I just finished this painting of the Emerald Isle, a clipper ship built 1853 in Bath, Main. The client commissioned this to commemorate her ancestors, several of whom immigrated to the United States aboard the Emerald Isle in 1868.
With some information about the ship and the ancestors’ crossing, my first step was to do a series of thumbnails with different perspectives, croppings, and the ship in different attitudes. I sent this sheet with several of those to the client to begin our dialogue about the composition. Over and over I’ve heard artists and illustrators caution not to include any thumbnails you wouldn’t want to paint, because invariably, those will be the ones the client will choose.
Well, of my thumbnails, I didn’t really like the composition or perspective of #3 or #6, but I thought I would include them for variety’s sake. The client liked #6 🙂 With a little discussion about what she liked about 6 and the compositional and dynamic advantages of #2 (my favorite), we were able to make a plan to adjust #2 to suit us both.
Next, I prepared a larger sketch and value comp implementing the adjustments from the thumbnail. When the client approved that, I moved on to painting.
Though I paint on both canvas and panel, if I have the choice I usually go for panel. Gessoing it myself, I can not only control the overall texture, but also that of specific areas.
Once the board was gessoed, I made my first time-robbing blunder. Every project has to have one or two, so I am happy that this one wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have any transfer paper on hand—so I decided rather than go to the store, I would just make my own. I sprinkled a sheet of thin sketch paper with graphite powder and rubbed it in with isopropyl alcohol. It looked pretty good and I proceeded to make the transfer tracing from a printout of my sketch.
When I pulled the sketch and transfer paper away, it revealed a mess of graphite in which I could sort of make out the crumbly outline of a ship. I had used too much graphite powder and it caked pretty thick in some places. I wiped away of as much as I could and re-gessoed. While the gesso was drying I made a trip to the store to pick up some transfer paper ;).
Finally with a good transfer, I went over the drawing again by hand, sealed that with matte medium and did some light acrylic washes to establish a little color and value. Then, with the acrylic dried I switched to oils and painted the sky. Next I did the sails, then half the water. I painted the hull before the water on the right side so that I could let it mostly dry before doing the waves that overlap it. Once it was all painted in. I spent time making adjustments etc. and then I did some thin glazing with burnt sienna (my favorite pigment) to help tie the colors together—I think I’ll have to make another post later about my approach to color. I hope you enjoy.