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Art theory Oil Painting Painting People People at Work Portrait Series

Amtrak Conductor, Capitol Corridor: People at Work Series

Capitol Corridor Amtrak Conductor, Oil on stretched canvas, 16x12"
Capitol Corridor Amtrak Conductor, Oil on stretched canvas, 16x12"

When my Urban Sketchers group took the train to Sacramento for some sketching (posted here and here) I made a pest of myself taking pictures of our conductor, chasing him around the train and station. A train conductor for over 40 years, he kindly put up with me.

The painting above is my second attempt at painting the conductor (after working and reworking and eventually abandoning a previous canvas). I painted this in one day, intending to return and finish it after putting in my time at my “day job.” When I returned to the studio I realized that I’d said what I wanted to say with the painting and had nothing more to add. I was done.

This was really thrilling as it helped to reinforce my recent discovery that the path I want to follow in oil painting is to work directly, alla prima (all at once).  I find it so much more fun than fussing around with many layers, for many days, until everything is “perfect” (otherwise known as overworked, over-detailed and ultimately, boring to look at it because there’s nothing for the viewer’s mind to contribute).

Below is my unfinished, abandoned first attempt (scraped and repainted multiple times) from a dim, blurry bad photo shot with poor lighting inside the train.

Incomplete first attempt, oil on canvas 16x12"
Incomplete first attempt, oil on canvas 16x12"

I included way too much of the train in the composition because I was interested in the light and reflections on the ceiling. But painting all those seats was really boring. Eventually I figured out this version just wasn’t going to work and I started over with a better photo, cropped in more closely, for the painting at the top of the post.

I’ve been taking photos of people at work in my neighborhood that will be part of this series. Next up the butcher and the coffee barista.