Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Marco Polo: Behind the Art

We have all heard the term "artistic licence", which says that artists can express what they see with a lot of latitude. While visual artists are by virtue of being artists expected to interpret things as they themselves see them, sometimes I think artistic licence can be a cop out for not wanting to give the extra work and planning and thought to the project being created.

This can show up in landscape and seascape painting, where some artists do not take the time to think through what is going on in the scene they choose to depict.  Certainly an artist is expected to take some latitude with colours, to create a mood, to evoke feelings. But there are some things that should be consistent with nature, or the painting loses credibility big time.


Sailing ships like the clipper ship "Marco Polo" (depicted in my painting above) are by nature very much dependent on wind.  If you are painting a sailing ship, whatever you do, make sure that the wind and the ship in your painting maintain that vital relationship.  And of course the sea and the wind have a similar relationship that must be respected.  Those who have lived by the ocean and especially those who have worked on the water have a keener sense of this.

If we take a closer look at the forward end of the ship, we can see a little of what I am saying.  In planning this painting, I first of all decided on where I want the light to come from, and then where I wanted the wind to come from.  The light is pretty much from overhead and shining a little from right to left. The wind is blowing on the port (left) side of the ship, causing it to heel a little to starboard (right).  The sails are set at an angle to the ship to allow them to pick up an unfavourable wind and use it to advantage.

In the close-up above, we see the jib sails demonstrating the light and wind on the ship.  But also note that the waves are formed by that same wind, and so must be consistent with it.  Furthermore, painting waves is really painting how light interacts with waves.  So, the waves, formed and blown by the wind, reflect the light according to where it is coming from.  Quite a lot to think about when painting the sea, isn't there?

If you want to paint a sailing ship, it is important to pay attention to how it is rigged, to make sure that the standing and running rigging are faithful to their function on the ship.  Artistic licence does not allow you to render a ship that would blow itself apart in the first breeze! In the close-up above, note the wave formed by the ship's bow cutting throught the water.  Blown spray occurs here, and in painting this wave careful attention to light and shadow give shape to the wave.

Just for a little human touch, note the seaman on the bow waving at us.  It is funny how his hand waving at us, as small and insignificant as it is, really jumps out at you.  Points out how a little human interest in a painting, even if it is very small in scale, really does help you relate to the painting.

I could go on and on, but enough for this blog.  Watch for more tips on marine painting in my "Behind the Art" blogs.

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