A wave to family time

I’ve just sold two lovely landscapes to a return collector: Family time and Taking flight. Yay! Family time (below) is the third painting inspired by a breaking wave I photographed on family beach day in 2009. Since I’ve just waved goodbye to the third, I thought I’d share with you some reflections about these three creations painted at not-quite-equal intervals in 2009, 2015 and 2020. 

Oil painting of wave breaking

^ Family time (oil on canvas, 2020)

Why do I I keep repainting this wave?

First and foremost, it’s a special memory of a happy day with my family and I’m happy to revisit it with my brushes. The two earlier versions were both unimaginatively titled ‘Wave, St James’ after the particular South Peninsula beach in Cape Town where I took the photograph. ‘Family time’ fits the 2020 version better. Dull, literal titles for my work is an old habit that I’m consciously moving away from. It can be hard though, as while I readily express my emotions through paint, my head can’t always articulate what I’m trying to say until some time has passed.

Second, it’s fun to test out different tools for creating the textural contrast between the sky, water and that frothy wave. I think the original version was very much me trialling my favourite ‘tutu brush’ on waves. I’m pretty certain I’ve used this same brush in all three (it’s easily the most robust paint brush I’ve ever owned). But there’s definitely more palette knife work in the 2020 creation and a lot more paint on the canvas. 

Third, well, as an artist we always think we can do better and sometimes it’s good to return to a subject, see it with fresh eyes and explore it in new ways. 

Fourth, the image appeals to me because it doesn’t look like the clichéd postcard view of St James. St James is the beach with the colourful beach huts next to the railway line that’s used in tourism. It’s also a popular beach for locals because it has a tidal swimming pool. It’s has wonderful rock pools that receive a lot of primary school visitors who are studying the critters in the pools. I definitely remember at least one school outing to St James! But my photograph and paintings are of the view out to sea so the iconic huts and pools are not visible. It could be any beach (unless you’re my sister who shares the memory).

Seascape oil painting of wave breaking in wide format

Wave, St James (oil on canvas, 2009)

The three paintings differ in terms of their format, a deliberate choice to give me opportunity to explore different compositional variations of the same subject. The 2009 version (above) is a wide format and significantly smaller than the others. At the time, I chose this format because I’d enjoyed painting a panoramic view of Camber Castle on a similar linen canvas and had treated myself to another. This was partly because of the possibilities of the wider format and partly because that had been the first time I had painted on linen and I had totally fallen in love with it. Linen is definitely one of my favourite surfaces to create on.

Oil painting of wave breaking with expansive sky

Wave, St James (oil on canvas, 2015)

The 2015 version (above with apologies for the poor image quality) is the largest. What I love about the coast is the expansiveness of the sea and sky. In 2015, this is what I was missing about South Africa and I wanted to express the sense of space that I yearned for. In hindsight, this probably also links to the fact that at the time I was renting a very small room in a rather cluttered house. 

The 2020 painting has similar proportions to the 2020 creation but it’s less than half the size. This version was less about space and more about paying homage to family time. And I had missed the big one after I sold it.

Unusually for me, the wave I photographed has inspired three reasonably symmetrical compositions. I hadn’t realised they were so symmetrical until I sat down to write this blog. I tend to veer away from symmetrical compositions because I usually consider them to be too static and staged. As an artist (and designer), I prefer to create an asymmetrical balance where the visual weights of form and space are held in dynamic tension. (Design geek digression: symmetrical compositions are perceived as quite formal and my PhD research validated that this is the case for typographic layouts too).

None of these three follow compositional norms like the rule of thirds or the golden mean. But I’d still say they are visually balanced. In each, the half-submerged rock on the lefthand side of the seascape is symmetrically balanced by the unfurling tunnel of the crashing wave on the right. However, the gravitas of the stationary rock contrasts with the rise and fall of the wave as it moves towards the rock and the movement breaks the symmetry so it’s not the sort of static symmetry that I avoid (in both my art and, once upon a time, as a magazine and book designer). The curve of the wave and the exuberant spray also contrast with the stark horizon line in the distance. In the 2015 version, a higher proportion of the canvas is allocated to the sky, which increases the compositional tension and sense of space. The 2020 version, is more even in its sky versus sea proportions, enabling me to explore the light and colours of the shallow waters in the foreground. This one has the most saturated colour palette. 

Photo of oil painting of wave hanging above a bed

^ Wave, St James (oil on canvas, 2009)

I’m thrilled that, with the sale of the most recent one this week, all three seascapes are living happily ever after in their forever homes. The earliest interpretation was bought in 2010 by the lovely property manager I rented from back then. Magically, all these years later, she looked me up on Instagram and dropped me a hello. She also sent a photo (above) to show she’s still enjoying my seascape. It’s always special to hear a new owner is happy with their purchase but hearing that your work is bringing joy year after year, is quite something.

The seascapes featured on my website at present are relatively small pieces. If you are interested in something bigger, please get in touch. If I've got a few larger ones in stock, they're in the queue for me to source shipping quotes before I add them to the website.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.