Weaving Color & Values

by Armand Cabrera

When you plan your color and values carefully you can employ them to great effect with what I call weaving. Just like weaving a cloth, ¬the color and values are woven into the painting with intent creating a strong abstract composition. This is not the same thing as toning your canvas and allowing color to peak through the brush work in a haphazard way. Weaving uses the intelligence and creativity of the painter in service of an idea to introduce structure irrespective of subject. It is a powerful and effective design tool. This is why thumbnails and color comps created before the details and subject are overlaid onto the design are important. You cannot rely on motif and subject only to carry your painting. A good painting must have a good plan for all of the elements.

Below are some examples; I’ve varied the subject matter to show that any type of painting can incorporate the idea of weaving.

 Dean Cornwell
 John Carlson
 Aldro Hibbard
Joaquín Sorolla
 John Singer Sargent
 Emile Carlsen
 Jane Peterson

Making a Mark

Armand Cabrera

Robert Henri

Brush strokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time he makes it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of his spirit and all the littleness are in it. —– Robert Henri

Joaquin Sorolla

Painting at its best is communication. A successful painting communicates to others on a personal level. The artist, to be effective, must share something of themselves to make that happen. Their art must carry truth in it. Many times people confuse the truth of a thing with its outward appearance but that is just illusion. The truth of a thing is the whole thing. Not just its how it looks to the eye, but also its character, how it makes you feel. The artist in observing the motif decides to express themselves by capturing it in paint.

N.C. Wyeth

An artist must be sensitive enough to discern the whole and to infuse his paintings with the most important aspects of the thing. This not only takes the skill to paint but the openness to understand and make decisions about the subject depicted. There is facility and thoughtfulness and insight. It is opinion manifest through their ability as an artist and it is hard work. It shuns the superficiality of affectation and artistic mimesis.

Hovsep Pushman

There is a lot of technique being thrown around nowadays. Illustrators and artists are hiding behind technology and routine copying and photographic collage. This slick surface work, lacking any personality except in the most superficial way is completely devoid of the hand of the maker. In my opinion this is artistic cowardice. To remove the artist and their opinion is to remove the art from the craft of painting. Anyone, given enough time and effort can be taught the mechanics of image making but the mechanics alone do not produce a work of art. Art can be anything and take many styles but for it to be meaningful it must always carry the mark of the artist. All great art has an individual point of view.

Dennis Miller Bunker

The great artists and illustrators knew this and poured their thoughts and emotions into their work at every level. They infused their work with beauty, power, passion and care in spite of personal challenges, deadlines or outside influences. These artists left a bit of themselves for all to see and in doing so made their mark on the world of art.

Harvey Dunn

There are ten thousand people in the United States who can paint and draw to beat the band. You have never heard of them and you never will. They have thoroughly mastered their craft and that is all they have—their craft… Merely knowing your craft will never be enough to make a picture… If you ever amount to anything at all, it will be because you are true to that deep desire or ideal which made you seek artistic expression in pictures—Harvey Dunn


   Isaac Levitan

Can anything be more tragic than to feel the infinite beauty of your surroundings, to read natures innermost secrets and, conscious of your own helplessness, to be incapable of expressing those powerful emotions? —– Isaac Levitan

Howard Pyle

Project your mind into your subject till you actually live in it. Throw your heart into the picture and jump in after it….Art is not a transcript or a copy. Art is the expression of those beauties and emotions that stir the human soul. —– Howard Pyle

A Hierarchy of Forms

Armand Cabrera

A hierarchy of forms is an important step in representational painting. Keeping the big forms apparent after the application of details is necessary for a successful painting. Primary, secondary and tertiary forms must preserve their relative importance.

The idea for Primary forms is a simple one. At its root all forms have a base structure that shows the effects of the overall light and shape without any details. Painting this correctly gives a sense of volume and weight to everything. Seeing this imposed construction on natural objects helps nail down this effect from the very beginning of a painting or drawing and locks in the big idea for the image quickly. Often times this is overlooked for the details of an element which can ruin the significance of the object in the overall scene.

To quote Harvey Dunn, “You must make the main thing in your picture appear most important. If anyone tells me my hat is more important than my head –by God I’m taking off my hat.”

Secondary forms complement the primary form but never obscure it. An example in landscape painting would be a hillside of trees seen from a distance. The shape of the hill would be the primary form and the trees the secondary forms enhancing the character of the hill but not confusing its overall shape. It must always read as a hill. The way you would paint the light falling on the hill would be paramount and you would always subordinate the details of the trees to that effect.

Tertiary forms would be the individual trees on the hillside; you may choose to add enough details to some of these to create interest for the viewer but again they should always compliment the larger forms not obliterate them.This idea applies to anything- portraits, still life, figures or landscapes and is an essential tool in preserving the sense of solidity in your pictures.

Bluebells Demo

Armand Cabrera

The bluebells are starting to peak around the Piedmont here and I had to get out and paint them while they last. They usually come and go in about 10 to 15 days. My two favorite spots are at the old stone bridge at Bull Run in The Manassas Battlefield and Riverbend Park on the Potomac in Great Falls. The Bull Run patch is much smaller than Riverbend Park but provides an intimate setting within the trees along the river. The painting time for this 16×20 was two hours.

In this scene everything is backlit, the sun is low in the sky and is moving from left to right as the sun sets. In a scene like this it is important to lock in shadow patterns and stick to them from the beginning as they will change in a matter of minutes.

I establish my horizon line and big anchor points first in the correct tone and color.

My goal is to cover the entire canvas in the first few minutes to get the color and value relationships that will be constantly shifting later as I paint. While I am willing to incorporate some changes that occur later it is important not to deviate too much or the strong sense of light and shadow is ruined.

Once I have the big shapes established, I start adding elements by designing them into the scene not just trying to copy their placement.

I want to use the colors of the bluebells and there leaves and the game trail that is leading away from me to weave back through the painting breaking up the verticals of the trees and the angles of their cast shadows.

I continue to add elements and refine the larger masses of the painting.


At this point the light has changed enough that I focus on the painting looking up occasionally for information from nature to resolve any passages that haven’t been resolved to my satisfaction.


The finished painting, Bull Run Bluebells 16×20 Oil on Linen


Bull Run Bluebells              16×20                       Oil on Linen

I will be conducting a painting demonstration  For the McLean Project for the Arts at the McLean  Community Center this coming Friday April 27 from 10:45Am to 1:30 PM. The demonstration is open to the public.


The address For the McLean Community Center is

1234 Ingleside Avenue, McLean, Virginia.
 I will start and finish a large oil painting from a small sketch painted outdoors. If you are in the area come on by and watch and ask questions about the painting process or the business side of being a professional artist. Last time we had quite a turnout with over 75 people showing up.