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'Ultamarine and Swirling Spray'
The Presentation Print
This print is a limited edition of 495 giclee print on museum quality paper with a slightly structured soft-textured surface as in a traditional fine art paper. The paper is acid free with a weight of 315gsm.
The normal print size is approximately 22 x 14.5 inches, but, as this is a bespoke piece of art, the artist can produce it for you at a smaller size so that it can hang in that ideal position in your house or will be the best size for a gift.
A bespoke picture can have your loggo, or wording placed on it, a superb solution for a presentation gift.
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The Story of the Painting
It is August 1935 with an ultramarine sky leaving a summer haze over Appledore as the four Kestrel engines send the Short Singapore surging forward leaving a wake of swirling spray as it lifts onto the step. As the aircraft accelerates to flying speed the rattle of the waves on the hull will ease and the large biplane will skim above the waters of the river Torridge, leaving behind a vivid memory in the minds of the people who watched from the boats and the shore.
Some ten years ago I was painting a picture of Appledore quay and the estuary and was told by Jim Penter of the great excitement when the seaplane had landed on the river. He was one of the boys cooling themselves in the water off the slipway in the delightful photograph. It is of a time and a pace of life long past with the sturdy lug rigged working boats taking people out to have a closer look at the silver aircraft swinging gently at her mooring.
Seaplanes bring together my two passions of aircraft and boats, with the traditional lug rigged working boats of the Taw and Torridge estuaries set against the ethereal silvery lines of the aircraft.
This is painted on a board primed with two coats of an oil based primer tinted with a warm ground of orange and ochre. This gives the finished painting a depth of colour and a warmth that shows through the various layers that follow.
I then transfer my loose sketches onto the board in a detailed drawing of particularly the aircraft. I use raw sienna and Rowney transparent brown in a very diluted wash of pure turpentine for under-painting so that this colour will again shine through the subsequent coats. Blocking in the aircraft at this stage is also a sensible move as the fine pencil lines can easily be lost beneath the sky.
My next move is to roughly paint in the sky and the headland in the background with a medium sized (6) soft brush. I don’t dilute the paint but put on each layer quite thinly. I also dab the sky with clean kitchen paper folded into a pad, this lifts some of the colour, blends harsh lines, gives the impression of haze and allows the under painting to shine through. The swirling spray is an important part of the composition as its white contrasts against the stronger colours of the sea, the boats and people thus drawing one’s eye across the canvas. I put this on quite thickly in titanium white and feather the paint against the background to prevent a hard line forming.
I use a size 3 brush to paint in the sea behind the aircraft, initially I paint on a base colour and then add small wavelets of various colours including ultramarine, ultramarine violet, monestial blue, and olive green. The shadow beneath the hull is mainly olive green and terre verte.
By now the under-painting of the hull has started turning and has become very slightly tacky. The proper artists turpentine becomes slightly tacky after a few minutes so that the next layer of paint can be put on with a soft brush and stays in place. I gradually build up the layers of paint. The top of the hull is a highlight and so the under painting does not have to show through. I use a soft size 3 brush and blend the highlight into the side of the hull. This paint is not diluted with turps but is put on in a thinner layer. The planing hull is painted in olive green to reflect the shadow on the water.
The roundels are a wonderful excuse to use strong bright colours, but care has to be taken as the roundel is not on a flat surface and therefore has to curve to take up the shape of the hull. I use an 00 sized riggers brush and dilute the scarlet and indigo.
The portholes are painted in the same way but need to look transparent and therefore I dilute brown pink and olive green. Again a riggers is used to paint in the highlights as the sun catches the edge of the porthole.
The spray around the hull now needs to be given shape otherwise it looks very flat. I am a great advocate of the riggers brush and use it as one would a sharp pencil. For great detail can be achieved by using the point but also the side of the brush can be used to shade in areas, just as one would with the side of a pencil. Its advantage is that it puts very little pressure on the previous layer of paint and therefore layers and tones can be subtlely added. I gently place on a very diluted layer of olive green, monestial blue and turps where the water is being thrown aside from the hull.
