Sunday, March 1, 2009

Model to Mermaid

How do you get a mermaid to pose? Like unicorns and dragons, they are fantastical creatures, not entirely of this world. I wanted my mermaid painting to look real but not in a literal or material sense.

Although in previous posts (here, here, and here and here) I’ve suggested using photography for figure reference, when it comes to mythological or storybook beings I prefer to use life studies rather than photos because I feel freer to be guided by my imagination.


I did two studies, one in charcoal and one in paint, both directly from the model. In the charcoal study I concentrated on the basic linear gestures and on the soft lighting of the form. I also started thinking how to join the human form with a fishlike tail and how to bend the tail so that she could ride “sidesaddle” on a tamed sea creature.

I recalled from my experience snorkeling that skin tones appear cooler in water than they do in the air, and the side planes of the figure fall away to a bluish hue, lit from all directions by scattered light in the water. The color study above, made with the model in front of a blue cloth, allowed me to start exploring this unusual and magical color quality.

In both studies I took the first step toward my mental image, making changes in what I was seeing and not copying the model literally.

20 comments:

SCIBOTIC said...

Thank you, it's always nice finding out how different illustrators approach using reference as part of their process.

Haylee said...

It's great to see your thought process on such a difficult problem to solve. Also, congrats on winning the gold in Spectrum this year!

James Gurney said...

Haylee: What? Gold? This is news to me. Thanks so much for letting me know. The competition at Spectrum is really tough--I always feel like I'm hanging by a thread to get anything in!

Daroo said...

Congrats on Spectrum -- you deserve it.

Thanks for sharing these -- I especially like the charcoal.

I'm curious, what sizes are these studies? And the finished piece?

Also you solved the color issues nicely based on your memory/ experience. Nowadays, I would pobably play with a photo in PS to get the affect of water on the subject and couple that with other reference to create a palette.

But I wonder if there is a way to create the effect in the studio? One of the ways they used to shoot underwater model work for movies was "dry for wet" using a combination of colored filters and smoke and diffusion scrims.

I suppose that would require you also give the model hazard pay.

Frank P. Ordaz said...

Jim,

Congrats on the Gold.

I like the shell bikini! The colors are magical and you really pulled the feel of underwater light beautifully.

Frank P. Ordaz said...

Jim,

Just saw the video of the award winners at the Spectrum website and saw your entry...Nice Artwork!!!!!!!!

Jason Peck said...

Hey James,

Congrats on winning the gold this year.

Best Jason

jeff jordan said...

hey jim!
I also compliment you on winning the Spectrum gold.
I've painted a fair amount of mermaids in the last few years, and I can never get why people keep splicing a fish and a mammal together. Why wouldn't a mermaid be totally mammalian? Like not cold-blooded below the waist, and warm-blooded above the waist......minor detail, I suppose............

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody! What a surprise and a delight. I am especially glad if it brings attention to Maison d'Ailleurs, the science fiction museum in Switzerland that created the poster. Both they and Spectrum are doing great things to promote fantastic art.

Daroo, the charcoal study is 9x12 and the oil study is 8x12. The finished painting is 20x24, if memory serves, and it was painted in 1989.

I didn't blue-filter the light model, but that would have been an interesting experiment.

Jeff, yes, the more you think about the logic of mermaid design, it takes you down very interesting roads, and away from the traditional image of the fish-human.

Donato Giancola, the brilliant artist who announced the awards on the Spectrum video himself came up with one of the most memorable recent designs for merfolk:

http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/image.asp?id=32688

Frank P. Ordaz said...

My pick is Ben Stiller as a MerMan in "Zoolander".

just having fun Jim.....;v)

Eric Orchard said...

Gorgeous painting! I was stunned by it when I first saw it. The bottom colour study is wonderful as well, it reminds me of a symbolist, post impressionist painting.

When I painted a mermaid for a picture book there was a huge disagreement on what she should be wearing. They were really pushing for a sweater!

Björn said...

I'm sure you've heard of Weta, your latest post made me think of this -- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/4839818/Disabled-woman-given-mermaid-tail-to-help-her-swim.html

r8r said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
r8r said...

beautiful painting! I wonder a bit that she doesn't have any sort of saddle, or apparatus to help her stay on.
not that I've ridden a lot of aquatic lizards myself, but it seems as though it would be difficult for this underwater undine to stay attached to something this... undulatory, especially if I didn't have any legs to grip with...

but none of that stops me from enjoying the picture!

Matthew said...

I know this finished piece. A friend of mine owns it. Only, I recall it being smaller than 20 x 24. Did you also make a study that was smaller roughly 8 x 10, but very close to this final, refined, details worked out. I remember the shelled bikini. I'm pretty sure it was the same piece and if not a very similar one in the series.

James Gurney said...

Matthew, yes, I believe I did a smaller color study first. I also sold the larger work.

erika* said...

...this is just beautiful. For some reason I've been endlessly drawing mermaids since December - and yet I never thought of this approach to the lightning in the skin!

Masterful as always, good sir. :)

Michael Pieczonka said...

Wow, James that is a beautiful preliminary drawing you did for this piece. Finished painting reads beautifully as well.
Congrats on the Spectrum gold as well.. that sounds like a huge award!

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Erika and Michael,

Hey, Michael, it looks like I'll be coming to Toronto during the week of the 20th, and I'll mention on the blog soon the exact dates of my talks. Hope to meet you, and I love your plein air paintings.

Michael Pieczonka said...

James, yes.. please post the date and location you would be in Toronto. I would love to meet you or hear you speak!!

cheers, Michael