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The Shipwreck - Step by Step Painting

 This painting started with this particular photo of the famous Cape Agulhas Shipwreck. We were on holiday, visiting my sister in Struisbaai, Cape Agulhas.

Cape Agulhas, known as the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet. This part of the coastline is strewn with rocks and boulders, which is often not noticeable at high tide - hence the need for a lighthouse in the area.

I've prepared my canvas by painting it with a watery layer of raw sienna. This adds a little warmth to the painting. I then proceeded to divide the canvas as well as the photo into thirds. This makes it easier for me to get an accurate drawing. The worst thing one can do is to start your painting, only to realise midway that it is out of proportion. It would be a little too late to make adjustments.

Once I'm satisfied that the perspective and proportions are ok, I then proceeded to do the underpainting or drawing in the wet paint, using the back of my paintbrush. I've learned never to use graphite (pencil) when you do an under-painting. A painting fades with time, and 'mistakes' done in graphite, becomes more visible.

My next step was to work on the sky. I like to work on my paintings from the top down, however with this particular one, I've decided to work all over the painting to get a good feel of where I'm headed with this painting. The shipwreck is the focal point of the painting and I wanted to give it my undivided attention in the end.
For the greyish blue colour of the sky, I’ve mixed together Payne’s Grey, with just enough Titanium White. At areas, where the sky is slightly more blue, like in the upper corners of the painting, I’ve added just a dot of Phthalo Blue. Once I was satisfied with the sky, I then used a dry brush with very little Titanium white applied it in a light, sweeping movement to add the wispy clouds.
For the rocks, I’ve applied paint rather thickly with a palette knife, to add interest and texture to the foreground of the painting. A palette knife is very handy if you need to apply large blocks of paint, which can be smoothed down with a paintbrush. The colours I used were Burnt Umber, mixed with Burnt Sienna for the dark or shadowy areas. I’ve used Cadmium Yellow (Deep Hue) and a little Titanium White for the lighter bits. It was a bit tricky to get the colours to correspond more or less with the photo.
As you can see I’ve began to fill in some of the ship’s details, mainly the white areas as well as brown which depict the rusty areas of the ship.
I’ve used the same dark brown mixture for the distant rocks in the middle. With the leftover blue paint of the sky area, I’ve added just enough Permanent Sap Green to get to a sea green/blue, which I’ve started applying to the sea area, left of the ship.
I’ve continued to paint the sea with the blue and sea greenish blue mixture, as you can see I’ve added some more detail to the ship – Permanent Sap Green for the mossy parts, as well as some more detail at the back of the ship. One needs to have much patience when layering your painting. A little goes a long way. It's best not to overdo it. Often one has to keep on layering and adding colour, as a sculptor would chisel away at wood to reveal the object one is painting / sculpting.

As you can see, I’ve started to work on the rocks beneath the surface of the water. It is a darker colour due to it being submerged in the depths of the sea. I’ve used Burnt Umber for the rocks.
 I’ve added more detail to the foreground rocks, by lightening them up a bit with brown/yellowy mixture. I’ve also paid more attention to the sea area at the right- hand side of the ship, with some white to depict the frothy, distant waves.
 At this stage, I like to step away from the painting, every ten minutes or so, to see if I've captured the hue and colour intensity to my liking.
For the shipwreck, I’ve continued to layer paint, until I was satisfied with the rust/white combination on the body as well as the green moss part at the front of the ship. At this stage I used a No. 0 or No. 1 rigger brush for the finer details. I’ve also written the faded name of the ship in a very light application of pale sky blue. The other details were added using the rigger brush, such as the pipes at the rear and the rusted interior.
I wanted to make the underwater rocks to appear submerged in water. This was a bit challenging. I then came to the conclusion that I needed to paint a very thin layer of sea green/blue paint using the dry brush method to create the illusion of rocks submerged, yet still visible through the water. One must be very careful to use the minimum of paint on a dry brush and apply it very, very lightly.
I've decided to start at the left hand side of the shipwreck to paint the sea area, taking great care not to paint away any of the rocks. I believe this method of painting is also called glazing if I’m not mistaken. It is to paint with such a thin layer of paint on a dry brush that the original painting is still visible underneath. It is a good method to use for water, mist, etc.

Last but not least, I’ve added more details, such as the waves, rocky outcrops, details to the ship itself and the distant waves. I’ve added more details to the ship such as the mast which I’ve added with a rigger brush. Once satisfied that my painting is complete, the only thing to be added was my signature!
 Cape Agulhas, southernmost tip of Africa, where two oceans meet...


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