I was looking forward to this project because of the detail involved. This is the sort of image that usually grabs my attention, so when I saw this old boat down at Harbourfront in Toronto, I stopped to take some pictures for a possible reference. Check out the photo here. Six months later, I decided it was time make it into a painting. As always, my first step was to transfer the basic lines onto my canvas, using a light projector. I don’t worry too much about accuracy when doing this, it’s just the basic lines for the major shapes that I care about.
The main shapes have been blocked in with colour, and this is known as the under painting. Not only does this preserve the shapes to help me navigate around the composition, but it sets the canvas up to take the next layer of paint. The colour should be close to what I intend to end up with, but sometimes I will pick the brightest colour for the whole area; for a few examples, the yellow and red inside the boat. Because of the translucent nature of Alkyd paint mixed with linseed oil, a brighter base colour can effect the final appearance.
I opted to do the water and waves first. Light reflecting off the water’s surface has produced hard edged shapes, varying in shades of a lighter blue/green. This was fairly straight forward.
After the first layer of shapes was dried, I applied the second layer with slightly more complex detail. There are a lot of variations going on within the original hard edged shapes, and I tried to capture some of this. The keel needed to be reflected in the water, and I paid special attention to how some of the wave shapes interacted when they intercepted one another.
In a third layer, I continued to refine and add contrast to the previous shapes, and I added distortions to mimic the reflections, and refractions – as you can see in the propeller. I also did the basic outlines of bits of foam floating in the lake.
Painting the Hull
The hull of this boat is a wonderful mess of peeling, damaged paint, rust, rot and soot from an old diesel exhaust. Before I could really get started, I had to block in the main shadows, and highlight the dent to the right of the exhaust. After this had dried, I set about adding the many rivets, something not worth sketching and outlining during the under painting stage. Unfortunately, I had to wait 6 hours for this to dry, as well, before I could move on.
At this point, I started to rough in the cracks in the paint. It was a little tedious, but getting this right is important, since I would be building on these lines in later steps. This became evident in as I added on highlights and shadows to the paint, to make it appear as if it had peeled and curled up. Special attention was paid to the fact that within a shadow, everything appears a little darker.
After deepening the shadows and adding more detail to the cracked paint, I added the soot using a “dry brush” technique at times; that is to say, having very little paint on my brush. If I made an area too dark, I simply used a cloth to remove most of the paint.
Before moving on to the wooden keel, I turned my attention to the waterline for awhile. There were important little touches like the gleam where the water meets the hull, and detail within the patches of foam I started earlier. Algae growth near the waterline has turned part of the wood a dark green, fading to a lighter shade as it rises. This was achieved with a dry brush technique, as well.
The sun’s angle makes for very long shadows, and an interesting opportunity for eye-catching realism. I carefully added several layers of shadow on the bottom part of the keel, keeping the difference very subtle. Both sides of the main shadow have their own gradation from top to bottom.
It took several layers to achieve the look of rough-hewn wooden pieces on the sides. I left the bolts for the finishing touches, but worked the parallel ridges first with shadows, then with lighter highlights. When this was dry, I added on the vertical cut marks. At this point, it was time to address the myriad of little details due to the grain drying out in aging wood, sun beaching the paint, and damage from everyday use. I find that you can’t realistically include everything you see in your reference shot, so it’s best to step back and see what works best.
Ugly Can Be Beautiful
Now I got to add some of the wonderful detail that drew me to this composition in the first place. The side of the keel, with the unique light angle, needed some bumps and protrusions to give it life. Adding shadows and highlights is a simple technique, but the result seem to jump off the canvas.
I knew that the blue trim on this boat would be both challenging at rewarding. To begin, I first had to rough in a few more rivets, and finish the major shadows. There was so much going on here, in terms of the repainted wood, that I had to be patient and do it in three layers.
Often times I find it helps to analyze what it is I’m painting before I begin. In this case I noticed older red paint showing through the blue paint, due to chipping or flaking. On top of this, there is serious wood rot, leading to darker gaps. Finally, there are the standard cracks that come naturally from age.
The interior of this boat is a complex mess of textures, colour, shadows and highlights. I had to decide how I wanted the painting to appear, so I referred to my photo less and less, and just had fun with the possibilities. To start, I added some major shapes that defined where the peeling paint was.
Next, it was time to make all this wonderful tactile surface texture come to life for the viewer. Patience was the key here; I had to wait for each layer to dry, in order to add in more detail without disturbing what I’d already done.
The finishing touches included a very interesting piece of old rope, the bolts on the keel, and an after-thought that pulled the whole concept together, and gave me the paintings’ name: a wrinkled up package of Fisherman’s Friend lozenges.
Here, then, is the finished painting: Fisherman’s Friend