darks doesn’t work it will show up in these quick little sketches.  Notan is a skill that has to be practiced to master it.  It’s very easy to understand it but not so easy to do it.

One thing we learn is that there are so many decisions that go into simplifying a subject.  I guess I would say that simplifying is not simple.  Not simple but very worthwhile.

Practicing Notan enables us to analyze a subject or photo before we paint it.  This is part of the journey of improving our art.

Examples of Notan

Rex Beanland, Sports Experts

Rex Beanland, Notan Sports Experts, watercolour, 8 x 10



Rex Beanland, Exshaw

Rex Beanland, Notan – Exshaw, acrylic, 7 x 9



Rex Beanland, London– people walking

Rex Beanland, Notan – London, People walking, acrylic, 5 x 7



Rex Beanland, Stephan Ave bicycles

Rex Beanland, Notan Stephan Ave, acrylic, 7 x 9



Rex Beanland, Bow River Pathway

Rex Beanland, Notan – Bow River Pathway, acrylic, 6 x 8

The Benefits

Like any new skill it takes time and practice to master Notan.  However, the benefits are truly worth while.  It’s a lens through which we see subjects differently.  It simplifies and focuses the way we look at a subject.  It gives us a tremendous advantage when we come to paint a subject.  Finally it’s quick and a lot of fun. 

One of the main benefits is that  Notan forces us to simplify the subject.  When we simplify we learn that a lot of the detail doesn’t actually add much to the painting.  

In Summary

Adding Notan to your arsenal of painting  tools will, without doubt, take your painting to new levels.  I really encourage you to give it a shot. It  makes our painting process more intentional.  It will lead inevitably to better paintings!

What’s The Story?

I had a really interesting experience  a few weeks ago when I had one of my paintings critiqued by Frank Eber.  The critique was sponsored by the Northwest Watercolour Society.  The painting was one I did a few years ago.  I always thought it was a good painting but  it  seemed to be missing something. It never really spoke to me or anyone else.  Frank’s comments were that it showed a good mastery of watercolour but  he asked “What is the story?”  In other words what was I trying to say.  When I thought about it I realized that my motivation was just to copy the photo.  I really liked the photo and I wanted to translate it to paint.   It is a good copy all right but to paraphrase Frank:  what’s the point?

Here is the original photo of the subject from the Slocan Valley. 

Rex Beanland, Slocan Buildings,

This is the painting I did.  It’s an accurate copy of the photo with the addition of a couple of cats.  One important way to understand the issues with this painting is to look at the sign post.  It’s so detailed and right in the front but does it add anything to the painting or does it actually stop you from going further into the painting?

Rex Beanland, Slocan Buildings, watercolour, 21 x 29

So I re-analyzed the painting in terms of What’s the story?  Here are 2 cropped versions of the painting.  I believe that they have a stronger impact than the original.  

Rex Beanland, Slocan Buildings, watercolour, 21 x 29
Rex Beanland, Slocan Buildings, watercolour, 21 x 29

The Aha Moment

As I continued to reflect on the critique I realized how frequently my purpose was just to copy a photo.  See something, like it and copy it with paint. 

Here is another example.  It’s a painting I completed from my last trip to England.   Here is the photo. I loved the architecture and the people. 

Rex Beanland, Costa Coffee

Here is the painting I did.

Rex Beanland, Costa Coffee, watercolour, 15 x 20

Now I asked myself the new question:  What’s the story?  I realized for me it’s the people as they interact in this coffee shop.  Here is a study that represents my new thinking.

Rex Beanland, Costa Coffee, watercolour, 11 x 11

It definitely has a very different feel and I believe it’s a more interesting painting.  Long live the story!

Another Example

This is a fairly recent work.  I loved the subject but once again I never asked myself why I wanted to paint it.  Virtually everything that was in the photo ended up in the painting. I think it’s  good  but not nearly as strong as it could be

Rex Beanland, Colourful Bar, watercolour, 14 x 21

Again, I thought about why I wanted to paint it.  What I really liked was the colour, the light and the  connection (or lack of it) between the 2 figures.  So I did a study that emphasized those elements.

Rex Beanland, Colourful Bar 2, watercolour, 12 x 18

And again, for me, it’s a stronger composition.


Summing It All Up

I have to thank that critique for showing me what I needed to learn.   I am now so much more aware of asking myself, “Why do I want to paint this subject?  What do I want to say?” The best part is that I now ask myself  these questions before I start the painting.

Incorporating this thinking process into your art is an essential ingredient in becoming a better artist.  It’s something that doesn’t always come intuitively. It’s a skill to be practiced. 

And most importantly it makes painting so much more fun and more rewarding. 

Happy Painting!!

Painting The City At Swinton’s

Last weekend I taught an in-person workshop at Swinton’s Art Supplies in Calgary.  It was a fabulous weekend.  The participants were an excellent group, very enthusiastic and very friendly.  Quite unusually there were many watercolour beginners in the group.  That turned out to be an advantage because we were able to proceed at a very appropriate pace.  Here are some photos of the class at work.


