This is how it works...
John sends me his columns months in advance, which affords me the time I need to conceptualize an image, gather the necessary reference material, compose the image, and execute the painting.
The column in the current issue (summer 2018) called for a painting of a trout rising to a fly. My good friend, P-A, had just the right shot and kindly gave me permission to paint from his work.
The image works best in the magazine layout as a horizontal, so it’s cropped and the image is drawn on the canvas. I prefer my drawings to be as detailed as possible (next image). Spending a bit of extra time in this step gives me a sense of confidence about its accuracy and composition in general. This allows me to focus entirely upon interpreting light and color, the essence of the painting. My palette is prepared. And, the oil paints are mixed into pools of color that will be needed. I begin with the water. I use as big a brush as possible and try to remain loose and fluid with my brush stokes. Eventually, the background water is blocked-in, and I’m particularly happy with the quality of the brushwork. The key is to not ‘see’ water, but to abstract what I'm looking at and reduce it to simple fields of color and value with the direction of the brushwork indicating movement. It’s been a good day and it’s getting late… time for a cool mug of cider! Generally, my goal for the first session with a painting is to completely cover the canvas, but in this case, I feel compelled walk away and look upon the piece with fresh eyes in the morning.
The last thing I do in the studio before locking up and walking to the house is to put my palette to ‘bed’. A few drops of turpentine are dribbled on each pool of color and then the whole thing is covered with a butcher’s tray to retard evaporation. When I return the next morning everything will be perfect, and I’ll be ready to begin again. The next morning I begin to paint the trout, starting with all of its spots. At a casual glance these may all appear to be black. In reality, the values, and even the shapes of these spots are much more complex. The values range from black and dark gray to a much lighter gray, depending upon the water, or wetness we’re looking through to see them. Additionally, as the spots move from horizontal to vertical planes their shapes flatten and they become more elliptical.
The values, shapes, and edges of these spots will be adjusted and fine-tuned as the painting progresses, but in this stage I’m happy to just put paint onto canvas and get close. The next step is to define the area of the trout that is out of the water, but still wet and highly reflective. The value of this area is lighter than the rest of the fish, which we see through the water, because it is reflecting the unseen sky, and consequently it’s the same color and value as the sky reflected on the water.
The pectal fin is painted with thoughts of leaded stained glass. Spots are lightened in areas below disturbed water and reflected light, and color is pushed onto the back of the fish. It’s easy to become obsessed with detail, and it’s important for me to take frequent breaks from the painting and to look at it from a distance. I’ve read that the American painter John Singer Sargent had three-foot handles made for his brushes so that he could maintain a distance while making marks upon his canvas. The trout is further refined while reflected light is invited ‘into’ the space of the fish. This creates an abstraction of shapes and color that allows our mind to ‘see’ the fish as an object within the water, rather than cut out and pasted on top. Viewed from a distance the painting looks highly refined. When seen closely, however, it becomes obvious that blobs of paint and an attention to values have created the illusion of detail. For some reason, unknown to me, the mouth has always been the most difficult part of a fish for me to render. Consequently, it’s usually the last thing painted. The trout is finished. All that’s left for me to do is paint the fly.
This is the most difficult part of the process for me, not because of any difficulty in rendering the fly… but because I don’t want to be too literal. Truth be told… I like the painting more without the fly, and promise myself to paint it out as soon as the image is captured and sent off to the editor. Here’s the professional capture, without the glare you’ve all had to endure. The digital file is uploaded from our photographer to the editor of the magazine, and a month later, it arrives.
"Make it matter, fuckos." jhnnythndr
" Herre jävlar vilka fiskar!!" P-A
"I'm no saint though, nor a judge. Rock that shit good and hard, and on your way out, wipe your dick on the curtains." - Kyner