Terry Miura, an Amercian artist specializing in streetscenes has invited other artists to enter a visual dialogue with him. On his blog he posted a photo of a street, and challenged his readers to paint it and to simplify the scene.
The modern cityscape has not been on my painting menu, so I happily grabbed a chance to learn from a master of the genre. Terry gave advice on how to simplify, and much more.
When studying the photo Terry provided, I had to make several decisions: format (landscape or portrait), how to crop, where to place the area of interest, and finding the abstract shapes that would be interesting. I also needed movement in the painting.
The idea I decided on looked something like this:
Above: Inspired by the Westernized Japanese concept of Notan (how to shape the lights, darks, and midtones abstractly), I saw that this crop worked so well I didn't have to re-design the photo (thank you Terry for a great reference shot). It had three different lead-ins taking the viewer to the tower in a meandering way. Yes, I'd chosen the tower as one of the areas of interest. Possibly, I should have cropped even closer, and not been so charmed by the line of the rooftops leading to the proud tower. The cars at the foreground lead to those in the background, and I kept the cars on the right for the sake of balance, but cropped them to thirds to show they're not significant. The trees lining the street would give a line that moved organically, contrasting to the man-made elements of the other two lines.
I liked the sense of depth, and the distant mountains (hills?) caught my fancy, as there are none where I live.
Now, I'm not a tonalist, as I work mainly with colour, but values are important to me. I work in soft pastel, on a sanded paper. Size is 12x9" (A4).
I simplified the scene further, for the underpainting:
In the underpainting, it is already clear what the scene will be, and the colours are very exaggerated, according to the principle that any colour I add will dull what is already there.
Next, in stage 2, I start to refine the colours, to something more approximating 'reality'. I work with pure colours:
In stage 3, I put in variations and variegations:
The reason I put in the foliage in stage 3 is that it will be a bit more integrated with the buildings. What I want very clearly visible, I put in from the start, and that which should be a bit more subdued comes in stage 3. Not that the green stuff looks subdued in the photo... But it had been way more 'loud' if I had created a separate mass for it in stage one.
Stage 4 completes the painting, Traffic:
All I had to do was to add a few marks here and there to suggest 'detail', and some handling of edges. The distant cars were drawn in. Any imbalance was corrected. The finished paintings has been colour corrected in the computer, while the three first stages are straight from the camera. As I upload this, I see I need to add some variations to the distant cars, as they're too monochrome.
This was way out of my comfort zone (which really is still-lifes, although I've done a lot of rural landscapes). By stretching ourselves, we grow as artists, and the ole comfy zone gets larger. Painting unfamiliar scenes allow me to be more free in reshaping them (although I didn't find it necessary in this case).
As I write this, Terry has posted some of the paintings that are coming to him. Beautiful work, from all over the world. You can see them in his blog, in First Contributions Are In, and Cityscape Challenge: The Next Batch.
I will add more links as they come, so watch this space!
Added links: Simplify! Some More! (where mine is, together with a bunch of other pastellists! and fine artists.)
And now Terry has collected all contributions in a gallery on his website.
Thank you Terry for a delightful challenge!