Evolution of a Painting - Barrio Viejo, Tucson Arizona

I've been posting "in-progress" photos of my work on Facebook for quite a while, but I thought it might be fun to gather all the photos together into a cohesive post here for folks to look at. Some of the in-progress photos were snapped with my iPhone, so I apologize that the quality or them is a bit sub-par.

This painting is of a converted church in Barrio Viejo, Tucson Arizona. Here, there is a strong sense of the Old-World. Among the houses built flush with the sidewalks with their pink, blue, green and yellow walls, flowers climbing out of hidden patios and overall, an unbelievable blue sky, once can catch a vague scent of burning mesquite sneaking out from behind the adobe walls, and belying the hidden courtyards where the women used to work, protected from the world at large.  While much of Tucson has succumbed to strip malls and ready-made architecture that is so prevalent in the West, Barrio Viejo - or what is left of it - still holds tight to its character. The small neighborhood draws plein air painters and photographers the way a trumpet bloom attracts hummingbirds.

This painting started with a sketch on the panel itself. I made the sketch pretty quickly while sitting in the 100ยบ heat with the panel resting on my lap. Then i snapped a few reference photos with my iphone, and went back into the air-conditioning to paint.

Initial Sketch

 initial sketch on panel.

initial sketch on panel.

Sky and Fence

The sky was pretty quickly blocked in, using a bright Mediterranean blue that i knew would eventually be shifted to something more subtle, but this gave me a good starting place. Then the rusted metal fencing, and some of the stones were added using a very limited palette.

 sky and fence

sky and fence

Building Facade

The side of the building which was slightly in shade was added first, along with more of the rocks along the steps,  followed by the front of the building

 side of building in shade

side of building in shade

I did find that i needed to go back outside with my sketchbook, to do a quick reference sketch of the upper windows. I had a lovely conversation with an elderly man who stopped by to chat, while I was sketching. He was clearly suffering (if that's the right world - he was grinning from ear to ear) with dementia, but it was a lovely, if surreal moment, none the less.

 front of building

front of building

Door and Pots on Steps

Next, the door detail, and the pots on the steps are added in. Now that the earlier layers on the side of the building are a bit drier, I also went back and added the grating on those side windows.

Re-Working the Sky

Toning down the too-vibrant out-of-the-tube color of the sky, adding clouds, and a bit of that famous Arizona sunset coloration. The candles in the windows were also added at this point.

 sky adjustments

sky adjustments

More sky adjustments, and the stones at the bottom of the steps are detailed in.

Adding Foliage

Painting in the foliage took the better part of an entire day. And a number of return trips outside to look again, and where the foliage was vs. what was stone, and some subtle shading and glazing to adjust the desert-earth.

 Foliage

Foliage

The Tree Begins to Take Shape

The mesquite tree on the right side has immense character in real life. I wanted to make sure that I didn't lose that in my painting, while also not having it detract/overwhelm the architecture of the converted church. I went back outside - again - to study the bark and the way the light was falling on the tree, and then again, worked with a pretty limited palette to bring it to life. Given that I didn't want to overwhelm the building itself, I opted for the suggestion of the roughness of the tree, rather than painstaking detail.

At this point, I also added in a few tiny blooms on the foliage out front, and added in the climbing rose vines along the side - which hint at the sumptuous secret garden behind the gate.

 tree bark beginnings

tree bark beginnings

Completed Painting

And here's the finished painting - after the tree is fully painted - including some painstaking work with a tiny rigger brush for the foliage. A layer or two of glaze has been added in a few places as well, to give the finished piece more depth.

 Welcome home.

Welcome home.

I hope you enjoyed this little step-by-step glimpse into the process of how one of my paintings evolves. While this painting sold before it was even finished, it was so much fun to do that I will be painting more in this series., so stay tuned. And in the meantime, remember to pause for a moment to enjoy the scent of burning mesquite - or - should we be fortunate enough to get rain - the ubiquitous scent of creosote, heavy in the desert air.