I’m finding that there’s another layer I need to think about in paintings. I started this one the same way I’ve been doing the others. First a pencil sketch gone over in dark gray paint:
Then I set up the tones and values in my favorite 5-color earth-tone palette:
Normally I would think, great now add the jewelry! But clearly it needed something else first. So I started working on the “body” layer, mixing a few drops of brighter pigment into my earth tones, and layering more distinct brushstrokes over the base. Suddenly the painting had depth: the sharper edges on these strokes, and the more saturated color, brought the foreground forward, letting the underpainting recede. I guess in a way I’ve been doing this since the first rainy day paintings. But this was the first time I really put together what was going on— and so was able to control it. In a watercolor you always work from light to dark, adding shadows and building up contrast. As you get better you learn to think through the image that way before you start. In oils (for me anyway) it seems like you work back to front, first sketching in the distance and then gradually constructing the nearby world. At least I think I will play with that idea for a while.
Here’s how the painting looked at the end of the weekend. The white of the street needs to be toned down a little, and you can see that I’ve still avoided putting in the dreaded cars. But I do like the feel of it, especially the sense of depth and the loose sketchiness of the brushstrokes. I think the fact that my paintings are starting to look like my sketches is a sign that I’m getting more fluent. Learning to paint really does feel like learning a new language. But drawing is still my native tongue.