Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Street scene with a cool underpainting

Warm air from the south has arrived in the Hudson Valley. The last remnants of winter have nearly vanished, except for one small pile of snow at the end of my neighbor's driveway. 

I'm thinking about fire devouring ice when I start this street scene. How can I convey that feeling?

I open my sketchbook to a page that is pre-painted with blue tones. The blue color is casein: titanium white mixed with cerulean blue. I allow it to dry for a couple of days so the paint surface is closed. The blue will serve nicely as a complementary base for a picture in browns and oranges.


Here's what the surface looks like when I start. I sketch in the lines with a reddish-brown water-soluble colored pencil.

Now I dive in with gouache. I could have used casein or acrylic—anything opaque. Starting with the sky, I apply warm colors with a flat brush. I cover the surface, careful to leave some blue areas showing through, especially on that windshield. I want that car to be the focal point.

I don't hesitate to cover up the lines of the underdrawing. I can find everything again with the brush.

I add more reddish-brown darks on the car and the awning at left. I try to keep any extreme darks from intersecting the sky. I want to achieve the feeling that the skylight is flaring across nearby forms and devouring them, as if the sticks and branches are tossed into the furnace.

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about "the fire, vital, consecrating, celestial, which burns until it shall dissolve all things into the waves and surges of an ocean of light."


Here's a detail about as wide as the "shift" key on your computer. Those highlights on the car were blinding. 

See, I'm squinting! You can scroll back up to see the final painting.
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8 comments:

Maike Josupeit said...

Thank you so much, enjoy your posts, very helpful.

williamblomstrom said...

Beautiful, thanks for the walk-through.

Jim Douglas said...

Beautiful work, Jim. Another "common" scene elevated to something grand, emotional & universal. The qualities of light & atmosphere you captured also compel me to revisit some Bernie Fuchs paintings today. Onward!

Karen Tighe said...

I have two of your books which I like. I only recently came to your blog which I enjoy very much. Your style of conveying the information is part of the draw. (Pun intended -sorry ;) )
I would like to know if you have a preferred activity for grey days? The kind when the light is completely flat and uninteresting. I live on the West coast of Ireland- it's very beautiful but we get so many of these dull days even in summer.

Jim Hartlage said...

I'm always amazed at how you're able to suggest so much detail in a relatively small painting.

Pam Croom said...

Wonderful post! I have an equipment question, can you post a photo of Jeanette's stool? Thanks

Tkm Check said...

Hello Mr. Gurney. Instead of emailing, I thought I should ask my question here, since it has to do with underpainting.

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now, after reading "Color and Light." I'm not new to art, but relatively new to realism and painting. I'm attempting a painting now of a scene my wife photographed in Venice, Italy, a couple of years ago. My question is about the underpainting. The scene is very bright and sunny, with a very washed out pink building and a couple of salmon colored buildings, and water beneath a lovely arching bridge. My memory of the day is that it was a bit chilly on that day in late October, but it was nice and warm in the sunlight. I'm wondering what type of underpainting I can do to help communicate that. Most of the colors are very warm, and I want the painting to lean that way, but I want the shadows to seem...well, "chilly," I guess, is the best way to describe it. I know you talk about an "insistent warm underpainting" on page 96 of "Color and Light," but I wasn't sure if I should do that if the finished painting would also be with warm colors. I was hypothesizing that the underpainting should be in a cool color, and letting it show through a bit in the shadows to cause them to look cooler, but I wasn't sure. I appreciate your advice and thanks for putting up this site. It is a very helpful tool. Thanks and take care!

James Gurney said...

Tkm, Thanks for asking in the comments. Sounds like an interesting image. You can do it in several ways, the the final result will have more to do with the final colors you're using, assuming you're using opaques. Contrasting warm lit areas with bluish shadows can achieve the effect you're talking about, but don't overdo it. The underpainting can be a contrasting color, which can liven up the result by giving local small spots of variety within a passage where it shows through. More than that, it's hard to say without seeing it.