Artists interested in working in an Impressionist manner shouldn’t ignore the necessity of a comprehensive, preliminary foundation drawing. Maurice Prendergast understood the importance of doing just that. In his work, he established the correct perspective, good proportion and a light source before starting to paint. It should be emphasized, however, that he did his preliminary drawing freehand. The loose pencil lines he drew provided a flexible guide for his freely applied washes.
Prendergast’s attention to a well-thought out underdrawing can be seen in his Umbrellas in the Rain. Notice the correctly spaced columns on the facade of the Doges’ Palace and the beautifully arched shape of the bridge. They form a convincing setting for the lively flow of Venetians with their bright-colored umbrellas.
In his earlier watercolors, Prendergast preferred to do a minimum of blending to keep the colors as fresh and pure as possible. He often let the white of the paper show through around the edges of objects and people to give a shimmering quality to his paintings.
Never satisfied with his technique, he experimented with color mixtures in later years. For example, he put pastel into watercolor washes to create subtle variations of colors.
One of the most important aspects of Prendergast’s approach was working on-location whenever possible. He was well aware that whatever he put down on paper at the scene would have a freshness and immediacy that a painting done from memory would lose.
Walter Garver is an award-winning artist with a studio in Amherst, New York. He also is a contributing editor to The Artist’s Magazine.