This week we’re taking on a new subject: a seahorse! We really enjoy the 40 x 16 inch canvas dimensions of Sedona Sunset and thought it would be fun to try some similar abstracts that size. But, the new canvas had been languishing since we put down the first layers a few months ago. Then last week, while pondering the canvas, the shape of a seahorse appeared in the color washes.
It’s worth noting here that the edges of the canvas really are perpendicular, but the camera tends to make them look irregular. Something something focal length – who knows?
The textures come from mixing acrylic texture paste with semi-gloss white interior house paint and applying it to the canvas with a small paint roller. When that dried, we repeated the process, then painted over that with more white semi-gloss. For the color washes, we used deep permanent green and copper, applying it in a couple different layers, and spraying the wet washes with 90% rubbing alcohol.
You can get bottles of either 70% or 90% rubbing alcohol in the ‘health and beauty’ section of the grocery store. We replaced the bottle cap with a spray nozzle. When you spray it onto wet color washes, the drops of alcohol repel water, creating some really dramatic effects. We made it even more weird by soaking up some of the liquid with bath tissue which, being highly absorbent but soft, makes a handy addition to the arsenal of color wash tools.
After lightly outlining the basic shape of the seahorse with pastel, which easily washes off later, we filled in the seahorse with two layers of wash. We used deep permanent green and a spot of black for this, mixed liberally with water. You have to be careful with how much water you use: the more water, the less the paint wants to stick. We get around this by gently brushing a layer of gloss varnish once the wash dries. This seals in the paint. Even so, sticking to varnishing one color at a time becomes necessary. The wet varnish tends to pick up a little color, and if you try varnishing the whole canvas at once you can end up smearing color everywhere. You’d probably be better off with some kind of spray product, but we avoid using aerosols in the house.
To give the seahorse skin some more definition, we added a layer of black dots. We did these with a really high-tech tool… an old toothbrush. You get some black paint on the brush, gently smush it into the bristles, then swish it around in water. After letting the excess water run out, hold the toothbrush over the canvas and run your thumb along the bristles. Presto! Black dots splattering everywhere. It isn’t easy to control the splatter, so we keep a wet rag nearby to mop up stray drips and splashes before the paint dries.
With the basic shape decided and a layer of speckle on it, it’s time to add another visual element to create a little depth. We went with bubbles.
The blue color – Katsura Blue – is a gift from our wonderful art teacher. We should mention that all of our color wash techniques are a gift from her! It’s like a whole new world of painting opened up when we learned them last year. Katsura Blue is a really vibrant blue formerly made by Holbein. Holbein, for reasons unknown to us, decided recently to discontinue making Katsura Blue. So, if you don’t already have some, you are S.O.L. – sorry. We use our last remaining tube sparingly. We used a minimal amount of this rare color with, again, liberal amounts of water. After a light layer of pure white for the bubbles, we brushed on clean water and then sort of dabbed the wet brush in the blue and then dabbed it onto the watery circles. This created some interesting swirly effects, like tiny atmospheres. Later, we’ll come back and give the bubbles some definition and highlights.
Seahorse Dreams is far from finished, but we wanted to post a few in-progress photos while waiting for a layer of varnish to dry. Ellie the Studio Cat has some dreams of her own. We often wonder what they are. She seems to have zero interest in keeping a dream journal.