Friday, March 14, 2008

Backlit Branches

I did this quick 3.5 x 5 inch watercolor a few days ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts. What interested me was the area where the trees are in front of the shadow side of the building.

The sunlight is coming toward us from the right side. The end of the building is in shadow. This sets up a perfect backdrop for showing the light gray mass of branches catching the morning sunshine. The stripes of rooftiles can just be discerned through the branches.

As often happens in plein air studies, the amount of detail in the scene is almost infinitely complex. You can’t possibly capture every tiny branch and detail, especially at this scale, so the challenge becomes how best to suggest more than you actually define.

I splayed out the tip of the watercolor brush and drybrushed around the light branches, and also drybrushed the branches that were darker than the sky. After everything was dry, I scratched out a few more branches with the tip of a folding knife.

It’s interesting (and a little embarrassing) to compare the photo after the fact. The drawing errors in scale and perspective become obvious right away. I missed a lot of color that was going on in the shadow. But I’m surprised that the photo seems to have completely missed the quality I liked best about the scene—the backlit bare branches.


Victor said...

I love these problem solving posts even when, with all due respect, your attempt at a solution isn't 100% successful. I'd love to see some of your complete failures.

Also, I think the lighting on your painting is much more evocative than the actual photo.

Anonymous said...

Shall we just agree that while not technically perfect, your painting shows the shortcomings of a piece of machinery where colour and lighting is concerned? :)

Unknown said...

It's amazing ow you're honing in on the details of picture making that have always concerned me but never asked any teachers about. On all accounts I prefer the painting, the buildings have solidity in your painting and the colours are expressively warm.

Patrick Dizon said...

Even with the drawing errors what matters is that you captured your visual impression of the scene. :)

Federico said...

ooh great sketch.. and wonderful description of the process!! :D
have you ever made the sketchcrawl, the world sketching marathon? next will be in march the 29! :)

bye, by federico, your fan since i was six years old (dinotopia is one of my favourite art works....)

Justin said...

In your travel kit, you're using half-pans but for one--what's in that one?

For that matter, what colours are in the rest? I've got various travel kits, and I'm forever arranging different sets of colours. I've only settled on about five must-haves, and I'm not sure I'm using the rest of the slots effectively.

Unknown said...

Dear James, great job, I really like it!
I always check on the internet to find your new paintings.
I'm sure you can't remember me but I came to your house with Jim Starlin and Dayna in 1991. You were going to publish your first Dinotopia book and I was astonished. I guess you were living near that st. remy cemetery of 1892. Bernie Wrightson just bought a Toyota big white car and he was still with his wife and the kids John and Jeffy. I've a picture of you and your son, the one you portrayed on page 31.
I just want to congratulate for your great art. you are my best.
Just to know, my name is Rita Fagiani and I'm from Italy. I brought my pencils for Marvel to your house and I was so happy to meet all those artists! One of my best days in U.S.!
Good luck for your job and family.
I'll keep reading your news and blog

James Gurney said...

Rita, I remember you, and I miss those First Friday parties! I have emailed you offline. Thanks for staying in touch.

Federico, I haven't made the sketchcrawl yet, but it sounds like a wonderful idea.

Justin, the big pan has sepia watercolor, which I sometimes use for monochromatic sketches. The others include: Ultra blue, Payne's gray, colbalt blue, Cad yellow light, lemon yellow, vermillion, light red, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, hooker's green, yellow ochre, and burnt umber.

And thanks Jen Z, Eric, Victor, and Pat for your encouraging comments.

Arkady Roytman said...

I love that Schmincke watercolor set. And I love that you put a full pan in there. What a great idea. What color is it?

J M said...

Until I saw the photo of the painter in action, so to say, I thought it was a much bigger watercolour. The scale of paintings is sometimes a mystery affair.