Catnap in Positano, part 3 – Developing the Painting

In the past two blogs, I tried to illustrate the preliminary work that went into planning and preparing for a new painting, and then showed how I approached the initial stages of the painting. In this third of a 4-part series, I’ll continue showing how the composition developed, explaining some of my reasoning as the work proceeded.

I wanted to use minimal detail in the foliage, just enough to suggest color and texture, so I used a multi-color wash of sap green, Winsor green (both blue and yellow shades), indigo, and new gamboge, later adding touches of burnt sienna and brown madder for richness. A few leaf edges were picked out by painting the negative shadows around them.

Using a similar approach for the blossoms, but consciously reserving white gaps to provide sparkle, I layered smaller areas of brown madder, permanent alizarin crimson, sap green, and indigo, finally retouching with new gamboge to suggest sunglow.

A dark background would allow the foliage to appear to best advantage, calling attention to the sunlight shine through the leaves, and would balance the shadow area in the lower right corner. So I began to lay in a dark wash of indigo. As I worked in the smaller areas around the leaves and blossoms, however, I noticed that it was beginning to develop cauliflower-like “blooms,” so rather than fighting with it, I chose to make the most of the situation and sprinkled water on the entire indigo area to encourage the texture to develop. The inevitable side effect, however, was that the additional water raised the value of the hue until it lost the contrast I’d initially been striving for. I decided that that might not be such a bad occurrence in this case, though, as minimizing the contrast rather than heightening it retained the viewer’s focus on the cat in the foreground. I decided to leave the background pale and reevaluate it later.

Catnap in Positano

Although I had incorporated variations of red (particularly through use of the very pinkish brown madder) throughout the composition, the vibrant reds of the flowers weren’t evident in the lower half, so I painted in the red petal next to the cat. Based on the principle of repetition with variation, I continued the color thread by scattering a few more petals by the farther end of the planter. It was at this point I also dropped touches of red into the cat’s dark fur.

I usually don’t consciously think too much about the mechanics of composition. Instead, I plan the general composition ahead of time and then, to please my own eye, balance and adjust it as I proceed, to compensate for the vagaries of the brushstrokes and the sometimes unpredictable behavior of the paint itself. If an “oops” turns into a blessing, I consider leaving it and continue working with it rather than fighting it. That happened several times with this composition. As it neared completion, I knew I needed to evaluate it objectively, both in light of the unanticipated changes in my original plan and as an overall, completed composition. Was it really done? Or did it need further work? Could it be improved? Or was it a complete failure that I should simply discard and begin again from scratch?

Join me next time to read about my evaluation and the decisions I had to make.

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