5 C's of Painting

Robert Newcombe’s 5 C’s of Painting

An explanation of my 5 C's of Painting showing how the 5 C's are used to develop a painting.
I conceived and developed the 5 C’s of painting in response to the need for a logical step by step approach to painting any subject in any medium. The 5 C’s is not a painting style but an analytical tool that makes learning to paint easy and fun by providing a structure for incremental development of your painting skills and style.
It has since been presented to hundreds of aspiring painters and has proved to be stunningly successful method of teaching anyone to paint or dramatically improve their paintings. There are plenty of excellent books, YouTube videos and DVD's on painting techniques but the 5 C’s is a unique overarching thinking/planning process that runs separately but in parallel with the painting process.

So, what are the 5 C’s?

Concept is concerned with answering the question, What do I want to say in this painting? It is concerned with creating a mood - time of day, (e.g. dawn or dusk), time of year (e.g. winter or summer), eliciting an emotion from the viewer (sadness, joy) or connecting with a treasured memory of a place or person. The difference between great paintings and lesser paintings is that the great paintings are always based on a clear concept. Concept sets the mood and identifies the centre of interest in the painting.

Composition, contrast and colour are the tools that painters have to present the concept and answers the question, How am I going to present the concept?

Composition is about picture design and drawing - locating the centre of interest using the rule of thirds and using linear and aerial perspective to create depth in the painting.

Contrast uses tonal values (the lightness or darkness of a colour) to create an impact in a painting by pitching light against dark. It is useful to use one colour to produce a tonal scale and use the scale to produce one or more mono-coloured tonal plans for the painting before committing to colour.

Colour – paintings are either predominately cool or predominantly warm, depending on the mood, e.g. winter paintings will be cool; summer paintings will be warm. I use the Michael Wilcox colour bias system for mixing colours.

Completion answers the question, How do I know the painting is finished? Many paintings are ruined by not stopping at the right point. Completion completes the circle by bringing us back to concept. A painting is finished when we have said what we want to say. The 5C's logo shows the completed cycle of stages.

5 C's logo

Whilst I am primarily a watercolour landscape painter, the 5C’s is a generic system that can be applied to paintings of any subject in any medium.

My book, Robert Newcombe’s 5 C’s of Painting, which can be purchased in the shop, covers the 5C’s in detail.

5 C's in Action

Skellgill Farm  Cumbria

I’ll use one of my paintings of Skellgill Farm in the English Lake District as an example of how I apply the 5 C’s to a subject. Skellgill Farm, incidentally, gets a mention in Beatrix Potter’s charming story, The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

I saw this breathtaking scene on a day in late October when autumn colours were glowing in the late afternoon sunlight. What I wanted to say in this painting was remote Lake District farm in warm autumn sunshine, trees on fire and distant mountains. It is a classic Lake District scene.

The white farmhouse is the centre of interest so I sited it approximately one-third in from each edge of the paper, contrasting it with the very dark yew tree; I adjusted the line of the fence leading the eye into the centre of interest.The sloping foreground and the distant mountain give depth to the painting.

White paper was left for the lightest light in the painting, the farmhouse, contrasted against the darkest dark, the yew tree, always a winning formula and a great place for the centre of interest. This is dramatically illustrated in the tonal version of the painting.

Skellgill Farm  Cumbria tonal

An understanding of contrast or tonal values will improve your paintings dramatically.

This is a predominantly warm painting. Autumn colours give the artist an opportunity like no other to dip into all the warm colours in the paintbox – fiery reds, mellow yellows, gorgeous greens, burnt browns and to play these colours off against complimentary blues and purples of mountains and sky for maximum impact.

The foreground is left deliberately vague to move the viewer’s eye quickly over it to the middle ground and the centre of interest. There was rough grass and more rocks in the foreground and another tree which I’ve omitted. I felt they added nothing to the painting and to put them in would have been a distraction. I could also see a lot more detail in the mountain but decided to paint it as a flat blue wash with just a hint of warmth at the bottom. When the painting said what I wanted to say I stopped.

Different concept + same subject = different painting

Skelgill Farm, Winter

Adopting a different concept would create a totally different painting. Here I’ve imagined how Skelgill Farm might look in February and the concept is the bleak beauty of the English Lake District in winter.

Note how cool the colours are compared to the autumn painting but the composition and contrast remain the same except that the snow on the roof on the farmhouse rather than the white walls (which now look grey against the white snow) becomes the point of maximum contrast with the yew tree and defines the centre of interest.