"Little Italy" will be the title of my next painting. It will be the first surreal night scene that I will have painted in oil. This pizza place in Newport Beach has been the subject of past paintings, but this time I'll be using the image in quite a different way.

I've kept this Ronzoni lasagna box on a shelf in my studio for the past 20 years, having used it back then in a watercolor called "The Fabulous Flying Ronzoni's". This box will become an Italian restaurant, sitting next to the pizza place building.

Here's the layout of the props that I'll insert into the night photo of the pizza shop. Notice that I've spliced extensions onto the two candles to get them to the proper height so they will correspond to the height of street lights.

And here's how I'll light the props to coordinate with the lighting in the pizza shop photo. I put a light inside the lasagna box to show me how the 'restaurant' lighting affects the objects on the street outside. It may be a little hard to understand what I'm doing at this point, but I'll make sense out of it shortly. The candles will replace the street lights and the sign will be painted on the side of the building.

I've flipped the pizza shop photo and...

...I also flipped another photo I took in the city of Orange a few nights ago. I'll work this house into the painting, making the pizza building look like it borders an older neighborhood.

Here's a quick black and white photoshop sketch of what I am after.

I'm using a ruler to draw in some of the longer straight lines as in the top of the building. This canvas is 33 1/4" x 50", a little more horizontal than I usually work. I've chosen this shape to allow me to create some atmosphere on both sides of the canvas.

The sky will determine what value (dark and light) I'll have to paint all the objects in the painting. I don't want it to be so dark that the silhouettes of the Cypress trees disappear.

Here are the trees up against the sky. My studio lighting is making the sky look like it is light in the center and getting dark on the outside edges of the canvas, but I've painting it all an even value.

The edge of the neighborhood will be pretty muted except for the porch light that glows under the overhang.

"Venire in Italia", or "Come to Italy" is the title of this outdoor billboard. I made it to look like an ad put out by Modesti Travel, a fictitious travel agency in this town.

The exterior of the lasagna box is painted, leaving the window to the interior for later.

The tomato, as well as all the other reflective objects in the painting, has more than one highlight.

The unique waxy shine of the bell pepper is in place.

The brown onion is now painted in front of the tomato.

And this is the painting up to this point.

I've painted the salt and pepper shakers with a very warm tone, assuming that this coloration will be tinting the entire painting. I'll make hue adjustments on the second stage of painting.

Here I am, applying color to the street...

...using a #1 Winsor & Newton bright. These brushes are a blend of natural and synthetic material and have the strength of hog bristle and the control of a sable like brush.

The ghostly shapes of the wine bottle and the candle on the right make it hard to feel the dramatic lighting, but it's starting to come to life as I eliminate the blank areas of the canvas.

I've begun to paint the left side of the building.

Here's a closer look at the pizza place with its windows and doorway casting light out onto the sidewalk and street.

Villa Antinori 'Tuscana', 2006 is my Italian wine in this painting. I searched for a bottle that had a reddish seal on it to bring some color into the dark sky. Except for a few objects, most of the canvas has been covered. I asked my good friend, Ron, and his fiancée, Cindy, if they would pose in the painting.

I set up a table for two in my enclosed patio, waited until dark and...

...lit the candles. As you can see, Ron and Cindie are perfect for the parts. I will use four different photos to compose the scene in the lasagna box.

The rest of the buildings along the sidewalk are in. The candle is next.

One candle...

Two candle and now...

...the only thing left is the restaurant window.

I've begun the window interior by addressing the wall behind the couple. By establishing the wall's value, it will then tell me how dark to make the man and woman.

As I get into the detailed areas of the people and the items on the table, I'll need a very small brush. The smallest brush I use is a double ought (00) red sable bright.

The interior has given me the opportunity to paint a very small oil painting within my painting. I've even put a picture light on top of the frame.

The two figures are rendered.

I decided that the lower part of the window sill was too thick, so I extended the restaurant scene down a few sixteenths. The entire window imagery is complete.

