Enough with the apples. Let’s get back to some watercolor. I’m really enjoying the street scenes recently. They need a lot of tweaking to design them into something that works. But you also have to keep the sense of place in there. And also make a decent painting out of them. It’s tricky – but rewarding.
So this is the reference image
The tower is great of course. But there’s a lot of space in there not doing a whole lot. I toyed with keeping this in – maybe a wider format – and making it more of the subject. But after noodling with some value studies in paint and on the ipad I plumped for compressing the road and keeping the tower and the car as central. Of prime importance are the light roofs leading down to the car. Great arrangement of darks and lights.
Those three lights and the car on the left hand side hold everything together. Well that’s the plan. The initial washes went in ok. Some light and dark but I’ve still got half the value scale to play with so a long way to go.
Well here he is finished. I managed to screw up at the last minute (not telling where) but on the whole I’m pretty happy with this. Time will tell of course.
How important are value studies? I have to admit that I have only recently started doing them as part of the process. A few years ago I tried to do them but found scaling up to the real painting very difficult. So I stopped. But over the past year I’ve finally found them useful.
After the Marlborough at dusk struggle to a triumph I’m spurred on to another New England street scenes. I really enjoy these but they are hard to design and hard to paint. When they come off though they make really good paintings (IMO of course). Today was value study and color study day. Here is the photo reference:
This is from a visit a few years ago and the strong light and tower caught my eye but, as you can see it’s not an obvious choice for a painting. But if we can make a decent value sketch out of it we may have a chance.
First was some noodling on the ipad. I find this great for trying out ideas. You can work in a small range of values and add new layers if you want to try something out. If it doesn’t work just delete the layer. So what did we find?
Yeah I think there’s something there. I added in some of the buildings on the right hand side to give some balance to the left. I also ruthlessly pushed those dark trees to a lighter value both to push them back and to provide some contrast with the foreground tower and car. The thing I like the most is the pattern of light off the roofs and the car which I need to remember to retain in the final painting.
Ok so far so good – onto some paint value studies. Pretty small with minimal drawing and trying to keep to around 4 values throughout the whole thing.
This is the same sketch at different stages. I was in two minds whether to include the dormer window on the left hand roof so took a photo half way through. I’ve compressed the scene widthways a little so things aren’t too stretched out and made the central car a little more prominent. I think we’re still looking good.
Finally I tried out a very rough color sketch. This was just to try out some colors as the photo colors are not very inspiring but I still want to retain a sense of the hard sunlight.
This is teeny – around 2”x4” but I wanted to see if a blue sky would work with some rich browns for the buildings. I’m still in two minds but it looks promising.
I really like painting a watercolor cityscape. Great shapes, lots of things going on, and I get to interpret my everyday surroundings.
However this was a huge saga. I’m just going to leave this one here for now but the struggle to get to this point was filled with disaster and frustration. But I got there in the end and I’m very happy.
Watercolor Cityscape Reference Photos Need a Lot of Editing
One of the problems was that the reference photo had a lot of problems. The color scheme was a little odd and there was a lot of extraneous detail that had to be edited out. I also had the problem of the time of day. I originally wanted to do a night painting but I couldn’t get the atmosphere right. So I turned it into more of a dusk painting, lightening up the sky and adding in some more clouds.
Don’t Change Materials When You’re Trying Something New
In hindsight one of my problems was that I changed to use Arches watercolor paper rather than my trusty Fabriano Artistico. I knew that this one was going to be a struggle and could have done without having to readjust back to Arches.
Not Every Painting Works Out First Time
I did several versions of this painting. In fact I almost gave up after the first two. But in this case perseverance paid off and the final thing came together very well.
Lessons Learned for Watercolor Cityscape
I think I need some bullets here.
Simplify! There’s a lot going on in a city street and you can’t put it all in.
Work out your big value shapes ahead of time. If they don’t work the whole painting won’t hang together.
Decide on a color scheme and don’t just blindly follow the photo. The original colors are nothing like how it ended up but it’s definitely a better painting for it.
Suggest that detail and don’t put in every little thing. Sometimes just some dabs and a little contrast here and there can portray a multitude of things
Subtle values changes in a larger value shape add a great deal of depth to a painting. This is starting to become one of my things. If I manage to achieve it in a painting I always think it’s better for it.
If it doesn’t work first time think about it first. Do some value studies, reexamine the color scheme. Don’t just blindly try another one – that almost never works for me.
Starting to think about the next ‘big’ painting. This is a night view of Marlborough which is going to be challenging to say the least. I’m working up to it with some studies and starting small (3”x5”) with a sketch. This is to work out the value relationships and how the different areas relate to each other. So far so good.
A slight intermission in my 30 in 30 but I’m back to it now for day 15. This is again a local view of a church in Somerville. I always liked the geometric arrangement of shapes and values and the contrast with the more organic shapes of the trees and the background. This is also on Fabriano Artistico soft press paper which I quite like. Smoother than cold press but still absorbent. It shows up the blossoms which I’m liking more and more.