Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sea Turtle Painting Finished! Recap of Steps...

Sea Turtle (15 x 22" Ink & Watercolor on Arches 140lb CP)
I declare this painting complete!  I don't have anything in mind that I think I want to add or change, so it must be finished!

It was a good experience to paint something of a larger scale than I'm used to.  I had to use larger brushes, especially in the background (including my big goat hair mop brush, my 1" flat and my 3/4" oval).  It takes courage to work larger when small feels so safe!

So I think it would be a great time to recap the progress to show the steps of the painting's development.

Sea Turtle photo by Steve Jurvetson, CC by 2.0, cropped for composition
The first step was to find a reference photo to paint from.  I have some of my own sea turtle photos but I've already made paintings from them and I wanted something different.  I discovered this one by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr ( and was delighted with the turtle's playful and engaging pose and expression.  Thank you Mr. Jurvetson for offering the photo for use via the Creative Commons CC by 2.0 license!  I cropped his original photo to a composition more to my liking.

Using grid method to create drawing
To draw the sea turtle, I taped together two pieces of 11x14" sketch paper to allow me to make a drawing to fit a half sheet of watercolor paper (15 x 22").  I drew a grid onto the paper and used an app on my tablet to overlay a grid onto the photograph.  The grid method is really useful to help one divide a big drawing into smaller sections, and get more accuracy.

Painting after two layers
I stretched my half sheet of watercolor paper onto a large (full-sheet size) of gatorboard.  My process was to thoroughly wet the paper, staple the paper to the gatorboard using a staple gun and 1/4" staples, then tape over the staples with painter's tape to make a nice clean edge for later once I remove the tape.  It is imperative that the taped area is larger than the window of my mat, so I don't have any white edges showing when I frame the painting.

After the paper dried to a nice tight flat surface, I did a first layer of painting, which was an under-layer of New Gamboge and Quinacridone Rose, both to add a little glow to the sea turtle, which will mostly be green and brown, and some reds to the background for variety in a planned sea of blue.

The second layer was the underpainting for the shell and the body (including the legs and arms), to set the baseline local color for those regions.  I also painted an underlayer for the eyes to create a glow using Quinacridone Gold (darkened with violet towards the outer edges).

Shell and leg/arm segments painted
I completed the eyes by painting the iris and pupils.  I had to look at other reference photos of sea turtles which had a better view of the eyes to get an idea of their nature, since the main reference photo from Jurvetson doesn't show them that well.

I then worked on the shell and body segments.  The paints and process were described in an earlier blog post.

Deepen shadows on body, first background layer

I took a rather long hiatus from this painting while I focused on other things, but when I came back to it the first thing I did was deepen the form shadows on the body under the shell as well as the cast shadows on the legs and arms, using mixes of Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Rose, French Ultramarine and Indanthrone Blue.

Then I took out my big goat hair mop brush and wet the background.  I squeezed out onto a white tray little globs of four of my blue paints:  Cobalt Teal Blue, Manganese Blue Nova, Phthalo Blue GS, and French Ultramarine.  I just started working fast on making washes in the background, using my blues primarily.  I did it in regions naturally divided by the sea turtle into the frame.  While each region of wash was damp I sprinkled in some grains of coarse salt.  In the upper right region I dropped in some Quinacridone Rose.  In the bottom region below the sea turtle I dropped in some rose as well as some Burnt Sienna.

Doing backgrounds like this is always a bit intense for me, made more so because of the sheer area my brushes had to cover this time.  I do not require an even flat background (if I did, I would have masked the turtle and did the background first), but I still would rather not have hard edges in odd places.

When it was dry I like the varied colors and mottled effect due to salt and variations of the pigment-to-water ratios as well as the different blue pigments themselves.  But the background in no way felt finished.  To me, the sea turtle looked cut out and pasted onto a background that was mostly uniform in value.  I felt I should have regions in the background that are at least almost as dark in value as those in the turtle itself so that I could have more cohesion between the subject and background.  I also thought the background here is too psychedelic and needed a glaze of blue to tone it down and unify it more.

Finished painting
So that is what I did.  I squeezed out a bit of my beloved Indanthrone Blue onto my white tray and did a graduated wash on the entire background, making the sea water below the turtle darker in tone.  By the time I got to the region above the sea turtle, the paint was very dilute with water.

Again, because I like the texture, I sprinkled a bit of my coarse salt onto the wet background washes.

I was much happier with the background after that layer.  After removing the salt, I added touches of washes here and there that seemed to need it, both with the Indanthrone blue and Cobalt Teal Blue.  A bit more salt too.

The final step was the ink lines.  I used a 0.3 Rapidograph pen to draw ink lines around all the major shapes and the body and shell segments.  And I signed the painting.

I photographed all these using my Canon SL1 digital SLR, using either my 50mm f/1.8 lens or my 100mm f/2.8 macro lens.  I propped my gatorboard outside in the shade of my porch, sat my butt down on the ground and propped my elbows onto my bent legs for stabilization.  I found that "Shade" white balance was very nice, though for some of these I did a custom white balance using the white backside of the gatorboard as a reference.  I tried to fill the frame as much as possible with the painting, making sure I was squared up on the painting (to avoid distortion such as keystoning).  Set aperture to f/8, and chose an ISO (often 400) to allow a fast enough shutter speed.  I'd take a few photos and pick the most representative.

I hope this recap of my process is informative for you!


Linda said...

Gorgeous painting. I also love your header. :)

Stacy said...

Thank you, Linda!

tonystark said...

Awesome .

Love it
Adah Sharma Hot Pics

Joan Tavolott said...

Beautiful!!! I enjoyed seeing your steps and reading your thought process as you worked on this. I love it!

Stacy said...

Thank you, Joan! I am happy you found this post useful!