The image I wanted to paint was of a woman sitting on her luggage, facing a backlit screen. So the scene was in the shadows with warm illumination coming from the front.
It’s times like this I opt for a limited palette. Because all the tones are muted this is a good opportunity to use a complimentary scheme, using the compliments to tone down each other instead of placing them full strength next to each other for intense color effect.
The first stop, one of my favorite sites for color inspiration, Design-Seeds. They showcase a photograph and a break down of the main colors in it. This gets the creative juices flowing for me! Below are two combinations I was considering.
The first being more of a monotone, I chose the one on the right. Below are the three colors used to represent these tones, Yellow Ochre, Violet Transparent Magenta and Burnt Umber.
This is what it looked like on the color wheel –
I made a chart with some random color mixtures from my three selected colors, a good thing to have on the wall as I paint in order to remind me of the possibilities.
Sometimes the best way to start something like this is to begin brighter than intended and slowly knock down the color. This was accomplished by adding bits of the other colors of the same value, (amount of lightness or darkness). Using broken color is also a good way to animate large areas where one solid tone could be boring.
In the above image you can see how intense the background color was in the beginning, and below, in the finished painting, “Last Train to St. Louis” how much I toned it down.
I love the look of patterned clothing and backgrounds in a painting. On a recent photo shoot I included patterns in almost every picture, maybe I went too far, but one thing’s for sure, I am going to get some good practice painting patterns.
Patterns can be tricky, they look a certain way in real life, but don’t always translate without some major tweaking. Many times they look too harsh, hard and busy, screaming for attention over the center of interest.
While studying how other artists have handled this issue I came upon this Whistler painting, “Caprise in Purple and Gold, The Golden Screen” This really demonstrates a masterful handling of many patterns. I especially like the way he hints at most of the patterns instead of being literal.
I began the new painting below with an averaged tone in the background, the tone I saw when squinting down the pattern. The pattern in the original picture was bold and repetitive, my challenge was to tone it down, while keeping the flavor of it.
As more of the figure was established, I adjusted the background tone and began established the pattern. I kept working back and forth between the figure and the background. After about two days I put some oil on the surface of the painting because it was dry to the touch. I brought up the things that were important in the pattern, and neutralized those that weren’t.
It’s a balancing act, I was able to bring the pattern up to a point that enhanced not detracted from the main figure.
It took me about three days to get the answer I wanted. What was the question? Something about the color harmony of “In the Garden” was not working. Pulling out the color wheel usually clears things up for me.
In the original painting above the main colors in the figure are cool versions of blues and violets. The background greens were leaning toward the yellow family. On the color wheel it is clear that the yellow greens were a large step around the wheel from the cool violets. This large step is why the warm greens are too jarring when placed next to the violets in the painting.
In the final image above, I shifted the background to a family of greens closer to the violets. This shift has made all the difference.
Color harmonies can enhance the mood of a subject or detract from it. If I were painting a Mardi Gras scene in the French Quarter using complimentary colors (those opposite each other on the wheel), would be a good choice for high energy and bright impact, but the opposite was what I wanted here, more natural, quieter and calmer.
Back in the studio, from our trip to Virgina I was really looking forward to closing the door and getting lost in some paint. This new painting “In the Garden” was from a photo I took while on our recent vacation to Colonial Williamsburg.
My favorite area in the settlement was the garden. Every time we passed this area I said to John “what a minute let’s see what they’re doing now”. They were growing all kinds of herbs and vegetables, a small stand sold small plants while there were at least four costumed people doing “regular” chores in the garden, like using a sickle to clear weeds, hoeing with iron picks and sweeping with hand made brooms.
This young women really caught the feeling of the 96 degree, 80% humidity day. A little wilted, she appeared to me to be a great subject for a painting.
I started this differently that usual. My goal was to get the head in the right place, the right size, than work outwardly from there. I liked the feeling of working this way, there was a freedom about it.
Since this day was overcast the temperature of the painting was to be cool in the lights, warmer in the shadows.
Working downward and outward, adding more shapes, comparing them to what I already had on the canvas. Just had to interject this picture of my dog, Brandy. She was almost as happy I was to get back in the studio, she was in this position for most of the day.This is the hardest part. Looking carefully, not at what to add, but what to take away, a simple image is a strong image. I decided to remove the distant house in the upper left. The idea of a distant house was what I kept wanting to hold on to but the design element it made was doing nothing to help the movement in the painting and was instead acting as a distraction. There was also a horizontal fence in the photo which I put in, than took out.
In the final version I suggested some flowers at the horizon to bring the color in the skirt and apron upward.
John and I returned to Las Vegas from our trip to the historic east coast last night. The jet lag is fading and we’re finally getting up to speed.
Did I find the painting inspiration I hoped for…..yes and more!
Beginning with a tour of Washington D.C., the Freer Gallery was a wonderful stop. The Whistler Peacock Room was deconstructed in London and transported to the gallery.
It was a fascinating feeling to stand in this room which Whistler painted and redecorated in 1876 resulting in the owners disapproving shock, unpaid for the massive project Whistler filed for bankruptcy.
A John Singer Sargent painting “The Loggia” was a joy to view up close. Look at how simply he dashed in that head and hands.
On to Colonial Williamsburg. We just couldn’t get enough of this authentic city which was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699. The fascinating thing to me was that the people weren’t just costumed actors but functioning 17th century tradesmen filling orders for handmade furniture, hand sewn clothing etc.
It was truly a beautiful place to learn as well as just walk around the gravel pathways to see what could be discovered. Just a few of the hundreds of pics I took there are below.
This is the time of year when John and I love to travel and experience new places. Going somewhere new is a great way to get inspired with fresh ideas.
One thing that always interests us both are places with history, so this time it’s Colonial America and going during the 4th of July seems like a good idea. What better place than Jamestown, Virginia , where the first colonial settelment was started by the English, followed by Yorktown and Williamsburg.
The kinds of inspiration I hope to find? Costumed characters, people working at old word crafts, floral and fauna not usually found in my familiar southwest landscape.
Several years ago I painted this type of subject in “Braiding her hair”, (above)
and another of a seasoned woodworker in “At the Bench”, (below)
It will be interested to see what we find!