I taught an urban landscape workshop for the Calgary Sketch Club this past Sunday. It was a wonderful experience. In planning the workshop I felt that it would be most useful to the participants to focus a lot of time on some of the crucial basic aspects of watercolour such as value even if this meant there would be less time available for the main demo. So we studied value a bit and then did a fun painting that just plays with value. In order to make up for not finishing the main demo painting during the workshop I thought I would finish it at home and take photos of the process. I hoped that this might be the best use of time and enable everyone to get the most out of the workshop. I’ll wait for the feedback to gauge the effectiveness of this.
Anyway I’m posting here the aforementioned photos.
Exercise 1: Value
This is a study that uses very light wet in wet washes for the sky and then a massive amount of very dark washes for the buildings. I think you’ll never be afraid of making dark strokes after doing this painting. Anyway, this is the painting, as far as I took it in the workshop.
And this is the finished painting. I love to add those little sparkles of cad red light and cobalt teal. I also did some lifting out of the dark foreground to create a little colour and value contrast. Doing this painting is an excellent learning opportunity.
Exercise 2: Urban Landscape
This is the photo I chose for the main demo. It’s a photo I took about a year ago and I’ve looked at it many times and it’s never spoken to me. This time however I noticed St Mary’s church at the end of the street and I thought that it was an interesting shape. I also liked the colourful building on the left and I really enjoy these views down a street with tall building on either side. So it contained a lot of the elements I look for but there are some big problems with it. After studying it I came to identify 2 main problems. The first is that the very interesting shape of the church is way to small and secondly, and most importantly, the huge negative space (sky) between the buildings is much too large. It seems to push the buildings apart.
So, as I usually do, I made a quick little thumbnail and all of a sudden the photo excited me.
The drawing that I did in the workshop closely follows the thumbnail.
My usual practice in cityscapes is to do a first light wash that covers the entire paper except for selected whites in the centre of interest.
This next photo shows the painting approximately the way I left it at the end of the demo.
When I got home I worked on the left side of the painting and added more value to the figures and cars. I like that the buildings on the left have a cleaner, lighter feel to them. I must also admit that I love the reflections coming towards the viewer.
The next stage involved darkening the shadow on the building centre-left and playing with some colour on the lower building and adding some details like the light poles.
In this stage I modified the figures. I used some white gouache mixed with cobalt blue for the main figure on the left. Since the painting was overall lighter than I usually do I made the 2 main figures darker. I also added two vague trees between the mid ground buildings and the background church. These really connected the painting front to back.
In the final stage I had a good critique from my wife and I realized that I like the configuration of the light poles better in the thumbnail than in the painting so I lifted out a bit and found this arrangement more satisfactory even though the smaller one comes a little too close to the church. The pole with banners on the left seemed to tie things together nicely. My wife pointed out that having all the colour on the left and a rather dark, sombre building on the right didn’t work so I lifted out a bit and added a bit of opaque paint to let some light into the right hand building. A bit of dry brush here and there sort of finished things off, at least for now.
I’m very happy with the result. In fact, for some reason when I worked on this painting at home I just seemed to have a different approach to it. I’ve done many cityscapes in the past couple of years and I have developed a certain style that I use. This painting was done with a cleaner, lighter touch. I’m not sure where that came from but I like it and it certainly added to my enjoyment of this painting.
Again, many thanks to the Sketch Club for this opportunity and thanks especially to the participants who made it such a great experience. I love being in a room where there is enthusiasm, openness, and a desire to learn and try new things.