Why Paint the Undersea World?

"Underwater Garden 3", 8 x 10", Acrylic and rice paper, Karen Gillis Taylor

“Underwater Garden 3″, 8 x 10”, Acrylic and rice paper, Karen Gillis Taylor. Click to enlarge views.

“The ocean is a might harmonist.” -William Wordsworth

I’ve been writing about freedom in painting, and the value of working with spontaneity. That takes me to a place that seems to exude its own kind of freedom, the sea. Nature behaves differently under the waves. Gravity is different. Currents in water are unlike the movement of air and wind above the sea. Water makes elements blend in the ocean, just like it makes paint blend for the artist.

I am finding that nice sense of freedom as I paint these small pieces. Light and shadow seem completely different under the sea. Everything moves at its own unique pace, all the plants, animals and organisms. Since I’m not a diver, it all looks very alien to me as I view photos and film. But alien in a good way. Even somehow familiar now, the more I paint.

As I paint, I discover and make new patterns and textures. Painting the undersea world is like imagining forms that I’ve never seen, but probably exist anyway. Nature is vast. Scientists keep discovering new things all the time. A Marine botanist would probably set me straight on what the heck I’m painting here. I visualize lots of Latin names and species. Good thing I don’t really know.

You know what’s funny? I didn’t start out to paint something that looked like the ocean. Shapes and textures just began to suggest that subject. Not intending a pun, it did begin to flow. I suppose I’ll just keep painting away until it’s time to come up for air.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” -William Wordsworth

Underwater Garden 3, detail

Underwater Garden 3, detail

"Deep Sea" painting started, detail from 11 x 14" black primed canvas, KGT

“Deep Sea” painting started, detail from 11 x 14″ black primed canvas, KGT

This next “Deep Sea” painting is very experimental, using a black primed surface instead of typical white gesso on canvas. I began with a loose, meandering pencil sketch and re-drew it on the black canvas with blue paint lines.

"Deep Sea", more progress, 11 x 14" acrylic on black primed canvas, Karen Gillis Taylor

“Deep Sea”, more progress, 11 x 14″ acrylic on black primed canvas, Karen Gillis Taylor

This painting is getting close to finish, I don’t want to overwork it. I began to see 3 or 4 fishes, and perhaps an eel, and a “hidden heart” motif in the composition. It was bothering me that the objects didn’t have much difference in scale, which can mean trouble for a picture, or lack of interest within, too much sameness, etc. Suddenly, instead of a little “lantern light” dangling off of the left fish, as deep sea fish do sometimes display, I saw an eye. Scale-wise, that would have to be a whale’s eye! Creepy but somehow valid for me.

"Deep Sea" detail

“Deep Sea” detail

I began to wonder about whale eyes and what they can see. This led me to a story about a book called Beautiful Whale, by photographer and diver, Bryant Austin. He came eye-to-eye with a sperm whale in close distance. The whale made direct eye contact, then was looking him over and returned to meet his gaze. “Disturbing” was his word. I’d feel that too, being so close to such a massive animal. Read the story here:


c.Bryant Austin

c.Bryant Austin

So, painting leads me to learning about ideas and the world, and it’s all a sweet, convoluted journey. I’m a lover of photography (and going to order this book.) Keeping the sense of wonder is not hard with these kinds of photos and books shared with land-locked people like me.

Today I put the final touches on this painting, see images below. I softened the contrast in the forms below the “whale eye”. I made several brushwork refinements with color. The yellow accents at the end were added with a fan brush.

"Deep Sea, Eye of the Whale", acrylic on gallery wrap canvas, final version, 11 x 14", Karen Gillis Taylor, 2015

“Deep Sea, Eye of the Whale”, acrylic on gallery wrap canvas, final version, 11 x 14″, Karen Gillis Taylor, 2015

"Deep Sea, Eye of the Whale", detail.

“Deep Sea, Eye of the Whale”, detail.

P.S. on Technique

I have also been experimenting with Golden acrylic paints that give a shiny metallic effect. (Interference Blue- Coarse, and Iridescent Copper- Coarse). My advice would be to use them at the last layer, not in the beginning of the painting, and then begin with a soft dry-brush effect. Today I like them if used as a subtle effect. FYI: They do not show up well photographed in print or photographed for the Internet. It’s also hard to work with them at night, with only artificial light. That all said, you can get interesting effects with these paints, so give them a try!

From previous January 2015 posts:

"Underwater Garden 2", 8 x 10" acrylic, Karen Gillis Taylor

“Underwater Garden 2″, 8 x 10” acrylic, Karen Gillis Taylor

Underwater Garden, 12 x 16" acrylic, Karen Gillis Taylor

Underwater Garden, 12 x 16″ acrylic, Karen Gillis Taylor




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3 Responses to “Why Paint the Undersea World?”

  1. Leslie Ann Clark Says:

    F R E E A AL M! :0) love your paintings! Love the blue ones ever so much!~ Good for you painting up a storm!!


  2. Rolina Says:

    These are FABULOUS and remind me very much of happy times watching Jacques Cousteau on TV with my father! Also, thanks for the info regarding the interference paints. I have some Golden interference medium and I am looking forward to trying it out.


    • karen Says:

      You are so welcome and thanks for your nice comments too, Rolina. I bought the blue and the copper. I like them both and look forward to using them again in another painting. Too bad they don’t show up well in a photograph, but maybe shot from the side with careful lighting you might be able to capture the effect in a close up. Have fun!


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