Rex Beanland, Workshop photos, Swinton
Rex Beanland, Workshop photos, Swinton
Rex Beanland, Workshop photos, Swinton
Rex Beanland, Workshop photos, Swinton
Rex Beanland, Class at work, Swinton

First Painting: Piazza del Popolo

This is an excellent subject because it teaches so many valuable lessons such as how to create a luminous wash, how to paint all types of figures as well as the often unrecognized idea of ‘eye level’.  Whenever we paint a group of people basically all the eyes need to be on the same line which we call eye level.

Here are an assortment of the particpants’ paintings.  They are all works in progress.


Rex Beanland, watercolour workshop, Swinton's 2021
Rex Beanland, watercolour workshop, Swinton's 2021
Rex Beanland, watercolour workshop, Swinton's 2021

My Demo Paintings:  Piazza del Popolo

Here are the 2 paintings I did.  I’m including how the painting looked at the end of the workshop for reference and then the final version.

Rex Beanland, Piazza del Popolo, watercolour, 20 x 15
End of workshop
Rex Beanland, Piazza del Popolo, watercolour, 20 x 15
Final Version

New York City Scene with Yellow Cabs

I made some significant changes to the composition.  When I got it home and looked at it I realized it needed the buildings to go back further down the road.  So I added a couple of extras and it helped.

Rex Beanland, NYC Street, watercolour, 15 x 20
End of workshop

Rex Beanland, NYC Street, watercolour, 15 x 20
Final version with extra buildings.
















Class Photo

Such a great group and such and enjoyable workshop.  It seems so odd but also so familiar to see all the masks.

Rex Beanland, Class Photo, Swinton

Rosebud Plein Air Weekend

I participated in a wonderful art event the past weekend in Rosebud, Alberta.  Rosebud is a little hamlet that is almost totally dedicated to the arts.  We’ve visited Rosebud many times to go the theatre but this is the first time I have actually stayed there, if just for a weekend.  It felt great to be a temporary resident of Rosebud.  I even participated in the drum circle and got to perform a couple of songs.  I camped there and the sense of peace and quiet especially at night was wonderful.

Anyway, this is one painting I did.  It’s based on my plein air study.  It’s a view from the top of the valley looking down on Rosebud.  I been drawn to this view for a number of years but I was never sure how to paint it.  This style is something completely new for me which makes this painting super exciting.


Rosebud, Alberta

This next image is a view of the ‘downtown’.  Again I’ve looked at this scene many times and it never really spoke to me.  This time I had a bit of time to kill and I wanted to try something so I just started with a little pencil sketch and all of a sudden I thought there was some potential.  This really showed me that anything can be turned into a good subject. It’s all about the eye of the beholder.  So don’t keep looking for the perfect scene.  Work with what you have and turn that into a great painting.  This is a plein air study.  


Downtown Rosebud

It was a great time and many thanks to all the organizers who made me  and all the other participating artists feel so welcome.

Gibsons Landing Workshop

I had the pleasure of offering my first in-person workshop in 16 months.  It was for the Gibsons School of the Arts.  They do a fabulous job of presenting quality art workshops every summer.  They are a very vibrant and friendly group.

The participants in the workshop were also an especially great group to work with.  

Rex Beaanland, Class photo, Gibsons
A great group of enthusiastic watercolourists

The Paintings
 Piazza del Popolo

The first demo was of the Piazza del Popolo. It’s a great subject that teaches so many useful watercolour skills. We took a lot of time learning how to create a mass of background figures.

I’m including a detail of these figures. They tend to look unfinished when you look at them up close but from a distance they magically become figures.

Another thing that I use frequently in urban landscape painting is what I call ‘ghost figures’. They are figures in the foreground that are there to draw you in to the painting. I particularly like the way that their lower half sort of disappears.

Ghost Figure

The participants’ examples.

Granville St

The last demo we did  was a scene from Granville St in Vancouver.  We didn’t have time to finish it but you can see that everyone is well on their way.

Boats At Gibsons

We also did a painting of boats at Gibsons.  This was a challenging painting but as you can see from our Wall Of Fame  it was also well done.

Rex Beaanland, wall of fame, Gibsons
The Wall Of Fame

The workshops are now being held in the High Beam Dreams which I believe was originally a church.  A great space.

Rex Beanland, high beam dreams, Gibsons

My demos

Here are the paintings I did.  I finished them off at home.

Rex Beanland, Piazza del Popolo Gibsons
Piazza del Popolo
Rex Beanland, Boats at Gibsons, watercolour, 20 x 15
All Quiet In Gibsons
Rex Beanland, Granville St, watercolour, 15 x 20, Gibsons
Granville St


I just love teaching art so it was a wonderful experience being in Gibsons.  Many thanks to everyone who participated for making it such a great experience.  Thanks also to Dee for being my excellent assistant!

