The process of Cormorant Fisherman

I’m less happy with the result of this painting process than I have been for any of my other paintings to date. The result is pretty horrible and it is no where near what I had intended.

I thought that I should take some images of the process for this piece so that I can look back at it and learn where I went wrong. I believe I know where I went wrong so I am now sharing this information with the world. You know, for the betterment of mankind and all of that.

This is where I believe I went wrong. Right here on step 1. I went off the rails immediately. I approached this painting by first drawing the entire thing in pencil. I don’t think I should have drawn as much detail as I did. Perhaps I should have drawn the fisherman – due to the complexity of his face, outfit and the lamp – but the rest I should have left up to the painting.

The reason I believe this is – as you will see from the following images – this painting became an exercise of coloring in the lines. The exact oposite of what I wanted to do.

I made a few small mistakes at this stage too. The beaches are a horrible color. In the finished piece they end up standing out much more than I would have liked. I also immediately began to lose the tone values for the painting.

(This is my term and may not be correct.) Tone values, for me, are how light or dark certain things are in a painting. So if one area is black, and one area is white, then everything else should make sense in between. Nothing should be too dark in tone or too light in tone when comparing it to the reference photo.

The birds in this step, for example, are nearly black already. In the reference photo there were a few areas that appeared very, very dark and nearly black. The birds were not one of those areas. So the tone values for this painting began to be lost very early on in the process. This is something that I could have rescued had I noticed it. But I didn’t.

Now you can begin to see what I meant by the "color in the lines" approach I ended up taking. First off, the entire reference image is in a shade of blue. For whatever reason I lost track of this pretty early on and so I ended up choosing colors that I felt might end up looking OK instead of relying on the reference photo as my color guide. Stupid rookie mistake.

The other mistake you can begin to see is that I didn’t mix colors well enough for how complex the fisherman is. He’s got a lot going on and – again because I drew so much detail in the beginning – I tried to represent every single thing he had going on. In reality I could have gotten away with a much more constrained colorpalette.

When I showed my mother-in-law this painting at this stage I remember her saying "Is that a scarecrow?". Well, obviously the lines are too blurred between the fisherman’s regalia and everything else. She had no idea how he was dressed and that he was wearing some sort of whicker jacket.

By this point this painting was so far off of the rails that I probably had little or no chance to bring it back. And, as a beginner, I didn’t even recognize my mistakes and so I continued to make the same ones with each step.

Do you hear that? That is the sound of a train wreck. I couldn’t bring myself to work much longer on this painting so I simply went onto step 5.

I quickly outlined a few key things with a pencil to make them stand out a bit and I’m washing my hands of this painting. It is going on my wall to remind me of my mistakes but eventually it will end up in the garbage.

Here is a list of the main lessons I’ve learned:

  • Never draw too much detail in the beginning.

  • Follow the reference photo as your color guide.

  • Don’t try such complex paintings before you’re able to do them. You’ll only be discouraged.

  • Be very aware of tone values.

  • Never stop trying to get better.

  • It is OK to throw a painting out and start over.

I hope by me sharing this process someone out there will see not only what I’ve noticed that I did wrong but also pick up other things too.

Last Updated:

Powered by Hubbub Pro