This is a sketch of a famous eatery: Philippe's - Home of the French Dipped Sandwich. It was established in Los Angeles, California, in 1908, and hasn't changed one bit over the years. The food is fantastic and the parking is free.
I have sketched and painted this scene many times and in many different ways: pen and ink; watercolor with pencil; pen with watercolor; I have mounted a version to a hard board panel, done it in mixed media and painted it as a demonstration for the workshops I teach. I really enjoy the image because it has a lot of texture, it is gritty and full of stuff, it has good darks and lights and it has a lot of colorful signage.
This version was completed last week and is my new favorite. This is slightly ironic because I had done it as a demo last year for the Learning and Product Expo here in Pasadena and was unable to complete it during the class time, so I filed it away. It was an acceptable painting at the time and had done a good job of illustrating my teaching lesson but finding it again and looking at it with fresh eyes, I found it lacking. I decided to try to fix it. What did I have to lose right?
I had done it as a pen and ink sketch on Arches hot press watercolor paper. I liked the original line work and the initial wash of color was not so strong as to prevent me from adding more, so I tackled it with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. (I find that easier to do with a painting that has seasoned for awhile; I am not so worried that I am going to ruin it so I am very relaxed and feel free to take more chances.)
I started by redrawing it with my Sanford Uniball Micro pen. (Please note that the pen acts very differently drawing over painted areas.) Looking back at my original reference photo I noticed that I had miss drawn the awning, so I just drew it again, correctly this time, ignoring the painted awning underneath. I also drew in a third vehicle and left it unpainted as well, giving the painting a very casual sketchy feeling. I added some narrative copy along the bottom edge and made a few color notes right on the painting.
As the original was lacking in color and contrast, I enhanced the darks, but I did it with color: the shadows are a mixture of blue, red and burnt umber. I exaggerated the color shifts: look at the phone pole - it is dark at the top and very light at the bottom. I also boosted the colors and white paint in the signage. Finally, I painted a stormy sky and put some loose reflections in the foreground to suggest a rainy afternoon.
What started as an average painting is now something I like very much. I encourage you to dig through some of your earlier mediocre pieces and see if you can improve them.
You can see my entire blog at josephstoddard.com. Learn more about watercolor from Joseph Stoddard in his book, Expressive Color.