I was given this shell at my Daughter-in-laws wedding last year in Portugal and it 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 swatch. 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 Indanthrene Blue (IB) and a tiny bit of Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML) – this could be replaced with W&N Permanent Rose, PR. I used a little SRML to just add a little brightness to the mix. For the second tan colour which is paler and more orange, I used QG and BS, more of the QG. I also mixed up a black using IB, TY and PR.
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 using a little stronger beige mix. Image 1: Here I started to add in some of the vertical and horizontal patterning. Image 2 : Here I am adding a little more shadowing and some of the cracks in. It’s best not to work with the mix too thick at this stage or you will not be able to add further colour without it smudging. Now it’s starting to look more interesting!
After this, I 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 more blue version of my slate grey/blue. I applied these individually as a thin wash and then quickly rinsed/dried off my brush before softening the edges. It’s important to soften the edges of these washes with a damp brush. This blurs the edge rather than leaving a sharp edge. 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 through them. To achieve a blurred effect the paper needs to be lightly damp. But rather than dampen the paper first, I prefer 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 paler 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 strong darker mix, this time I’ve used Indanthrene Blue (IB), TY and PR with a little U(GS) in my mix. This part of the shell is quite dark. Indanthrene Blue will strengthen this and the U(GS) will add just a little brightness. It will be similar tone as the slate grey/blue though.
After deepening the slate grey mix a little on the painting, not too dark though, I worked at the fine detailing on the top part of my shell. Vertical line patterning goes over this area too. 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. This is the reflected light from the surface. It is only a small area but crucial to create good form (** see photo further down).
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 paler blue/grey sections between the darker lines. Then I carefully added in the vertical lines and horizontal lines and 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 slightly darker mix into the top areas of these cracks with a thin wavy line. This was softened a little with a damp brush. At the same time as softening I pushed the paint back into the top part of each wavy line a bit. This creates backup which creates a definite edge, perfect for this type of detail. It gives a nice sharp edge with a thin graduation in front of it. Lastly, a little glazed 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!