Author: Christopher

A new over-under reef painting.

20x20This past weekend I started the underpainting for a new over-under painting of a nurse shark swimming along a Caribbean reef. The underpainting is very similar to  a sketch, in that it provides a guide for your future brush strokes. It also helps with shading as you lay your paint on the canvas. I am highly motivated to work on this painting so keep checking back for more updates!


Hawksbill Reef Final

Hawksbill Reef Final

Hawksbill Reef is now complete! After many hours in front of the canvas (and many more cleaning all those brushes) my final vision for this painting is complete. The turtle rests on a 36″ x 36″ canvas and was created using oil medium. While the drying and curing process has just begun, limited edition prints will be available soon.

Check out a time lapse view of the creation of this piece here:

Hawksbill Reef Day 3


Progress is being made one brush stroke at a time. Adding some color, highlights, and depth to the new sea turtle painting.
I can already envision the sponges, soft coral, and small invertebrates I will use to frame this beautiful creature!

Interesting to note some of the color combinations I used. Hawksbill sea turtles have a great deal of an orange-yellow tint to their underbelly and flippers. Capturing the right hue and saturation is proving to be a challenge. After several attempts at finding the right mix and combining the paint on the canvas I feel it is satisfactory for now.


Hawksbill Reef Day 2

caribbean reef day 2

Ending the second day of painting with some great progress. In just a short amount of time I was able to sketch and underpaint the hawksbill sea turtle, granting me the perspective needed to place the other subjects.

The underpainting not only helps with perspective, but also acts as a base for any colors laid on top. If no underpainting was performed, the green hue of the turtle would be more in the blue spectrum. This is largely due to how thin I like to apply the layers of oil paints when working on the canvas.

Underpainting can be performed to create shadows, shades, and highlights, depending on the colors used. I typically like to paint shadows as dark blue, shades as Cerulean blue, and highlights as white, yellow or orange.

Painting a Reef – Step by Step

Have you ever looked at a painting and thought ‘How did the artist do that?’ Quite often people approach me and share similar comments when talking about my paintings. My generic response is typically ‘It takes a lot of time and attention to detail’ or ‘All you need is just a little patience’ (this is where I start humming like Axl Rose). But what I really want to say is ‘It all starts with a sketch…’

Step 1. The Sketch.

As I was saying, it all starts with a sketch. Most paintings start with a simple sketch on paper or on the canvas. The biggest goal for the sketch is composition and the placement of the subjects. You want to stay away from too much shading when sketching as it will tend to smudge with your paints. Try sketching with a graphite pencil or charcoal to get solid and very visible results. Once the sketch is complete, I suggest that you spray the canvas lightly with a varnish to keep the pencil or charcoal from smudging and mixing with your paints.



Step 2: Underpainting

Underpainting is a helpful technique to deploy when you want to create a great deal of depth in your colors. Try selecting a dark base color but avoid using black as it tends to be too dark for this purpose.


Step 3: Base Colors

Paint from the background to foreground. I like to start adding base colors at this point. Here you can see I painted the sky, topwater, and underwater in oils with the underpainting showing through.  You can see I painted over the reef on the right of the canvas just a bit. I am not too careful with the placement of the paints as I apply background layers. This is because I will be layering more paint on top of the overpainted areas.

Turtle-Step-3 Turtle-Step-4

Step 4: Applying Colors

When I am ready to continue, I start adding in dark colors first. You can see in the following series, I painted darker colors on the turtles, started to play with shading on their shells, and then began painting the reef and reef fishes.

Turtle-Step-5a Turtle-Step-5b

Turtle-Step-5c Turtle-Step-5d

Step 5: Mistakes are OK!

As I was painting this image, I wanted a school of fish off to the bottom left of the canvas. I started painting a school of soldierfish, but felt they didn’t really fit into the scene well. I re-painted the sand bottom and instead substituted a school of surgeonfish.  It’s OK to make mistakes while you are painting so long as you take it in stride and realize it is within your power to correct it. I suggest you walk away from the painting for an hour or two and occupy your mind with something else. Then come back to the painting with a subjective eye and find your solution. I try not to make overly emotional decision when these little inconveniences pop up.

Turtle-Step-5e Turtle-Step-5f

 Step 6: Finish the Details and Varnish.

Keep adding little details to your painting as you see fit. At some point you will feel as though one more brushstroke will ruin your creation. If you get that feeling, STOP! Take a quick break and step away from the canvas to give yourself the opportunity take the painting in.

When you feel like your painting is complete, let your oil paints dry completely. This could take 30 to 60 days depending on the colors used, amount of paint used, and environment in your studio. Once dried, apply a  varnish to protect the paint from UV light and other harmful pollutants.



Big Pine Key: Diving a Species Protected Area

This is a series of videos taken while diving a Species Protected Area (SPA) just off of Big Pine Key.
Sorry to say it is not my best work as this was my first outing with the RX100/Meikon/UWL-100 rig. The white spots in some of the shot are due to not filling the space between the flat port and UWL-100 with water. The seas were 1-2 ft on the reef that day and the surge made it nearly impossible to achieve a steady shot.
Music by: Gustavo Santaolalla

Monster Mahi Painting

60"x48" Acrylic on canvas
60″ x 48″ Acrylic on canvas

This painting has to be one of my all-time favorites. The huge 60″ x 48″ canvas hold this monster bull mahi and its potential meal just below the surface.

As a gift to a good friend for Christmas this year, I found it terribly hard to give this painting up. I think the reason why it was difficult to part with this painting is due to a strong emotional connection I had with this project. I started out with just a simple sketch that I found to be exciting and vibrant. As I sketched me monster bull on the canvas there were several mistakes made to the proportions of the fish. I painted the base coat of green on the fish and couldn’t shake the feeling that the fish lacked depth and proper positioning on the canvas. It was then that I started to HATE this painting.

After some run (Barbancourt rhum for those keeping score at home) I decided to try my hand at several techniques I hadn’t implemented in several years. The multi-colored scales along the sides of the mahi are painted in a pointillism style using mostly cobalt blue and cerulean blue with a hint of bright orange to contrast and create a faux ‘iridescence’. I also took on the task of creating topwater movement that I hadn’t attempted in the past. It was after these two tasks were completed that I fell back in love with this work.

It’s interesting as an artist to look back on the creative process to understand the ebb and flow of emotion poured into a project. In fact, I believe I can safely look back on any painting I created over the last dozen years and find one time I despised what I had put on canvas. However, I find it reassuring to know that this is just one step in the creative process.