Wednesday, May 18, 2011

5280 Feet of Color

One of the best things about teaching painting is working with a wide variety of student subject matter. It really keeps my on my painted toes! A few months ago one of my students came to me with a fun and exciting painting challenge. She said let's paint the skyline of our beautiful Mile High City--Denver, Colorado. (FYI, the 13th step our Capital Building is exactly 5280 feet above sea level.)

As many of you know, I'm usually known more for my organic and nature inspired art rather than urban scenes. But Olivia is a talented artist and high energy young Denverite with a passion for color and our  downtown scene. I was confident though with some careful planning and some time (this took a few weeks) we could tackle the challenge.

Let's Paint the Town (or your favorite city) 

Working on a longer horizontal format can be tricky if you are not used to it. Remember to consider your composition rules about not splitting the canvas in half--vertically or horizontally when you have so many lines and geometric shapes to deal with.

It helps to review a variety of photos and angles of  the city skyline including different times of day and seasons. Finally, make the painting more personal by focusing on the landmarks or city attributes that are most important to you.  Here, Olivia's"must haves" were the Millennium Bridge (the white sail shape on the left), the 16th Street Clock Tower (which is always colorfully lit for the holidays), the new Four Seasons (with the spike on top) and perhaps Denver's most iconic building, Wells Fargo or "cash register building" as we call it because of it's unique cash register shape. 

Consider including city elements that will help you break up the strong verticals and sharper angles. Here, Olivia balanced the buildings with the iconic aspen trees, paths, creek, and curved bridges along Speer Boulevard--the main thoroughfare that runs along downtown.

And of course, feel free to infuse your own sense of color and spacial relationships--as we kept saying to ourselves it's a painting not a city planning grid! To give the cooler buildings some extra color pop, Olivia decided to outline them in red. As many sports fans know blue and orange are also symbolic Denver colors, so Olivia worked with those as well.

Awesome job Olivia, I'm sure you'll enjoy this painting and colorful memento of the city so many artists call home for years to come. Thanks for letting me share it with all my readers! Hope you all have a great Spring week where ever you call home.


  1. Thanks Aimee! You are such a great teacher!

  2. Your welcome--it was a pleasure!