Why did I decide to paint this subject? Was it the simple curved composition, the cool tones plus rich reds, the quiet mood…yes, all those things. So I begin by looking at my options with a couple of small value studies. How can I push what I want to say, the feelings I have for the subject?
First a little line drawing, than layout paper over it. This way I don’t have to redraw the image over and over, it’s visible through the paper, so with two pens, one black, one grey (the paper is the white), I can quickly try out different combinations.
It’s about disassembling the parts and putting it back together. In the left sketch, the foliage, skirt, top of bench and shadows underneath are the darkest value. Everything else is medium except the light falling on her right side. Hmmmmm….this could work, but that big dark foliage kind of pushes down on her, creating a heaviness.
The sketch on the right holds the darks to her hair, skirt and the under shadows. Everything else is grey except her face, body and shirt are the light tone. Without the dark behind her head she seems taller, lifted. This is definitely the directions I want to go. Either one would work, but the one on the right is what “I” want to say about this scene. This is where getting away from being too literal can be really fun. It’s all about choices.
Next on to the color study, I already have the drawing, the one I used under the value sketches. What are the variables here; this is a scene in the shade, so there are going to be lots of cool tones. Going to want to play with some warms also or this might get too cold. An underpainting wash of warm violet and red orange would work well.
If I’m thinking about doing this in my painting, I need to do it in my color sketch, or they aren’t the same thing at all.
The sketch with Quinacridone Magenta and Cadmium Red Light wash. I like to let my undertones dry completely, that way I can paint over them or scrape back to them.
The small color study. Notice I’m not trying to match the values to the previous plan but I am matching the relationship of each area next to another. Squinting will help you see that the darks are the hair, skirt and shadows under the bench, the mediums are everything else except her face arms and shirt which are the lights. There are some accent darks and lights here and there but it still holds to the original plan.
The questions that I want to get answered here;
How cold should my coolest color be, and how warm should my warmest color be?
How dark is my darkest dark going to be and how light is my light?
Which colors and values work best next to each other?
In the final painting there was lots of room to”open up” the color study, work more interest into areas. Having solved some of the bigger problems up front allowed me to have more fun and freedom in the actual painting.