Let the light do the talking.
The story of my most recent oil painting coming to life.
I have been working on a new piece from my Town and Country collection, and I have returned to London. This painting is a well trodden route down Bow Street across Watling street heading towards St Paul's cathedral. On sunny Summer evenings, London's bright young things, still in their work suits, line the street enjoying a refreshing ice cold beverage after a hard day at the office. This particular painting is however a morning view before the crowds gather and the street is quiet.
So how do I create this scene? Firstly a couple of quick sketches in the street if at all possible really helps- the sketches for this particular piece were carried out nearly a year a ago. Often an idea needs to ferment a little in the brain before it is ready. Even with my animals, who never stay still, I have to do a couple of quick sketches as that is where the character comes from. With a scene like this, entirely made from buildings, I have to create the atmosphere of the scene. Otherwise it would be an exercise in linear perspective and painting buildings. The vast majority of the time when I paint I stick to the time honoured tradition of "light over dark" and "thick over thin". Even on my signature linen canvases, with the background showing through, I still use this type of method. My very first layer; french ultramarine mixed with raw umber, or burnt siena, very diluted, and will mark out the scene.
In this particular painting the light coming from the back of the picture is absolutely key to creating the atmosphere. So I had to put in a light wash of a very pale yellow in order to see how the light would bounce off the buildings. This felt very scary to me as I never add an opaque pale colour at the start of the painting but I think it has served me well in this instance.
The next stages are a case of making sure the perspective works, a task I don't particularly enjoy but it is essential. In addition I added the taxi as a little interest to help the eye walk down that road towards St Paul's. I also need to start resolving the problem of the dome, the Dome was very difficult to get right. It didn't feel at all symmetrical! A trick of the eye surely due to the buildings either side not being equidistant.
As the painting progresses there is a chance to start thinking about colour in addition to tone. I have used a very limited pallet here using gold ochre and burnt siena for the warm tones combined with an Old holland favourite of mine -blue violet and kings blue for the cooler tones.
The final stages start holding things all together I am able to add in the highlights and some added detail around the statue and balustrades of St Paul's. I was able to tidy up the taxi and add some glorious reflections on its glossy black paint and glass windows, and I whitened the sky still further to really create that cold morning light as London comes to life from it all too brief slumber.
The last decision is at what point do you walk away from the camvas. I'm still not completely sure that I have walked away from this one! It may put me back in for just an extra couple of highlights once this layer is dry and I'm sure I won't ruin what I've already created. Once the decision really is made and I'm confident with my work, I signed it. Once the signature is there I'm not allowed to touch it again.
After all, I have to let the light do the talking.