Oil Paint Nautilus Seashell Tutorial

Oil Paint Nautilus Seashell Tutorial

step-by-step instructions below slideshow

This nautilus seashell painting was created during a one hour painting session in oil on an 8×10 in. stretched, cotton duct canvas. The piece was painted from directly observing an actual nautilus seashell, using an ala-prima, wet-into-wet,  tonalist style. The shell was illuminated by a single warm light that was clipped onto my easel, which enabled me to interpret the elegant form through observing the subtle relationships of light and shadow — chiaroscuro.

My approach to painting essentially merges both aesthetic and conceptual elements from 17th century Baroque painting with a 19th century atmospheric sensibility that’s characterized by various lost and found edges and passages of shared value.  Many of my still life compositions involve merely a single object, and are often tightly cropped, with no reference to a table ledge or horizon line. Through the years fellow artists and critics have stated that my still life paintings often contain painterly nuances akin to Edwin Dickinson and Lennart Anderson. My work is quite diverse in form and content, which often leads me to exploring different approaches to painting.  Approaching painting in different ways makes the creative process more interesting and less static. With this piece I used Winsor Newton bristle brushes (flats) , linseed oil to thin the paint, and Rembrandt paint.



 Oil Paint Nautilus Seashell Tutorial

Creative Step-by-Step Process

1. In this piece I decided to just begin with a very rough contour sketch of the shell using Raw Umber. During the very beginning I usually consider both the scale and placement of the form. Once and I while I will crop part of the form off in order to suggest visual tension. These compositional decisions are rarely pre-conceived and are always a result of the creative process and the moment. The particular composition twist I implement may be influenced by my mood, time of day or quality of light bathing the form. I prefer to paint with natural light, but live in upstate New York where the sun shines through my studio windows only on rare occasions.

2.  I then decided to just quickly block in the surrounding negative space (background) with the same thinned out Raw Umber in order to establish and reinforce the simplicity of the figure-ground relationship. Plus, I was in a hurry and felt like I wanted to make something raw and visceral.

3. Why do you now see my hand holding a wad of paper towel? Well, once and a while I’ll just rub into the wet umber with the towel and smear it around the surface in order to quickly suggest a unifying, overall tone. Through the years I’ve come to realize that my strongest work usually comes from getting the essence of the subject down on the canvas as simply and effortlessly as possible. When it becomes a struggle it means it’s not right. If you have ever drawn with a big chunk of soft charcoal and then rubbed the tones all over, this sensibility is the same.

4. I learned many years ago that one way to make the surrounding space (background and foreground) visually interesting is to make sure the left is different from the right side and the front is different from the back of the picture. This type of thinking usually compels me to make one side a bit darker compared to the other. In this piece the left side is suggested as being darker through making the Raw Umber less transparent. Even at this early stage, I’m beginning to feel out the quality of the edges with my eyes. I also indicated the angle of the cast shadow, and used a paper towel to wipe away the foreground, leaving it transparent and lighter in value.

5.  With this piece I decided to first map out the characteristic patterns of the shell with Raw Umber also. This gave me an opportunity to study the unique shapes of each curvilinear stripe without having to think about its temperature. The approach used here is similar to how a watercolorist maps out the patterns of dark within a landscape, and suggests the white by leaving the white of the paper untouched.

6. Next, I quickly painted in the warm, light stripes with a tint of Yellow Ochre. During this phase the edges of the warm ochre areas ended up overlapping the darker, warm umber stripes about the thickness of a hair or two. This allows the edges to soften and naturally meld together, which is a quality found in most of my work. In a couple instances, I restated the dark stripes back over top the lighter ones in order to re-shape and suggested particular proportion, thickness and curvature of the shell stripe.

7. At this point, I painted directly back into the wet (but transparent) dark stripes with Napthol Red. Although, the same effect could be achieved with Indian or even Cadmium Red.

8. If you study these images closely, you  will see that I then paint back over the Napthol Red areas with a Yellow Ochre in a few areas on the right (light) side of the shell. This served a couple of purposes, including realizing more of a sense of directional light, suggesting the subtle, varied surface texture and adding movement and curvature to the shell form.

9. I then added as high-key tints a few nuances of Ultramarine Blue directly into the wet passages of Yellow Ochre. You’ll notice in a lot of my work that I place patches or spots of warm next to cool tones and tints in order to suggest a shimmering effect.

10. Towards the end of my paintings I typically move the colors around the piece in order to add to the overall sense of color harmony and movement.  I find placing warm against cool, complimentary tones heightens this sense of harmony and movement. And with this piece it enabled me to suggest the reflection in the foreground.


Here is a link to a gallery that includes various paintings I created involving seashells>




Oil Paint Nautilus Seashell Tutorial

Oil Paint Nautilus Seashell Tutorial



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