Here’s another look at my newest acrylic painting in progress: The Pirate Ship of Captain Christopher Moody!
(Click on the image for a close-up detailed view)I’ve gotten a lot of positive responses from my previous (humorous) post, “How to Draw a Pirate Ship”, so by request, I’ve started a list of some more serious tips & insights into How I Paint Pirate Ships.
If you haven’t already read my initial tips, check out: How to Paint a Pirate Ship: Christopher Moody (Part 1)
Tip #5 Start with the Background: If you’ve read my previous post, you should now be prepared with a drafting table, masonite primed with gesso, and acrylic paints ready! To begin a painting that has a detailed receding background, where the earth will meet the sky, I always begin by painting the background color transitions. This requires a larger flat brush and an array of different colors. When choosing your sky colors, consider that smooth natural color transitions seem to be most easily achieved with adjacent hues from the color wheel. In the case of the above painting I chose purples, reds, & oranges.
In some paintings I’ll make a bold horizon line, with dramatic color differences between the sky and the water, to achieve this, you will need to draw a line at your horizon, and complete the following process separately for both the sky and the water. In my current painting, the sky will blend into the water.
Here’s How it’s Done:
1. The method of making smooth color transitions for the background of a painting, is the ONLY part of my painting process that really gets messy; so I begin by laying down a plastic tarp on a flat horizontal surface (a garbage bag cut open and taped down always works wonderfully).
2. Then I lay my masonite centered on the plastic tarp, and start pouring large amounts of paint onto my mixing palette. Remember that acrylic paints dry quickly, so pre-determine the order in which you are going to paint your colors.
3. Start at one side of the painting (either top or bottom) and paint horizontally, back and forth, completely from one side of the masonite to the other, blending the color transitions between each horizontal adjacent stroke as you paint them. If you paint these strokes quickly, you’ll have enough time to blend color transitions as you move down your painting, but you’ll also get a mess on your plastic tarp from the paintbrush splattering paint as it continually moves off each edge of the masonite. If you’re looking to avoid paint splatter by painting more slowly, the background will begin to dry before you can blend each horizontal stoke together, and you’ll end up with a heavily streaked sky.
I started with a deep purple color; the very top of the painting was purely this deep purple, but as I moved down (painting in horizontal strokes) I would pick up other colors with my paint brush and blend them in horizontal, back and forth, strokes.
This process sometimes takes several attempts, or several coats, to achieve a sky without the occasional odd streak of color, and where the smooth transitions carry all the way from the left to the right edge of the masonite. Sometimes, if I know where I want all of the objects in my painting to be placed, I can leave unintentional harsh background color transitions/streaks knowing they will eventually be covered by clouds, the ship, or other foreground elements. And sometimes, I end up changing the entire arrangement of a painting based upon where these unintentional harsh background color transitions develop—but only if I believe they’ll reorganize my work for the better. Otherwise, I (too) have to go back and repeat the process with a new coat of paint.
Tip #6 Outline with pencil: Once you’re happy with your background, you can begin to make simple outlines/sketches of the objects in your painting. Sometimes for this step I use reference photos, this makes it easier to get the basic outlines of my objects onto my painting, while limiting the pencil strokes and eraser marks. The big thing you want to avoid on this step is using your eraser on areas that will not be painted over. The eraser will leave marks on your painted surface–so if you’re erasing in an area where an object will be painted, fine; but if it’s on your background sky, you may be going back to Tip #5, just to cover up pencil/eraser marks.
Graphite pencil outlines of the Pirate Ship
Next, with your object outlines in place on your painting, you will want to take a relatively dark color of paint, and carefully trace over the pencil marks with your paint brush. I do this because if I leave the pencil marks exposed on my painting (not covered by paint), then I risk smearing the graphite onto other areas of the painting while working–especially when the graphite is below my separating paper (the paper separating my hand from the painting, where I rest my hand when painting details). Smeared graphite will need to be covered with paint, or removed with an eraser, either way, smeared graphite is not something you want to get near a ”finished” area of your painting.
