Saturday, September 28, 2013

Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 - Part 2 - The Painting

"Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 (Tribute)"
oil on panel, 2013
18" x 24" (45.72cm x 60.96cm)
commissioned, private collection

Part 2 of 2:
This covers the challenges and decisions needed to arrive at the finish.
Challenges I faced to meet the clients and my own wants and the artistic decisions I had to make to still finish with a successful painting.
It was a balancing act

I knew at the outset the bright light blue sky was going to be an issue, and I was a little worried about that, if I was to show the green as iridescent and bright. A bright and light blue sky would compete with it yet the bridge tower was more important.
Although the client wanted a bright sunny day I had to darken the blue sky somewhat in order to get the tower to appear bright. These are the artistic decisions that must be made while still fulfilling the wants of the client.

I also knew from seeing the bridge everyday that , from this view, the sun comes from the south, or to the right in the painting, and puts the towers (their faces) in shadow for most of the day and I would need the afternoon light to showcase them.

As I said in Part 1 I was concerned that a wide panoramic view would be weak or watered down thus losing the ability to present the bridge as powerful and strong so I decided to crop in as close as possible while still leaving some air around it to breath.

Another challenge was getting some warms tones into the painting. With so much blue sky and green bridge, early on it was apparent I was going to end up with a predominantly cool toned painting which I felt would work against its personal story. Even with a warm afternoon light on the concrete bents (archways or piers) there was not much surface area to apply the warms.

Adding the marine layer catching the sun solved the warm to cool ratio problem. I now had more surface area of painting for warms tones. And since the marine layer generally hugs the ground I was able to save the blue sky.

Because of the personal story behind the painting I wanted the San Pedro tower slightly more prominent so that meant downplaying the other somehow but still have the lighting make sense.

Decisions to make predominant the San Pedro tower:

Besides the warm vs cool problem the atmospheric conditions of the marine layer helped solve two other problems or challenges: it let me soften the background and far tower (to down play it) and gave me the benefit of spacial depth or perspective.
It took some time to figure that out. I let the painting sit for a few days, contemplating so I would not ruin the third attempt. Remember, I was thinking blue sky, as the client wanted, and although many of my paintings feature the marine layer I wasn't considering any of that in this one.
I was happy with this realization since adding it served triple duty.

I then decided to 'turn down' the light on the far tower just a bit which also worked toward the goal of making the important tower more prominent. Now it glowed a little more than the other.

At this point there was a lot going on in the foreground and it was detracting from the tower and the story so I let the painting sit while I worked on other projects and kicked it around in my head.
I revisited the bridge over the next few days at different times of day to figure out what I was missing.
The bridge, the one in the painting was a little weak, it needed some weight thrown into it.

Darken the foreground and soften the foreground edges with a shadow from Palos Verdes creeping up from the bottom. That is what happens late in the day.
That epiphany made the bridge, up to the near tower, more important and gave the bridge something of substance to sit on as well as firmly anchor it to the right corner. I like the way it launches from the right corner
It also gave it that needed (visual) weight and supported the back story of the bridges' history; firmly secured in the harbor, that it IS the only of the three bridges that will remain.

I also took some artistic license by throwing a shadow under the bridge that in reality would not be there at this time of day. This made the four bents (archways or piers) visually stronger, clarified its structure, and downplayed some of the needless foreground busyness.

Other crucial but more technical factors were maintaining the correct proportions and getting the perspective right, miscalculations and it starts falling apart fast.
As in a portrait it is important to get the exact proportions of any structure and the Vincent Thomas Bridge's design is based on ratios of thirds.

My final review before calling it done I decided it still needed just a touch more life to it.
I came back in and added some traffic, just enough to bring it alive and since Caltrans maintains the bridge and the personal story is of one of them, I parked a Caltrans truck under the San Pedro tower, as one final salute, subtle and understated, not too obvious.

What I finally arrived at in the painting was the most important part of the bridge (supporting the personal story) is the most prominent. The focus is on the approach in the foreground leading up to the San Pedro tower.
Everything else; the rest of the bridge, the Long Beach tower, the lower foreground, the background are all supporting characters. None of them are painted with the same degree of finish. Each has been downplayed, softened in a vignetted manner or simplified, including the cars on the bridge.
And again, done in a subtle and understated way, not too obvious.
That was the balancing act and how I avoided the typical postcard shot.

It is a living bridge.

One thing artists do while working is turn the painting upside down, sideways and view the mirror image for both practical reasons and to check for irregularities.
The practical... the swing of your arm when drawing arcs etc and to avoid smearing wet areas while working.
But more importantly it disassociates your mind from the subject in its recognizable form, allowing you to see any drawing problems, flaws, weakness' and see the painting more abstractly, so you can assess it from an artistic and design point of view.

I noticed that turned this way its beautiful, graceful but powerful shape became even more apparent. It is simply a beautiful form in its own right.

(Oh, and by the way your welcome, now you don't have to turn your computer on its side to see what I'm talking about!)


  1. Good morning David!
    It certainly is a living bridge and you certainly are a rocking living, live and kicking artist!
    Trying to keep up with your wonderful posts and beautiful work! I am out there!
    So, wow! I really don't know what to write! Your work is so great! I know it may sound trite but your work need not be described. It certainly "speaks for itself!" This painting "says" great and wondrous things! So, how about...Wow! Ahhh! Nice! Ooo! Bravo! Great skill! So very nice to look at and enjoy over and over again! And so much more!
    Okay my art friend, thank you for being an artist and staying true to yourself! Your work brings great joy to me and so many others!
    Art on and rock on buddy!
    Michael (Lover of bridges, trains, city buildings, and so much more!)

    1. Michael,
      Thank you! I appreciate your always positive feedback.
      This one most certainly was a cerebral challenge. After the first two failures I knew I was going to have to dig in and entrench myself deep into this, breaks or not, and spend almost as much time just looking at it, contemplating, as I did painting on it.
      Whew! I was worried more than once during the little skirmishes I had with it.
      Came through though!

      Keep painting...

    2. Came through? You won!
      Thanks so much for so much David!

    3. Thanks Michael,
      It always feels good when we come out on top after investing so much.
      Keep painting...

  2. Really amazing, I put off my hat.

  3. Thank you Sergio,
    I appreciate your time to visit and your comment.

    Gracias Sergio,
    Le agradezco su tiempo a visitar y su comentario.