Since people have commented on how much they enjoyed seeing the original photo as compared to the final painting and hearing the thinking process … here is another. This 12x11 studio painting, “The Breakfast Goers” was created from a poor image taken on my cell phone camera (left). While eating an early breakfast on a painting trip, I noticed the intriguing light quality, backlit figures and my thinking that I could do something with it. It would be a bit different than my usual landscape, but that was also the appeal.
I usually start composing a painting with the question “what to keep in” and “what to change” instead of “what will I delete.” After the keepers are chosen, the rest is omitted. Kind of like picking fruit at the store, you choose a select few and move on instead of sorting though the entire bin, setting the bad ones aside and seeing what your left with. My thought process went like this: Keep the figures, a few items on the table to tell the story and dramatically simplify the background so it highlights the figures. Next, I analyzed the people to see what made sense. When I’m working with figures, what they are doing has to feel right as a painting, and not just a depiction “as-is” in the photograph. So, with the man on the left, I positioned his arm on the table, instead of leaving it mid-air and made sure the bill of his hat and glassed contrasted in the light coming through the window. Next to him, the person is turned and facial features are unseen, so I painted it as if they were looking forward. The distant center figure is being lost in the wood around the window, so I moved that person forward slightly. And, lastly the man’s arm on the right seemed odd. Having him hold a mug of coffee felt more believable.
With the background, the figures on the left are sitting with their backs to a mirrored wall, this would be difficult to portray, especially with the poor information in the photo. So, I painted the windows in a simple flat wall mass. I also made the wall cooler in color so it sat well in the distance. I only kept the items on the table that would read well or broke up other shapes, but enhanced the coffee carafe because that was important to the story. I kept the table color warm to keep it in the foreground and created my own light reflections based on the where the windows were positioned. I cropped the bottom of the painting so you only saw a slight edge of the dish, keeping the utensil to point into the painting. If I used the whole bowl and made the painting taller, my focal point figures would be pushed up too high in the scene. I utilized the foreground coffee mug for its size, perspective and the way it broke up the dark area under the table (great tips from Gregg Kreutz’s book). It also leads your eye upward, and I added a hint of a handle to make it clearly a mug.
I rather liked the fact that none of figures were interacting. It gave it that Hopper-esque feeling of loneliness that seemed to compliment well with my minimalist colors. Enjoy!