19 years ago vs now

19 years ago vs now

My 3rd acrylic painting, completed 19 years ago.

My 3rd acrylic painting, completed 19 years ago.


A few weeks ago a friend of mine suggested that I repaint one of my first paintings to show how much I’ve grown in skill over the years. I knew JUST the painting!
I painted this 19 years ago. It was my third acrylic painting ever. I had no idea what I was doing, given I am self taught, but it was a start. The first half of my painting career I specialized in marine life. With very rare exception, I didn’t really paint anything else at all. The nice thing about this is that I am no longer dependent on finding the perfect reference photos to work from when painting whales, dolphins, fish, or coral. I eventually moved away from marine life because those pieces really weren’t selling, even living in Southern California. Revisiting this style was a LOT of fun.

I started with the clouds

I started with the clouds

I started off with a canvas the same size as the original, 24×24″. Both are box canvases. First I painted the sky. I wanted more depth than I had in the original, so I had actual clouds this time.I wanted similar colors, but learning from past mistakes, I didn’t want the exact colors I originally used. These were all painted wet into wet. I kept the paint wet by misting water over it with an airbrush. I will be doing a wet into wet blending tutorial next week.

painting in the underwater background

painting in the underwater background

Next was to paint in the underwater background. When working in acrylics you will almost always want to start from the back and work your way forward. You don’t want to draw in your subjects and try to paint around them because the paint dries too fast to get a smooth look that way, even with the airbrush it would just be far too much work. I painted in a base of the light to dark blue, then went over it with an airbrush to get a really really soft transition between the colors in the water. This style of painting was the reason I originally invested in my airbrush set up 15 years ago. In my opinion, it is a must have item when painting with acrylics in this style.

painting in the water surface

painting in the water surface

Now that the sky and water background are painted in, I can move onto the water surface. This is a much smaller area so I didn’t need the airbrush much to blend everything before it dried. I painted the water surface last because I knew that painting the underwater section and sky would have blended into the space the surface needed to take up. I would have ended up with too many brush marks, so the water needed to go on top of the other two areas to keep everything clean. I prefer to use colors in the water surface that were used in my sky. The same with underwater. It balances everything out nicely giving you a more natural end result.

using tracing paper to draw my subjects.

using tracing paper to draw my subjects.

One of the early mistakes I made when working in acrylic was to draw my subjects in with a graphite pencil directly onto the painting. Those graphite marks NEVER erase 100%. You will end up with smudged graphite and eraser marks all over. This is not the case with oil paint, but it is something to be aware of with acrylics. An easy solution to this problem is to tape tracing paper to your canvas and draw directly onto that. I could see where my waterline was and how to position my whales in relation to the rest of the painting by using tracing paper instead of another type of paper. I then used transfer paper to transfer the actual images I drew onto the canvas. This keeps everything very nice and clean.

Painting in the orcas

Painting in the orcas

Now that the orcas had been transferred onto the canvas, painted them in. I have some real time clips of me painting one of those whales step by step over on my facebook page if you would like to see that. The three big difference between these whales and my originals were first, they are not all swimming at a side view. Keeping all of the whales at the same angle looks unnatural. Second, they aren’t flat black and white. Very little white is used in most paintings. Save the white for highlights. Under the water the whales are going to have a LOT of blue in the white. Third, the rays of light coming through the water surface keep the whales from being solid black. I’ve shaded from blue to the black then painted in the reflections of the water surface onto their backs.

Finished orca painting

Finished orca painting


The last step of this painting was to paint in the fish and coral. This time I painted the fish and coral reef up close, creating more depth in the piece. This also allowed me to paint the fish in detail. I use the colors and sizes of the fish to balance out the painting where needed. Bright colored fish are GREAT for this! For example, when the whales and coral were painted in, the right side was too heavy, so adding the two majestic angelfish (the two large orange and purple fish on the left) pulled the weight of the canvas back to where I wanted it.


Prints of this painting are available here

As always I have the time lapsed video available to watch 🙂