I’ve finally done it. I’ve painted a fish!
I really couldn’t have been more excited, N and I were downtown Portland, home from a trip to Boston to see the amazing band Cat Empire (more about them later). It was a beautiful afternoon, warm, the early-bird tourists were out but it wasn’t yet too crowded. After a walk around and quick pizza slice, N suggested “fish for dinner and why don’t we go pick some up?”
“That’s an excellent idea!” I cried.
AND knowing that I would have some open painting time the following day, AND with the salty sunny Commercial Street air inspiring everyone exposed to it especially me, I quickly hatched a plan to get my own dinner. Dinner for my easel, a meal for my palette and brushes to whip up. A fish of my very own.
Now, you may think that intro to this blog post a little dramatic, but I can’t help it. It has been so long that I’ve wanted to paint a fish. Having seen those magnificent still lifes of William Merritt-Chase, Jacob Collins, Manet and others that include a fish, I’ve always wanted to try it myself. I’ve tried a lobster before, I left it alive sitting on a Koolpak in a casserole dish slowly thrashing about while I sketched. It was a somewhat anxious experience because I was slightly worried about its welfare the entire time I was drawing, and also worried that he was going to somehow jump at me and rip the pencil out of my hand. But he did serve well, and was served well, as N cooked him up later that evening and said he was delicious.
As cool as the lobster was, I’ve wanted to try painting a fish because it seemed somehow palette-ly speaking more versatile.
Anywho, below are some images of my first fish painting experience. The type of fish was a Branzino (aka, according to Wikipedia, a “European Sea Bass”). I just liked the name, very similar to the awesome painter Bronzino. Yes, you can call me a dork I don’t mind at all…
The first of these two photos are of the fish in his home enclosure (looks eerie, kind of like an evidence bag full of body parts. Sorry about that). The se!cond is my final still life set up. Silver dish, lemons, I figured that for my first time I could be slightly unoriginal. Still, pretty to look at:
This next set of pictures is what I worked on Day 1. It’s watercolor paper sized and primed for oil painting. A product of one of my mass sizing/priming weeks of any support that I could get my hands on (paper, cardboard, mattboard, anything really). It was fun to work with, similar to watercolor, which usually makes me anxious because of my ineptitude with that medium, but this was fun.
Ok, last set of images here are from Day 2. I did not get the initial pics of this oil on canvas board study I did, probably because I was in such a rush to get started, knowing the time limit I had on Mr. Fish’s decaying-out-of-the-fridge-and-smelling-up-the-studio situation. Here is my finished study and here he is at the end of Day 2. Not too bad looking, scales coming off a bit but no biggie. I chose not to depict much of the other objects in either of the studies I did because honestly all I wanted to do was the fish. Next time though, next time….
The first hesitation to this whole painting a real fish (a real dead fish) was that regardless of any preparation or careful management it would eventually become smelly and messy, whether it would be after a few hours or a day or two. And, knowing the amount of time that would be required to study the fish well by drawing/painting it, it seemed like a bit of work just to support the endeavor. Taking the fish out, propping him up a bit, working with a set time limit so he doesn’t warm up and start to smell, and put him away again. When you’re painting a vase or other inanimate object there is no danger of decay, merely danger of losing the light before you’ve finished for the day. And flowers keep their shape and for the most part smell good! I akin this type of still life to painting en plein air, you have to know that outside circumstances (time, environment, biology) do not allow you an endless stretch to study what you’re looking at. It will change, the light will change, a rain cloud will show up, a bee will sting you or the wind will blow your hat off and you will have to chase it. A major challenge would be to paint a fish in a plein air still life. That would be a great challenge for my painting-themed reality show idea, where contestants paint to the death… I digress. I painted this fish with daylight through my studio windows. This time of year with no leaves on the trees allows daylight to come in, which is amazing, but still fleeting. I worked on him the second day as well, and smell-wise really wasn’t that bad. Something you get used to I guess. But I’m glad I didn’t try a third day, because he was definitely rank and it was dark and gray outside.
Next time – and believe me you, there sure as hell will be a next time – I am going to try working on a fish still life in the studio with artificial lighting. As far as the type of fish to get I wouldn’t mind getting a Branzino again, but there are some reddish ones that look like they might be fun to paint, so who knows. Depends on what’s at the market!
NOW, ABOUT THAT BAND….
So I had two songs battling in my mind this fish-filled weekend. N and I just saw the band Cat Empire in Boston. Unbelievable show, we danced so much I could barely walk back to the hotel! And they do a great song called “Fishies” that really get’s the heart pumping.
But there’s also a Russian band named Leningrad, also amazing I hope to someday see them live, that does a song called “Рыба” (Fish), and part of the lyrics say “But you are the fish of my dreams”. Hence my blog title 🙂
So to conclude this post, here are those songs to sum up my feelings about fish…