Coastal Shiner in Goauche


This week I tried for a more realistic painting style with this beautiful fish called a Coastal Shiner (Notropis petersoni).  We don’t have them in the UK.  They live on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.  Looking at a few detailed photos I could see so much detail with so much light scatter and so many colour changes that painting this realistically was quite daunting at first. 

When something is difficult I have always taught the children at school to break it down into something simpler until you find something you can do.  So I used this method to try to get a hold on the picture I wanted to paint.  First I made a sketch…


I got the mouth completely wrong on this drawing – it looks more like a sprat with that upturned mouth.  But rather than erase the error I decided to correct it with the paint as erasing causes changes to the way the paper performs.

Next I really studied the fish,  looking at 5 different reference images.  Then I selected an image with a good range of colour and made a quick colour map like this…


(This image was scanned and suffers from my scanner’s inability to see subtle colour.)

Once I’d seen the colour palette of the actual fish I decided on a background which would complement some of the colour and also pull out some of the more subtle shades.  I went with a white background with flecks of purple and yellow in it. I blended the flecks to make a kind of moving water type background with lots of lateral stokes.  Here’s the first layer of the background as it was drying…


Next I painted the main darker background colours of the fish and blended them to give a good basic ground to the animal.  I got really involved in the painting at this point and so didn’t get a photo.  At this point I wasn’t thinking anymore, I was just painting.  I find this state very calming and beautiful.  It’s one of the main reasons I keep painting week after week.  I get the same feeling when I’m playing the piano, especially with Jazz.

At the age of 14 I was asked to play trumpet in a 7 piece trad jazz band.  I did and learned an enormous amount from the experience which lasted for about 4 years and took us all over the county and then to places further afield.  I also got hooked on Trad Jazz.  It’s something that has never left me.  Now I play piano, rather than the awful trumpet (the most exposing and tricky instrument in an orchestra in my opinion, because you have to count 158 bars perfectly and then come in on a top G with a cold instrument!)  The stress used to nearly kill me!  Maybe that’s why I prefer Jazz – the trumpet plays a lot more in that set up and the whole thing is more relaxed!  Anyway, I get that same feeling of “just being there” when I play jazz on the piano nowadays.  It’s like I’m taking part but the piece is playing itself.

Once I’d got a basic darker background I began adding bigger, lighter details – not the really tiny stuff yet, or the white reflections of light, but things like the Operculum and head area.  Then finally I dived into the detail.  I found it really hard at first because I couldn’t get it eactly like the reference images I was using but then I remembered last week when I’d painted the forest glade and just used shapes, so I did the same on a smaller, more precise scale.

For me, the jury s still out on this painting.  I’ll have to see how I feel about it in a few days time to see if I like it or not.

Here’s the final image…


Post Script:  Once all of this was done I then had another small adventure.  I am really enjoying watercolour and gouache and I think I’m going to stick with these mediums for the time being.  However I want to work out how to best protect gouache paintings particularly.  The reading I’ve done suggests that there are two options.  Most people like to protect these paintings by framing them under glass.  This is pretty effective.  But the other option is to use an archival varnish on them and make them glossy!  Now this sounds lovely to me.  I love shiny things!  So I thought I’d have a go at this with this painting and the previous one I made of the Forest Glade.

Here are the results…

This is the Forest Glade painting after varnishing with 3 coats of Golden’s Gloss Archival Varnish (which has UV Light protection).  The difference is very very slight but I really like it.  To give you an idea of the shine here’s is a picture angled towards the window to show the maximum shine…


I love it that the shine accents where the paint has built up to a slightly impasto level!

And here is the Coastal Shiner with the varnish…


Again the difference is subtle but I like it!  (The difference is bigger on this picture as it needs a day or so to fully dry – it get’s clearer and lighter when it is completely dry.)

And here’s the shine!




Alohomora – Wandmaking Adventures!

Today my little dog brought me home a stick.  She doesn’t often do this because she usually loses them really quickly – she’s not the cleverest dog in the world – in fact my Dad thinks she has the brains of an aubergine!


So I was about to put the stick into the rubbish when I saw how straight it was.  I wondered what I could make out of it.  I’ve been reading a lot of J. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ recently so I thought I’d try to make a wand out of it.  I got out my carving tools and had a go:


Here’s the stick in it’s ‘dog-scrounged’ form:

bonnie's stick

First I stipped the bark off:


Then I could see how good or bad the wood really was.  It wasn’t great…


Both ends were moulded and split:

end2 end1

But the stick was much longer than I needed so I cut those bad ends off:


And I began to carve a handle shape on the thicker end:


(In this picture you can also see my dog’s tooth marks in the wood!)

Once I’d got the basic shape I got out my Dremel and began to clean it up and smooth it out in earnest until it looked properly wand-like:

shaping fishined,jpg

The next job was to sand it, paint  and varnish it.  I decided to paint the handle only and leave the varnished wood on the main shaft.  I used acrylic paint – blue and gold – and Yacht Varnish for it’s high shine.  It took three days for the various coats of varnish to dry but here it is:


I might give this as a gift to a child who’s into Harry Potter.  I did try it 😉 but sadly it’s doesn’t do any magic – you just can’t get the unicorn hair these days!  Good fun for kids though.