Imagined landscapes are one of my favorite painting subjects. Untethered to reality, I can invent any landscape I want.
During my many years as an architectural illustrator, I worked on numerous projects that were almost purely imaginary. One of my last clients, a sheik in Dubai, rarely sent me plans and elevations. Almost always, his architect sent images and a visual description (usually all in one Photoshopped conglomeration) and let me go to town.
I found this way of working so satisfying, that I began to use my imagination in my own paintings. My approach was influenced by an accomplished painter and illustrator, Ron Love. Ron's way of working was described in an article in the newsletter of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators. After making very small abstract thumbnails he transforms them into something that resembles reality. Intrigued, I tried this for myself.
I made a grid of 1" x 2" rectangles and started to draw abstract shapes, trying not to be mindful of their pictorial possibilities. Each one takes about a minute or so and often leads to other ideas.
I then choose one that appeals to me and double it in size and begin to sketch architectural ideas that might lead to a picture. I typically use Italian hill town imagery. As an illustrator, I did a lot of "Italianesque" work for my resort clients and was quite comfortable with this look. Besides, the orange/red tile roofs were a nice counterpoint to the landscape color scheme.
For "Elica", above, I chose the thumbnail on the left. You can see it in the lower left of the Thumbnails grouping. I was primarily attracted by the white curve. Wanting to increase the horizontality, I lowered the bottom of the frame a bit. While sketching, I noticed the shape of a helix, hence the name (elica is Italian for helix).
I also stayed mindful of compositional elements, such as background, middle ground, foreground, and focal point.
I did stray from my thumbnail and changed the road at the bottom. Too much thinking.
When I enlarged this to the final size, 25" x 10", I changed the road back to its original layout. At the final size, I added details and made any necessary adjustments. I then transferred it to the watercolor paper and painted.
Below left is my first imagined landscape from 2005, entitled Toscana. Since then I have done around 15-20 of these. After a brief hiatus, I started a new series this year. You can see a couple of them, Gubbio and Le Vieux Pont below right.
I had forgotten how enjoyable they are to do.