Two nights ago, the spirit of Little Debbie came to me in a dream. She was radiant with light, and fairy dust shimmered around her – or it could have been colored sprinkles, now that I think about it. Anyway, she said, “You will go to your studio tomorrow and take a magical photograph of your latest painting. The one of the market….” I was transfixed by her iridescent freckles and jaunty sailor cap..
I managed to stammer, “Will Swiss Cake Rolls mystically appear in the shop window in the picture?”
She replied, “When I tell you to do something, don’t f****ng question me.”
And with that I woke up… really hungry.
The next day I did go to the studio, and I did take that photograph. And it was in focus… as if by magic. Thank you, Little Debbie: patron saint of empty calories.
Let’s leave this wonderful land of wishes and snack cakes for a moment and return to the painting that inspired this tangent. After blocking in the light gray winter sky, and a few other areas of color, I wanted to establish the eventual *range* of colors/contrast.
Sometimes one will choose to work from light to dark, or – in opaque media like oils or acrylics – from dark to light. In transparent watercolors, it’s very difficult to un-color an area, so painters usually approach the painting by either building it up gradually from light to dark or by trying to get each color/darkness correct right off the bat.
The main problem with the light-to-dark method, is it can be very tough to determine exactly how dark things are supposed to end up. There is a tendency to build everything up about the same, ending up with a painting that lacks contrast and interest. Without a very light light, and a very dark dark it’s hard to determine where everything else is supposed to fall.
So the next order of business was to lay in a few of the darkest areas, as well as the brightest – or most colorful – area:
The darkest spot is going to be the doorway. Now the door can be used a point of reference for all the other darks in the picture. The lightest area will remain the sky. The most concentrated color is the yellow of the siding. From here on out, I want to be sure that nothing darker, lighter, or more colorful than these spots, but I also want to be sure that the full range of values are used in between these extremes.
At this stage a few details are also finding their way in. The outline of the car is becoming defined. The bank of trees fade into the distance. The open sign is delineated by the shadows around it and the colors are established. The glass blocks around the entry start to form a geometric pattern.
In its final stage, this picture comes alive with areas of interesting details.
I added definition to the decorative frieze at the top of the building. However, this isn’t meant to be the main focus of the piece, so the colors here are muted. The same is true of the window. Keeping it understated was a struggle, and getting the curtains to ‘read’ as curtains was tricky.
A few individual trees are sketched into the left-hand side. It’s tempting to just plop some tree-like shapes into a piece but it makes a big difference if you really look at the specific shape of the individual tress, the way its branches relate to each other, and how the light hits it. I actually practiced these trees on another piece of paper first, so I got the feel for how to drag my brush across the paper to achieve the right effect.
Probably the most time-consuming detail in this piece was actually the white car and the man getting into it. I had a lot of difficulty getting the values right underneath the vehicle, and suggesting the shape and slope of the car.
The sign itself came together quickly, since the color was essentially a few simple areas of flat color. A small brush and a little patience was all it took, since the underlying drawing was already in place. At the very end, I pulled a little bit of very light gray over the whole thing to make it a little less gaudy.
One of the final, fun touches was the texture on the sidewalk. This was accomplished by putting a little bit of light-colored gray pigment on a mostly dry brush. The bristles were separated a little bit, and then dragged over the area. This resulted in a subtle striping effect that kind of gives the feel of concrete.
All in all, the more I look at this piece, the more I like it. Now it’s time to move on…
But before I go, here’s the photograph that had me so upset. (It doesn’t look anything like the actual thing.)
Have a great day. Enjoy a snack from your nearest corner store.