Tag Archives: urban scenes

The editing process: a pain in the…

I had the chance to visit Ellicott City on my trip to Maryland last June. While there was no time to actually paint en plein air, I was able to take pictures in this remarkable town.
(the name is a bit misleading, it is definitely a small town)

Ellicott City was founded in 1772, so it is quite old by American standards. It is nestled in a narrow valley and unfortunately, that contributed to a devastating flash flood a few years ago. But the people are resilient, have battled their way back and rebuild their dreams!

I was immediately attracted to all the odd views of old Architecture, hilly terrain, beautiful craftsmen and Victorian style buildings. Busy streets and storefronts and some nice galleries as well.

In fact, finding a paint-able scene was quite a challenge, because there seems to always be too much in the viewfinder. Too much and all stacked up! Arguably one of the hardest things to find is a scene that can actually be good painting material. I did find a few eventually but not without doing some pretty drastic editing first.
Side note:
On the day I was there it was actually cloudy. Fortunately, my painter friend Thomas Bucci was able to take pictures the day before when it was sunny. This picture was taken by him and he was kind enough to let me use it.

This is the reason why I wanted to write this blog post: How do we edit scenes with way too much information in them? As with everything else in art, there is no easy answer.

A good way to think is like this: First, what is essential to the scene, what elevates the painting? What has to go in so you can ‘say’ what you have to say?

Second, what does not help the scene? What can I change and still say the same thing?
In this case, the building on the left has a very long extension to the right that does not all have to be there. So I shortened it. Needless to say I didn’t want to paint the trash cans.

The right side is also too complicated: the truck takes up too much space. I added people instead which, in street scenes, always seems to help develop a focal point. I changed the format to vertical and made the scene more mysterious by adding clouds and the background hill which is really not visible from my viewpoint.
Color harmony was created by the repetition of the red and by playing with shadow angles throughout I think I was able to paint an interesting, engaging scene.

As a final thought: these design problems have to all be worked out in advance. As should be pretty obvious, once we start putting pigment and water on the page it would be too late to try to resolve all of this. Time well spent before painting!

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Sketches on location

Prague, web

This is a sketch I did in 2012 in Prague. It took very little time (maybe 20 minutes) but I was able to capture the mood of the place at the time. Something that is always my goal when painting on location. This is a pretty small format (about 7 “by 10”, or 17by26cm)

Deciding on size and format should be done in the moment. As I painted this, there was pretty foul weather so I decided to go small, in case it started to rain. I also have all kinds of different paper sizes ready and mostly already taped to the painting surface, so I don’t waste lots of time getting things ready.

Drawing is first, but should not take longer than 10 minutes, at least with a pretty straight forward subject like this. I spray my palette before starting the drawing, that way my paints are wet and ready to go. Anything to save time!

Sketches like this can serve as a base for a bigger studio painting, but are also worthy on their own. Something of the place will usually go into a quick online sketch and cannot be replicated in the studio. Therefore, plein air painting is crucial!