This winter a South End Boston resident named Marisa got in touch with me. Marisa and her husband live near beautiful and stately Union Park. Her husband had commented many times to her how much he loves Union Park, especially walking their dog there in the evenings. But come summer they would be moving to the ‘burbs, and she thought that an artwork featuring Union Park would be the perfect memory to take with them.
I have to agree it’s a pretty charming street, with its mid-1800s Victorian rowhouses, front stoops with wrought iron rails, old-fashioned lamp posts, curved wrought iron park fence, mature trees, and elegant fountains. We talked about aspects of the street that might be included. She liked the idea of including things like a Union Park street sign, local shops or restaurants, street lamps, and of course the brownstone homes. It was important that it was obvious it was Union Park, however, and not just any brownstone-lined street in the South End.
I asked Marisa to look at my cityscapes to give me an idea of the styles and color palettes that appealed to her. She liked the photographs that were painted with some translucency, so that some of the photo was still visible.
My partner Joe drove me to nearby Union Park to take photos. It’s a short walk from where I live and work, but due to my knee injury I was (and still am) walking slowly and with a crutch. It was a chilly February day, with scattered big clumps of hard snow left over from the last storm, making it challenging for me to navigate the street and sidewalks safely. The random clumps of snow also made the photos far from ideal for this purpose. We decided to come back again later in the week when the snow would be melted.
While photographing the street it became apparent that capturing every aspect of it wasn’t going to be possible, and that the scale of it was going to be difficult to capture within the print dimensions we had discussed. After showing Marisa some photos, we agreed to widen the dimensions of the print to capture the full end curve of the wrought iron fence that surrounds the park. There was no street sign to be seen here, but the Union Park plaque is right in the foreground on the fence.
Adding a full moon served two purposes. For one, it enabled it to be a night scene without being too dark. It also gave a light source to the rowhouses on the left side, which were, in the original daytime photograph, brightly illuminated by a setting sun. With a night sky and an appropriately placed moon, that effect could still make sense.
As I painted the photo, it began to dawn on me what an ambitious project it was — the expanded size, for one thing, but also the myriad details. There were what seemed like endless tiny tree branches to be painted and wrought iron fence spires to be painted around, not to mention the windows, doors, and chimneys of the rowhouses (which become increasingly smaller moving down the street).
When I met with my printer Mark Peterson to print the image, I was excited to finally see it on paper. After it emerged from the printer and we laid it on the table, it seemed to me darker and duller than I intended. The forefront’s curved red brick sidewalk in particular didn’t have that deep red clay color I’d envisioned. The midnight blue of the sky seemed too dark and muddy. By now I should know that a digitally painted image on a computer screen doesn’t look exactly the same on paper. The screen illuminates it, while in a sense the paper absorbs it. The more we compared it to the screen, we came to the conclusion that the colors themselves did in fact match the colors on the screen. I had misjudged how it would look on paper. Mark asked if we should try to lighten it up digitally, and print it again. Feeling uncertain at the time, I declined, but I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “We have to print it again.”
So Mark and I met again. He had the idea to add an adjustment layer to it, and doing that gave it just the right color tone and extra lightness. He tried adding an additional adjustment layer, but that was too much brightness, so we went with just the one. (I actually don’t know exactly what an adjustment layer means, but it worked.) We picked a horizontal slice of the image to print as a proof first:
Satisfied with the tone, we printed it. I was so glad we did, as the second printing was what I’d envisioned.
When I’m finally able to walk without a crutch again, I know I’ll be delighted to be out and about in the neighborhood once more. I imagine that Union Park will always look a little more magical to me now.
Thanks for reading!