Crosswalk Shadows, 12 x 20 inches, oil on linen
OK, so I thought I was going to do another color systems post - one on high key impressionist color, but guess what, I didn't have any appropriate paintings to show you to make my points! Not surprising, considering I rarely paint that way. But I thought I'd find one or two in my archives! No. I find it kind of funny, actually.
So until I do a high-key impressionist painting (fat chance), the color systems series of posts are suspended. Sorry~
Instead I'll post and talk about some recent cityscapes that I've been working on. This is one of my Chicago paintings. I think it's a pretty good example of connecting the darks to simplify and organize. You can actually go all the way across the painting by following the dark areas.
The shadow areas actually has a few different values; if you look at the left side of the painting, you can see that the dark shadowy mass is one value, the sidewalk / pavement another value, and the crosswalk lines (in shadow) are still another. There are small variations within each of these shadow values, but basically I'm working with three in that area. Could I have simplified it further and bring those values together, since they're all shadow areas?
Yes, and that's kind of what I did first, in my study for this painting;
Not as much separation within the shadows. Simpler, and it still works. However, since this was a backlit situation, the light side was going to be very high key and sort of washed out. There's really not a lot of information in the lit areas. It means that most of the interesting information happens in the shadow areas. In order to make that happen, I broke up the shadow areas into a few different values, and used some local color as well.
By contrast, the lit area has one or two very close values (to separate the painted crosswalk lines from the asphalt) and not much more.
The red "don't walk" light adds yet another little accent make the painting feel less monochromatic.
In general, with a backlit view, the interesting stuff happens in the shadow. In order to see this interesting stuff, it has to be keyed up a bit so we can see the colors and other information. (You can't see anything in the dark!) But not everything has to be keyed up, you can still have very dark areas where either the local value is very dark (black clothes, for example) or there is very little reflected or ambient light illuminating the area. (underside of the El, for example) These dark areas can be connected to create a simpler, more impactful design. It can add to the mystery, too.
You don't have to spell out everything. Let the viewer complete the image in his or her own mind.