When we visited the Cathedral in Belem we also took the opportunity to explore the monastery attached to it. The stonework was as exuberantly decorated as the church, The two storey cloisters, something I didn’t even know existed, were stunning, and I don’t use the word lightly. They were vast, full of sunlight and shadow, every door, window, pillar, decorated and decorated again.
I have chosen one of the less excited doors to paint. Capturing this much decoration was going to be a struggle.
In fact the only way to do it justice would be do do a close-up of one small section, but I’m going to continue with this door. A general wash of Yellow Ochre and my new friend, Burnt Umber, provided a backcloth to the more detailed work. I did use a line drawing to work out the complicated aperture. The dark green door helped define the shapes and the bell was a gift, the Prussian Blue so near and yet so far in colour terms.
Details of the carving, using Burnt Umber and a fine brush, were hard to achieve. I didn’t want to be too mannered yet there was a lot to say in a small space. In the end, I aimed to show the shadows as I saw them, hoping to place them with sufficient accuracy to create the illusion. I’m relative pleased with the result, but the only way to do justice to to the stone craft would be to do a small section enlarged.
We soldiered on, working on the building on the left. The shutters on either side of the open window went in with a single stroke of a flat brush, then the same flat brush with a deeper grey-blue used vertically so that only the tips of the brush hairs touched the surface hopped down the shape. That made the louvres – they only needed a trifle more dark at their edges to become convincing. Flowers, pots and greenery covered the wall adequately and decoratively. Using varying tones of reds and greens added depth, and the pots were great fun.
The strong shadow on the ground,( it was very sunny), made me see that the walls were too warm. It seemed a pity to lose the colour, but “needs must”, so I blued it with a light wash after all was very dry. The final touch was the opaque white on the heads and shoulders of two of the people.
We visited two or three old villages as well as Old Nice on my recent visit to the south of France so that I don’t recall which one this street was in! Nor did I take notes – the ambience was too restful for that. (I’ll have to do better on my next holiday.)
The light is streaming down the street so most of the buildings are in shadow or glancing sunshine and the people are back lit. It’s quite complicated at first sight but “Hazel’s dictum”works in this scene, too.
I began by dropping in the sky then a light wash of Burnt Umber on all the buildings. This colour is less red than Burnt Sienna and serves well as the creamy stone in indirect sun. The full sun is only on the top of the steps and on the heads and shoulders of the people. When the wash was nearly dry I deepened the tone on the surfaces directly facing me, finally giving them a light wash of Ultramarine Blue after they had dried. Now I had the buildings marching up the street and could begin on the detail.
Starting on the right, I put in the tones and colours I could see, not many from this angle, finishing off with the window grill. Advancing up the wall, I indicated the shadows cast by the open shutter and the deep tone of the window recess. Downstairs had more flowers and a grill. The next building shows its face only as a thin slither of light, framed by the shadowed walls. How effective that slither is! Just imagine the painting without it. A roof line and vague window shapes dressed the further building, and we have arrived at the people walking over the crest of a little hill. These are very simply indicated using colours already in the painting, and I’ve missed the highlights on two of them so a little opaque white will be called for at the end. (I use Designer’s Gouache for that and it wanders if you work on top of it).
The building at the back of the street is actually on the downward slope of the road, the top of its heavy door helping to thrust the figures forward. There is a huge terracotta pot on a high wall next, its greenery largely silhouetted against the sky. The wall it’s standing on disappears behind another terracotta pot at ground level.
By working the detail starting from a fixed spot (it doesn’t have to be the side) extra brush strokes “grow” the painting. This is an encouraging way to paint as the picture develops under your eye, and concentration on one area helps you to observe more.
Just one of those moments when you see something paintable – and you have your camera with you. Everything was just right, the colouring, the shapes, the sunlight.
Since the dome is strikingly bluey-green (I used Viridian neat with Ultramarine Violet for the darker places) it seemed sensible to use dilute Prussian Blue for the sky, laid in on previously dampened paper. Then I HAD to do the dome, such an exciting colour, such a neat shape. The building was painted warm golden yellow, so Raw Sienna was called into play, and the bright sun gave me crisp, fairly simple decorative details, (certainly more simple than the extravagances of Belem Cathedral). More intense mixture of Raw Sienna defined the shadows in this bright sunny painting, with the addition of Ultramarine Violet for the really dark places.
At this stage, I took a photo – in case I ruined the whole painting by inserting the trees. It works fine as it is but element of surprise, of just a glimpse of colour, adds to the story. In the event, I think the trees are indeed an interesting addition providing context and colour balance. All the colours are in the yellow/blue sector of the colour wheel. You don’t have to have opposites to make a good painting. The darker tree is Viridian with the addition of Ultramarine Violet, while the lighter, in both colour and texture is Viridian this time with Aureolin.
This is a rather hilarious attempt at the Cathedral. There is no way that a person with my lack of patience with fiddly detail is going to do justice to this building. You will remember when I was discussing the Belem Tower window that I was wrestling with the “decoration on decoration” that is the norm for this period of Portuguese history. The Cathedral takes this style into overdrive. But I liked the monochrome simplicity of the colour enough to give it a go.