Rex Beanland, Dee paints, Gibsons

Plein Air Painting

After the workshop Susan and I spent a week meandering to the end of the Coastal Highway (about 150 km).  I did a few plein air paintings which I super enjoyed.  I remember so much more of a location when I paint it then I ever do from a photograph.  It’s the greatest way to visit new locations.

Rex Beanland, Lang Bay, watercolour, 9 x 12
Lang Bay
Rex Beanland, Saltry Bay, watercolour 9 x 12
Saltery Bay
Rex Beanland, Historic Town Site, Powell River, watercolour, 15 x 11
Historic Town Site – Powell River
Rex Beanland, Pender Harbour, watercolour, 11 x 15
Pender Harbour

It was truly a great experience!

Rex Beanland, class photo 2, Gibsons

On-Line Urban Landscape Workshop for the Ottawa Watercolour Society

I just completed a 3 day on-line workshop for the Ottawa Watercolour Society.  I’ve done quite a few on-line demos but this was my first workshop.  It was a great experience.  All the participants were very enthusiastic, everyone was very motivated to paint.  It was also the mix I like.  There were really accomplished artists who were less experienced with watercolour.  There were some relatively new painters and some very experienced  watercolourists. 

Thoughts On Zoom Workshops

Zoom is an interesting technology.  It has some advantages over an in-person workshop mainly the really clear, unobstructed view of the painting combined with the ability to zoom in on certain sections.  The main draw back is the inability to do that over-the-shoulder mentoring that happens in a live workshop.  The main thing, however, is that it is very possible to have a great educational experience over Zoom.

The Paintings

The first demo was a practice in painting people, both close and far away.  It’s a painting of the  Piazza del Popolo.  The other painting was the Flat Iron Building in NYC.

First I’m going to post my demos.  I’m including the version as it was at the end of the workshop and also the final. version for the benefit of the participants.

These are the participants paintings.  Most of them are works in progress.  They really represent a high level of achievement.  Well done all!

It was a fabulous workshop.  I really enjoyed meeting everyone and it was a pleasure to work with a group of people so interested in improving their watercolour painting.  Thanks to the Ottawa Watercolour Society and thanks to Jane for all her help!

Finally – In Person Workshops

After a year of isolation my first in-person workshop will be happening April 17 – 18 at Swinton’s Art Supply, Calgary.
For information visit Swinton’s website.  You can also call the store 403-258-3500.

I’m very excited about this workshop for 2 reasons.  Firstly I want to emphasize ‘how’ I approach almost any urban Landscape subject.  In other words I want to show the process I use.  It’s a fun and easy way to paint but the main benefit is that it gives you a consistent plan to follow when doing an urban landscape painting but in truth it will also work for many other subjects.  The second reason is that I decided that I wanted to do something completely different on the second day.  So for the first time I’m going to do something I’ve been working on for a long time – namely a portrait.  I imagine many people will be very surprised but I intend to show that even a subject like this that might seem daunting can be done fairly easily with the right process which is what I’m going to show.

This little video clip promotes the workshop.

Zoom Demonstration!

On Thursday, Nov 19, 2020 I did my first zoom demonstration for the Calgary Sketch Club.  It was a fairly stressful process simply because I got a new, powerful piece of hardware that I hoped would make the experience better for the viewers.  I worked beautifully.

Here is the painting as it was when I finished the demo (1 1/2 hours).


I spent about another hour in the studio and this is the final version.

I’m really happy with the painting and I’m over the moon with the process.  I think I can use this technology to continue my teaching in this most challenging of times.

Hair Is The Hardest Part Of A Portrait

I have been doing a lot of portraits lately and, for me, the hardest part of a portrait is the hair. This is  especially true for portraits of women.  To create hair that has volume and definition  is a real challenge. 

As much as I enjoy art when it’s easy,  I actually do appreciate these challenges. They aren’t always fun but I always learn from them because they motivate me to figure out what the problem is.

So, with this in mind I  began to practice various portraits.  This was one of the first ones. 

The first thing I learned is that black is not a great colour for shadows on a face. As far as the hair goes. The shape is accurate, it reads as hair. There is also a little value contrast in it.  It is a little lighter and redder on the right side.  Overall, however it’s just a dark blob that adds very little to the portrait.

So I knew there was a problem in the way I approached hair.  I wasn’t seeing the shapes within the hair.  So I took a new subject and did a portrait in pencil where I had more control.


This was when the light bulb turned on.  I was seeing the detail and the various shapes within the hair. All I needed to do was copy them with paint. 

So I took the ideas from this pencil sketch and painted them.


This is the portrait that I painted. I actually filmed it as a video lesson.  I’m very happy with it.  The hair has a nice feel, it appears real and it supports the subject.

Accepting A Challenge

This process of practicing a challenging subject is something I do a lot because that’s how I learn and grow as an artist.  I don’t like it when paintings don’t work out but I have to admit that I learn more from my failures than my successes.  I just enjoy my successes but I learn from my mistakes.

Happy painting!

P.S. When I finish editing the video I’ll be putting it in my newsletter.  If you are interested in receiving my newsletter please contact me.  The next edition will be coming out soon. Contact me.