Puddle Princess

Here's another one from the backlog, but one from last year.  This was completed in April 2019.  The theme for the Summer 2019 exhibition was "reflections" and I hadn't done my themed painting yet and the exhibition was due to hit in May.  So this was essentially my last painting before the exhibition.  You can image me, yet again, sat toying with ideas in my head just before the exhibition, grasping at any and every ounce of inspiration.  I actually quite like the strictures of painting to requirements set by someone else, not that it's got to represent reflections is that specific.  Nevertheless, I went through a variety of compositions.  I liked the cobbled stones I did of my Prague street painting, so reflections in a puddle came quickly to mind.  But what am I reflecting?  The kid was an obvious subject, making that connection with puddles and boots.  I needed a backdrop.  I tried out in my mind various street scenes, mainly based on a shopping street, keeping the colours muted.  However, I decided that whatever way I handled a shopping street, it was going to grab the focus.  Instead I decided to keep the backdrop as simple as possible.  I was envisioning something like a seaside road with the sea just out of view.

The colour scheme was chosen right out of what I knew would go down well.  You see this scheme all over the place.  The majority of picture was to be kept muted, but with a bit of sky blue to knock it away from grey.  The main figure had to be in red.  Don't ask me why, but it works.  The good thing about this trick is that people don't notice it happening unless they already know about it.

Add to the mix a strong slant of perspective to provide depth and an interesting view point.  As this is about reflections, make the puddle the subject.  So let the view point look downwards into the puddle.  There's a wonderful drawing by Escher Three Worlds that is essentially just looking at a pond but seeing three different angles as a result - that was definitely on my mind.  So I decided that you would only see the girl's face in reflection, emphasising the puddle.

This was in acrylics on canvas.

I first filled the space with, I think it must have been bright blue and burnt something or other.  The main point is that the shade has a lot of green in it.  Ultramarine would have killed this painting, making it gloomy.  It had to have light.  This rough daubing gives the impression of the bright reflection and a wall behind that adds shadow.  I drew a set of guides to show where the street will be and where the cobbles would be placed.  These guides set up the perspective.  Notice that the distances between the guides shrinks towards the left as they are supposed to mark out sections of equal size.  I then blocked in the girl.  Notice that the reflection is smaller than the girl herself.  You can imagine the vertical perspective lines gives a vanishing point well off the bottom of the painting.


At about this point I decided that most of the reflection would be broken up by the cobbles.  That makes life trickier, but the composition will benefit.  At the same time, I wanted the reflection of the face to be clear, so that had to be in the main puddle.  I also decided that light would be coming in from the right, shining from behind the reflected person as this would do fun things with the hair.  I therefore brightened up with a load of titanium white.  I drew the puddle boundary in to follow the curve of the cobbles, making the road slope downwards to the right.  That gave me the clear view of the face.

I then drew the long continuous lines between the cobbles using bisection, in other words first drawing lines bang down the middle of the guides I drew earlier.  Then this repeats until the right separation is obtained.  This takes out a lot of the human error.  For the broken lines at right-angles to these, I used bisection again, first placing the lines at the mid point of the road to visibly split the road in two equal sides.  Note this is not the equal point as literally present on the canvas itself: it has to be done by eye to match the image.  So that means it is a bit higher than the literal mid point so that the road appears slightly raised.  I then repeated this visual bisection until the right-sized cobbles were obtained.  This gave the even, realistic distribution of cobble boundaries below.  However, all these lines look as if they lie on top of the painting, so I went back over all the spaces in between and repainted them, adding in highlights and shadows at the same time.  This serves bring the cobbles forward and provide a little variation between cobbles so that it breaks up a bit.  That sounds like a lot of effort, but it was all done in one Tuesday evening session.  Note that in overpainting the cobble faces, most of the outline has now vanished.


I decided to darken the foreground a bit and to remove the guides at the same time.  In doing so I managed to get into trouble with the acrylic paint drying darker.  For some reason this happens to be particularly bad with bright blue.  I didn't resolve this in this Tuesday evening.  I marked out the reflection of the railing behind the girl to give a little more interest without imposing too much on the subject.  These verticals enhance the perspective on the girl.  I also went over the reflection of the raincoat to produce a fractured reflection.


Now for some work on both near and far pavements.  Nothing special here.  The far side has been darkened a bit with hints of detail without saying much.  The near side just has to support the lines of perspective.  I also firmed the railing up.


Here's comes the bit that I had been putting off.  The critical piece in making this painting work is the face of the girl.  As it is in silhouette, the face is not going to carry much detail, but it has to look young and reasonably happy.  This means smooth curves with colourful shadows.  This is one of those times when using black to darken shadows is a very bad idea.  I needed three attempts to get it right.  It is tricky to blend in acrylics, but nevertheless I eventually got there.


After a bit of review, I decided that I didn't like the raincoat.  A bit of effort led to some improvement.  It's still not quite the raincoat I wanted, but it wasn't the main subject so I didn't work any further on it.


On the whole, I think I would have liked to have a more interesting background, but a shopping street would have blocked out the sunlight and that lifts the image and does interesting things.  I decided on the title quite late.  Never under estimate the power of a title.  This one is perfect.  This painting went down surprisingly well.  I am still not entirely sure why.

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