20” x 30” | Oil on Canvas Board
This composition was one of the more complex and difficult pieces I’ve done to date. I’ll admit that after painting close to 100 umbrellas, I seem to have developed a bit of an umbrella-related phobia, which apparently is a thing called “Umbrellaphobia or “Pellebaphobia”.
This piece was a commission for a good friend from my college days, who was very patient and helpful throughout the process. I couldn’t have taken longer to get this done, but the size was a new challenge for me, and because it was for a friend, I really wanted to get it just right. Initially there was going to be an empty street with beautiful, bright buildings and a canopy of umbrellas. But the end result was less than festive, so we agreed that adding some people would liven things up a bit.
The guidance for this piece was to capture the vibe and beauty of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fortaleza Street was a prime choice, as it’s not only beautiful with the umbrellas, but its a very significant landmark that leads to La Fortaleza, the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico. The residence is essentially a fortress that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When it comes to painting people, there was a lot of additional practice needed “off canvas”. I’d done street scenes previously, but for this piece there were some new twists to figure out. First, and probably most challenging of all, the scale of people on this street seemed out of whack. The doorways and size of the windows seemed far too large, but when I checked numerous reference photos for Fortaleza Street, I found that the reality was, well, kinda Lilliputian. It’s very hard to paint reality when reality doesn’t align with expectations, like a very old city with strangely gargantuan doorways. Not sure what was going on in San Juan when Fortaleza street was conceived, but it should be investigated… something strange was going on. The second obstacle was how many people to drop into the scene. In highsight, I think a few more could have been added, but I also like the sense of either early morning or early evening timing with this scene, when fewer people would be wandering around.
The focal point of this composition was initially going to be the glowing element of the most crisply painted umbrellas, which I know is something that would piss off all of my past workshop instructors and teachers because it breaks about every rule out there for compositional structure, but it’s what was important to my friend. That said, when I added in the people, I had a lightbulb moment and made a point to really focus on the couple holding hands in the lower right foreground. They are literally walking into the scene, which works really well at also drawing in the viewer to look left for the rest of the street activity (couple sitting at cafe table), and then up to the umbrella canopy, which effectively redirects the view back down to the governor’s residence at the end of the street.
Lastly, to the umbrellas… lordy lordy, so many umbrellas! The geometry of an umbrella is hard for me, but the added element of linear perspective as they fade back into the horizon line of the composition was a real brain teaser. Additionally, the power of value contrasts that ultimately made each individual umbrella get the right shape, namely they looked like blobs of color until I painted the actual metal rods within each umbrella. At that point it started to work better and things moved along quickly.
If you’re ever in San Juan, go check out Fortaleza Street and let me know if the doorways are really that large!
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