Last night I completed my first project in oil pastels. Paint my Photo is website where photographers share reference photos with artists and they run monthly themed challenges. July’s challenge was about sea creatures, after having a look through the available photos I decided on this underwater polar bear by Barbara Swinton and I used Debbie Gibert’s sealion as inspiration for the bearded seal. It was touch and go whether I’d have time to create it because my soft pastel painting for the LLL calendar also had a deadline of the end of July and I had a surprise portrait request from my mum. So the idea was bubbling away at the back of my mind for a few weeks.
As well as the Paint my Photo references, I also watched this clip of a BBC documentary to get a feel for the shape of the seal, the light under the sea ice and the hunting behaviour. The bears stake out the seal’s breathing holes in the ice and stay motionless so that they don’t alert the seals to their prescense.
I love how vivid the colours have come out and how the expressive strokes on the polar bear really give a sense of the light. It was a playful leap into the unknown, both in terms of how the oil pastels would handle and in departing from the reference photos and imagining the scene. I can often be quite bound by reference material trying to recreate the photo, it was fun to compose this painting from scratch rather than just cropping the image.
Aspects of it probably would have been improved if I’d had an exact reference of the scene – the seal and the way the water reacted to the polar bear diving in – and it could have been more detailed if I had spent more time on it or worked at a larger scale. But I do like how it turned out. Working on a coloured ground (dark blue card) really helped the colours to pop. Being freer with the reference photos and still getting a good result has made me feel a bit more confident and creative.