Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Behind the Art: Rocks

People sometimes ask me “what colour do you use to paint rocks?” My response is “red, blue, yellow and white”. If they comment, “so surf is white, right?”  My response is “surf is red, blue, yellow and white, and never only white”

Whether it’s rocks or surf, I paint with red, blue, yellow and white, and never only white.  To be more specific, the red is “Cadmium Red Medium”, the yellow is “Cadmium Yellow Medium” and the blue is “Phthalo Blue”.  Everything I paint is done with those colours, along with white. And I never, ever use black.

Yesterday, I featured the print of my painting “Swallowtail Surf”, which is mostly rocks and surf

If we zero in on the foreground in the print, we can illustrate these colours in rocks and surf.

First of all, let’s look at the surf.  The “white” part of the surf is made to look a little brighter by adding just a tiniest hint of red and/or yellow to it, depending on the kind of day being depicted.  It actually looks brighter with a hint of warmth than if left plain white.  On the lighthouse itself, the white on the sunny side is not white, but has a hint of warmth to it. And the shaded parts of the surf we have the white darkened with blue with a hint of red to give it a little mauve tint.  The shade in the surf is bluer as it reflects the shade from the nearby rocks, but the shady side of the lighthouse has a redder mauve tint as it is reflecting the sky away from the sun.

The colour that we see in rocks is actually the light reflected from them.  Now a rock is pretty dull in surface, so light reflected is generally low, and that is why they usually look sort of greyish or neutral.  But if you look closely at these rocks, you will see that the lighter areas have a mauvish (my spell checker would say that is not a word) tint to them.  And the shaded areas of the rocks have a blueish shade. To approach very deep shade, mix all three colours together: red, blue and yellow, a bit heavier on the blue.  If you mix all three together with emphasis on the red or yellow, you can get various shades of brown.

The colour of the rocks depends on the colour of light shining on them.  The rocks of “Swallowtail Surf” reflect the light of an early afternoon sky.  But early morning light is very different, as can be seen from this rock which is part from my most recently completed painting.

Here the early morning light is much more orange from the colour of the rising sun, and so the rocks look more orange, or orange-brown in colour.  This is calm water lapping up against a rock, so the water reflects the early morning sky too.  Also, note that the wet rocks (wet next to the water’s edge) reflect the light much more brightly than dry rocks.

Colour is one of the gifts to life that we often take too much for granted.  But the full beauty of coulour is there for us to enjoy, so let’s enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Swallowtail: Iconic Lighthouse

Swallowtail Light is one of those icons of the Maritime Provinces that never ceases to attract photographers to snap their own personal image of the commanding structure on a bleak promontory.

For those of us who live on Grand Manan, the name "Swallowtail" is something we just take for granted without thinking about it much.  But when you stop to ponder the name, it does seem rather odd for a lighthouse.

The name actually referred originally to the point of land on which the light was built.  It fans out from a narrow isthmus to look, if you have a flexible enough imagination, like the tail of a swallow; or the "swallow's tail".  Whatever your imagination might fancy it to resemble, it is the bold and rugged promontory that really sets this lighthouse apart as being so striking. And so the rugged rocks of Swallowtail are important and must be integral to any image of this lighthouse.

This painting of Swallowtail Light, which I call "Swallowtail Surf" was one of my earlier lighthouse paintings, and the prints from this painting have proved to be a perenial favourite among those who love images of our rugged Atlantic coast.

"Swallowtail Surf" is my feature print today in From Our Cove's Etsy shop.  This print really resonates with those who have loved scrambling over the rocky coves and points along our Atlantic coast, pausing from time to time to be invigorated by the tang of cold salt spray.  The actual lighthouse plays a distant second fiddle to the rocks and surf in the foreground.

I had a lot of fun painting the rocks and surf and many people have told me that they enjoy the power of the sea conveyed in the print.  I hope you have an opportunity to enjoy it too.

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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Celebrating Sail: "Marco Polo"

In the heyday of square sail, clipper ships were the finest vessels afloat. With billowing clouds of canvas straining their spars and rigging, they were a beautiful tribute to man's ingenuity in harnassing the power of wind.  I have always admired beautiful square rig sailing ships, and so it is reasonable that I should have painted one. Of course, if you are from southern New Brunswick, a square rig ship means "Marco Polo"

My first encounter with the "Marco Polo" was in research for a book I wrote, published in 1970 by Ginn & Co., entitled "Shipbuilding in the Maritimes".  The following paragraphs are quoted from the book.

At the time of her maiden voyage, the Marco Polo was a timber drogher, a cargo carrying vessel.  But in Liverpool she took the eye of James Baines, who bought her to make passenger runs to Australia.

Into drydock went the Saint John timber ship. She was reinforced with copper fastenings and sheathed with metal. Her interior was rebuilt into comfortable staterooms. On her deck was built a richly ornamented dining saloon, picturesquely lighted and finished with the finest of materials. The doors were panelled in stain glass and the upholstery was crimson velvet. She could hardly be recognized as the same ship that left Saint John.  At that time, the only decoration of the Marco Polo had been the full length figure head of the explorer, Marco Polo, reaching forward from the stemhead.

