Saturday, April 24, 2010

Urban Sketching Redux

This is a sketch of another famous eatery: Philippe's - Home of the French Dipped Sandwich. It has been there for many years and hasn't changed one bit. The food is fantastic and the parking is free.

I have sketched and painted this scene many times and in many different ways: pen and ink; watercolor with pencil; pen with watercolor; I have mounted a version to a hard board panel, done it in mixed media and painted it as a demonstration for the workshops I teach. I really enjoy the image because it has a lot of texture, it is gritty and full of stuff, it has good darks and lights and it has a lot of colorful signage.

This version was completed last week and is my new favorite. This is slightly ironic because I had done it as a demo last year for the Learning and Product Expo here in Pasadena and was unable to complete it during the class time, so I filed it away. It was an acceptable painting at the time and had done a good job of illustrating my teaching lesson but finding it again and looking at it with fresh eyes, I found it lacking. I decided to try to fix it. What did I have to lose right?

I had done it as a pen and ink sketch on Arches hot press watercolor paper. I liked the original line work and the initial wash of color was not so strong as to prevent me from adding more, so I tackled it with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. (I find that easier to do with a painting that has seasoned for a while; I am not so worried that I am going to ruin it so I am very relaxed and feel free to take more chances.)

I started by redrawing it with my Sanford Uniball Micro pen. (Please note that the pen acts very differently drawing over painted areas.) Looking back at my original reference photo I noticed that I had mis-drawn the awning, so I just drew it again, correctly this time, ignoring the painted awning underneath. I also drew in a third vehicle and left it unpainted as well, giving the painting a very casual sketchy feeling. I added some narrative copy along the bottom edge and made a few color notes right on the painting.

As the original was lacking in color and contrast, I enhanced the darks, but I did it with color: the shadows are a mixture of blue, red and burnt umber. I exaggerated the color shifts: look at the phone pole - it is dark at the top and very light at the bottom. I also boosted the colors and white paint in the signage. Finally, I painted a stormy sky and put some loose reflections in the foreground to suggest a rainy afternoon.

What started as an average painting is now something I like very much. I encourage you to dig through some of your earlier mediocre pieces and see if you can improve them.


  1. This is one of the most beautiful sketch I have found so far.


    Full of colours and with a very good drawing skill!

  2. One question:
    Do you use just ink and pen?... What about the colours? they seem to be made from watercolour, right?

    I am reading the way you start this image

    Thank you!