lundi 29 mars 2010


Portrait of an important building

I am sometimes commissioned to do a portrait painting of a building. For various reasons some commissions are more interesting to do than others. It is especially motivating to paint a city landmark especially an historic one. Also, if the architecture is unique and innovative, if the facades are well illuminated and if there is good color harmony then I am really keen to represent it in paint.

The old and the new represented

A few years ago I was asked to do a watercolor painting of McGill University’s new Law Library which had opened in 1998. It is situated on the corner of Dr. Penfield Avenue and Peel Street in Montreal. Because the new contemporary building compliments well the Old Chancellor Day Hall Faculty of Law building beside it I asked permission from the client to combine both in the painting. Happily, this suggestion was accepted.


1. First visit: Once on location I realized that late afternoon western light favored the subject. Strong dramatic shadows draped across both the older stone of the Chancellor Hall building and the newer Nahum Gerber Law Library. This illuminated and accentuated the geometric shapes repeated in both the old and the new building.

2. The preliminary sketches: On my second visit I did a small pencil sketch and a color study in watercolor. I also photographed the buildings from various angles as added reference. These sketches were presented to the client for approval.

3. On site work: Whenever I am able to do some of the work on site, which was the case here, I find it extremely helpful. In this case I was able to draw the composition directly on the watercolor sheet. If I had been unable to do this either because of weather conditions or because the viewpoint I had chosen didn’t permit it, I would have enlarged my small on site sketch in the studio and transferred it to the watercolor paper.

4. Studio work: Equipped with the on site drawing on the watercolor sheet the value sketch and the color study done earlier along with the photo references, I completed the painting in the studio on a half sheet Arches Rough watercolor paper.

Reaching agreement with the client

From my experience I have found that painting a commissioned house or building portrait will be more enjoyable if the expectations of the client are clear and well understood. It is important to spend some time with the client to get a feeling of his or her preferences. For example, I want to know if I can alter somewhat the color scheme. Can I choose from which angle I can paint the scene? Can I include people or vehicles in the scene? Other issues such as delivery date and payment should be discussed and agreed to firmly. This makes for a successful partnership.

I invite you to visit the Law Library and compare my rendition to it. You may even wish to do research in the library.

Raynald Murphy sca

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