Fresh off the easel, Warm Horizon, Between Ballard and Leary Ways, is a good representation of the process I follow in works from the Azure and Asphalt series — converting a colorless, over-detailed and sprawling subject into a light-filled, implied landscape.
I refer to Warm Horizon as “implied” because it attempts to strike that delicate balance between representation and abstraction. How do I offer enough visual cues to make it reasonably clear to the viewer that it is an urban landscape, but few enough that it doesn’t distract from my primary interest, light and atmosphere?
Plein air paintings or small color sketches have a gestural and expressive quality that naturally lends itself to implying shape and form. But when developing a larger painting, over the course of many sessions, achieving those same implied effects require a fair mount of deliberateness and control.
All the works in this series are bathed in thick atmospheric perspective. In the bluish ground plane, for instance, the buildings are barely suggested. The color and value shifts necessary to do this are incredibly subtle. I also make sure that all edges remain very soft. In a highly atmospheric subject like this, a sharp edge would be inconsistent with all that atmosphere.
Two types of studies: painted and digital
I do two types of studies before starting any painting, a traditional color study painted by hand (what we might call the old school approach), and a digital study generated in Photoshop (the new school). Both solve different kinds of problems. I always say that the painter is a much better colorist than the camera will ever be. A color study allows me to find the color scheme that best fits the “color-light” I envision for the painting, instead of relying on the unimaginative color of the photo. The color study is also a great way to flex my color mixing muscles and get to know my subject in the form of a very low-pressure exercise. (Also see Using Photographs Like an Artist and Getting the Light Right: The Power of the Color Study.)
The digital study (below) informs me in different ways. By applying one or more Photoshop filters, I can create an “altered” photograph that suggests how a painted version of the subject might look. The filters produce effects that simplify the subject in the extreme, reveal basic shapes and values, and get rid of details that may distract me from the “big picture.” In fact, I often work from the digital and color studies alone, not the original photo.
A detail from the bottom right portion of the painting shows several effects: 1. softened edges; 2. the subtle texture that is present throughout, some of which is from the paint itself, and some from the texture of the gessoed panel; and 3. how very close in value and color are the different shapes of the buildings.