UART Tip #27: “Painting Architecture that “Sings!”” with Jill Stefani Wagner

Painting buildings in pastel used to overwhelm me. Perspective, focal points, straight lines, and proper values all seemed way more difficult when painting architecture. Probably because we can sometimes fake a landscape, but everyone knows when a house isn’t “built” right. And color. Buildings can look absolutely dead without a punch of color. Below are some steps I use to overcome those challenges.

When I’m working in the studio I use photo references to guide my drawing.

I crop the photo for the most dynamic composition, always thinking of putting my focal point a bit off center.

Tracing a laser print with charcoal on the back, I transfer the image on to my UART board which is perfect for this type of technique. Use a ruler to get the straight lines down even though your pastel strokes will eventually cover them. I see no reason to draw buildings from scratch in the studio, although I do it often when painting en plein air. I then start roughly blocking in the very darkest areas with a dark reddish brown NuPastel.

When the big dark shapes are in (no detail!), I brush them down loosely with isopropyl alcohol to make a permanent under painting. (Don’t use mineral spirits because they will not work well with the later watercolor application.)

Now the fun part begins! I lay in loose, vibrant watercolor washes in a complimentary hue of the actual color. That means you will use an approximate opposite color of what you actually see in the photo. I do try, however, to stay in the same value range of the actual color.

Now, very lightly at first, I begin to lay the actual local color over the watercolor washes with hard NuPastels. I don’t want this layer to cover all of the previous under painting. My goal is to allow the vibration and sparkle that happens with this technique to shine through. I lightly spray this first layer of pastel with workable fixative so that it won’t smear into the final layers.

I continue to layer medium and final the softest pastels over the previous applications without smearing or smudging the marks. I pay close attention to keeping my colors in the right value range, even if they are not exactly the right color.

I am not trying to recreate the photo, so I try to stop before I think I am finished.

Jill Stefani Wagner  PSA-MP  IAPS/MC

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