Posts Tagged ‘Catnap in Positano’

Catnap in Positano, part 4 – Caught Napping

Monday, July 15th, 2013

In this final part of a 4-part series, I’ll have to seriously evaluate several aspects of my painting.

An artist colleague challenged me to state my original painting concept for “Catnap in Positano.” By not writing down and clearly stating what had appeared obvious to me at the time, I realized I had missed the boat! My intention had been to illustrate the cat’s cool respite in the heat of the brilliant Mediterranean sun. However, the lighting did not appear harsh and hot but soft and diffuse! The shadows should have told the story, but I had not controlled them adequately, so they weren’t telling the story I’d had in mind, as you can see in the illustration shown in my previous post, “Catnap in Positano.”

Sharpening up the soft-edged shadows, increasing contrasts, and adding more detail and missing shadows went a long way in correcting this problem.

130314  Catnap in Positano

This same friend also questioned me about the repeating diagonal lines leading toward the upper right. I wasn’t too concerned about it, feeling that the oblique lines were counterbalanced by the line of the front lip of the planter and its continuation along the shadow’s edge on the wall, the roughly horizontal lines of the cat, and the counterbalancing implied oblique sweep of the mass of geranium heads.

What didn’t disturb him but caused me increasing discontent was the high-value background. After considerable internal discussion I finally concluded that the need to improve the contrast was worth the risk of changing the texture and inadvertently destroying the painting in the process. So, working quickly to avoid unnecessarily disturbing the underlying layer, I rewet the entire background and laid in a strong top glaze of indigo. The deeper value of the background allowed the higher value foliage to convey the sense of sunlight as it hadn’t when the background value was closer to that of the foliage. The result was well worth the risk I had taken. “Catnap in Positano” (#130314) is a better painting for the revisions applied as a result of my wrap-up evaluation.

From this I learned two lessons: 1) I should always write down the initial painting concept to refer to as the painting progresses; and 2) Although I should consider alternative approaches to a problem I should never lose sight of the ultimate goal.

Will there be more changes? Perhaps. A painting is always subject to reevaluation and revision as long as it remains in my studio. What do you think?
I received a wake-up call when an artist colleague challenged me to state my original painting concept for “Catnap in Positano.” By not writing down and clearly stating what had appeared obvious to me at the time, I realized I had missed the boat! My intention had been to illustrate the cat’s cool respite in the heat of the brilliant Mediterranean sun. However, the lighting did not appear harsh and hot but soft and diffuse! The shadows should have told the story, but I had not controlled them adequately, so they weren’t telling the story I’d had in mind, as you can see in the illustration shown in my previous post, “Catnap in Positano.”

Sharpening up the soft-edged shadows, increasing contrasts, and adding more detail and missing shadows went a long way in correcting this problem.

Catnap in Positano, part 3 – Developing the Painting

Monday, July 1st, 2013

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.

Catnap in Positano, part 2 – Beginning the Painting

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

In this blog, part 2 of a 4-part series, I’ll try to show how I approached actually painting the subject I had identified and explored in the preliminary stages discussed last time.

Once I had sketched the cat and planter onto 140# cold-pressed watercolor paper, I began to block in the planter—a large, comparatively flat, central area directly behind my focal point—with a light wash of burnt sienna, the color of the highlight along the top lip. I was content to leave the initial wash quite light, since I knew I would later add multiple glazes at various times and over various areas of it, using burnt umber, brown madder, and indigo, to vary and enrich the color and tone and to suggest surface texture.

Then came the first tints on the cat’s head and darker portions of the body, as I applied a thin mixture of brown madder and sap green. I used the same mixture, adding a touch of indigo, for the initial wash on the wall, later reglazing this variously with brown madder, indigo, and burnt umber.

Catnap Initial Work

In building up the cat, I layered increasingly lower values of the same colors I had used elsewhere, eventually adding dark stripes of an indigo and burnt-umber mix. Final top glazes of indigo and a brown-madder/permanent-alizarin blend (which by then I had used in the geraniums—more about that next time) helped me complete the shading and color adjustment. The pink blend was also incorporated in the ears, nose, and toe pads.

Like the planter and the cat, the wall was built up in numerous layers to achieve the appearance of multi-colored stonework and shadow. Brown madder tends to bleed out and separate from other colors it’s blended with, as it did in the planter’s shadow; but I didn’t fight it, allowing it to “reflect” the planter’s color into the shadow.

Join me again next time as I continue the painting, building up the foliage and the flowers.

Catnap in Positano, part 1 – Preliminary Planning

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

A watercolor painting is a series of exercises in mental pre-planning, patience, and adaptability. Over the next four blogs, I will be providing a glimpse into the process I followed in developing one particular painting. In part 1, I’ll show what kind of pre-planning I did before even picking up a brush.

A painting begins not on the paper but in the mind of an artist. For me, one painting began on a hot, sunny day in Positano, Italy, as I meandered along a road overlooking the rugged Amalfi coastline. A cat lay on a concrete-topped stone wall, sprawled lazily against the cool ceramic of a planter, undisturbed by the red geraniums nodding disinterestedly overhead.

Except for occasional quick sketches, most of my paintings are done in the studio, so I rely on photography for reference, selecting both subjects and angles that interest me, lighting that catches my eye or reveals something special about the subject, and usually suggesting a relationship of some kind—whether between two beings, a subject and the viewer, or even the light’s interaction with the subject. I also try to be aware of the general composition of the scene, background, contrasts, and perspective, as I attempt to capture in the camera the elements and relationships the attracted me in person.

So I photographed the cat, recording also its relation to the ceramic planter. Yes, I could have focused on the cat alone and minimized the potential distraction of the planting. But my concept included the planter and the colorful blossoms overhead. They were integral to the relationship I wanted to depict, of the quiet cat, subdued in color, content to play it cool while the colorful blossoms rejoiced in the light and heat—creating a metaphor, of a sort, of some of the human personalities around me.

130314 Catnap Preliminary Studies

Back in the studio, I reevaluated the photo. Using photo-editing software, I played with shadows and highlights to discover hidden detail; I adjusted color saturation and investigated alternative levels of contrast, and experimented with both vertical and horizontal orientations, as well as a variety of aspect ratios for the overall image.

Then I began to play with ideas about how to develop a creative image suggested by the original scene. Using felt markers of several shades, I played with value patterns and considered a variety of alternatives for the notan structure. I also took time to work up a pencil sketch to investigate the subject further.

At last it was time to tackle the painting in earnest. I sketched the primary outlines onto a quarter sheet (about 12”x16”) of cold-pressed watercolor paper and began thinking specifically about where to begin, how to approach the project, and which paints to include on my palette.

Join me next time as I pick up my brushes and begin the painting adventure in earnest.