Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Greeness of Orange

Cunningly, to distract you, my gentle blog readers, from the fact that I didn't finish my Boston streetscape today, I'm going to describe the process behind my Fountain Bookstore painting from my last blog post. Don't be mad! I'll have it done tomorrow, promise!

Okay, here goes.

Step One: Choose the location to paint, then figure out how to fit it attractively in the shape of the selected canvas.
This may sound obvious, but it's not. For instance, with Fountain Bookstore, I knew I wanted to paint the bookstore, and I knew I wanted to paint the street, but there were plenty of other variables. Up the street or down it? Straight on or at an angle? Camera tilted up, down, or straight on? Then I took a look at my canvas: I chose a long, skinny one, four times as long as it was tall. This poses unique challenges; in particular, keeping the viewer's eye engaged with the image. I opted for a crop that eliminated the sidewalk and incorporated a dark building at the far left to act as a buffer to the world outside the painting and a row of cars at the right to guide the eye down the street.

Step Two: What Are the Essential Colors and how can you pump them up?
This is sort of the Crayola Crayon test. If you had one color to color each general part of the painting, which one would you choose? In my case, my main color blocks were three buildings, the street, and the tree branches.

Beneath each of these colors will go an underpainting of a complementary color, or something close. Complementaries are colors across from each other on a color wheel. (Never thought you'd be thinking about those things again, did you?) This underpainting is a really important step -- though it will get covered up entirely, the eye will still see that layer in a subconscious way. I find my paintings that I do quickly, without an underpainting, look shallow and 2D.

Oh, a last important thing. Remember that warm colors (yellow, red, orange) tend to draw the eye and look like they are closer to the viewer and cool colors (blue, purple) tend to recede. Underpainting your subject in warm colors can bring it the front very quickly. In the case of my Fountain Bookstore painting, I want to make my focal point (the area next to the van) jump out, so I underpainted that building in a warm color.

So this is what I decide -- as you can see from the first step of my painting in the last post.
Building One = essentially black. Underpaint with dark purple.
Building Two = essentially red/ orange. Underpaint with brilliant green.
Building Three = essentially white, but also my focal point. Underpaint with orange.
Trees = green, duh. Underpaint with orange, but think about tweaking that later depending on how outrageous they turn out.
Street = essentially blue-grey. I want it to be transparent and bright to indicate sunlight, so I don't underpaint it -- in effect, I'm underpainting with white, as the canvas' natural white will glow through my layer of paint.

Step Three: Block in the major shapes
I keep it very, very simple at this stage, as you can see.

I just want to remind myself where the buildings are supposed to be. I can make corrections to any grievous errors later. Then I let it dry COMPLETELY! Woe and pain to the artist who paints over complimentaries without letting the first layer dry. We have a name for the result of hasty painting: mud. Don't do it. Well, sure, do it, so that you know how bad it is. Then don't do it again.

Step Four: Am I on Step Four? Begin putting in real colors.

Yep, cover up all those uglies. Red-brown for the bookstore -- a layer of black and blue for the window on the bookstore. Naples Yellow and cadmium orange and white for the building behind the van. Black and blue and brown for the first antiques building on the left. I find that the trees are coming way too far forward with just green and yellow, so I paint some ultramarine shadows on them to put those things back where they belong.

Step Five: The fun part.
Part of my style is my distinct black lines, reminiscent of stained glass. This works for me, but it's my style. Getcher own. Seriously, good art is unique. If you paint often enough, you'll find your style emerges: first you struggle to paint realistically, then, once you've begun to master that, you begin to find ways to express your version of reality. Be it cool colors, cool paint strokes, cool linework . . . make it your own and make this step your own too.

Anyway, rant over. In this step, I begin putting in the details and my black lines. I also add touches of pure bright color out of the tube for interest. My focal point, the van and the tree branches there, get the most attention and the most broken paint splotches, shouting out for attention. A bit of orange goes on the street too, to remind the viewer that they should start out the process staring at the van and end it going down the street. More of my process cyan goes in everywhere and this baby's done!


Jo Castillo (noblock99) said...

Thanks so much for the "How to..." and information. We can all learn and enjoy from your posts.

This is a great painting. The center of interest is certainly the van and wall.

Good going....

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I'm glad it's helpful, Jo!