Diving into "Celestial Sea"

It's whale season in Hawaii, a time from November to April when the beloved pods of humpbacks from Alaska migrate to the islands to mate, give birth, and nurse their calves. I have always enjoyed when they are here- seeing my first spout, watching for breeches on catamaran tours, and flying to Maui to gaze at mothers and babies frolicking in shallow bays. 

This year I didn't travel off of Oahu or go on any tours, but I was still very inspired to attempt to capture their beauty and mystique with acrylic painting in my own way. I had previously only painted one other whale (see my older blog post about "Mystic Blue"), and I wanted to again try my hand at an entirely underwater whale composition. 

"Celestial Sea" 16"x20" Acrylic on Canvas

Because whales seem so mysterious and almost mystical to me, I wanted to create a scene that was less realistic and more whimsical. I also wanted it to feel difficult to know for sure if the whale was swimming underwater or flying through space...hence the painting title. 

Read on to learn about my painting process! 

As I usually do in my paintings, I wanted to keep at least one main element somewhat realistic and true to form. So I used several photographs of humpback whales to sketch and paint this one in relatively accurate detail. 

For the rest of the painting, I created free flowing shapes, lines and colors from my mind. I used swooping wave motions and curling semi circles to invoke feelings of being in the water, or perhaps in a celestial atmosphere. 

After I had finished a loose pencil composition, I filled in a good part of the whale using my acrylic paints and then began adding color to the background pencil lines. 

I traced the majority of my lines in blueish hues so I wouldn't lose the original composition layout as I continued moving forward. Then I continued adding layers of detail and shading to the whale to make him/her look more realistic. 

I felt very challenged to figure out how to keep some lighter areas in the water surrounding the darker whale so he wouldn't get lost visually. 

This was something I kept playing around with and adjusting throughout the entire painting process. 

It was difficult to decide how to define certain areas to create an obvious composition without making the image look too solid. I still wanted it to feel "liquidy and flowy".

Often in my paintings I have clearly defined objects like foreground flowers and leaves...so it was extra challenging to only have water/air to create a visual layout. 

Adding black lines to the whale was a must to help him/her stand out against everything in the background. And I eventually decided to add more black lines to some of the "foam" and "wave" areas surrounding the whale as well. 

For a couple months I continued to add layers and layers of color and watched the composition take shape. There were many times when I was worried the painting would turn out to be a big blob of chaos. But all of my paintings seem to go through an awkward phase that I have to move through if I want to get to the end result. 

Adding more details to the whale was always a relief to "take a break" and be able to rely on photo references. Then I would go back to figuring out the rest of the painting from my head, hoping it was actually leading somewhere! 

I kept adding colors-more pink here, more yellow there, more deep purple here, a hint of dark red there. As I moved further along, my favorite part became adding the little sparkly stars and splashes in the "foam" areas. I felt that this gave the piece that little extra bit of magical feel. 

Let me not forget to mention how many times I turned the painting upside to work on. I do this with every single painting, to achieve an alternative way of looking at it and to help round out the color balances and composition. 

Hour after hour, week after week, I kept tweaking and adjusting my whimsical ocean background until I finally became happy with the shape everything had taken. It would never be "perfect", but I was finally satisfied that my hard work had paid off to take the form of my original vision for "Celestial Sea". 

I hope you like it! Although the original is sold, you can own your own reproductions and prints of this painting HERE

Thanks for reading!


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