On the Northwest side of the Hawaiian island of Kaho`olawe is Ahupu Bay, whose Western point is called Lae O Na Kohola, or Cape of Whales. There, the great leviathans return in yearly consort to make connections with one another. To win paternity. To begin Maternity. To give birth and protect the newborn. To establish lineage and once again venture Northward to the yearly feeding grounds, where they will fatten to return again and renew the cycle.
Here, I’ve depicted one of the majestic Kohola, or humpback whales, breaching in the fiery dawn of a typical Hawaiian sunrise. Here is a detail section from the larger painting:
This painting was achieved in one session, or “alla prima,” an artsy Italianate term for “at once.” It requires that the artist have a good idea of where they are going before they first lay brush to canvas. I toned the canvas with a mixture of transparent orange and burnt sienna the night before, which allowed it to dry and act as an underlying accent color. The overnight drying time ensured it would not smear and mix with the strokes of color placed on top. Most of the colors in the upper layer are transparent oil paints, as opposed to opaque tints, which allows for a certain depth and serendipitous atmosphere that can’t be achieved with the opaque pigments.
This painting is 24 x 24 inches and is framed in a complimentary black frame with matte and glossy accents.
I thought some of my loyal fans would appreciate seeing a work in progress or “WIP,” as named by artists in the social media world. This most recent painting is a large, 40 x 60 inch representation of a breaching whale, off the coast of Maui, Hawaii.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Hawaii several times over the last fifteen years or so and many of those times have been lucky to be there (well, actually I planned it that way) during whale breeding season, which takes place in the calm and relatively shallow, inter-island waters during the months of December through April. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Hawaii, I recommend this time of year. The whales know what they are doing by being there then! It is absolutely beautiful, not too hot, and the occasional rain shower will have rainbows busting out all over!
On one such visit, Jackie and I stayed in a second floor, ocean front condo with a Lanai that nearly overhung the water’s edge. The massive humpback whales would spout and breach sometimes not more than 100 yards from our patio or “Lanai” as it is called in the islands. We could watch them while laying in bed. This and the many other instances of whale sightings and tours over the years, inspired this painting. Here is the first photo installment of the WIP. Unfortunately, I didn’t get photos of the earlier stages, so you can see some work has already been done:
The entire surface of the canvas is “toned,” i.e. painted with an undercolor–in this case an orangish tone that is a mixture of transparent orange and iron-oxide, oil based paint and natural turpentine. I did this because I knew that much of the finished painting would be in the cooler, blue-green end of the spectrum and the orange underpainting would make for a vibrant compliment where it peeked through the colors of the finish. This creates a visual vibration and harmony that is pleasing to the eye. Many beginning painters put colors directly on a white canvas and will never achieve the stimulating effect that a complimentary underpainting can help to achieve. I’m also using a very large, round, Chungking, white boar bristle brush to apply the paint very quickly. You can see the size of the strokes, which look like stripes.
It’s best to get the canvas covered in paint so you can see the relationships between the major elements before attempting to refine them. Here, I’ve added the Ocean water and more of the land mass in a very loose fashion, not trying to force much representation at this stage. I’m allowing the orange-ish undertone to peek through, all over the canvas–even in the ocean water, which is kind of counterintuitive–who would think that you’d want orange, of all colors, to show up in your ocean water?! The water looks good so I decide I won’t try to fuss with it too much from here to the finish. This was my approach for the entirety of this painting–lay down the stroke and if it looks good, don’t fuss with it!
At this point, I’m laying-in the suggestion of the whale’s anatomy and blocking in the dark mass of the structures and scenery on the shoreline. These dark colors will act as a foil for the later brush strokes in lighter values that will suggest foliage, trees and buildings.
Now, I’m mixing various colors and laying in strokes all over the canvas with cleanly loaded brushes. I’m not smearing the paint around, rather, I’m laying in the colors and values I want, quickly and with resolve, then leaving the strokes alone. I have several brushes going with different color families and not intermixing them, which can create “mud” on the canvas. Clean brushes, loaded with clean, appropriate color, keeps the painting clean. An example of a refinement is the suggested changes in depth of the water at the right, with lighter values of ocean colors that indicate the sunlight reflecting off a shallower bottom or reef.
Now, I’m working more slowly, taking time to contemplate the next steps, making sure that I don’t do anything rash or stupid that will mar the end result of the painting. If I do make a mistake, I wipe it off and correct it quickly. I’ve laid in the under tone for the hotel on the right, which will reflect the waning light much the same as the whale does but with less intensity as it must recede in the distance.
This shows two of the brushes used in the painting of this work. I Used seven different brushes for this one and these were the largest. The brushes used were rounds, flats and one filbert, which is a flat with a tip rounded in one dimension.
And finally, here is the finished and signed piece. Over the last several days of work, I contemplated refinements and added them judiciously to gain the finish shown here. You can see the chaotic nature of the splashes have been refined with strokes of color from a large flat brush; the clouds softened and blended, sometimes with a finger, rather than a brush. Many of these well thought out refinements, applied, achieve a completed painting that evokes the spirit and beauty of the Hawaiian Isles and one of the most exciting sights that can bee seen there.
…and so now that you’ve seen the “anatomy of a painting,” I hope it hasn’t spoiled the magic for you. If you’d like to see a larger image of “Lahaina Ballet,” click on the image and you will be taken to a new page. If you’d like to see the painting in person and up close (I recommend it!), it will be on display in the State Street gallery window at the Westin Emerald Plaza Hotel in Downtown San Diego from July 5th through the 13th.