(This has been preserved and is now found in the New Brunswick Museum)

As captain, Baines engaged James Nicol Forbes.  He was known as "Bully" Forbes, as tough a man as ever hauled himself hand over hand across the rigging of the flying jib boom.  A captain of experience and nerve, he boasted that he would go to Melbourne and back within six months.  Though this boast was discounted with amusement, Forbes had sailed in British North American ships and knew that he could do some traveling under full sail in the latitude of the Roaring Forties.  An American navigator had recommended a route to Australia and back that made use of these strong winds both ways.  Forbes planned to follow this route.

On July 14, 1852, the Marco Polo left Liverpool for Melbourne with nine hundred and thirty emigrants on board.  He had a crew of sixty men, half of whom were working their way to Australia.  Forbes made the trip in sixty-eight days, an impressive achievement.  In four days in teh south latitudes he covered 1,343 miles, an average of 336 miles each day.

Because of the gold strike in Australia, captains had problems obtaining seamen in Melbourne.  Sometimes whole crews left their ships to go to the gold fields.  Forbes solved the problem by having all his crew jailed in Melbourne on a trumped up charge as soon as the Marco Polo docked.  When he had loaded all his suppliles and cargo, Forbes withdrew the charges against the crew and had the men returned to the ship.

The Marco Polo went back to Liverpool by way of Cape Horn and arrived there five months and twenty-one days after she had left Liverpool.  Forbes had lived up to his bopast.  The shipping world was astounded.  None were more excited than James Smith and his men when they learned of the achievement of the ship they had built. Thousands of people came to see the Marco Polo at Liverpool. They admired the banner that hung between her foremast and mainmast proclaiming "THE FASTEST SHIP IN THE WORLD"

The Marco Polo made many more journeys to Australia and back under a succession of different captains. A fast passenger ship, she continued in the Australian service for fifteen years. By the end of this period her hull was becoming water-soaked, her timbers were strained, and she was getting too heavy in the water to be a fast passenger ship. She could no longer stand the full sail of her early days when she covered the long distance between England and Australia in record times.

She was cut down in rigging to become a barque.  The proud Marco Polo was reduced to a tramp, slowly luggin consignments of heavy cargo.  In 1880 she was sold to a Norwegain company.  Once more she engaged in the timber trade. She limped across the ocean laden with timber, her tired hull wrapped in great lengths of enormous chain to hold her together.  A wind-powered pump operated full time to discharge the water that trickled through her sodden seams.

Finally, in August of 1883, while struggling along in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with a load of timber, she was caught in a gale and smashed on the shores of Cape Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. After thirty-two years of making history throughout the world, she had bravely staggered home to the shores of her native country to die.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lighthouses in winter

The wind has pretty much blown itself out, taking with it a lot of the leaves and twigs and branches.  All this reminds us that our fall season will soon give way to winter, and we all know what that brings. Well, a couple things actually, snow, and Christmas.  Songs like "White Christmas" and even old carols like "Good King Wenceslas"  tie snow to Christmas.  All this sort of explains why Christmas cards usually feature snowy scenes.

Painting snow; let me re-phrase that, depicting snow with paint, is really painting the way light behaves when it reflects off snow, a variety of subtle colours and shadows.  A couple of my lighthouse paintings are snowy scenes, and in note card form would be a real Maritime way to extend the best of the season to friends this coming Christmas.

The "West Quoddy Winter" card illustrates a feature of northern lighthouses that not many people may have thought about.  Red markings were used on these white lighthouses to help mariners see them more clearly against a backdrop of winter snow.  This lighthouse, at West Quoddy Head, near Lubec, Maine, is the easternmost point of the United States.  The first lighthouse was built here in 1808, with the present brick tower being built in 1858.

The other winter lighthouse scene is "Swallowtail Snow".  Swallowtail Light at the northern end of Grand Manan Island, stands tall at the outer end of a promontory.  All by itself high up on the end of a rocky point, with no backdrop of snow in the winter, it does not have the same need for bold red markings that are to be found in the red stripes of West Quoddy or the bold red cross on Head Harbour Light.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Strong Easterly at Our Cove

Light was late coming this morning at Our Cove, as the rain beat in from the sea, blown by a strong easterly wind.  The more adventurous of crows ventured out, but were quickly blown back to the shelter of the trees.  The gulls, on the other hand, relish a stiff breeze, swooping and soaring, exhilerated by the wind and showing off their prowess as masters of flight. A black duck just flew in and looked for a moment as if he would blow into the rocky point at the edge of the cove, but at last moment he veered off and splashed down by the shelter of a half-tide ledge.  And the gulls still soar effortlessly, as if to taunt less agile birds.

Time to get back to the easel.  I am working this morning on a painting of a "Yellow Legs", on an early morning rock by the sea.  It will be the first of a series I plan to do on birds of the seashore.