Building On Layers
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Building On LayersBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Every once in a while, I'll start a painting with a general idea or feeling of what I want, but no precise idea. This was one of those times. All I knew what that I wanted a composition with a strong vertical component, and that the composition would probably be warm colored.
First, I started off with a quick wash. I used mainly transparent colors in this piece, so I could take advantage of their jewel-like tones. This layer is mostly Winsor red, Winsor green and quina burnt orange. You can see how there's already a strong vertical component to the painting, even though I've hardly done anything.
I have been painting by concentrating on negative shapes for some time now. For this painting, I returned to more traditional ‘positive' painting techniques.
I spent some time analyzing the painting, trying to see what shapes suggested themselves. I made a loose drawing before I moved on to the next step.
The next step, of course, was another layer of paint. Using mostly Winsor red and Winsor green (with some quina gold spattered in afterwards near the bottom), and working in one wet layer, I laid in foreground and background shapes. The rear tower and dragons are the same colors, mixed to be more neutral. Shapes in the background should not be as colorful as those in the foreground, as color is lost as more and more atmosphere gets in the way. I also sprayed in some water to add a little more texture, in case I need it. If I don't, I can always paint over it.
When I was painting ‘negatively', I painted shapes by painting the areas around them. Painting ‘positively', I paint the shapes by laying them in over top of each other. Now, I got to work on the brickwork of the foreground tower. Using mixes of Winsor red, Winsor green, Winsor blue, and quina burnt orange, I painted in the bricks one by one. I changed the mix a little bit each time, so each brick is a slightly different color. I left a tiny sliver of the background color around each one. I was not worried about keeping the rows of the bricks neat and tidy; I wanted something more asymmetrical and organic.
As I worked my way down the tower, I left the bricks less defined. The background tower was treated in a similar manner, although, again, I kept the colors more neutral and the edges less defined.
I blocked in the shadows on the various shapes. The tower in the background was handled very simply, with just the largest dark shapes blocked in. I pretty much left the tower and the greens leading up to it alone.
The foreground took a little more work. I mixed a color similar to that I used on the bricks. I made the red tones stronger on the head of the dragon, and added more green as I moved further down its body. Once that layer was good and dry, I washed in a loose shadow area on the tower itself, leaving some of the previous layers exposed for the areas that are touched by sunlight. Again, the green in the mix grew stronger as I moved down.
On some of the bricks, particularly on the top portion of the tower, I lay in a line of shadow on the bottom (or sometimes the side) of the brick shape. Using a still-darker mix of the brick color (with even more Winsor blue), I added in details on the dragons. Again, the background tower dragon has only very spare details. In the foreground, the scale pattern is much more intricate, but, again, becomes less so as I traveled down the composition.
I darkened the broken areas that the tail is poking out of at the bottom of the tower. Once all of that was dry, I darkened the shadow of the tower again, trying to balance the transition from warm red to cool green.
Even though I had no distinct plans for this piece when I started, I was able to take a simple wash and gradually build it up into a painting. I ended up with a strong color composition (warm red against cool green always provides a striking contrast). The lightest lights are right next to the darkest darks, and all the details are focused mainly in one area of the painting. What I like most, I think, is how the subtle texture in the lower green areas not only suggests foliage, but also seems to suggest that the towers itself has roots that spring from it.
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