I was given this shell at my Daughter-in-laws wedding last year in Portugal which has their wedding date inscribed underneath it. It has a special meaning to me as you will no doubt understand. So, I had to paint it for the couple to enjoy in their home!
To begin with, shells are rather difficult shapes to draw. Full of spirals or curved lines and beautiful patterns. This shell has lines going both vertically and horizontally over a curved surface. We really need to get those right first! I started by doing the outline of it’s total shape and then worked from the top/middle of the drawing putting in the curves carefully as they go from left to right. As they go round to the edges the space between them reduces almost to a vanishing point. Once these were completed and the little cracks across it’s surface drawn on, I then worked from the centre/top, putting in the vertical lines, across to the left and then across to right. These also curve across the surface subtly….quite tricky!
My shell has a number of interesting colours and I studied them carefully before I started to make my swatches. A lovely slate blue grey at the top and warm tan colours at the bottom intermingled with beige tones and yellows. I now had a good idea of what colour mixes I would use and created my swatch of colours.
For the slate blue/grey I used W&N Ultramarine Green Shade (U(GS), Transparent Yellow (TY) and Permanent Rose (PR). Mix it like you’re making black (70% blue, 20% red and 10% yellow) but add in a little bit more of the blue. For the Tan colour I used Burnt Sienna (BS), Quinacridone Gold (QG), a tiny little Indanthrine Blue (IB) and a tiny bit of Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML). I used the SRML to just add a little brightness to the mix. For the second tan colour which is paler and more orangey, I used QG and BS, more of the QG. I also mixed up a black using IB, TY and QM with a little of the U(GS) added for a darker slate grey used at the top of the shell.
The first step was to add a wet in wet layer using the base colours, grey, beige, warm yellow and rusty browns. When the wet in wet layer was totally dry, I started to add in some of the details with a watered down mix. Step 1: starting to add in some of the vertical and horizontal patterning. Step 2 shows me adding a little more shadowing and some of the cracks in. It’s best not to work with to thick mixes at this stage or your painting will start to look smudgy. Now it’s starting to look more interesting!
From here I now added in more of the background colours to give my shell some form. These were very watered down versions of my original colours plus a slightly bluer version of my slate grey/blue. I applied these individually as a thin wash and then quickly rinse/dry off my brush before softening the edges. It’s important to soften the edges of these washes with a damp brush. It gives a lovely smooth finish.
See how it’s starting to take shape! On some areas I used a Billy Showell technique to apply rough lose lines, a dry brush method. This gives a little more interest to the patterning, which are not always just curved lines. To do this, I load my brush and splay it into a fan in my palette. Then I slide the brush away from the palette until it forms little points instead of one point. Holding the brush as a 45° angle I then brush lightly across the area. For thinner lines hold the brush more upright. (There is a video demo of this technique on my Feathery Pursuits blog) This takes a bit of practice, so try it out on a separate piece of paper first!
To add in the spots onto the surface I used another technique. These are not just spots you see. Some are blurred and others have a line coming down from them. To achieve a blurred effect the paper needs to be damp. But rather than dampen the paper first, it’s best to do this with the brush afterwards. You have to be quick and patient! Here’s how it’s done:
Some of these dots were paler than others so I used a watered down mix for those but the same method to apply them.
Once the dots were finished I worked on the top of the shell. This area is not solid colour so I’ve dampened the paper first to get a more mottled effect. It looks pretty messy at this stage but once I add the fine detail it comes together. To get a stronger mix this time I’ve used Indanthrine Blue (IB), TY and PR with only a little of the U(GS) in my mix. This part of the shell is quite dark and U(GS) is a weaker pigment. It’s make the same shade of slate grey/blue though.
From here I worked at the fine detailing on the top part of my shell, even the vertical lines show up on parts of it as they go down into the striped part. To the right side there is a slight halo of light where the slate grey disappears over the edge of the shell. I left this part a little lighter and graduated it away. It’s a little like the reflected light from the surface which you get when painting pears and apples** see below for better photo!
Now to join bottom and top together. There were lots of lines to do here so I had to be very careful! Firstly, to guide me I added in the lighter blue/grey section between the darker lines. Then I carefully added in the vertical lines and horizontal curves. **You can see the slightly highlighted edges at the top of the shell better in this photo below middle.
Next, I worked on the cracks to enhance their depth. I added a darker mix into the top areas of these cracks with a thin wavy line, softened this a little with a damp brush and at the same time pushed the paint back into the top part of each wavy line. This creates backup which is perfect for this type of detail. It gives a nice sharp edge with a thin graduation in front of it. Lastly, a little extra shading around the sides and bottom to make it pop off the page!
I hope you enjoyed this Blog and that you are encouraged to have a go at a shell. Happy painting!