Stage one is complete. Now I'll go through the entire painting, adjusting the hue and value on each space and object, using straight out of the tube thickness of paint.

The darkness of the painting is dictated by the sky. I want the sky to be dark, but not so dark that I can't show the silouettes of the trees and I'd like to have some contrast between the wine bottle and the sky. When painting dark passages in oil, the edges of brush strokes (because of their thickness) catch the light from overhead lighting and sometimes become distracting. Notice that I am putting the final passage of sky color (Winsor Blue, Burnt Sienna and Black) on with vertical strokes. When I light the framed painting, the sky will become a backdrop and won't draw too much attention.

With the sky completed, you can see how the trees have lost their contrast. This is partly because the thinned oil paint dulls when it dries and also because I couldn't get a dark enough value with the white canvas showing through.

I've just completed the dark Cypress trees and other foliage up against the sky.

This photo makes the sky appear lighter than it really is, but you can see how nicely the wine bottle (which is now finished) 'pops' against the sky.

Here is the painting so far. The darks of the trees and the wine bottle tell me how dark other objects need to be painted. The rooftop on the house to the right will be painted as dark as the trees.

I've completed the house in the background.

My favorite area of the house is the light shining on the porch.

Since the lasagna box is the focal point, I've painted the face of the box its final value which will start to tell me how dark some of the other areas nearby need to be. Also, the lettering on the box jumps out when the dark blue surrounds it, letting me know that it needs to be darkened with its final layer.

As I began to apply the last layer of paint on the billboard ad, it became difficult to judge how dark to go because the sky, trees, wine bottle and the neighborhood house had all dried with a chalky surface. This is normal on darkly painted areas, as the original dark value (when it is wet) lightens when it is dry. I've given those areas a light coat of retouch varnish to bring back the rich values. You can see in this photo how nice that looks.

The billboard is finished as well as the overhanging lights.

The entire corner building is now complete along with...

... the pizza parlor.

I'm working on the lettering on the lasagna box. This very precise application of paint takes many days to get it just right. To show the difference in the initial layer of paint and the final layer, look at the 'NET WT. 1' at the bottom of the box. It has been given a final, darker value. The '6 OZ.(1LB)(453g)' is still in its preliminary state.

The lettering is complete as well as the entire outside of the lasagna box.

The view down the left side is completed. I varied the color of the cast light according to the type of light source.

I worked on the candles today. Getting the flames to look correctly was fun. Notice the subtle blue cast at the bottom of the flame.

Here is the completed side of the painting (minus the tomato and onion).

The areas left to complete are the three vegetables, salt and pepper shakers, the foreground street/sidewalk and the restaurant in the lasagna box.

The thick final layer of oil makes the tomato look nice and juicy...

...and the bell pepper shine!

Today I had a visit from the Arts Council of the Laguna Art Museum. The council is made up of former and current docents of the museum. I shared my "Little Italy" with the group, explaining the various steps I go through in the process.

The tomato is joined by its onion neighbor as I have finished painting it. I chose to darken the onion quite a bit which will allow me to darken the street around it later on.

When I applied the final layer of paint on the salt and pepper shakers, I cooled off the warm hues that were in the first passage. They were a little too orange compared to the rest of the objects in the painting.

I've put the final touches on the sidewalk, the street and all the shadows from the vegetables and salt and pepper shakers. Compare this photo to the one of the shakers above and you can see the change. Everything was darkened up considerably, allowing the scene in the lasagna box to glow.

All that is left is the inside of the restaurant. Painting the figures is a major undertaking in this painting, mainly because of the small size of their heads and facial features... but it will be fun!

On Friday, April 1, 2011, the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts presented me with the Art Stars Award for Artist of the Year. Along with the award, I was given a beautiful sculpture by Louis Longi.

Back to the studio...

I've completed the final area of the painting, the interior of the restaurant.

After 4 months, "Little Italy" is finished. I'll let it dry for a couple of weeks and then apply a thin layer of varnish to bring out the dull patches of paint.