What Makes A Painting Work Art Blog
Two challenges presented themselves from the outset in painting this view from under the wharf at Santa Cruz, California. Light comes from multiple points, coming round in all directions to pierce the darkness under the wharf. The far side of the wharf admits an almost blinding light as the sun sparkles on the water. Shadows from the supports are cast at many points and from many directions in varying intensity. The second challenge is created by the large number of straight lines which could carry the eye beyond the picture plane and away from the focal points.
On the other hand inspiration for the piece comes from the interesting play of light among those various points and from the sea lions find the wharf supports to be ideal resting places when they haul out of the water after the work of fishing in the harbor. The sleek shiny body of a still-wet sea lion catches the light and accentuates its shape. The living sea lions, the sparkling water, and the man made wharf create interesting contrasts.
One goal in this composition was bringing the eye to a small circle which would include the chin and mouth of the large sea lion and the head of the small one. Another was not letting the straight lines of those crossbars carry the viewer out of the painting and on to the world beyond. The intersecting timbers where the seals are resting form the main pointers, while boards that end where they were cut without attaching to another that leaves the picture plane help avoid a static grid that might lose the viewer. The light blue patterning on the large animal's body also tapers toward the focal area. The lightest block of color is the small animal's body, and darkest darks frame it. The touch of red at the end of the block in from of the small sea lion's face not only suggests catching the light but also slows the eye movement and turns it away from the line leading out of the picture plane.
Notice the painting is done in blues and browns, the hues of wood, water, and wildlife, with a few orange highlights complementing the blues. When I speak of complements here, I refer to the color wheel and the power of pairing those opposite points on it. The two main blues I used in this painting were indigo and Windsor blue. Payne's gray was also used to a more limited extent, and it is a very blue gray. A touch of orange or orange-y red appears in rock near the water, as highlights on the woods, and a touch of color on the seal near the right edge of the painting. The orange helps suggest light hitting the woods, and the lights and darks in the water, on the wet seal fur, and on the posts, keeps the aware of peering into a half-hidden world of light and shadow.