Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sky Tide

On a recent journey to southern California I spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the tide pools of Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego. The abstract qualities of line, shape, shadow and color in this dynamic landscape of stones, sea and sand caught my attention and I took many photographs with the intention of painting some later.

The first small sketch I made used a limited palette to enhance the contrast and abstraction of one of the deep crevices in the boulders:

To some, the image "reads" as verticle rather than horizontal, like an archway or cliff, rather than a crevice - especially with the sky I've added at the top. This was such a satisfying subject for me, that I decided to tackle my first ever Full Sheet (30" x 22") watercolor. I first selected another of my reference photos, a complex and disorienting jumble of beach rocks and water at the bottom of cleft between the boulders:

Next I stretched my dampened paper on a large sheet of Gatorboard - this is a dense, water-resistant kind of foamboard that stands up to repeated stapling around the edges. I must say, it was very intimidating to have a staring contest with such a large blank page, exponentially larger than I usually work. The reference photo clipped in the corner is the size of the painting above! The challenges of scale in watercolor, as I've written before, are still quite daunting for me - brush size, the size of the puddle of paint that needs to be ready, the speed that I can get it onto the paper without it drying and the color-shifting on me... those are all factors that increase the tension. At this scale, I can't really leab over the page, and must work from an easel. Mine doesn't lay back to near horizontal, so gravity working on the paint and water becomes a major factor too. But still... the paper blinked first and on I went.

Very quickly during the drawing phase I came to see just how large a challenge I'd taken on - there were more than one hundred stones in my scene, and each needed to be depicted somewhat convincingly! As I drew, I knew that each would be a potential landmine, ready to blow up the entire painting if I couldn't procede confidently.

I wanted the larger boulders on the sides of my image to retain their abtract qualities, and I knew that the darker one of the right would be particularly crucial, so I started there - laying-in a kind of loose abstraction. It was close to what I was after, but I'd need to make the space convincing later if I could:

Next I tried my hand at one of the larger stones in the bottom of the crevice, and began to delineate the boulder on the left, being careful to stay as minimalist and abstract as I could get away with:

I kept plugging away in each of the next stages, trying to keep a pleasing arrangement of warms and cools going in the stones, feeling my way towards how to paint submerged rocks under the reflected sky, how I might pump up my contrast, my darks, my color intensity without the whole painting becoming unbalanced.

Here I decided I needed to exaggerate the darks on the left boulder in order to more convincingly create depth near the water:

From here I continued work on my shadows, darkening the values of many stones and adding a thin cerulean blue wash to the reflected sky in the puddle in the bottom:

And that... is just about the limit of my skill. This was a daunting experience, and I'm glad I navigated through it safely  - even though it was touch and go at a few stages. I hope you like the results. Surely this won't be my last large one!