I wanted to try the NYC painting again. This time, I wanted to incorporate more color, and rely on masking tape to get crisp vertical lines.

First, I sketched the image, using darker lines on the more important parts to remind myself of where the focus needs to be. I want the focal point to be the church to the left of the Empire State Building. In order to make it the focal point, I’ll invent a street cutting through the buildings right there, that way, the light (coming from the right) will hit the church. I’ll paint the top of the church in a much much warmer tone, and cool the rest down considerably. I’ll also make that the most detailed part of the painting, and will rely on purple and yellow a lot in the foreground for greys.

To push the Empire State Building and distant buildings further back, I’ll cool them down, using the same color as the sky, and paint them all as one shape.

So, here’s what I did:

Part 1: Sky

For the sky I simply painted T4b cerulean in different spots. I painted heavier hue in the top right, but tried to keep the darkest part of the sky very light because “The darkest light should be lighter than the lightest dark.” Most of the sky is clean water, or just a smidge of pigment in clean water. Then, I lifted a bit with a clean rag to give a subtle impression of clouds. All of the sky was painted at an angle which I hoped would add some movement to it, though it’s very subtle.

Part 2: Distant Buildings

The furthest distant buildings are all one shape, the same cerulean blue as the sky. For this, I used a F3b cerulean at the top of the buildings, which I pulled down to the horizon with clean water.

Once that dried, I used the edge of a brush to drag T4b carbazole violet in ragged vertical strokes, and then sprayed it with a fine mist sprayer.

Then, I painted the distant buildings in the foreground with T4b of the cerulean blue+Naples yellow+Carbazole Purple. I again painted these all as a single shape.

Once that dried, I put down a stripe of masking tape to create a straight line, and put clean water on the building next to it. Then, I added T3w warm grey to that clean wash. I wanted to use much the same color as was used on the distant foreground buildings.

Part 3: Mid-ground buildings

I then used masking tape to isolate the buildings in the middle, these are the buildings that are next to the intersecting road, so the light will be hitting the tops of these buildings.

For these, I again used a clean wash, and then a F3w of Naples Yellow, Isoindoline Yellow, and a smidge or Perinone Orange at the tops. As I painted down to the street, I gradually added carbazole violet to neutralize the yellows.

When that was dry, I used the warm grey to add some details with a fine brush.

I then used masking tape to isolate the next buildings, and painted these with a cooler grey by adding UM and Indie Blue to the warm grey.

Part 4: Foreground Buildings

I then painted an M3b cool grey into the nearer buildings. When the sheen dried, I hit it with the spray bottle, and dabbed some clean water here and there, and used a clean brush to lift some perspective lines, and drag ragged shadows.

As I came closer to the foreground I used the sprayer more liberally. I did this because it creates a lot of texture, and I don’t want the texture as noticeable until the foreground.

When using the spray, it’s important to do it at the right time. There’s a magic moment in Watercolor painting. At that moment, the pigment can be moved, and will stay where you put it.

When you first apply pigment, the paper is wet, and if you look at an angle, there is a bright sheen on the paper.

Once that sheen is almost gone, but not entirely, you’re in the magic moment. (Sometimes, it’s the danger zone, sometimes it’s the magic moment – it depends on what you do.)

At this stage, the pigment hasn’t completely settled into the paper fibers. If you add water, the pigment will move with the water. Trying to “fix” anything at this time is dangerous, because you’ll just get blossoms.

But this is the only time when you can spray, or salt to add texture, or knife to move pigments to get with sharp lines with high contrast. If you try earlier, there will be too much water that hasn’t absorbed into the paper, so any pigment that is moved will just be replaced as the water settles. If you wait longer, the pigment will settle into the paper fibers, and won’t move as easily (or at all if it’s a staining pigment.) In order for the spray to work, it needs to be applied at this magic moment.

Too bright on that sign…

I then painted some ragged lines in Moonglow at R2b to add some windows and architectural details. I used a quick stroke of Cad Yellow here and there to create some lit windows. It strikes me now that the sky is light, but I want the scene to be rainy, I’ll have to see once the road goes down if I need to grey the sky a bit, which will be risky.

Part 5: Figures

I then added some figures, trying to be careful to keep perspective, and create a moment or two. Right about now, everything looks very wrong – and I’m hoping it’s because I haven’t painted in the street yet. That part will come next, and I’m basically crossing my fingers, hoping that the street and some reflections will tie it all together. At this stage, I added a subtle critique on the contemporary church, which I will leave unsaid. I’m sure you’ll see it if you look for a half-second.

I’ll need to fix that big yellow banner as well, right now it feels much too bossy, but I’ll wait until the road is in to see how garish it is.

Part 6: Hold your Breath

I painted some lines in masking fluid along the bottom of the composition for the cross walk – I’m really kind of nervous/excited about painting that road. At this point, I’m feeling like all hope is lost – this painting is a failure – there are too many colors, not enough driving toward a focal point, and I’ve got a “Junk Drawer” composition already. I’m basically just hoping the road will fix it – and that is intimidating. I have to wait for this masking fluid to fully dry before I paint it – and I could fix everything, or put the nail in the coffin in this next step…

Part 7: Well, Shit.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the road didn’t fix everything. I want to rip it up and start over now. Instead, I’ll let it live through the night, and see how bad it is in the morning.

I’m feeling pretty defeated right now. After six hours of painting – it’s pretty much garbage… all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope it doesn’t look so bad to me in the morning. Then, I’ll be listing the lessons, and trying again.

Right now, I think the lessons are:

  1. Use fewer colors. All the buildings should be a single tone, except the church.
  2. Paint all of the back ground buildings as one shape. Then, all of the foreground buildings as one shape. Then, add the “Jewelry.”
  3. Don’t paint around the figures, and fill them in later. Paint the buildings as if the figures weren’t there, then paint the figures as silhouettes.
  4. Ditch the guy getting in the passenger door.
  5. Darken every car, or make them all taxis. Make this painting about the church.
  6. Don’t paint so many effing bits. Speed up – keep the freshness of the washes alive by not noodling around so much.
  7. Paint this as if I were sketching it.
  8. Obey perspective.
  9. Put that smoke back in.

Part 8: Try Again

Welp, nothing magical happened overnight. The painting still isn’t what I want, so I’m going to try again.

First, I’m going to practice the elements that gave me the most trouble, that’s figures, cars, and architectural bits.

I’ll review some paintings I admire to try to dissect what I like about them, then move on to exercises.


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