Mussel in Foam

This painting from 3 years ago came up in my Facebook memories this morning. I looked at it and thought, “Cool! I painted that?” but then immediately saw in my head how I could do it better.

Watercolor of a mussel

I am learning.
I love the colors. I have a sort of spiritual – as opposed to visceral – reaction to those greens and blues. They just make me happy

But the mussel should be tilted a bit more to the left. The foam is great but there should be a hole in it. A break. Maybe there is, but it is not emphasized like how the leading edge is darkened a bit.

And I love the white dots from masking for sand. But there should be more of them.

It’s Sunday morning. I have some paper. Maybe I don’t have to run errands and clean the house today. Maybe I can play with paint…

I don’t think I have any real mussel shells on hand; I gave away a bunch of the shells I had, so I went to for some inspiration.

Browsing through, I like the California Mussels best. Anyway, those are the ones I am used to. I just scan through hundreds of photos, not to copy but to get inspiration. It is like feeding my brain. Some have sand inside. Some have holes. Some have rocks. One has some sea foam inside. Many have a little orange or rust inside along with the incredible cobalts and some glints of gold. I look at some mother of pearl and notice how it is composed of magentas and lights greens next to each other. I start laying out my palette in my head. Sodalite for the darkest blues – maybe indigo. Cobalt and ultramarine. A good rust brown – have to check the dot card for that. Amethyst and undersea green. Quin Sienna as accent and to make a deep dark with the indigo.

Yes, this is what I do for fun.

I snip a few for later reference and tape down some paper. I think I like this one for the main reference –

California Mussel reference photo

Sketching it out until I am happy on the taped down watercolor paper, I start using Fineline Mask to doodle out seafoam. Fineline comes in 2 tip sizes – I have used both but the 18 gauge (the fatter one) works without clogging the best. It will clog. It MUST be capped even if you are just getting up for a second. And it is handy to have a wire on hand to help clean it out.

Watercolor in progress

I want tiny bubbles for the sea foam and oddly, it is harder to make them irregular than it is to just doodle even little “O’s”. And it is just doodling. The lines of foam meander along as I start to work and fill in areas.

Fineline Masking fluid

People say, “Oh, you must have so much patience!” but no. It is fun. I put on some music and just play. If my eyes start to cross, I take a break.

I have been beading since I was a little kid and I find this similar in that I love putting together tiny patterns and colors. I love symmetry but also I love when it is just a bit… off.

Masking the background with Fineline Mask

Detail of the masking fluid.

Masking the background with Fineline Mask

Now this is looking about done.

Masking the background with Fineline Mask

I add a few little dots of mask around the shell for sand, then give it a light ochre wash. I don’t want most of the “sand” in the background to be white. I didn’t take a progress photo but I did add one more “break” by adding a little more sea foam on the right side – not sure if that balanced the composition much, but maybe.

First background wash

I left this to dry overnight then added a bit more sand/texture in the background with Fineline.

Now for the main background wash. I wet all the colors on the palette that I think I might use, get the paper very wet, then just start splashing in color.

I ended up using a lot of Terre Verte (one of my favorite colors!) undersea green and amethyst. I find undersea green to be very ugly and sour until mixed with the sweetness of cerulean blue – then it is just lovely.

Background wash

I used a light splash of salt on top of the wet paint to increase the granulation/texture. I know the colors may seem odd, but the sand where I live is dead white. In some areas it can turn quite green from algae/growth but look cerulean in the shadows.

So that means to me that I can paint the sand pretty much any color I want. And frankly, white sand is not too interesting to paint but I I have an idea I might try of how it might work…

Granulation detail

Time to remove all the masking. The first background wash really didn’t seem to add much here.

Watercolor in progress

The lines left by the mask can be a little harsh and hard edged, so I go over all the lines lightly with a wet brush just to soften a bit. You almost can’t tell unless you look close.

Watercolor in progress

Now, as usual, I have no idea how I am going to paint this shell. Best to just leap in sometimes.

I had a young art student scold me in a watercolor Facebook group one time, telling me that you only need 2 blue pigments in your palette – one warm, one cold. Well, fine. I could probably just live on rice and beans too – you don’t really need strawberries or chocolate. I think that if I want to play with 10 different blues on one piece, well, I want to play with 10 different blues. Maybe even more. They are all different and they are all wonderful.

But anyway, here’s my chance to play with a LOT of blue. If I remember correctly, this is indigo, indanthrone blue and maybe sodalite, with amethyst and terre verte. I just do it by feel, so to speak.

Watercolor in progress

Another wash of colors – getting bolder. I WANT the colors to run together.

Watercolor in progress

A little more color and some shadow under the shell.

watercolor in progress

Removing the last of the masking and taking a well worn brush to smooth and blend some areas

Watercolor in progress

And I think that’s about that. Not perfect, but I can always do it again!

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One comment

  1. Fabulous painting. Fabulous and much appreciated explanation with color and technique information.
    Thank you!

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