The Post – Dolphins: What canvas, What image?

Okay. So the easy part is over. I know I want to do a painting of dolphins, to capture their beauty, fluidity, personality, intelligence. Now we come to the hard part – how to execute that?

I will say that the short answer is – it comes down to gut feeling about composition and canvas size and shape. And that nothing is cast in concrete. One can get halfway through the painting only to realize you need to turn the painting 90degrees and start again, or paint over the whole thing and get a new composition. However – I do try to narrow some things down then follow my gut. Probably the best I can hope for is to answer three first questions , then identify what other questions need answering as I go through this process.

The first three questions are-

1) what size of canvas?

2) what orientation (vertical or horizontal)

2) what composition?

The size and orientation are determined by the composition, though composition is  determined by the size and orientation of the canvas. To get to the final choice, at least for me, it is a  working back and forth, see-sawing between all three until the choices are narrowed down to a decision.

I start by going to Google images and just printing some pics of dolphins that “spoke” to me to get an idea of what compositions might work and what they even look like.

Some were “vertical” in orientation, some horizontal. Most had at least a couple dolphins, some had several. All had the “underside of the surface waves” at the top of the picture. So I have a “vague” idea of my own composition –

In thinking about my “vision” I know I want the top of the painting to show that we’re just under the water’s surface – so the top of the painting has to have that quality of “seeing the underside of surface waves.”

Also, at this point my gut tells me “simple vs. cluttered,” so I’ll keep the number of dolphins low. One solitary dolphin feels wrong as they’re social creatures, so I think I’ll keep the composition to two or three at most.

At least one dolphin has to to give us that “look it in the eye” connection, so they all can’t just be a “far away view.”

In looking at the pics I see I could do horizontal dolphins in a horizontal canvas, and it has potential. I can also do vertical ones in a horizontal canvas. However that means dolphins far away. Vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas feels better than on a horizontal one. You can get closer to them. So which is it? horizontal dolphins on horizontal canvas, or vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas?

And of course, my gut pipes up with – you could do something odd like a vertical canvas with an angled down but mostly horizontal dolpin or…..ARGGGHHH! 🙂

Let’s take a break and consider what size canvas.

Re the canvas size:

Let’s face it. This painting could go from 2×4″ to 4’x8′ or a wall fresco. But I work in more intermediate size ranges and avoid the extremes.

My favorite size often is 8×16, which is an odd size but I like it. It’s usually just big enough to capture creatures or seascapes and I just “like” that shape.

But I think that will be too small for what I have in mind here. So we’ll go for a size a little bit bigger.

My other frequent choices are: 18×24″, 16×20″ or 12×24″. So I think one of these will be my choice. Let’s leave size for a minute then and hop over to orientation.

Re: orientation” for the canvas used: Will I paint it with a “vertical” approach, meaning taller than wide? Or will I paint it “horizontally” meaning wide with a narrow height?

If I go tall and narrow width, that means I’m showing many layers of water and I’m probably going to have to paint smaller dolphins….unless I have several in the background and one more forward, diving deep and straight down so I could make the full length of the dolphin apparent. Overall, it’s more of a “long shot of the whole area” with a focus on one dolphin. It could work as a way to show the personality of one closeup. Also, a dolphin is long and narrow, so I could use a vertical oriented canvas and have a diving dolphin to show that.  But I’m not sure.

If I go long on the horizontal and shorter on height this means I’m painting a narrower slice of water. Thus any dolphins shown will be larger and more the focus of the painting for sure. However, then the focus instead of being on one dolphin, becomes all of the dolphins  as they’ll be about equal in size and close in proximity. And keeping with the long and narrow on the dolphin shape, a horizontal canvas means no diving dolphins – they would have to be horizontal as well to get across that whole “long and narrow” feeling.

Okay, so I haven’t yet identified “which canvas and orientation” but I HAVE listed some pros and cons of each. And in reality, the canvas shape is really a choice between two. The 16×20 and 18×24 are almost identical in ratio, just for a little bit more size on each dimension on the 18×24,whereas the 12 x 24 has a much longer vs narrow feel to it.  So the decision really comes down to 12×24 or one of those two.

In the hopes of clearing up the confusion, maybe it’s time to go back to composition.

To recap – most likely, vertical dolphins on a vertical canvas, or horizontal ones on a horizontal canvas. With the surface showing above. With two or three dolphins. And a canvas either 12×24 or one of the other two.

I sense that I want a focus on one dolphin with the others possibly in the background. And to have a full-size dolphin horizontal feels boring. More drama in having one of three “plunging” down to the deep sea. Action. Not just being.

What to do right now?

Feel. Stare. Digest. Incubate.

 

Stay tuned for ….decisions. At least “best guesses”  🙂

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2 Responses to “The Post – Dolphins: What canvas, What image?”

  1. Norbert Haupt Says:

    Very detailed approach to something as seemingly benign as deciding on a canvas. I usually lay out a painting the opposite way: I know exactly what I want it to look like, and the proportions are jumping out at me. Then I usually pick a larger size, because my hands are too shaky to make tiny images.

    Did you ever travel to Maui? Go to any gallery (or hotel lobby) there and you find tons of dolphin paintings.

  2. debrabailey Says:

    I guess it’s just my process. In reality it often happens very quickly, but sometimes it’s a slower organic process that evolves as I stare at my subjects. Probably occupational hazard from 30+ years of detailed medical work. Anyway, I’ve never been to Maui, but would love to some time. Thanks for the heads up on all the dolphin paintings. Shaky or not, may your hands continue to create to your heart’s content.

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