Big City, Big Color

Broadway I

Some time ago, I began working on a series of New York City inspired architectural landscapes that relied heavily upon the repetition of abstract shapes to create a three-dimensional effect. I found that patterns of shapes weren’t the only tool in my compositional arsenal; I was also able to introduce a limited, but very expressive palette to create a sense of unity and movement. When paired with a strong composition, a little color can go a long way.

Ultimately, my choice of palette depends upon the subject and how I’d like to depict it. When I decided to paint the scene in Broadway
for example, I looked at the street and its dramatic atmosphere. The angular shapes of the buildings in the painting are enhanced by the high-intensity colors I placed against the dark band in the center. Behind the colorful umbrellas, you’ll find an arrangement of Winsor blue, Winsor green, alizarin crimson and Payne’s gray. Use strong geometric shapes and a limited palette to achieve a dramatic effect in your watercolor landscapes. City Structure In Broadway (watercolor on paper), a limited palette of blue, green, red and gray enhance the intensity of the angular geometric shapes in the composition.

Using different values of the same color across a composition creates a sense of unity as the viewer’s eye picks up similar tones and associates them. You’ll find this strategy works best when you limit your main color choices to one ingredient. One advantage of working with fewer colors is that you’re less likely to make mud, but that doesn’t mean that your creative possibilities are limited.

In Grant and Washington (below), for example, I used gray shapes to create a sense of rhythm. The strength of the composition rests in the arrangement of the elements within the painting; value and color also play an important role, working to establish coherence between the abstract shapes. Strong Geometry You’ll find that modern architecture makes for good paintings with strong geometric shapes because of its very sharp, robust lines. On the other hand, older trends in architecture, which tend to be more circular than angular,
can prove more difficult to approach in this way. When you’re painting architectural subjects, it’s a good idea to work with photos and on site. I usually start with a preliminary plein air sketch and then photograph the spot for later reference. Sometimes I also work out my value range by doing a collage of magazine ads. I find the tones I need and just rip and glue. Once I’ve established my composition, I turn my focus to my palette. I try to listen to the subject, in addition to what I might want to say about it, when I determine what colors to select. That said, my palette is always very limited and distinct—usually a range of only a few colors. I like using alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and Payne’s gray for a dark value. Actually, Payne’s gray works In Grant and Washington (watercolor on paper), gray shapes bring a sense of rhythm to the composition. The use of different values of the same color creates coherence.
Like most artists, I sometimes shift my strategy as I paint, adjusting to accommodate an area I want to emphasize. Things can happen quickly while I’m working and I have to stay open to possibilities. To ensure that I keep a balance between detail and larger shapes in my paintings, I place a great deal of importance on design. That’s where my strong background in illustration comes into play.

Washington and Grant


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alberta
    Sep 22, 2014 @ 22:44:55

    Very interesting to read an artist’s point of view.
    I love the artwork, you feel you can actually go into
    the picture, very life like.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. angela barbalace
    Oct 03, 2014 @ 02:50:52

    Thank you for such very nice comment Alberta



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