Stephen T. Ruell


Dark Harbor (oil, 24×18) by Stephen T. Ruell was a finalist in the Landscape category of the 2005 Art Competition.

HOW HE GOT STARTED IN ART: I studied drawing under Robert Erickson of Bristol, New Hampshire at my high school, then took art courses at Cornell where I studied engineering. I spent most of my adult life doing amateur photography, but in my late 40s, I took oil painting courses taught by Peggy Graf.

Having a particular love for marine and water scenes, I’ve devoted my recent work to marine subjects. My wife and I are avid sailors, spending our summers cruising the bays and inlets of coastal Maine. During these cruises, I collect ideas and compositions through sketches and photographs, as well as during professional engineering trips.

INSPIRATION FOR THIS PAINTING: We took a schooner trip one Memorial Day weekend and were anchored in a cove near the village of Dark Harbor in Islesboro, Maine. It was a foggy, overcast day and there was not a breath of air movement, so the sea surface looked like an inky black mirror. Then another windjammer came gliding in next to us and dropped anchor.

We were all captivated by the monochromatic scene, and totally fortunate to have been at that place, at that time. The photographs I took were the basis of the painting, on which I worked in my painting class and at home.

WORKING PROCESS: I usually select a scene from my photo collection, of one of our trips on the coast. I choose the subject based on the quality of the light and the colors in the scene. Generally, I play with the composition and adjust the position and elements. Then I draw the composition on canvas and start painting. Usually, I do an underpainting with basic values and an average of the colors, then over paint with the final scene and the details.

I try to use the same colors that were in the original scene, as recorded by the camera, since that?s why I originally chose those photographs. My typical palette is burnt umber, sap green, alizarin crimson, light red, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, cobalt blue, french ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, and white. Sometimes I add a few other colors, such as Payne’s gray or viridian. I haven’t found many colors in Maine coastal scenes that couldn’t be reproduced from that pallet.

FAVORITE PART OF DARK HARBOR: The primary paints used were yellow ochre, burnt umber and ultramarine blue, which means the painting follows a monochromatic color scheme based on yellow ochre, using the complementary ultramarine to neutralize it. This is a color scheme that we actually saw as it occurred in nature, which is probably why it’s such a wonderful combination. As Stephen Quiller says, the monochromatic schemes are difficult and only successful when the contrasting value composition works, which I think is the success in Dark Harbor.

I’ve found that water is such a complex topic with so many moods, colors, textures and reflections. I don’t think I’ll ever exhaust sources for painting ideas.

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