small paintings

Small paintings born in observations that attract the eye and mind.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Simplify - Painting a San Francisco Cityscape

Terry Miura publishes a blog titled "Studio Notes", in which he generously shares his experiences and knowledge on the craft of painting.
A few weeks ago Terry wrote about the need to simplify, i.e. what should a painter leave in or out of a busy scene. I find that "leaving things out" is one of the hardest things that a painter has to decide when constructing a painting. I know that many of my colleagues have the same difficulty.

Terry's approach involves applying rules which helps keep his mind focused and organised. His rules are outlined in his post, however he went on to invite his readers to paint the same photo and respond how we deal with the same problems. Here is my take.
Original Photo

 Stage 1
I like to unify the colours of the painting by painting a base colour. In this case a light burnt orange which will be the complementary colour of the blues of hills and sky. This approach makes it easier to set off cool and warm colours against each other and achieve broken colour in these areas.   I then do a simple drawing cropping information out of the original photo

Stage 2
Paint in the basic tones letting the orange come through. The base colour is also used for the sunlight areas of the buildings. I like the light effect when one can transition the walls of buildings from warm at the top to cool at the bottom (or vice versa). I find that I can also desaturate the intensity of the blue when scumbling it over the orange. I then invent a shadow to unify the foreground into one major shape, and making it a rest area for the viewers eye. I use the photograph and try to not copy it.
5 x 4 inches
Oil on Canvas
Stage 3
Adjust the tones and colour to create distance and build contrast in areas to guide the eye through the painting. My natural inclination is to paint hard edges so I need to spend time going back to soften edges, otherwise the eye will be zooming all over the picture.
It has been a valuable exercise and made me think about how to simplify. Some of these practice are intuitive, but some I need to keep before me to build the habit. The "rules' that I discovered are summarised below. Some are the same as Terrys and some different:-
  1. Use a photo (or a scene) rather than copy it.
  2. Underpaint a base colour to complement the planned main colour.
  3. Crop and draw first to solve design problems before committing to paint.
  4. Leave quiet places for the viewer
  5. Vary edges
Interested in this painting? It may be purchased here

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