Goodbye, and good memories

My favorite Cloudcroft, NM, eatery is closing soon, and I wanted to paint it. I took some photos, and one with the owner and her child struck me as a particularly good choice. This is the photo. In the end I cropped it to improve both the composition and the sense of intimacy with the subjects.

Cloud cafe source photo
Source photo for painting

I recently bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for drawing (it comes with a stylus, and there is plenty of good Windows software for drawing). I decided to do a very spontaneous study of form and color, which turned out like this.

cloud cafe study 1
Rough study, digital drawing

This has a very much brighter feel than the photo, which I liked. Digital drawings definitely are useful, at least for me.

I then sat on the idea for about a week; I wasn’t at all sure how I wanted to paint it. The ideas that bubbled to the top were:

Do a detailed, realistic painting

Do a pen and ink drawing, again fairly detailed, and then add washes

I was convinced for a few days that pen and ink would be the way to go, but I couldn’t bring myself to get started. It was either procrastination, or my subconscious knew something I didn’t. It turned out to be the latter. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every part of the painting would look good with ink lines. So I started thinking about a much simpler ink drawing, with more detailed watercolor. And then I just drifted into, OK, I’ll do it in watercolor alone. (The only ink turned out to be my signature at the end, done with Platinum Carbon Black ink.)

I like the mass of details in the photo, so decided to go realistic.  I began with a very detailed pencil drawing. It was quite light, not sure how well it will show up below.

Cloud cafe process (0)
Initial pencil sketch

Whatever doubts I had about going detailed were gone by the time I saw how the sketch looked. I painted on some masking fluid to cover the white areas (you can see it in the image below if you enlarge it), and laid down the first wash of yellow.

Cloud cafe process (1)
First wash, and masking fluid (frisket).

The more I looked at the photo, the more it struck me that the black areas were a key to the painting. However, I started with the main key: mother and child. I painted those nearly to finished as the first job. Then I needed to lay in the black portions, to give me the shape of the painting. This was the result at that stage. (The blobs at the right edge are the test strip area for the painting; I tested color and saturation by making small marks over in that area.)

Cloud cafe process (2)
First details

Now came the long haul: there were a lot of details to paint! I kept it simple, however, omitting various details that were in the phone and going with a leaner view. I simplified, but I took the time to paint in details on the furniture and other bits of the painting. I deliberately left the detail-crazy shelves behind mom for last; I needed more momentum before I was ready to tackle that.

Cloud cafe process (3)
First big push on details.

Somewhere in the process I really fell in love with the painting, and felt well  motivated to tackle the remaining details. I was determined also to take a somewhat different approach to the background details. I wanted them to be a bit more suggestion that fully detailed. I also decided to push the color a bit to add to that energy. Here is the finished result.

Cloud-Cafe-crop
Finished painting

There are some things in the painting that I am especially fond of. I captured the reflections of the child in the black counter surface. The apparent smears on the black chalkboards are actually my attempt to capture the erasure marks. The lines are not quite exact; they tilt a bit, and nothing is quite square and solid – I like the feeling of movement this creates. There were just so many moment of fun and challenge, both, in this painting. I had mixed feelings for a while about including the furniture in the foreground. In the end, I felt that it established the nature of the place. The painting, for me, would have been too simplified if I had omitted that. I like the way that the two of them are surrounded by the bits and pieces of the place on all sides, yet they have an undefinable connection for me. The light in the painting seems to be for them, somehow.

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