Rainy Night, Chicago, 18 x 48 inches, oil on linen
Here's a painting that I did recently. I was in Chicago for a few days this summer, and took a bunch of photos while walking around aimlessly. I've started a series of cityscapes based on this trip, and this is one of the first ones.
I hadn't done a lot of nocturnes up to now, so this was a new challenge for me. It turned out to be quite an educational experience.
One of my goals, as usual, was to push abstraction. In this particular case, all we really see are bunch of lights and reflections on the wet pavement, with a few recognizable "things" to help define the context. I wasn't sure if it would be enough to carry a composition and a depiction of a convincing environment, but I think it worked out better than I expected.
I worked on this over several sessions, so there's a lot of wet on dry layering going on, as well as wet into wet mushing around. I like to combine the two to get interesting interaction between notes and edges.
The crosswalk going across the painting was towards the end of the painting. On a dried surface, I used a straightedge to draw in the line with a pencil, (it's actually done in three or four sections, to give it a very slight curve) which I used as a guide to paint the lines. Then I worked the paint to integrate the lines into the surrounding areas, so that they wouldn't look pasted on. Variations in value and color were done at the same time.
The various lights and their halations(?) were done wet into wet, generally. I would first paint the area without the lights, and then drop the halation in, working the wet paint to soften its edges, followed by the bright "center" with slightly firmer edges. I tried to make sure each of these light centers had unique shapes, just so they didn't look stamped in.
The halation effect is the light sources illuminating the moisture in the air, in this case rain drops and drizzle. It's essentially the same thing as sunsets being orange, just on a very small scale. They are in effect, transition areas between the surrounding darkness and the bright light center. If my light centers are opaque and the darkness around them are transparent, how should I paint these transition areas? If I acknowledge that these transitional areas are rain drops and drizzle being illuminated–that is to say, they are lit things, I can apply the rule of thumb; if it's lit, paint it opaque.
Obviously there are many ways to paint with oils and opacity and value can be thought of independently. You can paint these areas transparently, if one so choses. I just like to have a logical answer to my questions, and besides, I've tried it a bunch of different ways and opaque halation always looks better than transparent. In my paintings, anyway.
Oh, and if you'll notice the yellow lights next to the big light post on the left side of the painting, they are affecting the value and color of the pole even though the lights are behind the pole? What's up with that? That's diffraction, where light bends around the object as it passes by it. In practice we see this in painting trees in landscapes. Say a tree is painted against the sky, which is much lighter than the tree mass, the small branches against the sky are painted much lighter than the big trunk, even though the local value of the twiggy branch is the same as that of the big trunk. Why? because the light coming through the branches bends around them so some of the light spills in front. Similarly, if we are looking through a window at a much brighter world outside, the small lines of window panes need to be painted lighter than the window frame for the same reason in order to look right.
If you push this effect a little bit, what you end up with is a suggestion of a more atmospheric view, a very effective device in creating mood.
This painting is at Sloane Merrill Gallery in Boston. If you're in the area, drop on by and check it out!