“Modeling” Video Lesson

Hi and welcome back to my website. Today I want to very briefly talk to you about the concept of modeling. This is an issue that’s not very often discussed and yet it holds the keys to understanding creative composition. Once you understand it a whole new world will open up to you. I know it did to me.

The majority of painters today, mostly hobby or amateur painters (but also many professionals) – especially watercolorists, paint the values that are dictated to them by illumination. Professionals and advanced painters usually choose this method of organizing their values because they appreciate light and its effects. On the other hand, many of the hobby painters are unaware of their choice at all and paint light by default, considering it to be the only way to paint. This is what I’d been doing in the beginnings of my journey as well. I simply didn’t know better. And it is quite all right, as it is a valid way to paint. However, it is not a very creative way to paint and certainly the results are often lacking in design.

I have an article titled “Painting light and creative composition“. I highly recommend you to check it out if you’re interested to find out a bit more about this issue. (More still is going to be included in my upcoming book – stay tuned!)

For now, however, I want to only bring the issue of modeling into your attention. I think if this concept is new to you it’ll be enough to get you started.

So, what is this modeling then? I mentioned that it is not painting of light. No light, no shade and no shadows. Many creative artists (me included) who do still somewhat representational/recognizable work are usually combining the two modes of rendering their subject/planes. They design their value patterns not based on the light effects, but independently of them, with the emphasis on good overall tonal rhythm. Afterwards they add hints of illumination such as shadows – not because they were there but simply because their shapes (often invented) help strengthen the composition as well as help make the piece more “real” to the viewer.

In today’s video I paint a very quick study demonstrating this approach. I refrain from including any shadow shapes so the concept reads as clear as possible. Were you to look for a source of light in this painting you would not be successful. I explain planes by change of value. Not as a single light-source dictates it but arbitrarily – to create an overall interesting pattern of values. The white shapes are not white because they are illuminated by sun, I decided to make them white for the purpose of design. They are set as gemstones in a body of middle value. There are few darks placed sparingly – and intentionally – to add spark and vibrancy to the entire piece.

©2017 Daniel Novotny. Watercolor on Paper, 11 x 15 in.
©2017 Daniel Novotny. Watercolor on Paper, 11 x 15 in.

As I said, I’ll be going into much more detail in my book and very likely this topic will be included in my upcoming premium courses. For now though I hope you learned something new. Feel free to leave a comment down below or a question if you have one. I’ll be happy to hear what you think.



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  1. Marylin Smith February 4, 2018 at 00:13

    Interesting concept Daniel….you say “the white shapes are not white because they are illuminated by the sun…” but of course people looking at the picture translate it as “the white walls are those that are being hit by the sun”….at least I did…. and that does not detract from the overall painting in any way. I also translated the blue lines as shadow shapes, so I’m struggling a bit to understand what you are getting at….Are you saying that the design elements are more important than the accurate portrayal of light and shade?
    Lovely picture result… I’m trying to understand what you are trying to teach…. I’ll watch the video a few times and see if the penny finally drops.

    1. Daniel Novotny February 5, 2018 at 13:01

      Hi Marylin.

      “Are you saying that the design elements are more important than the accurate portrayal of light and shade?” That is exactly what I’m trying to say. Painting of light doesn’t allow us the creative freedom we need to make a solid well-designed painting. We take liberties and disregard of light and shade is one of them.

      The fact that you associate my white shapes with sun and blue shapes with shadow is quite all right. As a viewer, you don’t need to understand necessarily – but as I creator you must.



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