Starting the painting
This is the starting point of a new painting – a large oil on canvas (1.5m x 1.3m) of a glacier-front in Cumberland Bay East, in the general area of the harbour of Grytviken. There will be a couple of king penguins swimming in the foreground.
I stained the canvas some days ago to give me a light mid-tone background and, with that now dry, I have begun the painting by marking in the ‘horizon’, i.e. the bottom of the glacier where it meets the sea.
I’ve blocked in the basic areas of the scene in very diluted, thin oil paint using a decorating brush and a large, flat hog’s hair brush. This is basically a tonal underpainting; it gives me the basic format of the picture in a very short space of time. I can see whether or not I like the horizon position, which could be changed quickly and easily at this point if I wanted.
I’ve very crudely painted in some floating ice and have sketched in the penguins. Once the water is painted in properly I will add more, smaller bergy-bits and brash ice but it is pointless at the moment as I’ll only have to paint around them when I come to do the water.
I’m starting to get a feel for the painting – the light and the general atmosphere. Although it was an overcast, drizzly day there was enough light to brighten the scene. I am considering moving the horizon (water line) up an inch as putting in the floating ice has altered the composition slightly.
After sleeping on it I decided to shift the horizon up about an inch and now I’ve started roughing in the structure of the glacier using just three colour mixes of thin oil paint.
I’m using my field painting as the main reference for colour and light, supplementing it with photographs I took at the time, which give me the detail of the structure of the ice face. Time and weather precluded me recording such details in my field painting so on these occassions photographs can be very useful.
The glacier front has been roughly sketched in. This has taken less than a day and I can now stand back and see if it is working as a whole. I may alter the structure of the middle section of the glacier, or simply tone down the contrast as I’m concerned it jumps out too much.
I’ve started working up the glacier front at the left-hand side of the picture, adding more form, colour and light to the basic structure. Glaciers are never pure; they always contain soil, rock and animal debris, which produces patches of brown, ‘dirty’ ice.
I’m gradually working along the glacier face developing the complex structure of the ice.
After several days I have almost completed the glacier-front; just the bottom right-hand corner left to do and then I can start on the water.
The colours I’ve used for the ice in the painting seem to change quite markedly depending on the light, time of day etc. It has therefore been very difficult to photograph it for this blog with any degree of consistency, so my apologies if the colour seems to shift from one post to the next!
I’ve starting painting in the water. It was a still day, the sea made even calmer by the presence of floating ice on the surface, which seem to absorb surface disrurbance from any slight breeze there may have been.
Nevertheless, there were tiny ripples on the sea, the effect of which is to slightly blur reflections into vertical bands of colour and tone. For this reason I am using vertical brush strokes over which I will lay a few horizontal lines to indicate ripples.
I am working the smaller brash ice into the wet paint of the water as I go whilst painting round the larger, ‘bergy bits’ that I had already blocked in in the early stages. I will paint these in properly once the water is finished.
It would be difficult to paint larger pieces of ice into wet paint because the brush would pick up too much of the base layer and muddy the colour. This is particularly true when trying to render clear, fresh greens and blues.
I’m gradually working around the picture, painting in the glacier reflection in the water and working in the brash ice as I go. I use a plumb line hung in front of the picture to make sure that the reflections are exactly below the the piece of the glacier that is being reflected.
Towards the bottom of the picture, where the water is nearer to us the viewer, the horizontal ripples become more noticeable. I still start by painting in the water as vertical bars of colour but am conscious that these verticals will in places be broken by horizontal ripples.
I have now reached the stage where the glacier reflection becomes broken by the reflection of the sky along the top horizon of the ice face.
The water is now complete. All that remain are the larger bergy-bits and the two king penguins.
I’ve started painting in the larger bergs, at the back, and their reflections.
Detail of completed bergy bit. Although the day was overcast, light transmitted through sections of ice in wonderful minty greens.
Having completed the scene it just remained to paint in the swimming king penguins, which took only half a day.
One of the inspirations for this work was the shot of orange on the penguins’ heads aginst the blue of the rest of the picture. Without this small accent of colour the picture would be greatly diminished. The penguins also help to give an idea of scale.