Painting Demonstration - Covent Garden, London

For this oil painting, I wanted to try or experiment with a different painting technique to my usual mix.

This subject is looking out from inside Covent Garden (London) past some of the craft stalls in what was the old Apple Market to St Paul's Church (the building with the pillars). Covent Garden has always attracted me and lots of paintings have come from this small area of London. The contrast between building/shops and the movement of the people, sometimes to many people, add to that the light that fills the space or as in this painting some light from both inside (glass roof) and out. It was the sun light, both on the stone pavement and around the outer edges of the people walking around the market stalls, that first caught my attention.

Stage One:
Change number one: Instead of the usual flat wash of Raw sienna or Ultramarine Blue a loose background wash following the basic forms using a variety of colours was applied to a white canvas board. It was very quickly applied with turps mixed into the oil paint.

Stage Two:
No change from normal here. This stage was the drawing up the main shapes/markers points with a thin mix of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue. Some lifting out (returning to an almost white board), using a rag dipped in turps.

Stage Three:
Change number two: Rather than apply the usual loose under painting, the method here was to do a sort of 'mid' finish, somewhere between the loose under painting and the detailed finish. The picture below shows this stage at about mid way through, with the background buildings and the right hand side figures painted. All the background buildings/trees and figures were painted wet against wet or wet into wet but in a controlled manor working from dark to light. Both these areas will have some finer details (stone detailing, lettering for signs etc) applied later.

Stage three completed:
The picture below shows the completed stage from above. A little more involved due to the different shapes/colours on each of the market stalls. Again painting the darker areas/elements first, followed by the mid tones and finally the light areas/elements. The main shapes of the shadows and highlights on the stone floor were also painted.

Stage four:
The background buildings had just dried enough (touch dry) for some dry brushing to create the slight haze.

Starting with the background, the final details were then added... e.g. the stone work on the church pillars, adding more detail in the trees. Then move down and right to the smaller background buildings, before moving to the buildings etc on the right hand side above the figures, here again adding stone work, other small highlights, plus some shop sign lettering and details like the lamp hanging from the wall.

Next came the figures, with only minor additions made, highlights to edges and small details like labels and hair colour adjustments.

Moving on to the pavement the lines of the stones were placed first, followed by some mid and light tones to help create the form of each stone. The edges of the lines were softened slightly so they didn't stand out to much.

The painting now needs a few days to dry before a 'shadow' wash, using retouching varnish and paint, can be applied to the area of the market stalls (avoiding the highlights), along with some shadows and the buildings on the right. This wash will darken the foreground, adding impact to the painting, but will also visually push the lighter background backwards.

Stage Five:
The 'shadow' washes have been applied to the areas mentioned above but also to some areas of the shadows coming from the figures. The difference can be seen when the pictures from previous stage and this one are compared.

"Looking out of Covent Garden", Covent Garden, London.
Oil. Alistair Butt © 2008.