Tip #7 Work Top to Bottom: You can see from the above photo that I always start from the top of the painting and work down; similar to the way I draw pirate ships in graphite pencil on paper–always from top to bottom. Additionally, because I am right handed, I always work from the left side of the surface to the right–to prevent any finished areas from being distorted by my hand movement; (and this too can be applied to drawing pirate ships).
Tip #8 Work in layers! Most aspects of my pirate ship paintings are not solid blocks of color—anyone who has ever colored in a coloring book can achieve filling in a solid block of color (as long as they can manage to stay in the lines); but unfortunately solid blocks of color minimize the perception of depth, shadow or texture in a painting. So to better convey these attributes, you need to blend colors into a series of gradual hue/tone changes; and the only way I’ve found to achieve this, is through a succession of extremely watered down layers. You can see the finished results of these layers in the above photo: the clouds, the pirate flag, and the sails.
Here’s how it’s done:
1. Determine the colors you are going to use for a particular object in your painting. I almost always choose a range of colors which will include at least one hue that is un-mixed (straight from the bottle/tube). This un-mixed color will serve as my reference color, because dried paints look slightly different than wet paints. If I have one un-mixed hue in a dried spectrum of colors in my painting, I can confidently add layers of wet paint knowing that when dried they will match.
Building Layers on Tentacle (click for close-up)
When choosing your colors, you’ll need a base color (the primary color of your object), with several darker and/or lighter shades to build depth, shadow, & texture. In this photo, you can see the colors I chose for the tentacles: a series of hues from a dark red/black mix to pure red. The red will be my highlight color, the dark red/black will be for shadows, & the mid-shade hue will be used as my base color. But keep in mind, most colors of acrylic paints will appear slightly different when they are completely dry; keeping a mental note of these changes will help you in matching colors for later touch-up’s on your painting.
2. The first few layers are usually opaque, a single base color that is somewhere near the mid-tone color in your series from dark to light. Many times this color will be the mixture of your highlight and shadow colors. I tend to use a mid-tone color closer to the dark side, rather than the light side, of my spectrum–especially when working with red tones in particular. For some reason, it’s always been easier for me to add red highlights to dark base coats, rather than adding dark shadows to red base coats.
Several coats/layers of this color usually need to be applied to develop a completely opaque background on which you can start building your shadow and highlight layers. And it is best try and keep this background color flat—don’t make ridges of thick paint with your brush (these are hard to cover-up with the proceeding layers).
3. The next few layers are semi-opaque with pretty harsh separations in the different hues/tones. For example each sphere in the clouds was a mixture of deep purple, red, pink, and light pink; after an opaque base coat, the next layer of a sphere was semi-opaque with a clear difference between each separate color.
4. The next layer in the clouds was more diluted, more transparent, and combined almost twice as many hues (deep purple, deep purple & red mixed, red, red & pink mixed, pink, pink & light pink mixed, light pink).
5. Each following layer is gradually more watered down than the previous until reaching the final layers where I’m painting primarily with water tinted by a touch of paint. Each layer will build upon the previous to conceal the harsh separations in color. In case you wondering how much time this takes, I’ll let you know that I took the time to count the layers of paint applied to the sails to achieve their color gradations–and it took upward of 12 layers of paint for each sail.
Just be sure that each layer is dried before you apply the next layer; if a layer is applied too soon it will lift the colors from previous layers (which will need to be built up again before moving on). With watered down layers, I sometimes speed up the drying process with a hair dryer, held a couple of feet from the painting, turned on “low”. But a word of caution–thick layers of concentrated paint WILL CRACK if forced to try too quickly, so I’d recommend that you only use a hair dryer to help evaporate water from heavily diluted paint.
In my next and final segment of “How to Paint a Pirate Ship” I’ll discuss adding final touches and details to individual pieces of your painting. How to Paint a Pirate Ship: Christopher Moody (Part 3) is coming soon!