More Preparation Before Painting

I have worked on preliminaries for the watercolour painting mentioned in the last post.

Here’s one of the altered photos I’m using to guide me:

ShanghaiYam vigmove col

I fooled around with some thumbnail sketches to become familiar with the shapes and to consider how far I should go with my simplification.

Shape Sketches

I like the verticality of the column in the background, although I want to avoid the static quality of it being dead-centred. I like the way the curve of the planter meets the yam-seller.

I decided I didn’t want to simplify too much. I wanted to keep the urban complexity of the vehicles in the background.

Next up, some tonal sketches to get a sense of a value scheme…

Value Sketch 1

This reveals a common problem I have, not just with this project, and that’s shadows. This was an overcast day, so actually there should be fuzzy shadowy area at the bottom of the barrel on wheels, and that triangular shadow at the base of the planter which I like compositionally is too dark and definite. And then there should some kind of fuzzy area around where the guy’s sitting…

On a second try I still hadn’t come to a clear idea about what to do about that (I was more interested trying to define darks and midtones, and position the pillar a little more to the left).

Value Sketch 2

But I wasn’t going to let something like that slow me down… on to some colour sketches.

Color Sketch 1

For this first colour sketch, I really wanted to change the colour of the guy’s clothes. This dark red unfortunately doesn’t please my eye much. (I used water soluble oil pastels for these sketches. I like them since I can scribble crayon-like and then with a wet brush give a watercolour quality to it.)

I decided I wanted the background vehicles to be cooler in quality than the photo and complementary to the colours of the foreground objects — the red shirt and the rust of the barrel and yams.

Color Sketch 2

I like this shirt colour a lot more, ties to the yams. Still that shadow at the bottom of the planter is too heavy for the overcast sky and too big (what is it a shadow of?).

The black background is just black ink. When it comes time to paint, I’m going to underpaint wet-on-wet back there with dark reds, blacks, blues and greens and then glaze with maybe a indigo/sepia mix so it’s not too flat in appearance.

I like the slightly variegated light/colour on the pillar.

I still have problems to solve, but it’s about time to get to the actual painting!

First, though, I’ve got to figure out a palette. I want to use a fairly limited one, since I tend to go overboard with too many different colours.

There’s a number of limited palettes I was considering. I like figuring out colour wheels and combining different watercolours to see how they work together, and I’ve got lists of different palettes in the notebook I carry around.

I finally reined in my enthusiasm to two main contenders. One is a limited palette used by Janine Gallizia, apparently, whose work I like a lot.

Gallizia Palette

She gets a lot of subtle gray mixtures out of this, from the look of her work. From what I read, the palette is made up of transparent yellow, permanent rose, phthalo blue g.s., winsor green b.s. (which is a phthalo green), winsor violet and burnt sienna. So I splashed down these colours together to see how I like them. I usually go the colour wheel route, with sheets to see how the mixtures go, but I wanted to just get a sense of their coordination by putting them together like this.

The palette lacks a strong red, and it may be higher key and more pastel in character than I’m used to, but I rather like it.

John Lovett has published several variations of his limited palette.

Lovett Palette

Although I haven’t put the colours together in the most appealing way, I favor the choices here right now more than the Gallizia ones. There’s more dark potential, for one thing, and the strong red may give some good mixing potential for neutrals, darks and what have you.

This is the so-called expanded version of the palette. The basic paints are phthalo blue, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson (perm.) and quin gold or Indian yellow. The additions are indigo, burnt sienna, permanent rose and cobalt blue. I’m going to try this palette for this painting.

The process for the rest of the painting will be approximately the following:

— Draw sketch for painting on some 200 lb. Bockingford paper I have. (It’s heavier than the more standard 140 lb. which needs stretching which I try to avoid.) The outline will be more or less detailed following photo and value sketches, but I will feel free to ignore it as necessary when I paint. I just find that the sketch gives me comfort at the beginning.

— Add darkest darks and plan whites.

— Block in shapes with midtones while preserving whites. This can include a kind of underpainting stage with exaggerated colour, warm and cold, in the background.

— Work on shadows with transparent wash of ultramarine and burnt sienna. Maybe I will have got a grip on the placement and weight of the shadows by then…

— Selective glazing over some of white area (planned ahead).

— Add detail.

This process partly comes from some reading and instructive lessons, and partly from my limited experience. We shall see how it goes!


Explore posts in the same categories: Art, China, Watercolor

2 Comments on “More Preparation Before Painting”

  1. Sputnki Says:

    Hey Fencer,

    I’m tempted to paraphrase Morpheus at this point and say “Stop trying to paint that picture and paint it!” but I am quite enjoying the intimate look at the extensive (exhaustive?) process you go through. It also really illustrates why I went in for photography, where my process can be summarized as:
    pointy pointy
    clicky clicky

    As always, I enjoy your creative take on the creative world.


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi Doug,

    Nice to hear from you…

    What, stop already and paint something? That might be hasty, or as the Ents would say, h-h-a-a-s-s-s-s-t-t-y, in Lord of the Rings…


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