Caf Tables


The effect of flaking plaster was created by running a very fine line of ultramarine directly underneath the coloured edge using the tip of a small brush. This will dry, creating a shadow

Scratches on the drainpipe were created by allowing thin, vertical stripes of white paper to show through

Some of the patchy appearance of the plaster was created by dropping clear water onto damp paint and allowing it to dry with a hard edge

The marked contrasts of the red and green were the initial attraction of this study

Flaking Cai-i Wai i

Sitting .it a café tabic can be a visually rewarding experience. You will usually be able to witness people going about their daily business on the streets against the backdrop ot a vibrant town or city. You will probably be surrounded by subjects as they sit at the café tables — just within sketching distance. Then there is the café building itself, complete with signs attached to walls and any other architectural features with which it might be adorned.

The sketchbook study of a cafe detail on this page is of a wall that clearly shows signs of neglect. But for me that was its particular charm: the flaking plaster and the strong contrast between the red and the green paint made this small item ot urban decay come alive tor me.

Project: Parisian Café

Arguably, there is nowhere else in the world to compare with Paris when it comes to simply sitting, drinking and watching the world pass by - especially at a café as famous as La Rotonde. In fact, to be honest, I felt quite intimidated sitting at seats where artists such as Modigliani and Picasso had sat and sketched, and where writers as diverse as Hemingway and Louis Aragón had sat and made their own 'literary sketches'.

Having overcome these feelings, I began my work with a line drawing that included all the information in my line of vision - the important identifying signs, the large round umbrella, the group of figures sitting and conversing, and a waiter walking into the composition on the far right.

As the late spring day was awash with colour and light, the first stage was to paint in the sky and the fresh greens in the background trees. This would enable the bright reds of the café terrace to stand out even more when they came to be painted.

A thin wash of cobalt blue was painted onto the sky area using a medium brush and a series of smooth horizontal strokes - the sky was cloudless so this was important. As soon as this had dried, a little of the cobalt blue was mixed together w ith sap green and a little cadmium yellow. This mix was painted onto the trees with a medium-size brush. While this paint was still wet, ultramarine was added to the same mixture to darken it. and dropped on to represent the shadows in the trees. This was allowed to dry-by itself. The lush, vibrant green now-provided an excellent backdrop against w hich to paint the foreground.

The next two stages involved developing the top section of the café with its bright red frontage and distinctive sign. As a lot of red was required, I first created an underwash with cadmium red (the qualities of this colour were considered on page 1 12). As the red awning had been subjected to many years of direct sunlight, it was a little faded in

I The sky was painted with cobalt blue, using a medium brush and even brushstrokes. The trees were painted using the same brush and sap green plus cobalt blue and a little cadmium yellow: ultramarine was added for shadows in the trees.

2 An underwash of pure cadmium red was applied to the top section using a medium brush, and raw sienna was applied to the lettering using the same brush.

parts. For this reason, using a medium brush. I applied a direct wash of pure cadmium red to all ol the appropriate areas, working carefully around the letters. This dried to a very pale, insipid red, but it would make a good underwash for the following

applications. The letters were treated to a watery underwash of raw sienna applied with a medium brush.

As soon as this stage had dried, the top section the cafe could be brought alive by the addition of the reflection from the windows and the shadows on the awning. Another light wash ol cadmium red was added to the top area, leaving a few light patches for highlights. The shadows were picked out with the tip of a medium brush, this time using cadmium red w ith .1 touch ot ultramarine.

3 Reflections on the windows were created by painting panes with ultramarine, cobalt blue and a touch of burnt sienna. Water was quickly dropped into the centre, and cadmium red was added to the top and raw sienna to the bottom of the panes, acting as reflections of the surrounding colours.

