James Toogood comments on Frederick Brosen's watercolor painting Brooklyn Bridge.
by James Toogood
by Frederick Brosen, 2006,
watercolor over graphite, 28¾ x 51¾.
Courtesy Hirschl & Adler Galleries,
New York, New York.
The first thing that is noteworthy about this watercolor is its sheer size. While it is not unheard of for a watercolorist to work this large, this combination of very naturalistic realism and large scale is not something you come across very often.
The other thing is the wash along the upper two thirds of the painting. An enormous area of this painting is a graded wash, which Brosen did in one session. He didn't lay in a permanent rose, then a cadmium red, then a cobalt blue–he made several bowls of mixtures, wet the paper, and then put it all down with a big brush. Notice how even though there's a lot going on in this painting, he didn't seem to do much masking; he seems to have placed some masking along the horizon line and a little on parts of the building that are illuminated. Note how the light-salmon building in the middle is in the same value as that horizontal strip of the wash–it only looks lighter because of the dark buildings around it. Brosen simply put some cobalt blue on the shadow side. You don't need a half-gallon of masking to do this.
Brosen begins with an extremely elaborate underdrawing–a sort of grisaille–done in graphite before he puts down any washes. He uses astonishingly hard pencils–5H and 6H, for example–and really bears down hard on the paper. This prevents the graphite from spreading all over the paper when the wash hits it. You can see the drawing in the cables of the bridge; the main cables are painted, but the smaller vertical ones are probably just graphite.
It's interesting that the painting is much more heavily weighted on the right, with the warm red of the Pier 17 building coming forward. Red adds a lot of weight to a composition because it has a deceptively deep tonal value. If we dropped out the colors and just looked at the values, that pier would probably read a little darker than the bridge. This adds more weight to that area of the painting and makes the composition asymmetrical, which allows the artist to determine the story and move the eye around to look at various points of interest. Symmetry, on the other hand, has a tendency to create stasis.
Looking elsewhere, we wonder whether Brosen took any liberties with the scale of the buildings–they all seem to work perfectly in the composition. The water is very well designed. There's movement, repetition, and variety, with the ripples carrying the eye down the river. Also, the brush marks are fluid, which helps convey the feeling of water, and contrasts with the character of the brush marks on the bridge. This respect for the intrinsic qualities of the various elements depicted makes the painting extremely effective.
Brosen will be the subject of an exhibition at Hirschl & Adler Galleries, in New York City, in November.
Read Toogood's tips for achieveing optimal effects with watercolors.
Read more features from the Looking at Watercolors series.
New Jersey resident James Toogood AWS/NWS studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia. The subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions, he has participated in numerous group shows, including those of the American Watercolor Society and the National Academy of Design, winning many awards. He frequently juries exhibitions and was an awards juror for the 2006 American Watercolor Society annual. Toogood is the author of Incredible Light and Texture in Watercolor, (North Light Books, West Chester, Ohio) and he has written many articles and contributed to several other books. His work is widely collected throughout the United States and abroad, and he is represented by Rosenfeld Gallery, in Philadelphia. The artist teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy School of Fine Arts, in New York City, and the Perkins Center for the Arts, in Moorestown, New Jersey. Toogood also conducts watercolor workshops throughout the United States.