, , , , , , , ,

Not being from The City myself, I’ve always found this moniker for New York City a little annoying. But I do have to say, if there’s a city in the U.S. that deserves to trump all other cities, NYC has more justification than most. I visited NYC recently for a short business trip. I was delighted to find that my hotel room had an unobstructed view of the Empire State building. I had hoped to see something like this:


Alas, my view was void of giant gorilla and swarming biplanes. But nonetheless, I was tickled pink to have such an iconic image welcoming me to my day each morning. So, the last morning I was there, before packing up to catch my flight, I sat down at the window and sketched.

But FIRST, I reviewed my painting checklist. I made sure to draw a border first, and I paid close attention to the composition, perspective, and lighting. My planning put the Empire State building at the left “third” line and the rest of the skyline at the bottom “third” line. I did all of the sketching on site, and then added paint in my studio back in Portsmouth.

The City Painting

Overall I was pleased by how the painting turned out. There’s much about it that “works.” I like how the shadow sides of buildings turned out, the Empire State Building is recognizable as such, I like the dark grey building in the foreground, and I like the effect of the background skyline—somewhat obscured by haziness. I also think the perspective lines turned out good, for the most part, but the upper reaches of the Empire State Building feel a little off to me—they’re offset a bit to the right.

My first attempt at the sky turned out to be quite upsetting. I seem to be stuck on ultramarine blue for sky color—any suggestions for how to change that up a bit?—so it looked more like a giant smurf lurking in the background than a sky (queue imagination: Giant Smurf perched on top of Empire State Building swatting at biplanes). After it dried, I re-wetted it and moved some of the paint around, blotting periodically. I think the end result is surprisingly one of my better skies. That’s proof positive that you can fix watercolor mistakes.

I tried to be looser in painting the buildings, beginning with yellow ochre to lay a base of sunlit stone. I used a combination of ultramarine blue and burnt umber for the shadow sides. After everything had dried, I painted two washes of ultramarine/burnt umber over the whole painting to give it a dingier look and feel. I’m pretty happy with how believable the colors are.

“What is that strange structure on top of the brick building at the bottom of the painting?” you  ask. It’s a billboard… facing away from me. That’s what I saw, so that’s what I painted. This is one of those perfect moments of 20/20 hindsight. Of course I should have turned the billboard around and painted some colorful splash of advertisement (a Coke bottle?). Darn. It would have added color and interest to the painting. And this is where practice, practice, practice comes in. I just didn’t think about it. In the moment, as I’m painting, I need to remember that I can take artistic license—I don’t have to paint exactly what I see.

Regrets about the billboard aside, once again taking the time to stop and paint grounded me in that unique moment and place. As I left my hotel I was more present, taking in the sights and smells. My hotel was in Chelsea’s flower district, and I reveled in summer flowers before the daffodils had even broken through back home. So much to take in when you visit The City…