The last couple days I've been out painting Lady Meredith House, at the corner of Pins and Peel, in the heart of the Golden Mile. I pass this house frequently, and have always wanted to paint it. It's well situated on a steep corner and has a fantastic roof line, studded with witches hats, tall slender chimneys and decorative brick work. This is actually my third sketch at this location.
By that I mean, I just did three days in a row in the same spot. Why? A little bit crazy I guess.
I'm having some sort of perfectionist fit this week. Normally I'm quite free about sketching - whatever I get is fine. Some turn out, some don't. It's all part of the process.
But these days I'm feeling I have to up my game, as I'll be painting live at the Urban Sketchers workshop in Santo Domingo this July, and at my own 3 day sketching event in Portland this August, (in partnership with fellow Montrealer Shari Blaukopf).
Normally I might have been happy with my first sketch. But this time, I couldn't live with it. There are numerous flaws. First among them is dead, monochromatic color.
I used a single color (burnt sienna for the brick, and paynes grey for the roof - and pretty much just layered them darker and darker each pass. Yes, this is a dark building, so it doesn't take reflected color the way a light colored structure will. But, still no excuse for drab earthy tints. So my take aways are: try to use clean, pure colors and let them mix on the page. It's watercolor! Let the water flow. Never just add grey to make shadows - use a complimentary color to make a complex dark mix. And whatever you do - don't be boring! Unified shadow shapes does not have to mean monochromatic passages.
Second major problem - the house is just plonked there, like it's in the middle of a farmer's field. I like a strong focus of interest, but simply leaving out the environment doesn't work. The house just sits there like a lump. It's too big on the page, there's no sense of space. It's such a static, dull, leaden composition. It's almost not a composition at all. I'm not too happy with all the fiddly (also monochromatic) bits of foliage either. It looks like a bed of lettuce under that turkey.
This is my second attempt. I addressed the boring composition - climbing up behind the wall of the Irving Ludmer Research facility (which I painted last year). This gives me an interesting design element in the foreground. I also better planned the shapes of the surrounding trees, and included a bit of environment (the lamp post, the house behind). Unfortunately however, I was so excited about this foreground I ended up jamming the house up against the top of the page. As well, the bricks are still too monochromatic. It's better, but still just variations of burnt sienna. I realize now this is the first time I've painted bricks - so this might be a natural learning curve :)
I could have said, okay,okay, I'm getting somewhere, onto the next thing. But - what can I say. The good weather lasted, so there I was on day three, doing it again. In my third version I have the more dynamic composition, the more lively color - and I addressed two other things that were bugging me. I paid more attention to the rule "Contrast of Shape" inside my brushstrokes - so there are some big sweeping marks in the trees and sky to contrast with the small details in the house - avoiding a tendency to make a lot of similar shaped strokes, and helping to focus the eye toward the detail at the center of interest.
I also realized I want to have a strong design in the drawing. Big shapes. What I call the rule of 5 and 3 - a few big blocks, fit together nicely (but it has to be three or five, not four or six - those are static numbers - just look at dice:) So I have Sky, Roof, House, Trees, Street. But I don't want the color to be as simplistic as version two. There I have Blue Sky, Orange House, Green Trees. Each block is its own color. This is basically correct, but the execution isn't exactly nuanced. I really want each color block relating to the others within a harmony.
One more color thing - I wanted to think about each plane of the house as having a slightly different color temperature. To break up those damnable bricks, and better describe the complex structure. Every time a surface changes direction, it should change temperature.
You've probably also guessed - the version I like the best is the least accurate drawing. What can I say? I find this an elegant fanciful building, so when I finally let go and drew it expressively (in this case, elongated and with pushed perspective) it really started to speak to me.
Sorry for the long post, I hope it's helpful to some. I'll leave you with a classic USK "Trophy Shot" - (the - yes I really painted this on location shot).