Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Clean and Simple

This is a painting from the “Just Plein Fun” plein air competition I participated in a few weeks ago. My 10x8 scene ­“Double Stop” was fortunate to received the third place award in the show. When I spotted this alley behind the main bayfront walk, I thought it would make a nice composition, but only if I kept it clean and ­simple.

I’m finding more and more the importance of clean color and simple shapes to drive my point home. By taking extra time in my decision making process, finding the right balance of shapes can truly make a painting sing without having to say everything.

In the past, I used to pride myself in how fast I could crank out a painting or that I could just set up anywhere and capture a scene. With those hasty decisions came hit and miss results. Sometimes I’d nail it, but more often they became either average works or fell apart when I reviewed them them the next day. The more I’ve slowed down over the years, the happier I’ve become with my results.

Once I saw that this alley had potential I spent about 20 minutes visually composing it. I moved up and down the alley every 100 feet or so trying to find the right balance of shapes. I narrowed it down to three spots, then spent another 15 minutes reviewing each of those until the above view was chosen. I felt that the combination of the simple concrete foreground making up the bottom third balanced well with the mass of trees and shapes of the homes. By painting the bottom third with very little detail, it lets the eye easily glide up to the trees. Once there, I used the complement of the green trees with the red stop sign for contrast and a focal center. The bottom left shadow was created to slow the eye down as it guides you in along it’s “S” shape. The house details were kept to a minimum, using the “L” shape of the one on the right to hook you in. The second stop sign was added as a supporting focal point as well as the telephone poles. They were both set up to create depth, letting your eye glide back into the scene. As you recede in to the distance, I used the left side home to hold you in. The silhouetted trash can shapes then direct you back to the stop sign and complete a circular loop.

I kept the colors of each area clean by carefully painting individual areas separately, not letting any of the color “mix” on the canvas. I used a soft synthetic flat that held its edge well and took my time with each shape. With this approach, you can say so much with very little. Enjoy!


  1. Congratulations on the award! It's a strong painting compositionally which is one of the elements I like about all your paintings in general. Thanks for writing about your thought process, I'll keep this one in mind when I tackle a scene that is similar.

  2. I was arrested by the painting, and then I enjoyed reading about your process. It really added to my understanding of why I like it so much. Nice job!

  3. That smooth pinkish foreground color is knockout!