How we remember a place vs. what we actually saw can be influenced by what was most important to us, whether it was a building, a bench, or a corner of a garden. Surely you’ve pictured a favorite place in your mind, only to arrive at the location in person and realize it’s not the way you’d remembered it? Our mind creates a memory that is ideal which does not always match reality.
So what happens when a client commissions you to paint a downtown scene in a way that doesn’t exist? You ask acrylic artist Bernie Hubert for advice.
Hubert recently completed Trinity Methodist Church/Brown Palace Hotel, Denver (acrylic on canvas, 30×30) that depicts a view that you will never find in real life. His client, a friend, had a very specific request for him to recreate a vignette of the city that doesn’t exactly exist—complete with details that have special meaning to her. The client emphasized that she wanted a specific vantage point, one where she could see the famous Trinity Methodist Church, and also see the equally famous Brown Palace Hotel across the intersection. It’s a lovely design concept, but in reality, the church and the Bank of Colorado building obscure much of the Brown Palace.
To prepare to paint what his customer was requesting, Hubert employed a photographer to take reference photos of the church, the hotel and the intersection while standing on a very tall ladder. The view from above, looking down on the intersection just a bit, provided the artist with some much needed perspective.
Combining the technical details with artistic license was an easy task for Hubert whose first career was as an engineer. “Once the engineering part is done (which translates to the photography in this scenario), the artistic part commences,” he shares. “Next, it’s a matter of stitching together all that photography in order to create the composition, being ever cognizant of the verticality of all the elements.”
Another important consideration for Hubert in creating this painting was the play of light in the city. Light does not always shine into the bottom of the city canyon to reach the pavement below. He explains, “Generally shadows and sunlight are a good thing in a painting, creating interest and a grounding, but in the city it doesn’t shine evenly, so I decided to paint the scene on a cloudy day.”
The key to fulfilling a customer’s wish when the subject must be imagined, according to Hubert, is to hone in on the details that are most important to the client and paint those as accurately as possible while manipulating, as little as possible, the supporting characters of the painting, such as the other buildings. “If I had radically altered the layout of this street view the result would have been obviously fictionalized. But by just gently changing the composition, I was able to create an image that is very close to reality and still creates the imagined view cherished by the client.”