Here’s my final painting.
I’ve demonstrated understanding of linear perspective, in a street scene that wends steeply downhill, and I’ve created a sense of receding space. I’d have liked to show more perspective in the clouds, having them slope towards my vanishing point almost vertically, instead of making them almost horizontal.
I didn’t achieve the kind of loose washes and free line I was aiming for, getting distracted by a struggle with colour and tone. Each adjustment I made detracted from any loose quality there was. It was tempting to start again, concentrating on line instead of colour and tonal contrast, as the exercise instructions told me to… but I decided not to, and did succeed in making some final changes for the better. Perhaps part of learning is accepting not every exercise outcome will be a wholly positive one!
Here’s what I did, my research, reflections, difficulties and decisions along the way :-
I decided to develop into a painting a collection of townscape sketches, photos and notes I made nearly two years ago. The reference material shows the streets from many angles, zooms in on detail (street furniture, windows, chimneys), and describes the scenes and atmosphere quite extensively, so even though time has passed I’m still able to recall it vividly.
I chose the street scene with laundry to develop. It demonstrates linear perspective having ample lines receding to two different vanishing points on a lowish horizon (I was sitting uphill); I also like the contrasts, light and shade and colours.
The course materials suggest using fluid paint washes to create a sense of indeterminate space, and then structuring this space with line; using a stick dipped in paint for the line might be a way to avoid being over-fussy and tight. I looked at Turner’s 1840 Venice watercolour sketches; he uses just this method, with loose washes given structure by quickly drawn line.
Some of Turner’s washes have hard edges corresponding to architectural lines
Others have washes dissolving into each other but roughly corresponding with areas of light and shade.
His palette is sky blue, silvery grey, umbers, ochres, siennas. Shadows are deep umber and ultramarine, or a rich Indian red. I notice also how Turner’s edges tend to dissolve more the further away they are, giving the illusion of distance.
So I planned to lay down some carefully considered, pre-prepared coloured washes on a piece of thoroughly dampened watercolour paper. I wanted to convey the deep shadows and strong lights, so I would need some quite dark mixes and defined edges for the cast shadows and the windows; mid tone shades for the road and the shadow side of buildings; and some delicate light washes for the sunlit building. The sky would gradually lighten toward the horizon, from a mid tone to silvery-white!
But first I considered the format and composition. I decided to go with landscape format (partly to vary my work more – I’ve done mostly portrait format paintings lately); but I felt a wider format than the photo (perhaps the golden mean) would be more satisfying, so I extended out each side. Also the building glimpsed at the end of the street bars the eye from travelling into the distance; I decided to get rid of it, widen the gap, and add a vague suggestion of the street continuing to draw the viewers eye further into the picture plane. All this was put together as an under drawing on my 40x65cm paper, using a grid to enlarge the photo.
Used mainly acrylic ‘ink’ I carefully washed the sky with pale greys and blues, and the building on the left with pale blues and mauves. All the buildings are white in fact, so I didn’t want to go too dark.
I mixed a ‘black’ with my three primaries and no water, and painted in the dark, hard-edged cast shadow in the foreground.
Eventually I realised that if the right hand buildings represented the lightest tone, followed by the sky, followed by the left hand buildings, the latter would have to be a lot darker. I ditched my size 22 and went for a 5cm flat, mopped up the remaining dark mixes from my wells, and slapped them on top of the ‘carefully considered’ washes. This is looking better! Encouraged, I took a stick and ‘drew’ eaves and chimney details.
Now I needed to similarly darken the sky, with a brighter blue. Looking again at my Turner references, my washes are too precise – ‘colouring in’ – I need to not be afraid of having some skips in the washes – the line to be added later will clarify the structures.
Uncannily, I’ve ended up with exactly the same dirty mauve and greenish puce colour scheme of my first exercise in Part 4, view from a window – how horrible! I’m feeling quite dejected and wondering when I might start to make some paintings I actually like in Part 4. Tomorrow I’ll stick the electric cables in, call it a day and move on to the next exercise.
Next morning I overcame my discouragement and made some quite major changes in my final session, for the better – see the final painting at the top of the post; I really darkened those left hand buildings, bravely with Indian red first, then blue-grey roughly on top, and finally scumbling a very light tint of blue on top of that. I’m learning that it pays to be bold with tone; it’s easier to lighten an over-dark tone than to add tone in timid increments. The sky was warmed with ultramarine, and the distance given less focus, lighter and more neutral tints.
Turner’s Venice by Lindsay Stainton, pub Book Club Associates, 1986