The Yuletide/New Year’s tornado is over. Most of us are just now beginning to touch back to earth and thinking up illustration plans for 2011.

Artist friend (and fellow instructor at the Austin Museum of Art Art School) Steve Connor and I put together this little video to get you back with your brushes after the holiday whirlwinds. It’s an exercise to help you develop your value painting skills using only one color.

Creating a value structure for your picture is a critical part of the painting that’s often overlooked by the beginner.  But it’s not hard once you see it. You’ll find it helpful to make a small pencil sketch of your scene before you paint.  Organize your shading in the sketch into three interlocking value shapes — one light,  one dark, and one mid-tone value shape. Make the mid-tone shape the largest of the three and bump the smaller, dark, and light shapes into each other.

Learning to organize a picture’s dark, light, and mid-tone values is an important part of a painter’s education. And speaking of education, you might want to head to Austin, Texas in February to meet and hear from Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator David Diaz.  He, along with illustrators Julian Hector, Frances Yanksy, and many other talented children’s book creators will be on hand for Boots, Books, and Buckskins, the 2011 Regional Conference of the Austin Texas Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.)

Discover how to enter an easy contest to win a free portfolio consultation from David Diaz or Julian Hector and possibly other prizes — like having your story reviewed by one of several wonderful children’s and YA authors on the conference faculty.

If you live anywhere near Austin, consider taking a hands-on class:  Children’s Book Illustration I at the Art School of the Austin Museum of Art — six Monday evening sessions, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., January 24 — February 28.

Can’t make it to Austin? Know that you have a good home-study option. The  Make Your Splashes Make Your Marks course offers comprehensive multi-media lessons on drawing and painting for illustration, interactive group critiques, and an online community.

Summing up: Lots of opportunities for exciting learning in 2011.