As the shape of the hull builds up I blend in the sea, sky and headline as it touches the hull so that where necessary there is a strong contrast and in other places I slightly diffuse the blend. Although the hull of the aircraft was duralumin the flying surfaces were fabric covered so that the doped material casts slight shadows where it stretches over the ribs. Again the shadows are painted in with a very thin wash on top of the underlying layers of paint.
People make a painting and in aircraft of this era the cockpits and gun cupolas were often open so I have started painting in the shape of the rear gunner. A rigger is used to draw in the shape with a diluted brown pink. This has the great advantage of one being able to move the shape around and delete bits where necessary until one is entirely satisfied.
The engines are four Rolls-Royce Kestrels, two pulling and two pushing. The Kestrel was a true thoroughbred engine and like the Rolls –Royce car didn’t roar, snarl or crackle, rather it purred. The twin bladed propellers are intentionally painted so that they are blurred against the background. The aircraft isn’t quite finished but I now turn my attention to the people and sea that are in juxtaposition to it.
Again the shape of the boatman and his passengers are blocked in with raw sienna or brown pink. He has released the main sheet so that the sail lufts up as the aircraft roars past them on its take-off run. I have first drawn the shape of the boat and sails but alter them slightly as I block in the shape of clinker planks. I used to include my wife, son and daughter in many of my paintings, and although my son is now a six foot two policeman I have painted him in as a boy standing next to the mast with my daughter sitting on the thwarts.
It is a sunny day so the sail casts a shadow over the hull and the passengers. The bulk of the sail is in shadow but being canvas against a strong light is slightly transparent allowing the light to glow through. I build up thin layers of terra rossa and brown madder, patting each layer with a pad of kitchen paper to give texture and allow each layer to peak through. A thin wash of burnt umber and olive green are blended in as shadows on the sail.
Where the shadow of the sail and boat bobs across the waves then I paint in terre verte and olive green to show the actual colour of the water, for the water along the coast of the Westcountry is often crystal clear. The rowing boat in the foreground is painted in the same way as the other boat but the people are intentionally painted in a looser style with less detail as one wants the viewer eyes to be attracted to the other boat and the aircraft.
It is now time to start giving the sea some form and movement. Water reflects every colour around it so that on a summers day with a clear blue sky the sea takes up an intense deep palette of ultramarine, violet and monestial blue with the translucent greens of the water showing through on the peaks of the wavelets and in the shadows of the boats.
Having placed down a base colour I then use a pallet knife to paint on the waves and reflections. I work rapidly scooping up the paint with the edge of the knife, dip it in liquin medium and then move the knife across the canvas with the run of the sea. In this case one does want sharp edges so that the flat of the knife is used for the shape of the wave and the edge to sharply define the peaks. The liquin helps the paint move smoothly and rapidly and gives transparency to the layers. It also starts drying quite quickly so that over a session one can place on two or three layers, leaving each one to show through the last. While the paint is still wet I then streak the reflections with the tip and side of a riggers brush to define the shape and run of the water.
The Appledore skyline is very distinctive and the houses along the quay have changed very little over the last hundred years. I have intentionally put in little detail and have left the village in a summer haze, for if they had been painted in strong colours or in fine detail they would have conflicted with the main theme of the painting - the boats and the aircraft. I thin the paint and apply a thin wash for the houses and intentionally subdue the highlights.
I now finish the sail by painting on the stitching on the sail cloth and the reefing strops. A further thin layer of ultramarine is added where the sky reflects on the sail. A riggers brush with only a few remaining hairs is ideal for rigging and lanyards. To complete the composition so that one’s eye doesn’t drift along the horizon to the right and off the painting, I place a steam ship crossing the bar at the entrance to the estuary.
The painting is almost finished and the front gunner climbs into his forward cupola as the aircraft lifts into the air. Leaving a vivid picture that has lasted in the memory of a young boy who watched the silver seaplane on his river Torridge some seventy five years ago.
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©2007 The art of Michael Lees