This past weekend was Open Studios Weekend at Artists and Makers so I needed a painting to work on. I decided to do another alley picture, from the recent photo shoot. This is the same alley I painted in Back Alley Blues, but it was closer to the street and I found the shadow to be quite dramatic.
I spent Friday night working on the drawing and then adding it to the board. When I arrived on Saturday, I didn’t like it, and erased it all! There was too much alley. I finally got the drawing right, then proceeded to the underpainting.
The primary compositional challenges were the sizes of the two walls, and the height of the alley. There was also a solid row of trash cans in the photo, which was REALLY boring! In my drawing, I placed them more strategically — and I make them look like old fashioned trash cans as well.
Colorwise, the walls were dark red brick and the trees and bushes were all green. I just assumed that this was going to be a red and green painting, without giving a lot of thought to it (big mistake!!!). Normally, I would use dark green under dark red for an underpainting, but for some reason, I went to violet and, as you can see, the whole underpainting ended up being kind of violet and yellow! Not exactly what one wants under a red/green painting. Personally, I find this to be one of the least inspiring and ugliest of underpaintings that I’ve done!!!
I proceeded to add the reds and the greens. However, I had real problems with the sky color, the color of the buildings in the middle, and the color of the shadow on the left. I used a warm grayed reddish brown for the base coat of the alley, which worked with the reds. But, I was not enthralled with this painting. What you see in the third small image is the painting as I left it on Saturday.
I woke up at 3:00 in the morning (which, due to the end of day lights savings time, was actually 2:00!). I knew that I was very unhappy with the painting so I started thinking about it. I just knew that I wanted to use violets and yellows in it–thus, the underpainting, I guess. So I started thinking through the various pieces of the painting. It took almost 2 sleepless hours to realize that it is now fall and I could change the green trees and bush to yellow oranges! And then I’d have a blue violet/yellow orange complement that might work rather nicely.
I got back to the studio at 9:00 AM and brushed off the sky and the green tree and shrub, as well as the color in the alley. I left the dark red. The value was right and I just added violets on over it. I then used light blue violets for the sky and the middle buildings and I was suddenly much happier with my painting! As I proceeded, I added some blue greens and red oranges (particularly in the walls). I used yellow ochre and aqua in the alley and a warm brown and blue green in the shadow. So I ended up with a double complement: blue violet/yellow orange and blue green/red orange. One of the big advantages to this scheme was that I could make the trash cans blue violet!!! This wouldn’t have worked as well with the reds.
When I first filmed the painting, the building at left was too dark and did not relate well to its shadow. I used a deep blue green to lighten it, using a diagonal stroke to help lead the eye into the alley. I worked to lose the edge between the tree and the building, and I think it works much better.
The shadow of the tree at bottom was a struggle, and I’m still not completely satisfied with it. I wanted it to be more of a suggestion.
But, on the whole, I am happy now with this picture.