After the convention was over, the real fun of the Francesco Fontana workshop began.

Monday – Value

After getting the room and various logistics set up, our group of 26 settled down to learn. The daily format was a lecture followed by each of us going back to our table to work on our projects, with Fontana roaming the room to give individual attention and advice.

Fontana started us out with value studies. He had each of us bring up a subject we wished to paint, then redistributed the paintings so that we were working on a reference photo with no “meaning” built into it. Our job was to develop a three-value study, then translate that into a painting, starting with the darks first (traditionally, watercolor is built from light to dark; this method is more common with oil and acrylic painters.)

I liked this exercise a lot, but I had two problems. First, I had a cold and was, essentially, miserable and drugged up. Second, the reference photo I was assigned was a building; I hate painting buildings.

Still, I did my best.

Fontana looked them over and said, “Well, they are kind of confused. But I forgive you. You’re sick.”

Tuesday – Composition

On that note, I decided to stay for Tuesday’s lecture, then go home and see if a nice nap would help me be able to paint the rest of the week. It was a good decision.

The topic of the day, composition, got slightly muddled because Fontana also introduced the issue of color theory.

The assignment of the day was to take a reference photo you wanted to work on and change it in some way. Turn it from horizontal to vertical, light to dark, or in some other way get away from strictly copying the reference photo.

Wednesday – Color Theory

I felt better with 10 hours sleep plus a nap and vowed to paint the day away. Today’s topic was all about color, with Fontana saying he had gotten sidetracked yesterday and combining two lessons.

Fontana’s color theory is to select a main color, then select the complement: red/green, orange/blue, yellow/purple. From there, select one other adjacent color (essentially you can select any of the remaining four) to give the painting a temperature (warm vs. cool) focus.

Frankly, this is the concept that I had the most trouble understanding. I’m not sure how it differs from traditional triad theory because, essentially, all colors are available in both. Fontana’s method does have the advantage of accenting one side of the color wheel, so that’s something to consider.

Fontana said, “You’re getting it.”

Thursday – Brush Work

I think this was the day that I liked best, and it was certainly successful with the class at large. Fontana talked a little about brushwork, suggesting the intriguing idea that he things in “planes” to “carve out” the painting. His point was that every brush stroke matters, and he challenged the class to create a painting in 100 strokes or less.

A few of the class members produced really stunning paintings. I was not one of them, but I’m still happy with my results, enough so that I went on to paint a couple of larger paintings along this same theme.

hooves3 hooves4 hooves5

As you can see, I sort of forgot about anything except the two color complement scheme.

At the end of the day, Fontana said, “I love your concept.”

Friday – Wrap up

By Friday, i think I was not the only one feeling the effects of a long week. The lecture was a recap of the weeks topic with a challenge to bring it all together into a single painting that would be critiqued at the end of the day.

I started with this value sketch, trying to simplify the shapes as much as possible and not become attached to particular things.


Then I began, using Fontana’s color theory (red/green with purple) and starting with darks first.


I forgot to challenge myself to 100 brushstrokes, but other than that, I hit the other points.

Fontana said, “I love it.”

I love it too. I’d like to do it again a little bigger. I’d like to push the shapes and bring some more primary color into it instead of concentrating so much on neutrals.

But I do love it.


This is the first time I’ve been able to take a Watercolor Society of Oregon workshop (pesky job…) and five days is a lot, especially fighting a cold and coming off 4 days of convention work. But if I had to start somewhere, this was an awesome one.

More than once I felt a little like this was “painting boot camp.” Fontana kept us focused on the basics of good painting, but each with his own twist so the topic felt fresh and new.

Fontana himself was charming and warm and did his best to give everyone some attention. He commented that this was the best workshop he’d done because it was so nice to work with only more experienced painters (apparently back in Italy he teaches a lot of beginner workshops.)

I have a lot to work on back in my own studio. But a lot of ideas too.

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