WIP ….WORK IN PROGRESS – watercolour – a tonal ‘notan’……WIP

I’ve been working on a large oil painting these last three weeks. A commission. It’s 130 x 81 cm – approx 51 x 32 inches. Bigger than my usual size. Good to be doing something different. A lot of work, which I’ll post as WIPs (work in progress) here. Thank you for all your comments. So many of them, makes me feel that internet is full of readers who care…

Large plein-air paintings require extra attention at the planning & conception stages, especially if they are a commission ie take into account of the customer’s wishes of what is to be included in the painting.

Here is the composition sketch:

I always do one of these for every painting. Knowing what goes where is a big big relief. Which takes the stress off somewhat so one can just concentrate on the painting, and panic less about the composition. Doing one of thee is visual thinking & can’t be replaced by assuming an intellectual idea of what goes where is enough. Note how it’s a ‘plastic’ process. The framing grows or shrinks to fit. Look & see how the frame lines go on last of all. I even had to fit on an extra page so as to make the size of the sky fit. Actually I went for a longer panorama in the end & not the more rectangular format of the above compositional sketch. The point is that my mind was now more orientated towards the painting & possibilities of how it might unfold.

The next stage is the tonal sketch. A ‘notan’. I say notan cautiously because a pure notan is in fact, a sketch for Japanese wood cut engravings aka Hokusai & not all the lovely subtle graduations of one tone washing into the other that you can get in watercolour. The point is to work out:

  • where are the major blocks of light & dark?
  • where is the centre of interest ie where do you want the eye to go to?
  • where is the light source?
  • what quality of light?
  • what is the incline of the sunlight?

You can click on the notan & tonality categories on the side of this page to read more.

see the finished painting

‘Sunset : 21 December, longest night’
medium size oil on canvas
8 figure (46 x 38 cm; approx 18 x 14 inches)
© adam cope

oil painting of sunset on longest night

Something amazing happened yesterday. The grey skies that have weighed us under this last month parted & THERE WAS LIGHT. It felt like rebirth. Longest night has passed & thankfully now we turn back towards the light.

Winter silhouettes of black (trees) against a colour rich, bright lit sky of clear winter colours, reflections in the river Dordogne.

Black in Painting

You will not be able to see this but the black in the painting is actually dioxazine violet with lamp black laid over the top. Most photography doesn’t register this difference in the low end of the tonal range. My Cannon EOS 400 D certainly can’t; it’s a bad camera with too many digital distortions in how it writes its files. Systematically underexposes & gets the colour wrong. The violet is a fine colourist complement for the yellows in the sky & doesn’t muddy the colours as black does. Like most colorists, I have a somewhat schizophrenic relationship to black. I prefer to ‘ break’ colours with their colourist mixing complement rather than tone down with black, thus arriving at a high key brighter palette, more suited for the luminousity of plein-air. Some call it a ‘chromatic black’ because it’s colour friendly.


Yet black exists in the visual world, as a colour in its own right. It exists in my mind’s eye, in my map of colour… “Black Bible Black”. The marriage of ‘The Dark Partner’ to ‘The Shining Bride’ (white) is essential to a good painting. That’s to say that the black & white relationship is the base of a good watercolour. And even in an oil, the black scaffold gives structure & immediate impact to an image, which is essential in the quick glimpse, short attention span of the web. Some mistakenly call it ‘Notan’

Quatorze Juillet en Dordogne

14 Juillet en Dordogne…parties & fireworks. Hoping to get out painting tonight (teaching tomorrow) as it is a good paint. Next post is about the English in Dordogne & house prices… & here’s an expert from last year’s bloggy Jour de la Republique…

TONALITY : ’14 Juilliet – Fête de la Republique’

‘Quatorze Juillet, Beaumont, Dordogne’
28 x 38 cm (15″ x 11″)
Toutes Droits Reservés© The Artist.

