Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Postcard from the south of France

I painted this postcard as part of a competition organised by a French publication named Artistes Magazines...

I like the whole idea of this competition. You are given with the magazine a free sheet of watercolour paper to paint your postcard. The idea is to paint something from the place where you spend your vacations. You then have to send it as a postcard (no envelope).
I chose a picturesque view of the village of Assas, near Montpellier in the South of France.

Because of the small format (20 cm x 15 cm), the subject and the way it is treated has to be bold. With hundreds of entries, the only way to be noticed is to go for a strong composition, good contrast and vibrant colours. Here is how I achieved it:
  • The medieval tower in the sun offers a strong focal point. The main architectural elements provide a variety of shapes. More generally, the whole composition is based around basic shapes (a circle for the tree on the left, a cylinder for the tower, a parallelogram for the ancient wall and a triangle for the house).

  • The play of lights and shadows paints a stark contrast. The shadows of the trees on the ground were built-up in successive transparent layers of Ultramarine blue, Crimson and Yellow ochre. I put some Yellow ochre on top of the dark purple. This seems counter-intuitive to lay a light colour on top of a dark one. However, the yellow ochre is a semi-transparent colour (I used the Sennelier brand in tube for this painting) with sufficient body to leave golden traces on the purple.

  • The sky is made of intense blue. I used a mixture of Cobalt blue with some Ultramarine at the top of the wash to give more intensity to the highest part of the sky. There was a mark in the middle (washes tend to dry quickly under the sun of the South of France). I am not normally bothered with this type of incident which creates interest and variety in a wash, but I wanted a smooth wash for this sky. To obtain a perfect graded wash, I covered the first wash, once dry, with a second wash of Cobalt blue and Cerulean blue.

  • The tractor, which was parked as represented (There are many vineyards around Assas), adds a nice touch to the scene. The touches of orange and red contrast nicely with the rest of the painting built around the blue / ochre / green trio. The projected shadow of the tractor is crisp and dark in order to bring it into the foreground.

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