Will Kemp, Warm Shadows in Corsica, Acrylic On Board (detail)
It’s hard to believe that city breaks, art exhibitions and museum visits were something we used to enjoy almost casually.
Here in the U.K, we’re back in another full lockdown, a cold and wet one!
I was looking through some photos from last summer’s trip to Corsica needing a bit of escapism. They instantly transported me back to the atmosphere, the colours and smells, meandering down sun-dappled side streets, ice cream in hand with the anticipation of undiscovered delights around the next corner.
Drawing and painting can be very therapeutic; so with that in mind, I’ve created a couple of acrylic step-by-step street scenes to help get us through the next few weeks.
I think finding time for creativity, especially at the moment, really does bring a sense of peace and calm and taking inspiration from past trips, dare I say, brings hope for future travels!
I also wanted to use materials you’ve most likely got already at home, so I’m using a starter set of paints and basic brushes because they’re often what many students are gifted or have bought at the beginning of their artistic journey. Using only the limited colours that come in a pre-packed set sometimes has compromises but let’s see what we can achieve!
For this Starter Set Challenge, I’m using the Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Colour Set of 12 20 ml tubes with a wide range of artist quality paints. They only have a very little colour shift and with this set, you’ve got a good classical palette too. I’m working on an 8 x 10-inch canvas board because that’s the size I already had in.
Downloading the reference photograph
The photo below can be downloaded to use it as a reference image, print it out and follow along with the steps below. (The size of the image is 1:1 to the size I painted, 8 x 10 inch)
You can download a larger version of the image here.
Materials you will need:
- 8 x 10 inch (20 x 25.4 cm) canvas or board
- Titanium White (Golden Paints)
Colours in the Winsor & Newton Professional Acrylic Colour Set of 12 20 ml tubes:
- Azo Yellow Medium
- Lemon Yellow
- Naphthol Red Light
- Permanent Alizarin Crimson
- Phthalo Blue Red Shade
- Ultramarine Blue
- Phthalo Green Blue Shade
- Olive Green
- Yellow Ochre
- Raw Umber
- Mars Black
- Titanium White
- Winsor & Newton Foundation set
- Kuru Toga 0.5 mm Mechanical pencil, HB
- Tear-off palette
- Palette Knife
2-minute sketches and tonal map
0.5mm Muji fineliner, Pentel Brush Pen & Tombow Brush pen in N75
I started by doing a 2-minute tonal sketch of the scene, looking at the two buildings’ shadow patterns and the central figure. There are three main areas. The light shape of the clocktower and sky, the shadow pattern between the buildings and the mid-tone of the vertical walls and alleyway.
I then followed with a 10 min sketch, looking more closely at the perspective. Notice the diminishing size of the metal pillars as they get further into the distance. Also, the doorway’s scale on the left-hand side in comparison to the height of the figure will help give the illusion of depth into the scene. I decided to concentrate on the single central figure and enhance the tonal contrast around it.
Step #1. Mixing a coloured ground
You can download a larger version of my drawing here.
I wanted to have an underlying warmth to the painting so mixed an orange using Naphthol Red Light, Azo Yellow Medium & Titanium White.
I’ve drawn out using an HB 0.5mm mechanical pencil. Most of it’s freehand, but I’ve also used a ruler on some of the window panes’ lines. Using a ruler can be quite handy when you first draw in this perspective. It can sometimes seem like the buildings’ angle is so steep that you could be fooled into thinking they don’t have an as acute angle as they actually do have.
By having these perspective construction lines in, you can then ‘hang’ the drawing’s details around those basic perspective lines.
I’ve also put a bit of the indication of some of the black electrical wires, they might get painted over later on, but they can really help to guide your eye to go into the distance.
Step #2. Raw umber block-in
I’m using a round brush which was the size three from the Winsor & Newton foundation range.
Using Raw Umber diluted with water, I’m changing the dilution, depending on the tonal value of the shadow that I’m looking at. The more water, the lighter the wash.
I’m thinking back to those primary sketches and how the dark areas linked the buildings and the figure. Working from left to right, looking for those dark patterns in the buildings, and moving across the composition.
By painting in the figure’s dark pattern, I can really start to see how the shapes are working together and whether it’s still capturing the simplified tonal study in my first initial sketch.
Step #3. Adding the whitest white
I then add the whitest white, the cloud behind the clock tower. This is pure Titanium White. I swapped brushes to one that has a slight filbert shape to it.
