Artist at Work: Color as Shape
Illustration by John Hersey

Artist at Work: Color as Shape

with Mary Jane Begin

Video: Introduction

I'm Mary Jane Begin, and this is Artist at Work: Color as Shape. Which is, sort of a way for me to
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 1h 9m
    1. Introduction
      2m 56s
    2. Establishing shape
      5m 45s
    3. Highlights
      11m 17s
    4. Color blocking
      23m 28s
    5. Color blocking the face
      11m 1s
    6. Adding final details
      15m 5s

Start your free trial now, and begin learning software, business and creative skills—anytime, anywhere—with video instruction from recognized industry experts.

Start Your Free Trial Now
please wait ...
Watch the Online Video Course Artist at Work: Color as Shape
1h 9m Beginner Jan 28, 2014

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Composing an image is like solving a puzzle; if you can imagine your elements as a group of colored shapes, you can make all the pieces fit. In this course, Mary Jane Begin shows you how to see shape before detail and develop a portrait step-by-step, using reference images, a color composite, and foundational shapes. The course will review color balance, color blocking, use of diagonal shapes for dynamic compositions, tension between edges, focal points, space, and hierarchy of shape.

Mary Jane uses the following materials in this course:

  • Arches 140 lb hot press paper
  • Tube watercolors- Winsor & Newton Cotman brand
  • Paper stumps for blending
  • Pastels- a variety of stick and pencil forms (including Conte pastel pencils)
  • Short, fat, fine-bristle Winsor & Newton #2 and #4 brushes (for scrubbing color off)
  • Sceptre Gold II sable/synthetic blend #3, #6, and #10 brushes
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman brand 25 mm/1 in. flat brush (for washes)

Mary Jane Begin


I'm Mary Jane Begin, and this is Artist at Work: Color as Shape. Designing an image, like solving a puzzle, requires looking at a composition as a group of colored shapes that fit together. When the pieces fit, the whole image becomes clear to see. I want to help you to see shape before detail as a basic to designing stronger compositions. I am going to be paining a portrait of my son, Liam.

I'm using his senior portrait as a reference point, and I'm going to turn him into a young nobleman. And my point of reference for this will be Renaissance paintings. And the reason why I chose this is because A, I love the Renaissance period, and B, the shapes involved in these portraits are really clear. Although there's light involved, some light and shadow, it's mostly about designing with shape, and these are articulated in a very clear fashion.

So these are references I'll look back to when designing this image. I also created a kind of color composite. Which is, sort of a way for me to help myself understand how I'm going to break down the shapes. Now you can see if you go back to the photograph that I was working from, my composite is really quite different. And the reason why is this. When I translated the photograph into a black and white version, I could see that the trees behind the head were too close in value to the hair, and that would be a problem.

I also wouldn't represent what I was looking at, the Renaissance paintings. So I changed it. And, in making imagery, you should also remember that you should be editing out the information that's extraneous, things that don't help to serve your purpose. I looked at this image, in particular, because I liked the sky behind the head, and that was a common device used for these kinds of paintings. So I made a few changes in my composite, and as you can see, there's sky behind his head now to help emphasize the shape of the hair.

Otherwise, the hair would not be the shape that it needed to be to focus on the focal point, which is the face. I also changed the outfit, so that it would be more to period. And I used some color shapes that will lead the eye to the face. So I'll keep referencing why I made these choices, but the fundamental issue here is designing with big overall shapes to get to the final end result. I also do something that I think is really helpful when I'm trying to decide how to compose an image.

Is I look at the piece I'm making, throw my eyes out of focus. Or even you could use a tool in Photoshop to create just shape, or a blur effect, so that you're not looking at the details of the image. You're just looking at the basic, foundational shapes of your picture.

There are currently no FAQs about Artist at Work: Color as Shape.

Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.

Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ .

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

* Estimated file size

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.

Mark all as unwatched Cancel


You have completed Artist at Work: Color as Shape.

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.

Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member ?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any page and choose Site preferences from the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Learn more, save more. Upgrade today!

Get our Annual Premium Membership at our best savings yet.

Upgrade to our Annual Premium Membership today and get even more value from your subscription:

“In a way, I feel like you are rooting for me. Like you are really invested in my experience, and want me to get as much out of these courses as possible this is the best place to start on your journey to learning new material.”— Nadine H.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from

Sign up and receive emails about and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.