Evolution of a painting: focus
When creating a painting, one of the things you must address sooner or later (preferably sooner) is its focus. What is the painting about?
Trying to paint the bridge over the chasm in Ronda, Spain, I am forced to acknowledge that although I didn’t start addressing focus soon enough, my first sketch came closest to capturing the essence of what I wanted.
Ronda has the Spanish version of our Grand Canyon, much smaller, but very picturesque. Here’s my photo on which I am basing my paintings.
What I really liked about this were the small buildings on the other side and the huge bridge with its high arches, highlighted by the shadows from the sun.
This is my first sort of abstracted sketch.
I didn’t like the fact that the three arches all looked to be the same size so I darkened and widened the right one. But they’re still all the same height. There’s not much more I can do to fix this without it all becoming mud.
So I did a smaller very quick sketch to try out some composition changes.
Better, but the one arch dwarfed the whole painting so I made the side of the building darker. Still a problem. The focus is now on the building which is not what I wanted and the proportions are wrong.
So, thinking I understood the issues, I went back to the larger size and painted…
Well, it’s better but the sky and the dark side of the building are way too strong, as are the whites.
So I dampened the building side with a wet sponge to lift some of the paint. I tried (unsuccessfully) to wash out the yellow sky with a wet paper towel. When that didn’t work, I tried painting over it with Naples yellow, and then decided to use a very pale wash of Naples yellow on the building and the other whites.
And none of this fixed the main compositional problem. The sky and building are still way too strong. The painting is all about the building, not the bridge.
Looking back at all these sketches, it’s obvious. If I’d thought about what I wanted to focus on at the beginning, I’d have saved a lot of time and energy. But maybe I wouldn’t have learned my lesson quite so indelibly.
Now I have to go try and paint the painting I wanted to paint all along. It’s the BRIDGE, stupid.