Step #4. Painting the sky
Using a small amount of Phthalo Blue – Red Shade mixed with Titanium White, to create a light blue, I work in-between this mix and Titanium White to paint in the sky.
Step #5. Painting warmth in the background
To illustrate that the clocktower is in the sunlight, I start my mix with some Yellow Ochre, Titanium White, and then add some Azo Yellow Medium to increase the intensity.
Here on this close-up, you can just get a better idea of how watery that initial block-in of the Raw Umber.
Then I’m painting the pattern of these muted greys and yellows to give a sense that the whole of these buildings are bathed in warm sunlight.
Step #6. Breaking up the buildings
To help keep the colour palette harmonious, I’ve dotted in some of the pale blue from the sky. This helps to make the colours in the building appear warmer in contrast to these pale blue dashes.
Then I can start to look at the purple tones on the alleyway between the two building sides.
Step #7. Introducing complementary colours
Now I can bring in the complementary colour to those yellows, by adding in a muted purple. This helps to join up those two shadow sides of the buildings around the figure. I’ve painted in a dark shade behind the figure too.
I mix a muted purple with Naphthol Red Light, Phthalo Blue – Red Shade, Titanium White and a touch of Raw Umber. I’ve brought the muted purple into the doorway to the left of the painting and added a few dashes on the right, to indicate where some window openings would be. Using the same mix, I paint in drainpipes and a few of the shadows inside the window edges.
Again, you’ve got the same palette of colours working across your entire painting to balance it all together.
Step #8. Adding purple to the foreground
Adding a little more of the Naphthol Red Light into the mix to create a redder purple, I start to paint it onto the alleyway floor. Still keeping this quite dark but leaving elements of the ground colour showing, there are still these little orange dashes.
I vary the colours on the path by adding a little bit more yellow into the mix for the left-hand side, constantly altering the darkness, so it isn’t just one flat colour.
Then, with the Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and the Azo Yellow medium I mix a muted orange, reminiscent of those beautiful warm coloured buildings in Italy and start to block this in on the left-hand building.
Step #9. Blocking-in the buildings
I continue working on the colours of the left-hand building, just varying hues of the yellows and the oranges by either adding some Titanium White to lighten them or some of the Azo Yellow Medium to make them more saturated.
Step #10. Painting cool shadows
Once I’ve got the warmth in, I swap back to looking back at the shadow-side, and I can start to paint in muted tones.
I then change my focus to the buildings deeper on the right-hand side, with shadows all around now, it starts to really feel like we’ve got this lovely glint of light in the distance.
Step #11. Contrast of colour and value
I’m now contrasting the warm colours on the left by adding muted greens and greys onto the shutters. Also adding small details with contrasting lights, such as the doorway on the left, now we’ve got in this fine white edge it really makes it look more like a doorway.
So we’ve got more of a tonal contrast, as well as a colour contrast.
If you flick your eyes back to the previous image. You can see how orange next to the purple but it doesn’t really pop as much as when you’ve got the orange, purple and the contrast of the white in-between.
To get a fine line on the shutters, I’ve just been using a flat brush. And because it’s quite stiff, I’m just kind of dabbing using the end of the brush. A bit like a potato print, if you imagine, just like dabbing it down along the edges of the shutters, and you get this fine one line, rather than trying to draw it with the brush.
Step #12. Adding red
Now I’ve got all these colours in; I’m scanning the image to see where I want to add more intense colour. I introduce a warmer red and bring in some more of that lovely pinky salmon using Naphthol Red Light and Titanium White. Stronger red hues dotted around the buildings help to move your eye from side to side.
Step #13. Finishing touches
Will Kemp, Warm Shadows in Corsica, 8 x 10 inch, Acrylic On Board
The last thing to do is to bring the sides of the piece together by drawing in the dark electric cable lights.
They go down the side of the buildings and criss-cross across the alleyway. These wires are really key to capturing that atmosphere of the street; they also echo the washing line’s shape in the far distance of the scene.
The starter set did pretty well, there were a few materials I could have used to refine it a bit more but it was fun being restricted from my normal setup.
Things I missed:
Burnt Umber’s warmth as an underpainting and the control of a pen filled with acrylic for the fine line work. A little bit of Glazing Liquid for adding a glow to sections. The flexible bend of the RGM palette knife and the build quality of the brush. I may or may not have broken the head off halfway through! But the entire set was £7.25 so not bad.
Really hope you enjoy the tutorial, next time we’re going to look a little bit closer at that washing line in the distance.
Will Kemp, Washing Day, 8 x 10 inch, Acrylic On Board