Chasing the Light with Tony Allain

Today I want to talk a little bit about a workshop I attended on July 10. It was Chasing the Light with Tony Allain. The workshop was very special for me not just because I admire Tony’s works a lot, but also because it was my first workshop and I wasn’t sure if I will be able to keep up, since I was probably the only one who had less than a year of experience with pastels there.

Tony is a fantastic teacher, who managed to show us various techniques in a very short time. I will try and do a quick recap of the workshop and what stood out for me in particular (my thoughts will be in italics)

1. The workshop started with demonstration. Tony paints very fast. He emphasized the importance of painting from observation, rather than from the photographs. Sketchbook is an essential tool for him. (Tony speaks about his painting process in this short video  from the pastel convention.) That was a very interesting moment for me, as I first got back into drawing partly because I was fascinated with what urban sketchers do- just capture life around us and carefully observe the surroundings. I decided to invest in a more solid sketchbook, Tony’s sketchbook had years of work in it and basically unlimited resources for subject material.

He talked about focal point of the painting and how it is the most important thing in a painting . His paintings have so much air in them! That is what I personally struggled with, probably because I do paint from photos most of the time, and even on a plein air I just have to capture everything. Will work on that for sure.

I was surprised with some technical moments, the choices of color in particular, the way bright warm colors are incorporated into landscape. Tony talked about seeing colors in the landscape, and I am curious how it will develop in my case.


2. Second part was figure drawing. Tony asked us to bring fat black markers and I was wondering what for. What he did with them was incredible. Just a blob drawn with black marker and a few strokes of color and a crowd of people with a story behind it came alive on a page!


Tony told us to squint often and look at our work from a few paces away. He talked about his creative process and inspiration and his “Girl with the red hair” series. The demo of her he did in class was the most fascinating, both because it told a story in a concise way, and how inspiration moved the artist to create an entire series of paintings.

Then it came our turn to give it a try. I didn’t have a reference that would have a bunch of people on it, so I just painted from my head. I chose Sennelier paper for this exercise. 


from blobs 


to the final result after following Tony’s suggestion about perfecting the background

I loved this exercise, which was totally unexpected. I don’t normally draw people, and this was a nice challenge, but also so so much fun. I am tempted to go “people watching” to a museum or even just a city street and see if I can make the same magic.

3. After the break we moved on to even a bigger challenge- drawing with minimal amount of strokes. Tony showed us how he does it by drawing a simple still life. Tony often mentions how he shifts things in landscapes and changes colors to suit his vision. It resonated with me in particular because I try to avoid realism intentionally sometimes. Tony talked how important it is to keep the painting fresh and how limiting amount of strokes can help with that. And again, this was very important point for me, because I tend to go and layer things up, overworking the painting.


This lovely still life took Tony little over 100 strokes to complete

Then out turn came, we were given 250 strokes and my major shortcoming of not knowing when to stop came to light

First two were somethings of a disaster


250 strokes exactly

I decided to try again and it was even less satisfying


whooping 300 strokes and still not happy 😀

I decided to switch the subject and grabbed a photo a friend took in Northern Norway. It was a very simple and tranquil scene, so not much to mess up, but it still took me over the limit


265 strokes

My final attempt was some crab apples and it was kind of funny, I was so frustrated with myself, I thought I was going to cry. I painted the background, hated it and prepared to toss it, and people in class stopped me and made me continue. Tony has two great rules 1) make a mark and never touch it again 2) if you make a bad mark, make a better one next to it.  I forgot about the second and my classmates reminded me that I can work with it some more. I foolishly focused on amount of strokes and deemed myself a failure. Tony came up and kindly gave his suggestions (which was basically, just add branches and you’re done). It ended up being the painting I liked the most out of the four done for this exercise.


This exercise was the hardest, but also very important for me. I even thought how I can use it for the art lessons I do with children.

4) Tony did landscape demonstrations of a sunny day (see that amazing orange) and what was probably my most favorite painting of the day- early morning light in Venice. I loved how he talked about catching this evasive light, painting skies and light on the water, things that change fast,  first. I loved how the colors were used here

We also got to see a demonstration of drawing a rooster, capturing his amazing feathers with bold, long strokes

The class concluded with an improvisation demonstration, and it was also one of my favorites. I love how effortless the atmosphere looks, how every color holds the mood together


Like I said, I learned so much in this class. I clearly saw some of my shortcomings that I chose to ignore before. I also learned that I am actually not that bad. The amount of positive feedback received was very encouraging indeed. I will hopefully be able to avoid the clutter in my paintings from now on and be braver with my colors. My only regret is that it was just one day workshop (there was three days option too, but it wasn’t possible for me to take it this year) and I hope to take a longer one if ever opportunity arises again.

Huge thanks to Tony for sharing his vision and wisdom!




As always, please find me on Instagram,  FacebookPinterest and Etsy




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