Mumbles of a Marine Biologist

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Whale Shark – Painting Tutorial

This weeks post is a tad different… for a while I’ve wanted to share a bit more about my painting process and see if people were interested in seeing that side of my artwork/website posts. The perfect opportunity to document my process a bit more came up when I recently got to paint my first large watercolour painting (in A2) of a whale shark.

This was for someone who is a massive fan of whale sharks, and I wanted to get it as good as I possibly could, so it took a while to work out the logistics and practice the painting all of which I explain below… enjoy!

Materials:

If anyone has any art books, I am always obsessed with the section at the start that describes the paints, pens and paper that the artists use. It combines two of my loves, stationary and art! So here is the list of what I used for this piece:

  • Windsor and Newton Paints – set of 45 (pictured below… look there so b-e-a-utiful!)
  • Faber Castle Ink Pens – just a set you can get is WHSmiths or art shops (I run them out all the time so need to be able to run and buy them again quick!)
  • Derwent A2 super smooth watercolour Paper
  • Mechanical Pencil – to make sure the lines stay super crisp!
  • Dale Rowney Art Masking Fluid, to cover over the spots whilst I painted the main body.
  • The Finding Dory Soundtrack!

Windsor and Newton Paints- recent addition to my art supplies, still working out how all the colours blend as theres so many! But having a blast messing around with this set! I highly recommend.

Pre Painting Process:

Before I start the main painting, I firstly have to make a cup of tea and place it as far away from my paint water glass as possible. I then put on a soundtrack, this time it was of course Finding Dory because it has a whale shark in!

Once those rights of passage is out of the way, I sit down and do a little pre-planning sketch (shown below) with some reference pictures from google. This is a pretty rough sketch, but I basically do it so I can make the mistakes on a smaller scale first and get used to the shape of the animal I am drawing. For example, the whale shark is a very odd shape, it has such a long front end with all the fins squished to the back. I had to stop myself naturally wanting to draw the dorsal fin much further to the front of the body than it should be!

Preliminary sketch of a whale shark on top of the final outline for some comparison.

I then get the paints out and play around with some ideas of how to paint the drawing after the initial sketch. This is just in case I might have to change the design to fit around how the paints will work. It usually ends up with a piece of rough paper like below. It’s important to make sure this test is done on the same paper that the main painting will be and the paper can massively change how paints blend and dry.

Practice paint before the final whale shark piece.

Because my paints are still relatively new, I needed to make sure I was selecting the right colours so I usually paint out the few colours I’m going to use in the order they are in the paint set (so I don’t get confused). I then see how these paints blend together, usually I don’t let the paint sully dry but I love to layer up all the colours but for a change I let the paint fully dry above before adding more colour on the test above, but I didn’t really like that effect.

The spots of a whale shark was always going to be the most difficult thing to do (HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MANY THEY HAVE?!!). I needed a method to be able to still paint the background colour very bright where the colours flowed without having to avoid a billion spots. I started messing around with that here, and pretty much liked how it came out so decided to risk it and try it on the actual piece (see below).

The Final Picture:

This is the point where I start to brick-it a bit, especially if the piece is for someone else – but this forces me into my art craze zone (as if I need to be anymore crazy). Because of the way the watercolours work and how into the process I get once I start of piece I usually won’t leave the piece until it’s totally done for this stage. In the case of the whaleshark, I did all the preliminary planning stuff on a Saturday afternoon/evening, then set my alarm early to get up so I had the day to make sure it was spot on (plus is there really any better ways to spend a sunday?). I recommended at least making sure all the painting  is done in one session, because it much more difficult to continue to blend watercolours once they’ve totally dried.

Firstly I do the outline, to me this is the most boring part and I constantly have to stop myself jumping straight into the painting. It’s also the most tricky bit, as you can cover up mistakes with paint but no matter how much you paint over it if the initial shape is wrong it will look weird in the end. It probably took a few hours of drawing, standing back and changing to get the whaleshark as good as I could, the it was onto the fun stuff!

Initial outline of the whale shark, ready to paint!

Now like I mentioned earlier I really do get into the painting when I get going, and unfortunately forgot to take a few photos in-between these next few stages but I will still explain them.

The first thing I did after the outline was go over all the places where the spots would be with the masking fluid, this is like a liquid rubber and when it dries you can paint over the top of it and protect the white underneath. This is why the below photo of the whale shark has ‘yellow spots’ because this is the masking fluid before its removed. With the spots I tried to follow photos closely, making sure I had the stripes in the middle of the body and then a good number of smaller spots on the head. Honestly, I was so surprised just by how many markings they have!

Then after the spots were covered I went and dove into the painting. After looking at tons of whale shark photos I was so shocked to see just how gorgeous colouration they had. So I made sure to try get as many shades of blues and greys included, as well as highlighting the more armoured ridges on the back. I kept layering the colours onto of each other until I was happy, but I hadn’t removed the gum yet and it still made me very nervous to see what it was like when it was all removed.

Whale shark after being masking fluid was added over the spots and then painted over with watercolours.

Luckily I had tested how the masking came off the paper earlier because I found if you tried to remove it with a rubber it sometimes ripped the paper, so I found the best way to remove the gum was just to carefully lift it off with my finger nail. The finished result with all the spots removed was nice, but a little too bright white. So I mixed up a few very light shades of blues and greys and painted the spots in lightly to get some more tones (picture below) which I think made it painting blend together a lot better.

Whale shark with the masking fluid removed, and the spots lightly painted to make them blend into the body better

Then the final thing I do with any watercolour painting is of course outline it in black (my favourite thing to do!). To do this I use my Faber Castle ink pens, I used the thickest pen for outline of the shark, then used thinner pens to outline every spot again (seriously these spots took ages…), and add dot work to the piece to add some more tone, around the gills and shadows on the underside.

And voila! The whale shark, (which I’m not entirely sure has been named), was finished!!!

I hope for anyone who has an interest in how I paint, or painting in general found this useful! Please let me know if this is something you’d be interested to read more on, or if I could explain it any better. Happy to answer any questions, but if you like it please share the post around!  Best way to get in contact is to comment below  or tweet me @marinemumbles. Plus follow me on  Instagram too see all my illustrations and photos of my coastal travels too!

Happy Painting x

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