Ok … GUYS! I’m proud of this one. That means if you don’t like it, shut up. Because I’m fragile. Call me a snow flake, a wuss, whatever. I don’t care. I just know that I like this painting, and I almost never actually like my work. If you tell me why it sucks, I won’t be able to trust myself, and I’ll just assume EVERYTHING is rubbish.

With that said… let’s talk about process.

My sister-in-law asked me to paint a picture of waves crashing. She said she wanted something that would remind her of Maine. There are three reasons why this could have gone very badly.

1: My sister-in-law is one of—if not THE—most important people in the world to my wife. My wife is a triplet, and she gets to see her triplet brother often, but her triplet sister lives in Utah, so we don’t get to see her as much. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and Amanda is pretty much the nicest human being that God has ever made (yes, nicer than Jesus… she would never flip tables in a Temple). So… it’s like making a painting for the Pope.

2: Her husband is a geologist. And this is going to be a painting of rocks. And I’m not a geologist. I like him, so I don’t want him to think I’m an idiot. I know he would never tell me that I am, but I also know that he’ll be able to tell if I screw up the rocks.

3: I’ve never been to Maine, so I don’t know if there is a special gestalt to waves in Maine. Nor do I know what kind of rocks one might find in Maine. Finally, in my mind Maine is perpetually overcast, freezing, and a quarter of the way through a thousand years of autumn. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it is.

So, I sent Amanda a few photos of waves, to see which ones she liked.

Here are the ones she said best matched what she had in mind:

Found here. Photo by Eddie Yerkish
Found here. I don’t know who took this because I found it on the Dead End of the Internet.

Before I move on… quick rant. I HATE Pinterest. It’s the dead end of the Internet. No other web site gets you to more useless findings than Pinterest, and they never lead you to anything usable. Ugh. Ok… rant over.

I decided to try drawing a composition of my own before attempting a painting. It turned out to be transformative. I learned something which I think was very important…

See, the other day, I decided to try to draw a figure that I found on Proko.com. I don’t practice drawing enough, and I can tell that my rudimentary drawing skills are hindering my ability to paint what I want to paint. So, I sat in the chair while something played on the TV, and drew this.

“Why are you drawing a butt?” – My Wife

Now, that’s not an amazing drawing. But trying to draw a human figure did remind me that I have to think about how a thing is constructed when I try to draw it.

I didn’t realize how transformative this would be until I set out to draw this composition.

Here’s the first sketch I made. You might be able to see how much I focused on how the rocks are constructed. I put a lot of effort in representing the planes of the rocks. (For those who went to school, and those who watch Proko on YouTube, think of an Asaro Head).

I started by drawing the rocks as simple three-dimensional boxes, and gradually added irregularities to the sides as I drew. (Maybe this is more like the lessons from Draw-a-Box, I never got past the second exercise.)

This process unlocked something in my brain.

Drawing like this forced me think about perspective and light the whole time. The result is a more interesting, more believable, and more expressive drawing.

Let me illustrate what I mean.

Here are two drawings. The one in the top represents how I would have drawn this composition before thinking about construction. I would have simply drawn the outlines of the big shapes, knowing that I would paint cooler tones with darker values on the shadowed side, and warmer tones with lighter values on the lit side.

But, this time I went one step further, and turned those outlines into three dimensional shapes by drawing a line down the middle to separate the lit side from the shadowed side, and finished it off with some quick lines to remind me of the perspective. That’s what you see in the bottom drawing.

The bottom drawing is actually a traced version of the top drawing. The only difference is the perspective lines, and those verticals separating the light from the dark. But there is a Trumpian YUUUUUGE difference between the two.

Another quick rant: Trump’s an asshole. Not sorry.

Now, I’ll try to paint the rocks:

I tried to paint them both identically, and it’s clear that the bottom one is much more interesting, accurate, and expressive. Sure, you could say the bottom image looks better because it’s more detailed, but that’s not the point. As it turns out, just drawing these lines forced me to think of these rocks as objects, and not just fields of color. And that new perspective comes across when the painting is done.

This is something I’ll be exploring a lot more in the future.

Ok… with that sketch finished, I decided to try again. Here’s my second attempt:

This time I tried to brighten the sky, reduce the complexity of the distant cliffs on the right while also extending them laterally, and add some shadows to the ground to the right of the focal point. At this point I felt ready to paint.

But I didn’t.

I decided to sit in front of the TV some more, so I grabbed a pen and practiced cross hatching while something played in the background.

I’m really glad I made this drawing, because it brought a few things to life that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for this drawing.

First, I realized that the shadows on the right side of the focal point shouldn’t be there… this should all be water. There is no point in adding a dirt shoreline… it should all be frothing surf.

Second: I realized that I need some rocks in front to give me a foreground.

Thirdly, I realized just how dynamic that wave is. The whole composition is about that wave crashing against the rock.

So… I went in to painting.

Here’s my first painting. Before I started, I knew that I wanted the sky, distant sea, and distant shore line to be simple. That would contrast the crashing wave, making it seem louder. I also used masking fluid, and masking tape. This was the first time I have ever masked masking fluid, but it worked well.

First, I used masking tape to cover the rocks. Then, I used a tooth brush to scratch some masking fluid over the masking tape and onto the paper. I finished by flicking splatters of masking fluid before removing the masking tape. I had to remove the tape before the masking fluid dried so that it would come off and leave a crisp line at the edge of the rock.

I also used a tooth brush at the end to splatter some color and texture into the rocks in the foreground.

I liked this painting ok, but I felt like I overworked the rock in the focal point, and the distant ocean was too calm.

I texted this to my sister-in-law and she was happy with it. I asked for constructive criticism, and the only thing she mentioned was the calm ocean, so that confirmed it.

And here’s the final. I am really happy with how this came out.

The process on this one was very similar to the process on the first draft. I used a rag to blot some suggestions of clouds from the sky, and I used packing tape as a frisket to protect the rocks from the masking fluid, and the first washes. I also used a small brush at the end, during what Joseph Zbukvic calls the Jewelry Stage to add just a few lines in the rocks to suggest cracks.

And there you have it. A painting of ocean waves crashing against a rock. Hopefully, you can find brown rocks in Maine.