This is the first stage of painting a charming and secluded alley so typical of the architecture of Croatia. The main goal in this piece was to capture the light that delights the eye when in small enclosed areas. With an alleyway scene like this you can’t really tell where the horizon line is since it’s blocked out by all the buildings. The clue is that you’re the one viewing the scene and typically where your eyes are in real time is where the horizon is – somewhere off in the distance land meets sky. This scene is simply drawn with one point perspective. You’ll notice in the painting in progress that the two little double windows on the left in the distant building have a fair amount of pencil marks, a bit of a mess of marks that I know that I will erase eventually. This was my little home base, the place where all lines receded to. All of the tops and bottoms of windows, stone work etc were lightly indicated with pencil marks. It’s not necessary to draw the foliage since these are developed with wet in wet pools of colour that have a mind of their own once you start painting – the fascination of free watercolour!
Mix up large pools of paint at least 2 inches (50 mm) with the consistency of coffee cream. Try the discipline of a limited palette of 3 colours – in this case I used Quinacridone Gold, French Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson. Your creativity might choose a different red, yellow and blue – the main point is that when we keep the colours limited they yield a plethora of gorgeous glowing colour and sultry neutrals.
After wetting the paper with clean water, leaving it with a slight sheen, start adding washes of wet paint on wet paper with the paper tilted in order to allow the paint to run down the page for some interesting drips. In this case I flooded the entire surface with blue knowing that the enclosed shaded areas were going to need cool temperatures. While the blue was still wet I flooded in Quinacridone Gold and then Alizarin Crimson, allowing all of the colour to mix on the paper. Tilting the painting in various angles, this way and that allowed for more vibrant colour to develop on the paper. Think of the paper like it’s your palette, literally mixing colour right on the paper. When I wanted more control and didn’t want things to run too crazy I placed the painting flat. This procedure of painting wet colour onto the wet surface causes the distant buildings to have a soft out-of-focus edge.
Once the painting was dry darker values could be considered. The paint left in the palette becomes concentrated and darker as it evaporates. It is the consistency of yogurt. Now is the time to paint darks, avoiding using too small of a brush. My choice is a 1 inch flat brush that can block in the window shapes and general masses such as the darks in the foliage. This kind of loose painting style benefits from seeing “tool marks” created by the brush. Once the intermediate sizes of shapes are completed it is time to go in with a smaller brush. In other words, work from big shapes with big brushes to smaller shapes with smaller brushes.
In the final stages it’s just a matter of producing loose expressive calligraphy brush marks. I use my favorite #6 Rigger brush, a wonderfully expressive tool that keeps things loose.
A final check focuses on the source of light. The cast shadows can be inventive. Imagine what each shape might look like as light bathes across it. You can see that in the distant buildings there are subtle shadows cast across the building, a bit more dramatic than the actual scene yet helpful to feel the light.