52 seascape reflections: week 1

Welcome to the first of 52 seascape reflections

Join me for a weekly dip into my seascape paintings. The self-initiated mission is to share 52 sets of reflections on old, new and in-progress creations throughout 2024.

The creative motivation to regularly dive deeper into this body of work is to challenge myself to identify ways to evolve my work. Recently, while re-archiving digital photos of paintings (so that's it's easier to find what I'm looking for now that there are soooo many photos), I realised that looking at older artworks sparks ideas for new creations and techniques. Noticing what you do and don't like about your own work (and that of other artists) helps you identify what to prioritise or experiment with in your creative process. I'm looking forward to seeing what surfaces (pardon the ocean pun).

Where to start?

My very first seascape commission seems like a good place to start this series of 52. It was created in the lead-up to Christmas 2008. The client wanted a painting gift for her husband based on a family photograph of their children building sandcastles on the beach. It was an honour to be trusted with something so special, especially since I was rather inexperienced at the time.

The client liked the looseness of my style. This surprised me. At the time, I wrestled against that intuitive part of my creative approach. These days, I'm more confident and versatile so am increasingly embracing this aspect of my style.

Abstract painting with 3 not quite horizontal bands of colour

The underpainting and base colour palette

I started with an underpainting in oils to build in colour zones for the sky, sea and sand. I typically didn't take process photos back then. But there was something about this abstract structure that appealed. So I kept my first underpainting as an abstract painting in its own right and began a second version for the commission. One of my besties took a shine to the underpainting abstract and it ended up living with her.

Winsor & Newton's purple lake was a colour I had treated myself to that year and has remained a staple in my palette over the years. I don't use it as a base layer for the ocean anymore. But it certainly continues to play an occasional role in my beach sand palette. 

The layers and earthy hues

The wet sand in the reference photo presented a great opportunity to make the most of the yellow ochre and burnt sienna in my paint set. I've always adored earthy hues (and used to wear them a lot). Yet, I seem to stick to brighter palettes and don't tend to use them much in my art. These days, burnt umber is the earthy colour I rely on the most. And for seascapes, I tend to use a lot of buff titantium (something I hadn't yet added to my paint collection when I undertook this commission but that soon became a staple in my seascape palettes). Looking again at the hues in this painting is a good reminder to consider more frequently how earthy colours can accentuate dark and light while adding warmth to a painting.

Seascape painting of children on beach building a sandcastle

All the other layers

I spent ages on this painting, painstakingly building up layers and details. Part of that was nerves. Not surprising for a first commission. But it was also about learning about oil paint. When to blend wet-on-wet and when to let layers dry. 

Despite studying art at school, I have no training in oil painting. We were required to use these ghastly powdered paints. The colours of these were almost always muted and the texture thin. No wonder I relish texture so much in my creative process these days. It's the tactility and depth of the medium that gives me joy.

Over the years, one of the things I have learnt about oil paint is to let the painting rest for short periods between layers. Rather than letting layers dry entirely, the possibilities shift depending on how dry the paint is. There's a risk that it can go clumpy (nevermind dirtying colours that you don't want to mix) if you don't time it right. So, I was wise to be tentative and wait for the layers to dry when I did this family seascape. Luckily, these days, I can discover that sweet spot when the paint is dry enough to blend in high or low lights without losing the integrity of the colours. More about that in future blogs.

Pondering texture

The different textures in this painting were a great creative challenge to stretch me out of a comfort zone (I'd been painting lots of smooth flower petals that year). One of the things I've been pondering in my studio while working on new seascapes (and reworking some older ones) is how to convey and control texture. I think there's scope to make my beaches sandier and bring in more undulations in the water so that the light dances on the surface. 

Hope you enjoyed the read and will join me next week for the next seascape instalment.

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