Take Two

In the last post, I had this idea to paint a shell worn down to a spiral in the sand. I liked it, but wished I had painted the spiral larger. I was still not getting the image that I had in my head onto the paper.

So why not try again? It’s only time and paper. And fun and practice.

And you never know what will come out of it.

So I grabbed a few reference photos – not to copy but as a guides.

I was in art school before the internet. One illustration teacher told us to start a file of reference photos so we would not be stuck in the middle of the night working against a deadline and wanting a reference of, let’s say, how does a pine cone spiral?

I went out and bought 100 file folders, as directed, and labeled them for common things like “trees”, “faces”, “clouds”, “waves”, “interiors”. I would cut out any photo in a magazine that caught my eye and file away a few times a year.

I still have some of those files 40 years later. You can paint from imagination so much more easily if you have a reference to how things really look.

Here are the shells I selected:

I always paint on a board so this is my set up. I use 300 pound Arches rough. Even though this paper really does not buckle, I take no chances. After the paper is firmly taped, I draw in what I have in mind with pencil. This is a general outline to plan out the composition. Yes, the pencil lines might show through in the finished piece but I have only found this to be a problem when I have drawn straight lines across the paper, like when roughing in a horizon. Sometimes that definite a line ends up being distracting.

Paper mounted on board

Now, I am going to get this background very wet and get pretty sloppy, so I mask the outside of the shell with Fineline Masking Fluid.

Fineline Masking Fluid on paper

I don’t want just a shell sitting there, so I rough in some rocks/shells around the main figure to give the composition some flow. Notice the little pencil mark on the masking tape on the left side? That is my arrow to remind myself the direction of the light source for placement of shadows. Yes, I can lose track.

Now, the final masking. I fill in the shells/rocks with Fineline then scatter some dots around to add texture for sand/pebbles. And put it aside to let it all dry…

Fineline Masking Fluid on arches watercolor paper

I just got this wonderful Daniel Smith French Ochre and think it might be perfect for a sandy background. I don’t usually clean my palette as I use the same colors over and over but this one is new to me. And yes, I use a plastic palette and some pigments will stain it. What are ya’ gonna do?

Daniel Smith French Ochre on palette
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One trick I have learned for wetting pigments or making a wash, is to use a syringe. Cheap on Amazon, and you can use the same one over and over. It makes it easy to just squirt water onto the paint.

Daniel Smith Watercolor on palette with syringe

A squirt of water and the first wash is ready to go

Daniel Smith French Ochre in water

I usually wet the paper with clear water then go over it again with another wash of water to make sure it is very wet and I can play in the puddles, so to speak.
Here it is with the first wash – Daniel Smith French Ochre and a touch of Academy Davy’s Gray. While Grumbacher Academy is a “student grade” of watercolor, for me nothing matches their Davy’s Gray for adding that touch of greenish gray where needed. The professional Davy’s Gray brands tend to be too dominate and … intrusive… for me.

Grumbacher Academy Davy's Gray watercolor tube
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Note how wet the paper is and the deliberate color variations.

Background wash completed

Here it is dry. Not much to it but my idea was to do a faint wash, like a tea stain and then add more mask to add some variation in the sand/pebbles. Not sure how it will work, but it can’t hurt to try.

First layer of background wash

More masking of sand and another layer of wash.

Background wash

Another layer of mask then deepening the background. Starting to come together.

Another layer of wash

Last layer of wash with a handful of Morton’s Table Salt thrown on top.

Watercolor wash

After it dries, notice how the salt has moved the pigment around?

Final background wash of watercolor

After everything has thoroughly dried, time to take the masking fluid off. This is the rubber cement pickup that I have used for decades. Handy to have.

Using rubber cement pick up to remove mask

All the masking has been removed. You can now see the different shades of sand caused by the layers of washes.

Softening the lines

I am using this reference photo of what shells look like on the beach just for general ideas and inspiration.

Reference photo of scattered shells

This took a bit of time but I have painted in rocks and shells across the sand.

Background finished

And next? Well, I haven’t any idea what to do. Each of these turban shells that I look at has different patterns… I think I will just wing it.

Masking the shell area

Here is the first wash of color… I wish I could tell you the colors I used but had Quin Sienna, Quin burnt orange and transparent red oxide on my palette with permanent brown – which is really like a deep, dark sienna. The one that is granulating so wonderfully is the transparent red oxide.

Painting the shell

Layering in a little more color and working out into the rest of the shell. Permanent brown is the darkest dark here. I’ve also added a little Daniel Smith Sodalite – with is a deep granulating blue to deepen a few areas.

Watercolor on paper

Look at the wonderful granulation! I get this by getting the area very wet then dabbing in the color and letting it separate.

Daniel Smith transparent red oxide granulating

Starting to fill in the rest of the shell. I confess, I am totally lost at how I am going to do this but just jumping in and adding color until it looks right.

Painting the remainder of the shell

Adding a little more masking to preserve whites…

Finishing the inside of the shell

I got too involved in this and forgot to take a few photos. I’ve taken the mask off and painted the masked areas with Daniel Smith Iridescent Moonstone. They make a silver but the moonstone is softer.

Daniel Smith Iridescent Moonstone
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The moonstone by itself seemed a little cold and fake so I “dirtied” it up with Daniel Smith Iridescent Copper and a little sienna. On its own, the copper can be really harsh but mixed and added in small quantities, it is wonderful.

Daniel Smith Iridescent Copper
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Check how the color variations work in the pearlescent sections!

Daniel Smith Iridescent copper

A few more touches to the inside of the shell and I am going to call it finished. Not perfect, but not bad!

Finishing touches

And here it is~

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