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The above painting was produced by following the guidelines of another of Betsy Dillard Stroud’s exercises. I was to select a busy and detailed landscape as my reference. I was to create a  silhouette of the landscape in black, simplifying the scene. Next I was to paint the landscape again using color. As I painted, I was to simplify and change the scene again.


I began with this simple pencil sketch, removing a bicycle, fruit stand, all lettering, the chairs by the restaurant  and some of the people. I simplified the building in the background. The old man at the top of the steps was added because there was too much empty space at the top of the subway steps once I had removed the fruit stand.


This was my black silhouette.  I decided that the addition of the man changed the story from fruit stand to people in this reference and balanced the empty space by re-inserting some people into the scene that I had removed.  The lit ad screen atop the railing required a little something so I added that. At this point, I had decided I had what I needed for the finished painting.

subway final painting

What an experience when I began to work in color! I saw I had simplified the restaurant or the bar, in the background too much,  so re-added some of the lettering. I really simplified all the color and lettering in all those windows on that building. They had a lot of different colors and lettering on them. I just used them to cast the glow of light on the scene. I thought the building in the background was too busy so had the fall tree expand and reach across it. I imagined more light coming from a building to the right of the people and indicated that in the cast shadows from the people. Since I had changed the center of interest to the old man and omitted the busy fruit stand and bicycle, I decided the scene was more about the people heading to the subway and followed my guidelines for painting “little People”. Refer to posts here and here.

This was a great exercise that I will use again.


  1. Hi Leslie, very interesting post. I liked how you described how you simplified the scene and then decided to either add or subtract as you saw. I like the glow of the lights and the lost edge in the upper right corner.

    • You know, when I change things around? …a painting just begins to simplify itself. I am horrible at fading, so thankyou for that boost in your comment. I want to do more of that in the future. The lights were another thing I worked with trying to represent, so thankyou for that, too, Carol.

  2. Vibrant color as well as theme. Love the movement.

    • Thankyou, Nancy. Yep….I had fun with the color on this one. I was a little drawn to the greenish turquoise glow from the subway.

  3. Fabulous exercise! Well done, Leslie.

  4. A busy place simplified! I like everything from the different moods/movements of the people, the light, the shadows , so many elements but still the composition looks simple, hats off! Simplification evades me, I need to learn it!

    • I actually wish I could have simplified it a little more effectively. Not in subject material but in how I applied the pigment. There was so much to eliminate that I think I oversimplified in some areas with the wet-in-wet applications. One of yours that sticks out in my mind was a painting of a bird on a rooftop? That passed on wonderful feeling in the simplification. I think there have been paintings of yours where you handled this idea beautifully, Padmaja, and I sat in awe of your vision. Thankyou for this comment.

  5. I found myself wanting to sit in the window of the Brasserie and just people watch. That glorious tree also captures my interest.

  6. Amazing, Leslie!
    I’m sure you’re not a lazy person. It’s impossible.
    Thanks for your explanations!!

  7. This is really fun – I love the two women chatting at the back and the old boy at the top of the subway. I must try some of these exercises and develop my range!

    • I tried to make so many of them not too distinct just so they could be people the viewer might know. I wonder what those women are talking about. The old man actually came from another reference and I wanted to see if I could capture his lean. I think your vegetable and fruit studies are so good! You could have left the fruit stand in the foreground in and gone with another idea from the reference I worked from. Thankyou!

  8. It’s funny the things that pop into your mind when looking upon a work of art. I was getting into the scene you painted and thought how much of our lives are mediated by looking at screens. In your painting, I wonder how many people have fallen down the stairs by looking at the black and white screen in front of them?

    • Wow!!!!!! Thankyou for the story to accompany this, Al. I hated that screen being there but could not think of a way to eliminate it. I decided it made a timeless scene, less timeless with its inclusion. But! I like your story much better! Thankyou for that! 🙂

  9. Holy cow, such an involved process. (And so nicely narrated!) Beautiful painting and I can see the benefit of all those changes you mentioned. I love the light and shadow. I love a cool street scene! Great tree too!

    • Hi Cindy,
      I wish I did more scenes like this. Street scenes fascinate me, but I have not really understood how to pull them off. More challenges; always more challenges! 🙂 Thankyou!

  10. Great post Leslie, really enjoyed learning about your process and how you simplified the piece. Beautiful painting.

  11. Great post and great exercise!

  12. Fascinating Leslie, to see the beginnings and follow through to the finished painting… So much ‘life’ is shown, and you could almost believe that the figures will soon move, in a second, come to bustling life… Loved the whole process and end result. xPenx

  13. What an interesting exercise Leslie. I love his you talked us through each stage and explained why you did what you did. Was there a photo of the original scene with the fruit stand just out of interest as you say you simplified it but you’re scene still looks so full of detail and character I’d love to see what it originally liked life!

    • Thankyou, Nicola. I could not post the original photo because it was a photo from Wet Canvas that artists are allowed to use to work from but not to reproduce on their own sites. Thus, the explanation of what I removed from the original. In life, the photograph included chairs in front of the restaurant in the back, a bicycle leaning against the railing under the screen, a transformer box in upper lefthand corner and the complete metro sign and a background building and many signs with letttering on the windows in the background; plus the fruit,vegetable stand.

  14. Interesting technique. It forces you to end up thinking compositionally. Some of what you took away in the simplifiation had to be replaced, but you got to decide what to do.

    • Exactly, Ruth. The act of attempting to simplify introduced so many possibilities. It also suggested I could add and delete things in any way I chose. Thankyou!

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. By Summer Project: Painting 4 | Leslie White on 14 Aug 2014 at 11:17 am

    […] My photo, above, is a  street scene of Pirates Alley from wet canvas and a figure I found in another wet canvas reference photo. I made the dog up (fashioned it after my maltese dogs but a little larger). I will probably continue to use this figure. He is so versatile! […]

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