I used Ultramarine Blue for the sky, the added Indigo to the mix to tone it down a bit. Bearing in mind Hazel’s dictum ” shape first, detail later”, I gave form to the dome, windows and door, and the returns in the wall. I had fun trying to leave out the white flying buttresses in front of the dome and the attached ones on the distant building; and there were the decorative spikes on top of the walls. Then it was a case of entering as much detail as I could before my patience ran out!
The few people give scale to the building. I gave one or two of them red coats to spice up the blue.
This pot is in Lisbon near the river at Belem – you may remember the window of the tower at Belem I painted a short time ago. There is a restaurant which claims that its Pastel da Nata with a special Belem twist is superior to all others. As we were addicted to these pastries – and that doesn’t begin to describe their deliciousness – we had to try them. To be honest, we’d have tried them anyway. As expected, since you can’t improve on the best, we couldn’t tell the difference. But in this restaurant was this pot.
Isn’t it a cracker! My frequent response to “where shall I begin?” is “with the bit you like best” so I started with the pot which, I am delighted to say, fell off the brush. Fortuitously, the restaurant furniture was a lovely blue, just what the orangey copper tones loved. Floor and plinth were a cool white and the light dancing on the greenery (which liked the copper, too) completed the picture.
The first task was to complete the flowers. I used the same colours and technique as before. It truly was a mass of exuberant colour so I didn’t try to differentiate the individual flowers too much, relying of light and shade to give vitality.
The pillar now looked too mauve in comparison to the pot and its stand, but that was soon corrected by a light wash of the Ultramarine Violet and Yellow Ochre mix and the introduction of that mix in a deeper tone in the darkest of the shadows.
I thought about making more of the setting, but decided against it. It was sufficiently indicated to provide a backcloth to the main actors.
I’m reasonably pleased with this – flowers were never my favourite thing, and this is a more coherent attempt than the first one I showed you.
So I tried again. This time I gave myself a rough outline of pot, flowers and pillar, then ghosted in a wash of yellow ochre with Ultramarine in the shadows. This has defined my painting for me, and even in these early stages reads well. I should have indicated the shadowy areas on the flowers, but that has just occurred to me and this stage is long gone.
Next I tackled the some of flowers. I remembered a small tube of Cobalt Violet I had bought ages ago, and thought it would be a good colour for them. It’s an opaque colour but the bright colour opaques provide should work. Using it to create massed shapes of flowers, as well as blobs of paint, I approximated what I saw in the photo over the more sunny side, shadowed flowers as thicker paint. The green, a mix of Ultramarine Blue and Aureolin gave me the complimentary to make the violet tones sing. There is the odd splodge of Ruby Red among the violets. This is very concentrated work so I gave myself some light relief by turning the the pillar and pot.
Decision time – how much detail do I put on the pillar? It’s a creamy limestone, I think, roughly shaped into building blocks, and immensely attractive in its own right. Side lit, it showed great texture – indeed, it was this that had first attracted me. I re-wetted the pillar and cautiously suggested the various lumps and bumps in a mix of Ultramarine Violet and Yellow Ochre, emphasising the deeper shadows as the paint dried. Shadows cast by pillar and pot were darked too. This passage of painting didn’t seem to overwhelm the flowers so I supported them using the same mix (no blue!) to create the more formal shapes on the pillar and bowl.
Something of an experiment, this one – I liked the profusion of flowers, the colour against the stone, but wondered how best to display them. so there are two attempts fused into one painting. The colour, after much cogitation and mixing, resolved itself as Ruby Red and Ultramarine Violet, on the left hand side as blobs of colour and on the right as more diffuse shapes dropped into spaces in a green squiggle . The left hand is nearer to the actual flowers, but the diffuse side is a bit more exuberant perhaps.
Then I stopped thinking before painting. The pot was cast cement, white against the creamy stone. White in shadow is frequently shown as blue, so I painted it using Ultramarine Blue, quite forgetting that I already had Ultramarine Violet in my palette. I could just about have got away with that if I hadn’t added the pillar behind the pot – in Yellow Ochre. Blue shadow in yellow tends towards green, too cold for this warm stonework, so I used Violet. Now the pot stood out like a sore thumb, its blue modelling vying for attention with the flowers. I was able to wash out most of the blue and rework it using violet though the blue still shows through. Thought before action required.
As part of my efforts to encourage incipient painting thoughts, I am, as usual, looking to Hazel Soan for guidance. It was pouring with rain, so I looked through my photos for a townscape with people in it to create a monochrome tonal sketch and found ….. Honestly, trying to discipline myself to follow the path I have agreed with myself is like trying to herd cats.
Colour – I can’t resist it. Isn’t this a glorious turquoise? All thoughts of monochrome townscapes fled as I plunged into the deep blue sea.
It’s Manganese Blue – a non-staining, semitransparent colour which I discovered in Zoltan Szabo’s book “Color-by-Color”. It just sings off the page, orangy-reds being the perfect accompaniment. Over washed with Viridian for the swell that lifts the shallow boat, still it glows through. That’s no small achievement as Viridian is not a shy colour. I’m truly pleased with that wave. This is letting the brush do the work. This is watercolour.
So, no townscape; no monochrome; but perhaps I can claim in self defence that the figures are virtually silhouettes.