Saturday, 23 August 2014

Painting a Sand dollar & using masking film

 I can't believe that it has been nearly a month since my last blog post.  What a busy old month it has been, more of that news later.

The sand dollar - I always admired these when my cousin brought some of her discovered treasures back from Florida, but had never had one myself to draw and paint.  Recently, a lovely friend gave me one and I was looking forward to portraying it. 

But what are sand dollars ?

"Live Sand Dollar trying to bury itself in beach sand" by John Tracy from Snellville, GA, USA - End of the line. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
As I was totally oblivious to their origins an internet search revealed more.  This is what Wikipedia had to say on the subject:
The term sand dollar (or sea cookie or snapper biscuit in New Zealand, or pansy shell in South Africa) refers to species of extremely flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida. Some species within the order, not quite as flat, are known as sea biscuits. Related animals include the sea urchins, sea cucumbers and starfish.
Sand dollars, like all members of the order Clypeasteroida, possess a rigid skeleton known as a test. The test consists of calcium carbonate plates arranged in a fivefold radial pattern.  In living individuals the test is covered by a skin of velvet-textured spines; these spines are in turn covered with very small hairs (cilia). Coordinated movements of the spines enable sand dollars to move across the seabed. The velvety spines of live sand dollars appear in a variety of colors—green, blue, violet, or purple—depending on the species. Individuals which are very recently dead or dying (moribund) are sometimes found on beaches with much of the external morphology still intact. Dead individuals are commonly found with their empty test devoid of all surface material and bleached white by sunlight.
The term "sand dollar" derives from the appearance of the tests (skeletons) of dead individuals after being washed ashore. The test lacks its velvet-like skin of spines and has often been bleached white by sunlight. To beachcombers of the past, this suggested a large, silver coin, such as the old Spanish or American dollar (diameter 38-40mm).
Other English names for the creatures include sand cake and cake urchin. In South Africa, they are known as pansy shells from their suggestion of a five-petaled garden flower. The Caribbean sand dollar or inflated sea biscuit, Clypeaster rosaceus, is thicker in height than most.
In Spanish-speaking areas of the Americas, the sand dollar is most often known as galleta de mar (sea cookie); the translated term is often encountered in English.

"Leodia sexiesperforata derivada 2013" by Louis Agassiz (Motier, 28 de mayo de 1807, - Cambridge, 14 de diciembre de 1873) - Leodia sexiesperforata, figura de Agassiz (1841) aparecida en: Agassiz, Louis (1841) Monographies d'échinodermes vivans et fossiles [Tome 2]. aux frais de l'auteur.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you that follow me on Facebook at Natures Details would have seen the images of the finished result, but I promised I would write more about the painting process as well as the use of masking film, a new thing for me to try.

I drew the sand dollar using a 2H pencil on HP Fabriano Artistico 140lb.
Rather than leave a 'white' background to the picture, I wanted to portray some texture using several paint effects.
First though, I had to mask out the shape of the sand dollar, as I didn't want to get this area marked with paint.  What to use ?  I don't like masking fluid, so I thought I would try masking film.
It is very easy to use and this particular one has a matt surface so that it can be drawn on.
Basically, it is a low-tack plastic, that can be removed easily from the paper.
1. I first cut out a small square to cover the area of the sand dollar and applied it to the paper, leaving no air bubbles.
2. Next I drew over the outline of the sand dollar visible through the film with a fine line permanent pen.
3.  I removed the whole piece of masking film and then cut around the drawn shape.
4. The shape of masking film was then re-applied to watercolour paper and I was ready to apply the paint !

To get the first paint effect, that will represent a stony / sandy texture, I used a foam washing up pad.  I roughly cut out a shape to remove the straight edges of the pad.
1. I chose some 'earthy' colours from my palette and mixed up a good amount of each colour.  The first colour was a sand colour.  This I applied to the pad using a paintbrush.  If you were to dip the pad into a puddle of paint, it would soak up too much paint and the resulting pattern would be too loose and moist. 
2. The pad was then pushed gently onto the watercolour paper, transferring the pattern of the pad onto the paper.
3.  Once this was done, individual stones / grains of sand were painted in using a number 3 brush.  The colours were mixes that included burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and natural sienna, with a little French ultramarine added when a more muted brown was required..
4. The second paint effect was splattering.  (The moral of the story - cover everything around you, unless you want to splatter other stuff as well !).  I used the same colours as before, in a slightly stronger mix and held a paintbrush over the painting tapping the handle with my finger to achieve the splattering effect
5. Once the paint was dry I was able to remove the masking film.

Now on to painting the sand dollar itself.
1. Using a size 5 brush the body of the sand dollar was painted using a light wash of buff titanium, a really handy opaque colour from Daniel Smith. 
2. To build up slightly darker areas and to give the sand dollar more form, I mixed a neutral /grey wash using French ultramarine, quinacridone gold and perylene maroon.  This applied using a size 2 spotter brush.  You can see how I have applied the paint in almost a stipple effect in the bottom picture around the outer edges of the sand dollar.
3. A darker mix of the neutral wash was used to paint in the fine detail, again using a size 2 spotter brush
4. In addition, a shadow was painted in around the subject using shadow violet (DS).

The finished results.
I really enjoyed completing this painting, it was fun to use paint in a different way.
This picture along with a few others will be making it way towards my second solo exhibition, which will be taking place in November.  More to follow on that soon !
Whilst reading up on sand dollars, I came across this video on Youtube, that shows these amazing creatures in action - Enjoy !