After Dinner Walk in Manhattan is a visual
story of a couple taking an evening stroll under the magical city lights in the
iconic city of Manhattan.
I was commissioned to create the painting using a reference
photo taken by a family member. The
completed oil painting measures 6’ tall by 4’ wide.
When working with a reference photo, it is easy for the
viewing audience to assume the artist did their very best to capture the exact
likeness of the photo. Nothing could be
further from the truth. As an artist, I
endeavored to capture the essence of the moment that made this photo so beloved
by the individuals in the scene.
Let’s begin with what I did not want to capture in the
Objects in the reference photo not needed in the
painting: the shopping bag hanging
between the couple, the discarded paper on the sidewalk, the bright red spot
reflected off the side of the building to the right of the husband’s shoulder
or the bright reddish brown vertical reflected lines on the buildings that ran
between the couple from the top of the painting down towards their shoulders.
What should be adjusted in the painting but not removed:
Effects to be adjusted (compositionally) in the
painting: The actual cement breaks in
the sidewalk added detail in the lower half of the photograph balancing with
the detail in the upper section of the photograph. The breaks would be much stronger if they
were more of a diagonal direction. The silver blue gray reflective lighting on
the building, to the right of the husband, could be extended up towards the top
of the painting and down to the husband’s arm creating some interest in those
dark empty spaces. Reducing the width of
the vertical red brown reflective lighting on the buildings as well as subduing
their brilliance as seen in the photos was needed. These shapes and vividness of color actually
separate the couple by placing a distraction of color between them. There
is a hint of the street light casting a lighter value on the sidewalk in front
of the couple. This will be the most
important change. I have emphasized the
street light in front of the couple by giving it a little more detail and
ground reflection than seen in the photo.
This last change allows me to push the illusion of depth even more. The
light adds an enhanced warmth to the moment.
What I wanted to see in the
painting that did not exist or was almost insignificant in the photo:
Effects to be added that do not exist in the
reference photo: The bottom half of the
painting, being a middle to lighter value actually draws the viewer out of the
painting. This lighting effect was
created by the flash of the camera taking the photo. Compositionally, we do not want the viewing
audience to exit the bottom of the painting but rather find a way to be led
back into the painting to find new and enticing artistic shapes, colors or
subjects to rest their eyes upon. To do
so, I’ve made the bottom of the painting darker to strategically guide the eye
back upwards. For color harmony, I’ll
be adding more red browns (burnt sienna) to the sidewalk to tie into the
reflective light bouncing off the buildings.
I’ll also be adding some gray blues, blues, and a few splashes of turquoise
to balance the color throughout the painting for color harmony.
When I begin a large oil painting,
I create a graph on the canvas using a pencil or vine charcoal. For this painting, I chose to use a
pencil. Once the graph is measured out
on the canvas, I begin the pencil sketch.
It is a simple sketch and not a great amount of detail. This sketch will be used as my map to keep the
The second step is to take black
oil paint and cover my sketch. As the
painting begins, I will not lose the lines of my initial sketch once they are
protected with the oil paint. This oil
paint sketch is then allowed to dry thoroughly.
The next step is to apply an underpainting. My color of choice is burnt sienna using a
wide brush. The brush strokes are
varied, as is the thickness of the paint, to give depth and a slight color
change later in places I may choose to let the underpainting remain visible. Often times, but not always, I will choose
to let some of the under painting show through in the finished painting. The underpainting affect can play a big role
in the painting. Letting the black oil
sketch dry thoroughly will eliminate the black paint from being smeared by the
burnt sienna when the underpainting layer is being applied during the
underpainting phase of the process.
From there the fun starts. I begin painting in layers. Some areas may only have one layer allowing
more transparency to show the under painting. Layers
are applied until the desired affect is achieved. I don’t know what is going to be done until
I start the painting. I pray before each
painting is started. My paintings
happen as I paint. I do not plan the
layers or how much time will go into the layer. I simply go with what feels right and let the
Compositionally, we hear of the
“Rules of 3”. Very seldom do I sit
down and plan the rules of 3. It happens
intuitively. With this painting, there
are 3 areas leading directly towards our main subjects. The lines in the sidewalk were painted so they
lead you up into the painting and subjects.
The reflective lights on the upper left corner were slanted down towards
the subjects. The vertical lines in the
center and to the right of the subjects brought us to the subjects. The vertical lines of the sidewalk intersecting
the building also created a “stop” to keep the viewer from leaving the painting
when gazing down vertically. Aside from
the rules of 3, at the bottom of the painting, the darkened values create a directional
change to bring the viewer back up into the painting.
The street light gave me an
amazing opportunity to create a space of light in front of the couple allowing
the viewer to look through and around the couple and ultimately, out in front
of them. This effect greatly enhanced
the feeling of depth in the painting. I
brought the reflected ground light out on the left side of the couple
significantly to break up the feeling of the vertical lines of building
reflections about the couple. This
rounded area of light enveloped where the couple was walking. We do not know where they were headed, but we
do know it is warm and inviting.
The camera reflection from the
back of the couple made the couple look like they were floating. In the painting, I added shadows under the
couple’s feet to eliminate that floating feeling. Their feet are established on the sidewalk
and the shadows provide us with a feeling of forward movement.
For the husband’s hat, I applied a
number of coats as well as a scumbling of the paint using a dry brush to create
a thick fabric texture that was true to the hat. I had the hat on hand for authenticity.
This was a wonderful journey from
beginning to end.