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Painting an Outdoor Restaurant: My Walkthrough of “The Crab Cooker”

A few years ago my boyfriend introduced me to this great fish place in Newport Beach called The Crab Cooker. It’s a bright red corner family restaurant, and it’s been there since 1951. (They have fantastic fish selections by the way!)

I took a few photos while we were there because I wanted to be able to capture the character and atmosphere of this great place from my own studio. Here’s the one I’m working from today:


I began my painting with an old 8×10 inch canvas panel that still had some paint on it from a previously abandoned project. I decided to let the old orange paint come through to bring out the warmth of that day.


With a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Magenta, I loosely blocked in the shapes of the restaurant and sidewalk in acrylic paint. Then, for the lightest parts of the scene I brushed in some Titanium White. I won’t keep it pure white like that; it just helps to create the structure of the awnings, street and sidewalk.


At that point, I got out my water-soluble oils and switched over. I mixed a Cadmium Red Medium with a bit of Permanent Yellow Medium, and painted it over the sunniest part of the building, the front corner.

The shaded area of the building gets a bit of Crimson added to the Cadmium Red—but any cooler red like Rose Madder will do as well. Remember, warm light means there will be cool shadows!


I also added a bit of Holbein (Duo Aqua) Turquoise Blue to the Cadmium Red for some of the shadow area near the bottom of the building—it’s sort of a greenish complementary color to the red.

I wanted to suggest stripes on the awning without being too obvious, so I loosely alternated White with Turquoise Blue (which I mixed with a tiny bit of Yellow and White). I used a flat bristle brush for those. I was actually talking on the phone while I was doing the stripes, so that helped me not to overthink them. :)


I added the cool shadow on the awning with bits of the Turquoise, Ultramarine Blue, Crimson and a touch of Titanium White. I also went back in where the stripes are closest to me and emphasized them, while letting the others fade out, just so they’d appear farther away.

For the palm trees and buildings in the background, I put in a light mix of Ultramarine, Crimson and White with a touch of Burnt Umber—I wanted a sort of grayish purple to suggest shapes in the distance. I continually looked for shapes that made sense, and eliminated those that I don’t need in my composition.

One example of that is the dark car that was in my original photograph. I began to paint it in front of the restaurant, but eventually decided that putting something so dark in the foreground was too much of a distraction. I did, however, add a little more detail to the cars that are parked along the left, and placed some palm trees in the background and a trash can in front. (I was debating on the trash can, but ultimately decided that it gives the painting character.)


Lastly, I painted in a different car up front (a more silvery SUV) and made some final adjustments here and there—like a little more color in the stripes on the awnings, a small figure walking down the street, and a few more shadows in the sidewalk. Now it’s complete!


I hope you enjoyed the making of The Crab Cooker! Little places like this one can be found all over our towns and cities, and are well-worth stopping to take a photograph or paint. Head on out there today and discover your own!

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

When I teach my Introduction to Oil Painting classes, I always begin by having my students paint a grayscale.

If you haven't been using a gray scale to check your values when painting, I strongly suggest painting your own. Pre-made ones are fine too, but painting your own is better, simply because it will help you see more closely the subtle transitions from white to. . . read more

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