Painting a busy, colorful street scene can seem overwhelming, but some time spent on planning can take some of the intimidation away. In this photo of Post Alley in Seattle, bright colors and café tables create a welcoming yet visually challenging scene. There are a number of ways to simplify it.
If you’re comfortable with Photoshop or have a drawing program on your tablet, you can remove elements digitally. Here, I got rid of the clutter in the lower right; unified the seperate planters into one mass, and darkened the upper right corner to take attention away from the background buildings. A few other unimportant details have been eliminated.
Next, I printed out a black & white copy. The lack of color really highlights the pattern of lights and darks. As you can see, there is no real focus to the image, so I want to create a trail of light that will lead the eye through the painting and return us to the seating area. A few minutes with a pencil gives me a (mostly) two-value study and a clear indication of where the lightest areas and brightest colors will be:
With this at my side as I paint, I’ll have a reminder of what areas to de-emphasize with darker values or more muted colors. Next, I’ll do some quick studies to determine the color palette…