Doug Dawson: Build Your Own Painting Solutions

Boat model made of clay

Quiet Anchor color study

Quiet Anchor finished painting

In the painting Quiet Anchor, I used a three-dimensional model in an interesting way: to solve one small part of the painting. The two problems I had to overcome with this painting were the distant shore, which was a barrier that discouraged the viewer from entering the scene, and the water, which reversed the five principles that create the illusion of depth.

These problems are typical of paintings that look across lakes or bays, or look like they’re painted from a boat. It’s especially challenging when there’s no visible land on the viewer’s side of the water. (This is the reason you see very few paintings that take this point of view.) To overcome this problem, I decided to place a boat in the bay, which could serve as a steppingstone to carry the viewer across to the opposite side, thereby counteracting the obstacle of the distant shore.

The boat would also resolve some other common problems with painting water, such as the fact that water looks cooler and duller in color than land, edges in water appear softer than edges on land and movement causes water to appear as though it has less detail. Finally, darks reflect lighter and lights reflect darker in water, so the contrast between values is less than it would be on land. I knew that the boat would add greater contrast, more detail, sharper shapes and so on, thereby pulling that part of the painting forward.

I had a picture of a boat, but it was seen from the wrong angle and in the wrong type of light. I considered creating the boat from my imagination, but I’d learned years ago that your imagination creates generic-looking objects and shadow patterns. So, I decided to construct a model of the boat using the photo as a guide. Once the model was built, I illuminated it with a studio light at the same angle as the sunlight hitting the buildings. In this way, I worked out the light and shadow patterns on the boat.

To read more of Doug Dawson’s tips for addressing common painting problems using models, pick up your copy of the June 2010 issue of The Pastel Journal, where you’ll find the full-length feature on his work.


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