Commission done for Jessica Inman owner of JessicaLovely.com
One of the things I was crazy about drawing as a child was mermaids. My parents even bought me a Disney’s How to draw the Little Mermaid book since the movie was fresh out of theaters and at the time my most favorite film. I’d spend hours drawing circles to get the head shape just right, or the classic Disney eyes even. After a while though I’d move on to drawing other things, and I didn’t think I’d ever draw a mermaid again, until recently.
Still fueled by my inner child’s fascination with all things aquatic, I’ve recently been into painting octopi as well as jellyfish. These paintings where more for myself than anyone else and I would share pictures of them to family members and close friends. My mother-in-law showed a picture of one piece I had recently done to another artist named Jessica Inman. She is the owner of JessicaLovely.com. Her work features most notably some amazingly beautiful jewelry pieces, though she also has some rather nice original mixed media as well.
She liked my style and asked me to commission an original piece for her daughter who, like I was at her age, is obsessed by mermaids. I was a little nervous at first because I was given full artistic freedom which can be a dangerous and wonderful thing in the art world. On one hand you can let your creative juices flow freely without the limitations that a client can sometimes place on you. On the other hand, you can spend tons of time and effort to creative a horrible monstrosity that is only beautiful to you, and your client can have a ton of changes. It can be really scary. However, as I sat down with a blank sketch pad in front of me, I tapped into what my five year old self would have wanted if someone had commissioned a painting for me and that’s when the magic happened. I’m happy to report that Jessica Inman was very happy with the piece which in tern brought me the same joy. This post is more about the creative process behind the piece as well as it’s step by step creation.
1.) The creative process: The inspiration given to me by Jessica was another picture of a mermaid sitting on the beach. I specialize in underwater creatures, and even more specifically I really love painting coral reefs. When I was a child, if a piece of art was complex enough, I’d literally spend hours looking at it. An adult example of this was art done by Sergio Aragonés who did a comic called Groo the Wanderer. His comics always seemed to have little “treats” in them. He would draw a crowd of people and you could just flip through the comic, but if you took the time to look at each person, or the things around them, you were usually rewarded with little extra drawings or interactions by characters not even in the story. I loved that kind of thing, so I wanted to give this little girl the same joys I had. I knew right away that a coral reef would allow me to create not just a setting for the mermaid, but it would also give me the ability to work in tiny fish, sea stars, corals of different kinds, and even my signature octopus.
So now that I had the setting, I had to think up the design for our mermaid. I was suddenly haunted by all those hours of trying to draw Ariel, and I found that old habits do die hard as the more I sketched the more I came up with a “Disney-esque” design. After a while I realized that in order to make her my own, it might be good to base her design on an actual sea creature, so I chose one of my favorite fish, the Betta fish. She would have the over all shape of a mermaid, but her hair could be full and multi colored, and her tail could have little extras that would give it a lot more interest than just a regular fish tail.
2.) Preparing the materials: I enjoy using a variety of acrylic paint brands, and as far as my brushes are concerned if they get the paint to the canvas I’m happy. With everything gathered: Brushes, Paint, a cup of water, paper towels, and inspiration we can turn our attention to the canvas. It’s always good to give a little thought to the background of the subject that is being painted. I could have painted just a plain blue background, but adding a gradient, allows the viewer to understand that there is sunlight somewhere above the waves, and it just makes the over all picture a little more polished looking.
3.) Transferring: Growing up I was kind of an art apprentice to my parents. From time to time they would give me little projects to help them with and I was more than willing to have the opportunity to grow in my art education. One of the things I learned is that drawing directly on canvas can be messy at best and disastrous at worse. If you make a mistake while drawing on the canvas, even while sketching, it can be very difficult to correct. In my experience, using an eraser can warp the canvas, or turn just a normal pencil line into a gray cloud. So remembering what I use to see my parents do as a kid, I did my sketches, on tracing paper. From there you take carbon paper, and you lay it face down on your freshly painted and dried canvas and then trace the final sketch through the carbon onto the actual piece you will be giving the client.
4.) Coloring: Ah, now the fun part. It’s the part where you as an artist get to really breath life into these sketches. What I like to do is something called color blocking. I like to paint the basic shades that I want to use to see how they interact with the other colors around them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn sea kelp, on a green piece of coral, only to find that it now looks like just a weird green blob. The mermaid was especially difficult to pic colors for. Originally she was suppose to be pastel pink and purple, but once I had painted in the background I realized that the brightness of the corals were more attention grabbing than her. I also suggest that when doing something complex like a coral reef paint the basic colors in, and then go back and add details. Nothing is more annoying that working a few hours to get a piece of coral looking just right, only to find out that it actually doesn’t look right in the painting at all, and has to be moved, reduced, or cut all together. Finley once all the painting has been completed, I like to go back and add little flecks of white in the water to give it a little more sparkle and depth.
5.) Give it a day before you send it!: I can be quiet myopic when painting. I’ll be concentrating so much on a particular aspect of a painting that I forget how it looks in reference to the rest of the piece. I’ve finished paintings only to look at them the next day and realize that the person I thought was so perfect looking the day before has a head that is too big, or arms that are too long or too short. It’s heartbreaking. I usually call in my husband during the process to give me his thoughts as an outsider, but most of the time, before I post or sell a picture, I’ll wait a day and work on something else. If I come back to the painting and I still like it then I know it’s good to go. If not, then there’s a lot more work to be done.
As I continue to make more pieces, I’ll be posting them here as well in the part of my site labeled “Gallery” There you can see ones which have sold, as well as ones that are for sale and where you can purchase them should you be interested. I’ll also probably blog about the pieces I do so that you can get a sneak peek into what my mind was thinking at the time of it’s creation. Also here is a picture of one of the two cats I own. His name is Tybalt after “The Prince of Cats” in Romeo and Juliet. He sits with me for hours every time I do an art project.