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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Painting a Parisian Illusion

Do you also love those paintings where the artist doesn't seem to actually paint anything and yet when you step back, the illusion of a scene appears? This is called impressionism. Today I will walk you trough the steps of painting an impression of a Parisian scene.

I start on a masonite board. The first thing is to treat this board with gesso. Gesso is a surface treatment that helps paint adhere to whatever surface it is applied to, e.g. canvas, board, paper, etc. For this project I use a black primer/gesso. The reason is that I am going to create a rather moody setting. If you don't have black gesso, you can still use the normal white gesso and then paint a layer of black acrylic paint over the gesso.

I used a wide brush to apply the gesso, as well as the background layer. This is simply to speed things up.

I allow the gesso to dry before applying a base coat or undercoat in Cadmium Yellow. The Cadmium Yellow is transparent and the black still shows through. It will however save the painting from becoming too gloomy. The eye has the ability to register the yellow under the top coatings and the brain then perceives it to be a 'happier' painting than would otherwise be the case. Perhaps I'll do a blog about this in the future, showing you how your choice of colour in the undercoat can affect the viewer's perception of the final painting.

I found it very interesting to note the suggestion of green in the painting. This is an indication of the presence of blue in the black gesso.

I again waited for the paint to dry before continuing. The picture I wanted to paint was not one that existed in reality, but rather one that I compiled from my experience of being in Paris. I was in this spot and took this photo of the Eiffel Tower at night. The weekend that I spent in Paris turned out to be the coldest weekend Paris had experienced in seven years. I remember thick layers of ice still lying in the streets where the sun's rays never reached, even in the late afternoon. My whole impression of Paris was cold, grey and overcast. That is why I adapted my night time photograph to reflect the gloomy mood of the weather I experienced in Paris. But it was Paris! It could not possibly be all gloomy. Therefore the picture needed some brightly coloured umbrellas. It certainly needed people, for there was not a single place in Paris where I did not encounter people, not even in the early hours of the morning!

But first things first. I had to draw the picture on the 'canvas'. I used a watercolour pencil for this purpose. Using a watercolour pencil means that you can simply wash out any stubborn lines. Since the painting was going to be impressionistic, I did not need any detail. I opted for a few simple strokes, concentrating more on composition. I hope you can make out the lines. If not, simply skip a few photos down to where I have painted the outline.

I mixed Raw Umber and Titanium White together and painted the outline of the drawing in the mixed colour, using a rather large Filbert brush. The dimensions of the board was 31 x 40,5 cm. When mixing paint, always use a palette knife rather than a brush. The paint will move right into the shaft of the bristles and you will ruin your brushes. The palette knife, on the other hand, has the ability to pick up every last morsel of paint and cleaning it is a dream.

Having the outline of the picture in place, I concentrate on the background and largest area of the painting. I mix Paynes Grey (a blueish black) and Titanium white for this.

I use a palette knife to paint the background, simply picking up the paint with the back of the palette knife and spreading it over the painting like butter. I allow myself to pick up a little of the Raw Umber mixture every so often and incorporate this into the background as well.

With the background painted, I go back to the Raw Umber/Titanium White mixture and paint the tower and horizon again, this time with the palette knife. It is very easy to make definite lines with a palette knife, but I want to obscure the lines, allowing the background and the tower to 'flow' into each other. This enhances the feeling of wet and misty weather. Remember to add the reflections to the foreground. Remember also that you are not painting actual shapes, but merely suggestions of shapes. You should also take note that I worked wet on wet in this painting. If you are reluctant to work with speed, I suggest you do this in oil colours. Oils will allow you more time to work before drying.

It was time to add colour. I had some paint left over from a previous project in my stay-wet palette. Since the actual colours did not matter, I simply used what was already squeezed out on the palette. (You can read all about making your own stay wet palette in a previous blog). I used a smaller palette knife to paint these smaller shapes.

Simply make colourful dashes where you want the umbrellas to go. Remember to repeat at the bottom for the reflections.

Now pick up a little of your Raw Umber mixture and 'dirty' the bright colours a little so they blend better with the picture.

I now picked up a little bit of blue from the stay wet palette and mixed it with Paynes Grey. This became the colour for the figures clad in heavy overcoats. Refrain from painting details for the figures. They are mere blotches of colour. Again, I want to remind you not to forget repeating the figures in the reflections. Don't attempt to paint accurate replicas in the reflections. Reflections are most often broken and this should not be the exception.

Standing back I decide the figures are too dreary-looking and so I pick up some of the warm colours from the palette. I mix this with my blue-grey and add slight tinges of colour to the figures. Do not over mix this. The colours should be allowed to retain their own integrity in the mix.

All that is left is to sign my name. I even use the palette knife to do this, working with the sharp edge of the knife rather than the flat side.

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