John Salminen On Mastering Urban Landscapes

Called a master of urban landscapes, John Salminen is one of the top watercolor artists working today. From realism to abstraction, from architecture to the natural world, his interests are varied and his ability to bring them all together in a compelling, unique whole is what he is known for.

As the Juror for the Watermedia Showcase Competition, Salminen brings a broad view of what makes a compelling picture and is an artist-juror that you have the opportunity to get your work in front of when you submit your work.

Here, Salminen shows us five iconic places around the world and how to paint them. Learn alongside Salminen about urban landscapes and pursue your own take on place with confidence in your own vision, wherever you are.

December in Paris by John Salminen, watercolor

Paris, France

Nothing speaks to our picture of Paris more emphatically than the Eiffel Tower. It has come to symbolize the city and, as a result, has been photographed and painted repeatedly.

I wanted to portray it in a unique manner that avoided the cliché imagery with which we are all too familiar. The tower itself is a worthy subject, so I explored the surrounding neighborhood, looking for a vantage point that would provide an interesting perspective.

The solid structure of the buildings from this view enhanced the delicate lace-like ironwork of the tower, and the two disparate elements complemented and strengthened each other. The figure in the window came from a photo I took in San Miguel de Allende. Imagine her surprise when she stepped out onto a Parisian balcony!

Morning Fog by John Salminen, watercolor

Morning Fog by John Salminen, watercolor

San Francisco’s Chinatown

I ventured into San Francisco’s Chinatown early in the morning, hoping to experience the streets before the daily hustle and bustle. When I arrived, I found not only nearly empty streets but also fog drifting through the temporarily quiet neighborhood.

The diffused light quality added atmosphere and mood to the scene, and just as I took the photograph, a lone pedestrian ventured across the intersection, creating a focal point and adding balance to the painting.

Morning Fog was awarded the Gold Medal of Honor in the American Watercolor Society International Exhibition in 2010.

Cozy Bar by John Salminen, watercolor

Cozy Bar by John Salminen, watercolor

 

Cozy Fini by John Salminen, watercolor

Cozy Fini by John Salminen, watercolor

Duluth’s Cozy Bar

For many years, the Cozy Bar was regarded as a notorious landmark in Duluth, Minnesota. It has a colorful history, and I have always liked the gritty look and feel of it — enough that I first chose to paint it almost forty years ago.

Although the building is now vacant and abandoned, it still appeals to me as a subject. In my initial painting, Cozy Bar, I was drawn to the visual character of the building, and in my recent painting, Cozy Fini, I was more concerned with the broader implication of urban decay and neglect.

I like the fact that when I look at these two versions of the same subject, they are a visual reminder of my evolution as a painter.

Forbidden City by John Salminen, watercolor

Forbidden City by John Salminen, watercolor

Beijing’s Forbidden City

The Forbidden City in Beijing is one of the most visited tourist destinations in China, and each day, it’s mobbed by visitors. This view, however, was quiet and elegant and represents Beijing well, as a city that is respectful and appreciative of China’s past while much of the country races ahead to the future.

Diamond District by John Salminen, watercolor

Diamond District by John Salminen, watercolor

New York City’s Diamond District

New York City’s Diamond District is situated on 47th Street between 5th and 6th avenues. While geographically small, its impact is immense. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the diamonds that enter the United States move through this district and the street is lined with shops prominently displaying the jewelers’ wares.

My challenge was to capture both the jeweler and the reflective quality of the glass. The reflections are subtly restated on the faces of the watches behind the window. As we are staring into the shop, the jeweler is staring out — at us and at the ever-changing parade of hawkers and shoppers that make this short section of 47th Street unique.