The Abstract Shadow

My wife and I love film noir. Film noir is a genre of cinema of the 1940s and 50s which were mostly low budget, dimly lit movies that didn’t always end well for the characters. They were dark in lighting as well as in emotional tenor. Examples of film noir include: The Maltese Falcon, Dark Passage, The Big Sleep and others that don’t include Humphrey Bogart, such as Murder My Sweet, Gun Crazy (a proto Bonnie and Clyde), and Blue Gardenia.

I did not intend to paint a film noir theme, but that’s what happened today.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Not having anything particular in mind to paint, I followed my usual procedure: I spilled a bit of frisket (liquid latex that forms a waterproof coating) on my paper and tilted an tipped it until I got a pattern I liked.

I don’t know if my unconscious dictates how the pattern emerges as I’m working on it. It must, to some degree. But I do know that after the latex cures, I take some time to think about what to do next. Many times I think in terms of colors I would paint atop the waterproof frisket, (thereby forming a background schema) and how they would interact with a different set of colors for the blank traces left once the frisket was removed.

Today, my mind organized my abstract dribbles as a character in a film noir movie.


I painted earth tones (raw sienna and raw umber) around the central area of the paper to define the frisket traces as a figure of a man. That led me to surround those earth tones with a dark outline of ivory black. I thought of the Lamont Cranston alter ego, known as The Shadow, in 1930s pulp mystery fiction.

I surrounded the man’s shadow with lemon yellow, as if he was caught in a spotlight. I emphasized the gat (1930s talk for ‘gun’) in his hand, with a greenish shadow.

After I removed the frisket, I painted the traces internal to the figure with yellow gouache, as if the spotlight shone right though him. The blood red of his heart betrayed the rush of adrenalin even though he was icy cold in his gut.

Watercolor: Abstract - Film Noir

The Abstract Shadow
16″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper

Although Cranston was caught directly in the spotlight, he had some tricks up his sleeve.

Tune in next time for the next installment of The Adventures of… The Abstract Shadow.

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