This image of two nuns in front of a fountain getting water was one I wanted to paint from the photos we took while in Italy this summer.
When faced with something like that sculpted fountain, things can get confusing, darks, lights swirling shapes… the best solution for me is to paint most of the picture upside down.
Turning the photo this way helps me to direct my brain to just see shapes of value and color instead of objects. This makes my process fun, because I am free to “play with paint” and not get hung up of “what things are”. The best part is when you turn the painting right side up, the image of the “things” appear like magic.
Before I started on this I had some minor adjustments to the composition, below is the original photo –
Look at the long horizontal light shape behind the two nuns. See how each nun plus the water fountain all are dark shapes that break into the light. Look at evenly those shapes fall- light space nun, light space, nun, light space water fountain, light space. It’s a little boring and would be helped greatly by just moving the left nun closer to the other one, and the whole group closer to the right side of the picture. Here’s my value sketch below, the first one is how it appears in the photo, the second, how I am going to regroup things-
At this point I like to get away from the painting for several days, than see if anything needs adjustment. Coming back to the image I am having a feeling that something is wrong with the light on the left side of the image, running down the sun struck side. So I start asking myself questions;
- Is the shape reasonably accurate? (I say reasonably accurate, because being a slave to the image is not really important to me). My answer yes
- Is the shape the right temperature compared with the rest of the painting? yes
- Is it throwing the composition off? Bingo – yes, my eye keeps getting pulled over there, I want to look at the nuns but that area of high contrast is fighting for my attention.
So this is a good reason to venture away from the original. I always say a painting is not the live image, it’s not the photograph, it is an entity all its own. Toning that area down a notch was what was needed to complete the painting, below