As the windows were reflecting the colours around them, the follow ing technique was used. First, a mixture of ultramarine, cobalt blue and .1 touch of burnt umber was mixed and applied evenly using a medium brush. Then, w hile the paint was still wet. a drop or two of clear water was dripped into the centre of the panes, pushing the paint outwards, creating a reflective shape. Also, a little cadmium red was applied to the wet paint at the top of the pane and allowed to bleed downwards, enhancing the reflection from the awning. A little raw sienna was dropped onto the wet paint at the bottom of the pane to act as the reflection from the sign, and this was also allowed to bleed. This technique needs to be done quickly, using a small brush.

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4 The windows and glass doors were painted using a medium brush and the same technique as the windows at the top of the café, only cobalt blue was dropped into the centre and washed across the menus and signs, giving the appearance that they were behind the glass.

5 Figures were painted with flesh tones of watery raw sienna and a touch of cadmium red, using a small brush. When the paint had dried, shadows were created with a thin cobalt blue wash around arms and faces.

Having completed the top section of the café, and achieved some light and shade, the next stage was to establish a backdrop against which the figures could clearlv be seen, usine the same technique that was used to make the sign stand out on the opposite page. A very dark set of tones were applied to the doors and windows, carefully working around the people sitting at the café tables. The same principles were applied as when painting the w indow s at the top of the building, only some shapes had to be more clearly defined, and additional colours introduced.

The darker sections at the top of the glass panels were painted using a small brush, this time to record some more finely detailed shapes. A very strong yet watery mixture of ultramarine and burnt umber was applied to the top ot the glass and pulled downwards, working around the shapes ot menus, lamps, and so on. A drop of watery cobalt blue was then dropped into the middle and allowed to bleed across some ot the white shapes. Then, before any of this had time to dry, a little cadmium red and a touch of cadmium yellow were dropped on to act as the reflections ot the interior lights and the blinds. With some speed, the initial dark paint was applied around the figures, in the knowledge that it would blend with the watery mix in the middle of the pane, but not bleed right up to the top. obscuring the subtle tones there.

The figures, as negative shapes, needed just a touch ot skin colour (see page I 10), and a light wash of cobalt blue applied selectively across the faces, arms and backs.


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6 Shadows on the ground were picked out with a small brush and a mixture of cobalt blue, ultramarine and burnt umber. Only the main shadows were included to prevent overcrowding the foreground.

Open-fronted cafés have a wealth of visual interest - the dark interior of the building with its bar, the customers and waiters, chairs, tables and umbrellas, and details such as lights, menus and posters. It is not realistic to consider recording everything, so be selective

The final stage was probably the most important as it involved anchoring the figures to the ground by recording the shadows cast by the tables and chairs at which they were seated, making them part ot the forecourt and. consequently, part of the cafe building.

The complexity of the criss-cross of shadows cast by the jumble of chair and table legs could not have been recorded fully without distracting attention away from the figures and the shapes of the building itself, so I decided to suggest only some of them.

Using a small brush and a mixture of ultramarine, cobalt blue and burnt umber. I picked out and carefully painted the main lines ot the shadows that I could see. These were painted using precise, single brushstrokes. and allowed to dry with hard edges, suggesting the strong light ot the day. The depth of tone of some of these shadows also made it considerably easier to see some ot the table and chair legs as these were thrust forward by the power ot the dark tones, and appeared as negative shapes.

The areas where little light reaches (underneath the tables and chairs and in the background) were painted using a very strong deep mixture of ultramarine and burnt umber. The strength of this tone allowed the white shirts of the customers to work for themselves as negative shapes

The finishing touches involved applying a cobalt blue wash across the chairs and tables, and securing the umbrella and table stands to the ground through the use of shadow and colour. The deep reds of the stands were established, and the shadows on the left-hand sides were completed by adding a touch of ultramarine when the red paint was fully dried. This had the effect of enhancing the appearance ot strong shadows on a glorious spring morning.


Figures seated at a café table will usually sit still for a while and are easier to record than moving figures

One of the most visually attractive aspects of sunlit café tables is the interplay of light and shade cast by chair and table legs

LA Koionih CAÍ I

Figures seated at a café table will usually sit still for a while and are easier to record than moving figures

One of the most visually attractive aspects of sunlit café tables is the interplay of light and shade cast by chair and table legs

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