Fresh off the easel: North, Beneath the Rooftops, another entry in the Azure & Asphalt series. This painting puts into practice several lessons from two of my workshops. I will illustrate each of the key ideas as I walk you through my process.
One of the lessons from “Building Landscape Harmony through Color Strategies, Limited Palettes, and Color Groups” is that structured color strategies are a reliable way to bring order and harmony to the complex problem of managing color. In one exercise, we find an effective color strategy in another artist’s work — and then try to apply that same strategy to our own painting.
While perusing Terry Miura‘s Instagram stream, I came across one of his large urban landscapes, which was similar in subject to my Azure & Asphalt series — rising streets and rooftops lit up by sunlight. Terry’s painting showed me a strategy I had not yet considered.
Bright or saturated colors have more impact when they are played off neutral colors. In Descent, the orange colors are not super saturated, but they are much more meaningful when juxtaposed against the neutral shadows.
Don’t copy photographic color
In the studio I work from photos all the time, but I never copy the color I see in the photograph. (See Using Photographs Like an Artist.) I figure out the color strategy that works best for a particular subject by doing color studies. This can be a traditional study, done by hand, or a digital study, a photograph with its color modified in Photoshop. That way I still have something to reference, but it is now my own color.
Limited Color Groups
Another “big idea” from the workshop is the principle of limited color groups. A landscape painting has a better chance of achieving color harmony — and of suggesting the unifying qualities of colored light — when the colors fall into a few main groups. When I introduce the idea of limited colors, students sometimes think I am suggesting that a painting should be made up of only two or three colors. Limited color groups impose no restrictions on the number of individual colors. But grouping does propose that while there may be hundreds of different colors, they can and should fall into a few main “families” or groups which are related in hue and value. North uses a “tight” two-color grouping: the yellow-orange of the streets and rooftops and the gray colors of the buildings. However, limited color groups can certainly be implemented with more than two groups. For additional examples, see The Power of Limited Color Groups in Landscape Painting.
Movement and Eye Paths
Now, let’s slip in the back door of another workshop, “Real World Composition.” There we do an exercise in which we diagram the pathways of movement we find in a masterwork. The week we spent on this exercise made a lasting impression on me, so I must have been doing something right! I have been paying more attention to these pathways, especially those that might carry the eye around the painting in a circular motion.
For a painting like North, which is dependent on so many strong horizontals and verticals, a circular route may seem like a surprising pathway. But movement in composition can also be implied; that is, our eye doesn’t only follow continuous, unbroken lines or edges. It can jump from point to point along implied pathways, in a connect-the-dots fashion.
Movement in North is created as the eye hops from rooftop to rooftop. The strongest eye paths are indicated by the two curving arrows in the lower half, and the vertically rising street. There is also a secondary path that flows up along the sides and follows the river along the top. Collectively, these movements integrate all areas of the composition.