Saturday, 8 August 2015

Complex Cityscape in Watercolor

It's a beautiful day in Florence.
The river is still and the light is clear and crisp. I want to capture these buildings and the water flowing out of the tunnel beneath the Polimoda Institute of Fashion Design. A beautiful building, in itself it would be a challenge but with the composition I've chosen it becomes a great deal more complex due to the perspective and the relationship of buildings to one another. Scale and proportion make things more complex.

It's also hot. In the 40°C range (100°F) The scene you choose is effected by the need for shelter from the sun. Fortunately, thanks to a series of trees along the riverbank I had shelter. It was quiet and free from many pedestrians. So it looked like a good spot to begin creating a composition.

Step 1: When sketching out a complex scene, with multiple buildings, scale and perspective are among the first considerations. The most effective approach is to begin with simple block forms. When the forms are correct add the details.

I'm using a 2b pencil but have a very light touch. The contrast on this sketch is hightened. Light lines with a hb pencil are enough.

Even in an ideal location you can expect distractions.
This time I had a giant lawnmower which passed in front of me, along the river bank 6 times. He was very polite but the flying grass, disturbed insects and dust made an impact and slowed things down a lot.

I'm using a steel easel here. Good and heavy and the attached shelf really helps.
Step 2:
First painting.
This watercolour is 30 x 43 cm so it's large and the temperature is in the 40°c range, making it necessary to work in sections. I washed in the sky first. Then painted in all the dark areas around the building. Framing it with it's darks.

The window of opportunity is from 10am to 1pm each day. Then the light changes. After 2pm it is completely flat with no contrast.

Step 4:
Day 3. Returning the next morning I begin adjusting the values in the central tree, the river bank and adding in the roofs of buildings.

Values are brought in line with the overall scene and general shadow shapes applied to buildings.

Any scene containing more than one building takes a lot longer to paint unless the buildings are joined by the same shadow.

Step 5:
Day 4. This is the final painting. 
This is the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design on Via Curtatone, beside the American Consulate, in Florence, Italy.

If there is one last thing to say about this process it's that you need to strike a harmony between all the darks. Then there is the balance between the darkest darks and the lights. If there is too much light it makes the darks appear alien, out of place. Though to cover a beautiful white shimmering spot with even the slightest glaze of color may seem a travesty, without that, the painting will be sterile. So a delicate balance has to be struck.

art by Tom J. Byrne

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