Post #3: The Good, The Bad, And The Other Painting.

Back again!

Well, I finally finished my other large scale painting. This one, also 24×36, depicts churches from my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. As with my previous post, this post will dissect the process for my painting. I will go into detail regarding my inclusion of the various elements, discuss how I went about painting, and what I learned.

Image 1

Image 1

This time, after collecting my references, I resisted the urge to dive straight into painting on the canvas. Instead, I sketched a couple different compositions in my sketchbook before landing on one that I really liked.  Only after making the sketch on paper did I begin to copy it onto the canvas. This sketch did the best job of incorporating all of the buildings while also emulating the three-structure of the Portugal painting. This similar structure creates a sense of cohesion between the two works; a good thing, since they’re in a series together.

Image 2

Image 2

With the drawing finalized, I moved onto outlining my pencil sketch with neutral brown and black paint outlines. This is not something that I normally do, but I felt it would be good in this circumstance for a couple reasons. First, as my focus is on architecture, it is very important that I get all of the angles and lines correct. By outlining, I can better ensure that the angles from my sketch will be easily visible and maintained through the rendering process. Furthermore, as the next step involves washing, I did not want to accidentally erase any of the drawing with the various layers of colors that were about to be applied. The outlines will stand more boldly through the wash, and I will not have to redraw them.

Image 3

Image 3

As with the last painting, I washed over the canvas with a watered down acrylic paint mixture. I chose to tint the wash to establish an underlying tone for each building. The reds and yellows would bring those buildings forward, while the blue pushes the background farther back. I also tried to use tints that corresponded with the color of each building’s brick or stonework. This helped me to visualize my final piece better and keep all the confusing lines in check while also providing a nice base layer of paint to build on top of.

Image 4

Image 4

I then buckled down and started filling in my outlines. I tried to stay true to the architecture of each building, while also incorporating exaggerated colors. I outlined a few of the buildings with a white halo to help them subtly jump out later on, rather than all be muddled together. I chose to paint the red brick churches first and with the most vibrancy as red bricks were the most often featured material in churches across town. I toyed with the idea of adding even more brick into the background (visible here next to the Greek Orthodox Church dome), but eventually decided against it. At this stage I also began filling in the white pillars of the Catholic church (very front) as well as some of the texture and color on the two stone churches in the middle ground.

Image 5

Image 5

The next stage involved painting the Greek Orthodox roof tiles (center) as well as refining elements of the other buildings. I chose to paint the tiles in a manner somewhat evocative of pointillism (each tile is just a flat square of color). This method gives the painting a little more visual interest and incorporates a more diverse aesthetic overall, thereby reflecting the diverse nature of the churches in Lynchburg.

Image 6

Image 6

By this stage, things were really starting to come together. I finished the Lutheran church at the bottom center and began a base on the Greek Orthodox facade at the bottom right. I also glazed the red brick churches and added more layers of details and highlights. The background here is noticeably darker, with leaves growing in on each side. I chose to incorporate these leaves as they represent the relative youth of American churches. Further, as central Virginia is heavily forested, the architecture of each building felt tied into the surrounding nature, which I therefore wanted to incorporate into this painting.

Image 8

Image 8

Lastly, we come to the final image. I cleaned up the details on all of the buildings, added contrast, detail, and saturation with layers of glazing. Additionally, I added pale yellow stonework to the Greek Orthodox facade with the same technique as the center roof. I painted the details into the Catholic churches metal arches, outlining them with a translucent silver halo. Unfortunately,  I couldn’t capture this accurately in a photo, as wherever the light hits on the silver it becomes opaque. The silver functions in contrast to the gold on the Portugal piece, adds visual interest, and builds a sense of religious grandiosity which one experiences when looking at church architecture in person. I added silver to the white pillars as well, as in real life the pillars shine dazzlingly in the sun. Lastly I painted a night sky filled with stars to make the color of the buildings become the focus while still providing a sense of balance. I also finalized the leaves. 

Overall, seven churches are featured in this painting: Court Street Methodist Church (upper left), the Greek Orthodox Church (center top and bottom right)), St. Paul’s Episcopal (upper right), Court Street Baptist (center right), Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (center bottom), Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church (bottom left), and Holy Cross Catholic Church (pillars and arches). The Commonwealth of Virginia has had a large variety of architectural influences on their churches; stylistically these influences have predominantly been taken from either England or Greece, with influence as well from the Baroque period, with a few Italian styles. They were also influenced practically by the early colonists limitations of resources, followed by a much greater variety of resources later on, which led to a major discrepancy in material use over the years. There is also a great deal of diversity in the denominations of Christianity practiced here, which also led to stylistic influence on the buildings. 

Before this project, I had always noticed the traditional red brick and column churches around town. Over the course of this project, however, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter so many different shapes of stone buildings. Churches here are really whatever people wanted them to be–many even operating out of converted homes.

I’m fairly happy with how this painting turned out. I feel that it compliments the other very nicely, while also inviting inspection as to the cultural and architectural differences of the two places. At the start, I expected there to be a lot of these. However, I feel that the similarities of humanity across State boundaries–and across the ocean–are, in my opinion, equally as visible. The painting itself was a huge challenge, as again, working at this scale with nonhuman subjects is not something I’m used to. Despite this, I feel much more confident now in my understanding of how this is done.

I will post my summary either tomorrow or the day after.

Comments

  1. Hi Martha,

    Your work is a joy to look at! The inclusion of the progression of the paintings across various stages in your posts is particularly interesting for someone who is unfamiliar with painting processes. Your discussion in an earlier post about wanting to highlight the artistry of architecture also caught my attention; for part of my research I was looking into how we define should art from a philosophic perspective, and instances like this are exactly why I advocate for a nebulous definition! The potential for something such as the buildings you paint to be considered art should not be overlooked because of the medium.

    I do have a couple questions, if you have the time. First, you discuss the fact that you typically paint human subjects and that this was therefore a challenge; I was wondering if there was anything, from a technical point of view, which you found easier about painting non-human subjects such as the churches? Second, how do you know (or decide) that a work of art you are producing is “finished”? I know it is difficult for myself, when working on projects, to step away and declare something I’ve been working on “complete.” As someone who is most definitely not a painter, the process of painting is of great interest to me!

    Thank you for your time,
    Lydia

  2. Hi Lydia,
    Thank you so much for your comment and questions! I’m really interested in your project, as I too often struggle with knowing the definition of “art.”
    As for your questions, I’ll agree that the hardest part of the process for me has always been determining a stopping point. As everything can always be improved, I’ve found it difficult to know when that improvement needs to end for the sake of the painting and the sake of my technical ability. I usually know that I am approaching the end when I want to start to want to add extraneous details that were not a part of my original design and that actually detrimentally impact the composition of the work. In this project, learning to step away for a day or two and let things sit really helped me to not fall down a rabbit hole of continual additions. This offered a chance to see each version as a “finished piece”; the benefit being that I will know it’s finally done when two days later I’m still happy with how it looks. Once I’m happy with it and I feel that I’ve improved it as much as I can, then I make myself stop.
    As for your other question, I was a little surprised at how much similarity there is between painting architecture and portraiture. Proportions, angles, and textures all have to be in check with both for things to look right. If I had to say something that is easier about painting buildings, I think it would be how simple it is to block them down to their basic shapes to create a likeness. The human face has so many important details and intricacies that often I feel it’s a bit overwhelming for me to try and make a likeness. However, buildings are much more straight forward, and once you get the perspective, angles, and texturing right, things aren’t too terribly difficult from there.

    I hope this answered your questions!
    Martha

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