“…Then later on, when the crowd had thinned out, white plastic cups & on-lookers & a few adolescents still eager to play the flirting, mating game. The white tressle tables & black silouhettes making a good tonal subject.”


The historic roots of provincial France

Anyone wanting to better understand the historic roots of provincial France outside of cosmopolitan Paris should read Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France, which is a critical view of ‘La Patrie, La France, La Republique’ aka central government from Paris. For instance, Robb cites that, during the call-up for the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870’s, many men from remote farming hamlets in the Dordogne, didn’t even know their own surname, only their first name…they never had the need for their surname as they never left their hamlet of seven or eight houses… this is very different from the tragic First-World War memorials in every single village where whole families’ names are listed, annihilated by tragic war.

THe Great Sphinx of Giza – Watercolour

watercolour of great sphinx of gaza

‘The Great Sphinx of Giza’
60 x 77 cm
© adam cope


The Great Sphinx of Giza

Fascination lasts.


Some disconfabulation : The Great Sphinx of Giza is an Old Kingdom Sphinx & is not to be confused with the later day Sphinx of Oedipus & the Greeks. Though the riddle of its meaning remains. Orion Belt astrological figure dating from Altantis? Sekhmet Lioness of the Desert? Guardian of the Pyramids? Guide for the Rebirth of Pharaoh? New Kingdom Horus-on-the Horizon?

Two excellent pages on Wikipedia on Sphinx & The Great Sphinx of Giza, as well as this site http://guardians.net/egypt

One thing about Ancient Egyptian art is that animals are everywhere. Some humans have the head of animals and some animals have the head of a human, like the above lioness. The crocodiles are very ‘animal’ too in the sense they retain their ‘animalness’ & aren’t simple pictograms for directions (like road signs are simple pictograms for road-code orders)

 an artists travel sketchbook of egypt … Carnet de Voyage en Egypte 2001

‘Sobek – Kom Ombo’ Carnet de Voyage en Egypte 2001
A5 Sketchbook
Watercolour & Ink
© Tous Droits Reservés


‘Khperi’ Carnet de Voyage en Egypte 2001
A5 Sketchbook
Watercolour & Ink
© Tous Droits Reservés

COMING SOON ON INTERNET : read more about animals in Ancient Egypt in my Egypt :: Carnet de Voyage :: Egypt

NOTAN – Winter Sun – Marché d’Issigeac

‘NOTAN – Winter Sun – Marché d’Issigeac’
one half times A5
© The Artist.
150 € / 100 £ UK / 200 US dollars.

NOTAN – Jour du Marché

Jour du Marché
Watercolour & felt tip.
A5 sketchbook, Double Spread (well almost)
© The Artist.
Another ‘attack of the giant white trades vans’… this time, a seller of black clothes of all things.


Half-tone is a real mental discipline. My felt tip pens have dried out. Short life product, the alcohol evapourates. Not very ecological. So back to the brush & watercolour. All good practice.


NOTAN – Annabel Drawing

Felt tip & pencil. A5
© The Artist.
This is a notan drawing of Annabel drawing on last week’s workshop. It was done on day two, and I liked the way she was bending over her drawing , really concentrating. I like it when painters meet up & make ‘un entourage’, a crowd of painters if you like. Good to be group. The drawing was good.


NOTAN – Market Day Crowds

Pencil & felt-tips
© The Artist.
And do you think we could get a table? Market day crowds drinking their coffee & meeting up & being friendly. We are currently having an indian summer so the light is bright & intense. Frequently this southern light gives a lovely white fringe or halo around things. On the painting course there was a couple of Americans, who commented just how the light of south-west France is like the light of California.


NOTAN – jazz au Cloître, Bergerac

felt tip by adam cope
tous droits reservés. copyright. adam cope
getting into the jazzy deco here
notan? well a black & white design which is jazzy, how about that?

felt tip pens
© The Artist.

Sellers of tins of conserved duck at the french market place
Attack of the giant white trades vans!!

notan = design in black & white, tonality