This is going to be a long post about art instruction, so consider yourself warned to tune out now. This is also an attempt to make up for not posting anything for the last week.
I have painted this before, and the result was a rather boring, amateur-looking illustration, definitely not even as interesting as my snapshot -- now that's a kiss of death, in my book. I looked for the painting this morning in order to show what I mean, but I couldn't find it.
But I really liked the image, and so tried to figure out where things went wrong. Not only that, but every time I set up to paint this, I kept losing my "mojo" for painting and wandering off to do something. A classic case of "don't know why, but nothing's working." Fear of failure?
Having recently taught a workshop on gaining insight into one's own painting processes, the solution was right in front of me: Concept, design and intention.
1. Concept: As charmed as I was that this lady was sitting on busy street corner near the Vatican while tatting, the WHERE of it just wasn't a visible element in the painting. Thus, it was not a narrative city scene so much as it was a figure study of THAT woman and what she was doing. What this means for planning is that I need to give up worrying about the wall and the cobblestones and the iron bars of the garden behind, etc., and ratchet my focus to the figure. The background would only come into play insofar as I needed shapes outside the figure to enhance my design.
2. Design - now that I have clear what my concept is, the design becomes an exercise in values and planning. I like the idea of as few shapes as possible, so here I have simplified the overall design by first stripping the color, and then doing some sketchbook work.
First task was to simplify things into as few shapes as possible, and change values as necessary in order to do so. Remembering that the important area was going to be the nona's face and gaze to her hands, that mandated a very high contrast (and will be where the most detail, if any, will be). I started there and worked my way out. I am rather proud of 7 shapes -- 13 is my usual limit, but the fewer the better.
Second task is to get firmly in mind what my specific intentions are about painting this piece: I want:
- the drawing to be a little bit funky, but still descriptive
- a fairly high key painting, so the big dark of her dress and the area behind might need to be downplayed, e.g., not so dark.
- a path of pieces of paint to lead from the focal area and down through the figure, then out to engage with the environment. Let's see what we've got:
Abit spotty, but you get the idea. I can see that I am going to need something up in the right hand corner to balance out the weight of the figure, so back in come the legs of the phantom walkers. BUT in order to enhance my thoughts about this being a little old Italian lady tatting near the Vatican, the legs will now be the robes of phantom nuns or priests.
OK, so now I have plan, a specific intention, and I remember what it is I wanted to do. The timid indecision I felt yesterday about repainting this has now been dealt with. I am anxious to begin. Bonus of this process? I can now be more free with the paint, the color, the application overall.