It was the light pattern hitting this door that struck me. The light leading into the scene, the dominating shadow shape, and the natural angle of physical elements such as benches, steps, and vine all brought focus to the door. A perfect composition like this is rare. Often I must make difficult editing decisions about what elements and shapes must be “sacrificed for the greater good.”
1. Afternoon sunlight changes rapidly, so I made a thumbnail sketch, paying careful attention to the shadow shape and light pattern that first attracted me to the scene. Beside the sketch, I wrote notes about what I wanted to be sure to capture, the general “key” of the painting, my first impressions on color. In this scene, the ambient light from the surrounding white walls is bringing most of the values very close together. I also noted which was warmer or cooler and which is more neutral or more chromatic – the light, or the shadow shape.
Taking this extra time in the beginning means the scene can continue to change around me, but I will continue to keep a clear focus on what the painting is really about. Also, if the thumbnail sketch does not present a good design at this point, there is no reason for me to continue with the painting. That saves me from wasting a lot of paint and a good panel. It also saves me a lot of grief!
2. Because the warmth of the afternoon sun is critical to the motif, I toned my canvas with a warm undertone. Then, using my thumbnail sketch as reference, I transferred the design to my canvas. Making a few last notes on my sketch, I determined that the stain value of the canvas matched the door’s shadow value most closely, and that my palette mixing area value matched the wall’s shadow value most closely. These final pieces of information helped complete the puzzle pieces I would need to complete the painting. Intellect, reasoning, and good notes made in the beginning stages allow me to enjoy the painting, creative, and responsive part of the process more joyfully and with greater success.
3. Next, I used thin, dark, calligraphy to express movement through the piece. This part of the loosening up process, in which I both orchestrate with my own personal style and punctuate for viewer impact.
4. Continuing with the darkest darks, “weighted” elements were painted into the scene.
5. Referring carefully to my thumbnail sketch and notes, I begin painting the shadow color on the distant steps and notice how that color also relates to the reflected light inside the door facing and on top of the bench.
6. The relationship of the color of the wall in shadow and the wall in light plays an important roll in making sure they feel like the same surface plane, rather than a plane change. On my paint box, I tested “piece of color” for the wall’s shadow and light, and then tested the same on the painting. I needed to determine if they represented what I was feeling about the time and place.
7. Here I would just like to point out that, although it had only been 15 minutes since she made her original notes and sketch, the light has changed drastically. Good preparation and notes means I don’t have to worry about that.
8. Typically I prefer to work from dark to light through the completion of the painting. But having determined the correct relationship for both the shadow and light areas of the wall, I chose to move on and carefully place the light. I do this when I fear that the color of the light is changing very rapidly. This painting IS about the light on the door so that information is critical to success.
9. Again, referring carefully to the sketch, (because the light pattern was no longer the same), I enjoyed applying bold, thick strokes that accurately interpreted the shape and plane changes and expressed the form of the door.
10. The light on the door, probably the most important piece, needed to be perfect, so I tested to see just how intense the chroma there could be and still read as “light.”
11. With the focus area complete, I added the warm and cool variations in the shadow areas.
12. Looking at this photo, notice the transition area from shadow to light. Parts of the shadow’s edge are soft and parts of it sharp; parts of the edge transition crisply, while other parts seem to glow. A few painting techniques and intelligent edge choices help to accomplish these effects.
13. At about 45 minutes into the painting, it was time to step away, turned my back, and allowed my eyes and mind to “rest” for a few minutes. Turning back with fresh focus, I immediately responded to places in the painting where colors seemed to echo, warms and cools running side by side, and again used calligraphy (even more sparingly now) to orchestrate and strengthen the painting. (This is where you have to think MORE than you paint. The temptation is to over do it. After all, if one mark looks good, then 4 will look great . . . right? No! Conservation of brushwork takes precedence here.)
14. Even with the additional brush strokes, notice that the original light and shadow pattern have not been broken apart from my design. Placing only two or three dark accents at the very end of the process, I felt the painting was about 98% finished. The other 2% (a few edge adjustments here and there) would require careful consideration, and only be completed after the work sat for a few days in the studio.
Less than half a dozen brush strokes, mostly dealing with the plant and its edges, and there was no more to be done! Porta was complete!