Study for "Bay Blue", 12 x 16 inches, oil on linen
Cityscapes are hard to paint not only because everything has to be drawn well, but also because there's just an overwhelming amount of information that needs to be processed. Simplification is key, but arbitrary editing of detail can easily end up with a weak painting that lack a sense of intent. With so much "stuff", it's not easy to know what to include and what to edit out, especially because you know all that detail contributes to the texture of the city clutter.
One way to approach it is to have rules for editing –and you know by now I like rules. This way, you can do it systematically (more or less) and it helps me to get the painting going in the right direction. Here are some that I use often;
- Decide on a dominant color theme (in this case, blue green) and mix every color as a variation of it. (you want violet? start with blue green and bend it towards violet. Think of it as a violet-er version of the original blue green)
- Paint every element (car, tree, asphalt, etc.) in just two values. Later on you can add a third value to the more important elements.
- Link all similar valued adjacent shapes.
- Have a large passive area. (Forces me to have an area with NO detail, juxtaposed against which the more active areas need less "stuff" in order to look detailed)
- Treat super sharp edges as exclamation points. Don't shout everywhere.
These are not rules for all painting nor are they for every painter. They're just rules that guide me to do what I do, and they work well for me. With another painting, I may have a completely different set of rules. The point is, having this type of structure is helpful in keeping my mind organized and focused. It helps me avoid making arbitrary and thoughtless decisions.
I had this idea of inviting anyone who wants try this way of approaching the cityscape to give it a go, and sharing your results and thoughts on the experience. I would post a reference photo for us to use - we'd all use the same photo so that we can compare and contrast how we each respond to the same problems. Wouldn't that be interesting? Challenging, to be sure, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I will of course post my own efforts as well. What do you think? Anyone up for it? Shall I put a deadline so we don't drag on and on? Is two weeks enough? A month?
Let me know via comment box if anyone is interested. I'll go ahead and post a ref. photo if there's enough interest.