As I learn “painting”, I am intrigued by how this simple concept of representing something on a surface of some sort becomes so complex and spreads out from all sides to show that it really has no borders unless someone tries to impose them. This began as the second painting I did in a series of private lessons designed to teach me the craft of painting.
This is the shell of a Shark Eye Moon Snail, a mollusc that lives offshore of much of the US east coast, where I have found their washed up remains many times since early childhood. They are a favorite of mine. Here, it is set up on a white surface with a single point light source to give it simple light and shadow, for basic drawing or painting.
First step was to paint the 8×10″ canvas board a neutral grey color. Then the sketch began, lightest areas represented by white, and darkest by the neutral grey.
Finished sketch, expressing the values seen in the shell and it’s shadow, called a tonal underpainting.
A simple palette is used, all colors will be mixed from red, yellow, and blue paint. Shades will be lightened with white, darkened with neutral grey.
Even though there’s not a speck of red, blue, or yellow visible on the shell, the mixtures of these colors represent the shell very well.
This is the completed lesson painting. Although there are flaws, I’m happy with it as a fledgling endeavor.
But, wait a minute… the realist in me knows I will put this in a pile, or box, or drawer and may never look at it again. So, let’s take this further. It’s a couple months later and I have several paintings under my belt.
I have imagined a natural setting for the shell, where it’s just washing up on a Beach. My initial thought of waves in the background won’t work because of the lighting on the shell being from the wrong direction, so we’ll be wading a bit out in the Surf and looking shoreward when we come upon our Treasure.
Not happy with my initial effort, I painted it over. Painting purely from imagination is tough, and beyond my present state of development. A sketch of my idea is made. Drawing the shell is getting easier, since I’ve made several by now.
We have the Surfwash in the fore ground and a sloping wall of sand up the Beach and some sky in the background. But I’m not happy with how the bubbly foam looks, so I paint it out again for a fresh try.
Back to the Teacher for enlightenment, another lesson. Paint what you see. We set up a shallow tray with sand and water, place the shell and carefully adjust the lighting. “Do you see the reflection?”, he asks innocently (he knew it would be there). “Oh crap, now I have to paint a reflection, too?”, I moan, but with some trial and error, figure out how to do it. Painting wouldn’t be such fun if it was easy.
Back home, I have a decent reflection and some bits of foam.
And again, your imagination will betray you on the details, so I took some pics of the foam in the Surf for reference.
More detail in the foam and some light and color reflections on the water, I think it’s almost there.
I signed and varnished it and stood back to admire the finished painting. And that’s when I saw it… Maybe it’s because I’m a Fisherman, but I couldn’t deny it… From a certain angle, the reflection became the lower jaw of an open mouth, the shadow a darkened gullet, and the conical origin point of the shell was a fish eye. It couldn’t be unseen, it was there. I came to think of it as a Snail Eye Sand Guppy, a rare species that fed on Surf Foam, look, he’s gulping some now!
So, I learned you could still paint over the varnish and filled in a sand-sculptured tail, with a red bucket and shovel to further the illusion. Now, it’s really done and I put a modest frame around it. Thus, the Title of the painting became, “Shellfish”.