The Lobster Pot Restaurant is one of my favorite Provincetown landmarks.
This painting was done from a photo reference on one of the rainy evenings during my trip to Cape Cod. I had really hoped to get back to Ptown to do some street scenes, but the weather kind of went sour on us. That should not have kept me from painting outside, but we just were not up for getting wet in a cold rain.
I need an umbrella.
"The Lobster Pot", 11" x 14" oil on linen, Frank Gardner © 2008
$950. Framed. Available at Galeria Gardner
Reference photo for "The Lobster Pot", Frank Gardner © 2008
My friend Jack Riddle was talking about painting from photos on his blog the other day and suggested that I might write a few of my thoughts about that.
I always feel like I am taking a big risk when I post the reference photo next to my painting or a photo of the scene with the painting. Will all of my "mistakes" stand out like sore thumbs.
There are so many things to consider when using a photo reference. I could go on and on about pros and cons. One big con is that the values are usually a bit off. The darks are too dark and or the lights are too light and washed out. One pro is that it does not move and the light does not change, but that can be a con too.
Something I take into consideration when working from a photo is the look and or feel that I am aiming for in the finished piece. How much detail will I try and put into it. The problem with working from photos in the studio is that you can just keep going and going, adding in every little thing until it is really tight and probably over worked. It becomes a matter of taste and style.
The look that I decided on for this one was a solid design with a loose plein air feel. This was a plein air trip after all, and I wanted this painting to fit in well when hung together with the rest of the stuff from the trip.
I'm sure that this scene would look just as good if I had done a tighter job and brought it up to a more detailed finish, but that is not what I wanted in this particular painting.
By solid design I mean a strong pattern of light and shadow. Little details that are not real important can be edited out. Kind of like when I am plein air painting. Get the basic light and shadow pattern down first, add variety of color to the large value pattern, work up the detail in the center of interest. Get the important stuff down first, and then you can stop at any point.
The first thing that I did was evaluate two photos that I had of this street scene and chose the one that best suited my needs. I wanted the Lobster Pot to be the main interest, but the people are also an important part of Provincetown, so I wanted to feature them too. Couples walking, someone with a bike, that is all part of what makes it real. I liked having the building on the left to frame the street, but I did not want to add detail there that would take away from the Lobster Pot.
The neon sign is such an icon. I wanted to show it, but I did not want so much detail in it that it would hold the eye and not allow for movement in the painting. What I tried to get was the color and glow without even putting in any letters. It was one of the first things that I painted in. Almost pure cadmium red, thin enough to get the glow from the white tone of the linen showing through. Then I concentrated on just blocking in all of the shadow colors. I wanted to keep them lighter than what I was seeing in the photo. I tried to get a lot of variety in my colors but keep them all in a simple value range. I wish that I had taken some progress shots to help explain how I went about this.
Since I had determined that this would be a loose piece, working fairly fast was key. I approached it as if I was standing there on the corner trying to catch the important stuff first and fast. The big picture. When you see the reference photo along with the finished painting, it is easy to pick out little things that I did not include or may have drawn a little off, but is that detail important to the statement as a whole? Not for ME in THIS painting.
I'll try and point out a few examples of what I mean by lack of detail. Take a look at the budweiser sign. Did you know that it was a bud sign without having the words written out? O.K., my lobster may look a bit like a little red dog, but I bet that anyone that know Ptown knows that it is the lobster Pot. How about the tree? There could be a lot of picking at that and spotty leaves painted in, but the simple light/ shadow pattern works good enough in this case. The two figures in shadow walking in front of the restaurant. Can you tell that is two women? or at least feel the gesture of two figures walking casually? Good enough then. I think that the storefront windows behind them has just enough detail to know there is something in the window. When you stare at a photo you may be tempted to put in more and more in a thing like that.
I did not start adding any light family colors until I had a solid drawing down of color in shadow and most of it all linked together into a big pattern. Then I quickly laid in the light family colors. I put them in thick and then even scrapped some back off because texture always comes forward. I left the thicker stuff for the foreground and mid ground. I really had to rein in my urge to keep adding detail at this stage. My natural tendency is to make it all perfect. I wanted this to look like it could have been done on location in one go, so I stopped while I thought it still looked fresh. Could I have done some things differently? Sure. But each painting has to be thought of as an expression of your feelings. This is how I felt about it on this day. If I did it again today I might have a totally different set of colors and criteria.
That's all I'll write on my thoughts on this piece, and painting from photos for now. I'll probably end up expanding on this in the comments anyway. Thanks Jack for thinking that I might have some skills to share here. I'll work on some other posts along the same lines.
If anyone is still reading at this point, thanks.
I usually don't write such long winded posts.