A California roll is to sushi what Tex-Mex food is to Mexican cuisine – a Western adaptation of a traditional food using local ingredients more suited to the American palate. You can find them in shopping malls and supermarkets throughout the US.
The California roll is an inside-out roll (Uramaki), with the rice on the outside, because it was thought that non-sushi-loving Americans would balk at the sight of nori (seaweed) on the outside. Inside is avocado, cucumber strips, and some really gross fake crab (Krab) made from molded cooked fish paste. There are many variations of the basic California roll. Some include mayo, cream cheese, and other stomach-churning ingredients. I’ve had them with crab salad inside (real crab, even!), and while the concept grossed me out, they were actually much better than I expected. (The key is to think of it as an hors d’oeuvre rather than sushi.) Some rolls are sprinkled with sesame seeds or fish roe (Tobiko), while others are served plain.
I did the painting as part of Karin Jurick’s Different Strokes From Different Folks web challenge. If you go here, you can see the original reference photo for this challenge, as well as the other artist’s interpretations.
I love being part of this challenge, but I almost didn’t do this one because it was such a difficult photo for me. Here are some of the issues I had with it:
I decided the only way for me to do this painting was to gather some of my own visual information, and combine it with Karin’s photo. I needed to see what color the rice would be without the shoyu, and where the shadows would fall if I changed the lighting. I make simple “mom” style sushi rolls at home, and we had some leftover rice in the rice cooker, so I made a quick mock-up using only rice. The rice wasn’t properly prepared for sushi, so I added a bit of rice vinegar and nuked it to make it stickier. Fortunately, it didn’t have to taste good. All I needed was a “blank” so I could add the characteristics of Karin’s sushi on top of it.
I arranged the pieces like the ones in Karin’s photo, and played with the light and the arrangement of the other elements. Here’s my final choice:
I wish I’d moved the wasabi out of the shadow, maybe to the upper right corner.
I used a 12 x 9″ gessoed masonite panel. To tone the surface, I used several thin layers of acrylic paint, separated by clear Atelier binder medium, and finished with a top coat of binder mediun. You can’t really see it in the photos, but the layering gave it a tortoise shell-like surface with lots of depth. I almost didn’t want to cover it, and promised myself that I’d leave as much exposed as possible.
The drawing was laid in using a permanent black pen. Mistakes on binder medium can be erased with a cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol.
Then I began painting in oils, using lots of red in the rice to prep it for the reflected greens from the plate.
Just feeling my way around here, trying to figure out the colors. The aqua of the plate was particularly hard for me, but eventually I realized it needed to be dirtier and more yellow.
I tried to stay as true to the original photo as possible when painting the sushi. Everything else is mine, but I wanted those to be Karin’s sushi… minus the shoyu and roe. Because the Krab and avocado in the reference were brown from the soy sauce, I had to create those colors from memory. In the end, I felt the greatest sense of accomplishment from painting those two ingredients.
I kept the plate and mock sushi in front of me, and ended up painting more from life than from the photo. So much subtle color is lost in a photo!
For once I remembered to leave space around the edges for the frame. If I hadn’t, that shoyu dish at the top probably would have been cut off. I want that dish almost kissing the edge of the painting, which probably breaks someone’s rules of composition.
Here’s the finished piece, with the edges cropped as they might be by a frame. The final touch was a drop of shoyu on the plate as a tribute to the original photo.
I’ve dubbed this a “Kalifornia Roll” because it’s filled with Krab. 🙂