Saturday, July 21, 2018

Struggling With a Painting

I recently completed another wedding painting and sent it to the client.  That statement sounds routine, but getting to that point was anything but.  This painting was a fight from almost the very first brushstroke to very close to the end.

About halfway through, I sent an in-progress photo to the client and talked a little about the process, especially since it was VERY different from the last time he'd seen it.  I told him that starting a new painting is like starting a conversation with somebody you've never met.  Sometimes you hit it off like you've known each other your whole lives, and other times you struggle to find a connection.  This time, the painting had a very different mindset than I did, and trying to get on the same wavelength was a never-ending process.

So here's how the painting looked at the very beginning, when I was just starting to position things on the canvas:

The couple wanted a painting of the first dance.  The room was long and somewhat narrow, with glass walls that opened to a lot of trees outside.  The ceiling was very dark brown-stained wooden rafters, the dance floor was the yellow of oak, and there were peach-colored draperies around the room.  As in most first-dance paintings, I wanted to get both the couple and the room a bit off-center.  I also wanted to use the perspective of the room to help guide the eye to the couple.  Getting the perspective to support the couple took some thinking, but here's what I came up with.  And, as you'll see, this structure held true throughout the painting's progress.

Here's how the painting looked at the end of the reception:

I'd taken several dozen photos of the first dance.  My initial thought was to go with one that showed them in a fairly dynamic position and this seemed to be the liveliest choice.  The ceiling has a very thin coat of burnt umber since I didn't want to go too dark too early.  Darks tend to go dead if the paint is applied too thickly and you can't really recover from that.  The dance floor is roughed in and the background is beginning to be populated with the crowd.  Outside the windows, I just put in some washes of green to indicate the lighting and color outside the glass.  It doesn't look like it here, but deciding how to handle the glass walls involved a lot of choices.  The reason is that I arrived early and took a bunch of reference photos of the room, including the windows, but that was in the afternoon.  By the time they actually got to the first dance, they were running a bit late and the light was very dim.  So: go light on the outside, or go dark?  I went with light for now, for the same reason as the ceiling: you can always go darker, but making it lighter can be hard.

Here's the painting after some development.  My wife took one look at the post-reception version and declared that no bride is going to want a painting of her butt, so I had to change their position.  She's right, of course.  I didn't have any decent "lively" shots of them dancing where you could clearly see both of their faces, so I went with one that had them in profile and showed some tenderness.

What you don't see here is the version where it was dark outside the windows.  I blocked in the dark of early evening outside, but it was too gloomy and eliminated a lot of the event's color.  So I repainted the outside in afternoon sun, resulting in lots of greens and other cheerful colors.

The architecture of the place was important and I spent a lot of time working and re-working it.  I had to get something to indicate the rafters in the darkness overhead, and also block in three chandeliers.  The peach-colored curtains , the various verticals and horizontals of the supporting beams and outside railings, the dark wood floor, the architecture of the adjacent building, and some idea of the plantings around the outside, all had to be worked up.  All of this meant painting over bits and pieces of the crowd, resulting in odd things like the decapitated lady just to the right of the dance floor!

By the time I got to this stage, though, the creative decisions and directions had been made.  Most everything after this was refinement and bringing everything up to spec.  The painting and I were more or less on the same page and communicating fairly well.  It still threw me some curve balls every once in a while, though.

And here's the finished version.  The crowd has been added in and turned into specific people.  Both sets of parents are at the table on the left, while the tables in the center and on the right have the bridesmaids and groom's men.  The decapitated lady was hauled off to the morgue.  I worked on the floors to get the right level of reflected lights.  The venue is the LionCrest pavilion at the Biltmore Estate.  They have a unique crest that the client wanted me to include.  Its real location is between the curtains at the far end of the room.  However, when I tried to put it in there, it looked like something was growing out of the bride's head!  So I moved the crest over to the window just to the curtain's left.  (Point of fact: that corner is where I set up my easel at the reception!).  I had to get the little lights that were all over the beams and roof, and also finished the chandeliers.  And there it is - done.

After all that, I think it turned out pretty well.  There are a lot of things I really like about it.  The bride and groom, for example, are really good likenesses, and they show a true connection to each other.  The other figures have pretty good likenesses.  I don't try for perfection in these figures because doing so would pull attention away from the bride and groom.  The architecture turned out well, especially the floors with their reflected lights and colors.  The outside colors provide good lighting and cheerfulness.  All in all, I think it works.  Most importantly: the bride and groom approve!

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