I’ve long admired artist Karin Jurick’s paintings of people relaxing on the beach, so how cool is it to get to paint from one of her beach photos, with her blessing? That was our assignment for weeks 27-28 on Karin’s Different Strokes From Different Folks online painting challenge.
It’s mega cool, yes, but also intimidating. If there was one contemporary I wish I could paint like, it’s Karin. Her colors are rich and pleasing, like comfort food for the eyes. Her brushstrokes have that confident, casual look I long for in my own work. Her narrative demonstrates a keen sense of observation and a quirky sense of humor which takes a pretty picture to the next level and makes it Art. She’s building a solid body of work, and I fully expect her work will hang on museum walls some day. Man oh man, why didn’t I buy something when her paintings first showed up on eBay, when they were more affordable?
Because I like Karin’s work so much, I have to dig deep each time I participate in her challenge to find myself. The last thing I want to do on her blog is a cheap imitation of her work, from her photo! I think it’s a dilemma most of the participating artists share. It’s like being a contestant on American Idol, trying to put your own spin on an iconic song. It’s damn hard, but if you can pull it off, you’re a better artist for it. Even if you can’t pull it off, you’re still a better artist for it, because you were true to yourself. That’s a big reason why I keep doing these challenges – it forces me to listen to my own voice.
That, and it makes me stretch my abilities by painting stuff I normally wouldn’t paint. Like those people on the beach – I love to paint surf, but I have never included a person in a seascape. Never! So it’s Challenge Time!
Here are a few shots I took along the way:
The painting begins with a waterproof pen drawing on paper.
This time I toned the paper after doing the drawing, using transparent washes of acrylic paint. Why? I dunno. Just felt like it.
The rest of the painting was done using M. Graham gouache. My palette consisted of:
Oils might have been easier and more effective, but I needed a good workout in gouache. Gouache is tricky, because you need to work quickly, and you can’t put on too many layers before it turns to mud.
Waves are well within my comfort zone. People aren’t! So the beach background fell off the paintbrushes effortlessly, and within twenty minutes, it was done. Then I spent the next two hours struggling with the figures.
Having painted a few waves in my lifetime, I think the main thing I need to keep reminding myself is to let them flow. Because when you let the paint do its thing, all sorts of happy accidents happen that make it look more convincing. Labor over a wave for hours, and it looks contrived, like those frozen in time paintings of waves where every little droplet is defined. (You know the ones I mean… usually there’s light shining through the wave right where it’s starting to break.) I like to paint waves as I see them, churning and violent and random. Today’s waves started as dark humps with lots of brown mixed in, because they’re dirty with sand. Then I made a pass with a lighter color, using a circular, rolling motion to imitate the motion of the breaking wave. The cool thing about gouache is that it remains water soluble even after it dries, so as I painted the undercolor was picked up by the lighter paint, mixing with it and creating multiple tones in between. I finished the wave with a pass of thicker white mixed with a tiny bit of red. The red makes the white pop against the complementary blue-greens of the water.
That’s me smiling at my favorite happy accident in the painting.
Starting to mess with the figures (and yes, they are a mess)…
…and the (butt) end result. I’m not really happy with the figures, or with my gouache technique here. I didn’t know what colors to use or how to define the planes on a human body with paint so I fussed with them too much. Gouache strokes should look confident. Lay them down once, and move on! Mine are unsure. You can see me searching for the right answer. That’s why I need to practice in gouache a LOT more.
But there are some things happening here that make me happy. I like the bits of underpainting showing through, and I wish there were more of them. I like the looseness of the sky and the rough indication of clouds. I like the lack of hard edges around the figures, though I could have used a few hard edges here and there. I like the girl’s hair, another happy accident.
The foreground is a big part of the painting and it needed something to define it and bring it forward… so I added sand texture and pebbles. I flicked some light color on with a brush, then added burnt umber shadows to each speck. Fun.
What color is wet sand? Well, it’s darker than dry sand, and reflects a LOT of sky color. The wetter it is, the more sky it reflects. So I guess sand is a dirty brown mixture of sea color and sky color.
Here’s the finished piece. I was getting ready to send it in to Karin, but I have a few free hours to paint today (after I subtract Earth Hour), and there are more figures in the reference photo calling to me. I could just stop here, but in my head I hear Thelma’s last words to Louise – “Let’s keep goin’!” I’m thinking it’s diptych, or even triptych time!