As an architectural artist I seek subjects that offer textures, solid blocks of light and shade and the vital elements of geometry or symmetry. I chose this Parisian gateway for my subject since being uncomplicated by acute angles and perspective, it allowed me to give my full attention to the textures and interplay of light and shade that can be observed on this type of stone structure.
DEMONSTRATION: PARISIAN GATEWAY
I started with a pen sketch (0.25 nib) on Bockingford 120lb watercolour paper, still attached to its ringbound pad, picking out the key features and architectural facets and details that would not lend themselves to paint alone. The highly detailed motif above the gate clearly benefits from the strength of line in its details.
My initial sketch was done with a pen (0.25 nib) on Bockingford 120lb watercolour paper. Here I picked out the key features and details.
The next stage, was initially, to prepare my painting equipment. This meant having everything that I was going to use readily to hand – water container filled with water, sheets of kitchen roll already torn off, and my three Cotman brushes (numbers 2, 6 and 10) all to my right-hand side. My palette (pan paints and a mixing tray in one) was, of course, in my left hand. I use a very limited range of paints since this encourages mixing rather than reliance on predetermined tints and tones. The colours are red (vermillion), blue (Prussian), sap green, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna.
The first step was to dampen the paper slightly to allow an even and free flow of paint in the first coat. This encourages those fortunate accidents when the paint bleeds and dries in areas that we had not perhaps anticipated, creating textures, enhancing lines, and forming shapes that suggest form that we had not even considered (especially when painting stone and brick). Before this water wash, applied with a size 10 brush, had started to dry, I quickly applied the base colour of yellow ochre to all sections, including the foliage which was, itself, quite ‘ochrish’ in colour. A mixture of sap green and burnt sienna was then quickly washed across the top and under the gate, and allowed to bleed freely with the ochre, completing the undercoat.
After dampening the paper slightly. I applied the base colour of yellow ochre to all sections and then quickly washed in a mixture of sap green and burnt sienna across the top and under the gate.
The next stage is the ‘push-pull’ technique whereby the background areas are darkened which, in turn, pushes the ‘lightness’ of the foreground forward. I intensified the mixture of sap green and burnt sienna by increasing the quantities of paint (no more water) and applied this to the still damp undercoat. The main bulk of the shading in the trees was to the right-hand side of the composition so that was the place to make the first application. This was not so much a brush-stroke as a brush ‘drip’, allowing the paint to run from the brush onto the damp paper, and bleed outwards from the spot.
Since there was not much distance between the background and the foreground it seemed appropriate to leave the background without much detail – just the few blocks of colour that the bled paint had created. Any more detail could have confused the composition.
Next I applied the ‘push-pull’ technique in which I darkened background areas which, in turn, pushed forward the lighter ‘foreground’ areas.
The main interest of this Parisian gateway was the textures created by over a century of city grime, damp and mould. This is my favourite bit. Using a number 6 brush I made a mixture of burnt sienna and Prussian blue and applied it to the appropriate patches, once again allowing it to bleed freely. These bleeds were then blotted with kitchen roll in selected patches to create another type of texture. This technique instantly removes the wetness from the sheet, leaving the pigment to stain the paper, meaning that you can control both the speed of drying and direction of the paint you have applied. All of the ‘patchy’ areas of mould were created here by selective wetting, bleeding and blotting across the composition.
Creating the textures of the gateway was my favourite stage. Using a number 6 brush I applied a mixture of burnt sienna and Prussian blue to the appropriate patches.
The last stage of this painting was to add the shadows and shading. Paris has always been well known for its sharp light. The late spring day on which this composition was painted was flooded with this wonderfully atmospheric light source.
Using a number 2 brush (which allowed me to tackle the finest of shaded areas) I intensified the Prussian blue and burnt sienna mixture as before and applied this in lines under the ledges and cornices, and on the appropriate sides of the carving and mouldings. Before this had had time to dry completely, I ran along thin lines with a wet paint brush, ‘pulling’ the paint out of the shadows. As only water was on the brush, the paint would dilute as it was pulled outwards, creating a graduated shading effect, while leaving an intensity of paint in the immediate shadows.
The ground was the last section to be painted. Here the ground area was dampened with a wash of clean water using a number 6 brush. To capture the mottled shadows cast by the chestnut trees a combination of the initial ground colour (yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and Prussian blue) was mixed. This was then quickly washed onto the damp paper and allowed to bleed for a few seconds only. The mottling was created by blotting out small dabs, recreating the shafts of Parisian light.
The very final touches, such as the blue enamelled house number, the lamps, and the characteristic red geraniums in the window box, were all added with a number 2 brush to complete the recording of this well-worn gateway in watercolour.
Parisian Gateway, watercolour 9½” x 11¾”.
Finally I added the shadows and shading and painted in the ground section to complete the recording of this well-worn gateway.