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Quint

Seems that each year, right around this time, I get the urge to paint a portrait.

When fall starts feeling like winter, my mood lowers, some years worse than others. It might be the waning light and the colder temperatures, perhaps the early onset of seasonal affective disorder. Maybe it’s that the end of another year triggers my existential angst, wondering where this whole art career is heading next, and whether it’ll continue to sustain me. Too much time alone naturally leads to expert level navel gazing, a little too much introspection and prolonged eye contact with whatever is down there, lurking in the abyss.

See? Now I’m paraphrasing Nietzsche. How melodramatic.

For whatever reason, I’ve been using portraits of people as a pressure release valve for quite a few years now. I paint them for myself, with no eye on sales, a reminder that even though I am a commercial artist; it doesn’t always have to be about making a buck.

I’ve always found painting likenesses especially challenging, so from time to time, it’s nice to step into that ring and go a few rounds.

The federal election occupied most of my recent attention, not to mention quite a bit of behind-the-scenes file prep for licensing. I’ve not had much time to paint anything, let alone write any blog posts. But when I could, I was stealing time for this portrait, one I’ve wanted to paint for a while.

Regular readers will be well aware of my affinity for movies. As a consequence, most of my portraits end up being paintings of characters from films, rather than the actors themselves. Trust me, there’s a big difference, although you don’t get great characters without great actors, so you can chicken and egg that all day long.

While the actor in this image is the late Robert Shaw, the character I’ve painted is Sam Quint, the shark hunter from the movie, “Jaws.”

It’s one of those movies that seems like it has always been there, likely because it first hit screens in 1975. That’s right, Jaws is over 40 years old. It’s one I watch at least once every couple of years and while gathering reference for this painting, I watched it again. It still holds up, even if the non-CGI shark looks a lot more fake than it used to.

That’s right, kids, they used to make movies with hand-made models and camera tricks. There was something called a phone booth in those days, too. Go Google it, I’ll wait.
I read somewhere that Jaws was the first real summer blockbuster, and it was so successful, that it changed the way that movies were made and marketed.

Culturally, Jaws is an uncomfortable guilty pleasure. It scared the living hell out of people when it first came out, keeping many away from the beaches in 1975. There are many adults today who saw it when they were too young, and it gave them a lifelong fear of sharks.

What’s worse is that by turning the Great White Shark into a monster, the movie was indirectly responsible for granting tacit approval to the global slaughter of sharks that goes on to this day. According to Greenpeace, 100 million to more than 250 million sharks are killed each year around the world.

Just like every other wild creature with which we share the planet, they’ve got a lot more reason to be afraid of us than vice versa.

Peter Benchley , the author who wrote the novel Jaws and co-wrote the Spielberg screenplay, said he later regretted writing it and felt genuinely responsible for his role in casting sharks as villains, which directly contributed to culls around the world. He spent the rest of his life advocating for shark protection and ocean conservation.

So while the movie’s theme may be yet another scar on our dismal track record as a species, the film is still one I enjoy. In the right context, it’s a thrilling monster movie with plenty of action and well-rounded memorable characters.

I guess I could have painted Chief Brody or Matt Hooper, played by accomplished actors Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, but it’s usually a specific scene that captures my attention when I choose which character I want to paint. It might be something they said, a trick of the light, an expression, anything that prompts me to cock my head, pause or rewind the movie and think, “hey, there’s a painting there.”

There’s a familiar and wonderfully playful scene in the movie where Hooper and Quint are comparing scars, having drinks while sitting at the galley table of the Orca. At one point, Chief Brody asks about the one on Quint’s forearm. Quint tells him that it’s a tattoo he had removed, the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

Suddenly the tone gets serious and Quint tells his tale.

The scene is one of my favorites of any movie, a classic edge-of-the-seat monologue, leaving the audience hanging on every word. Not only is the real-world tale of the Indianapolis tragic, but it explains Quint’s hatred for sharks and why he hunts them. What you might not know is that the late Robert Shaw was an accomplished writer, and he rewrote the scene with Spielberg. By all accounts the collaboration made it the most resonant scene in the film.

Quint meets his demise a short time later when the shark evens the score. Oh sorry, should I have said, “spoiler alert?”
I enjoyed working on this portrait and once I found the time to really devote some hours to it this week, I didn’t want it to end. There was always one more brush stroke to make, a small wrinkle here, a blemish there, just to improve the likeness a little more, to capture the feeling of Quint.

Eventually, as with all of my paintings, I just had to accept that it would never be perfect. I called it finished, content that I was able to carve out some creative time for myself, hopefully improved my skills a little through the effort, and abandoned this painting so that I can start another. I’m pleased with how it turned out and I think I accomplished what I had envisioned.

Given that this winter melancholy and malaise seems to have settled in early this year, I believe I might have another portrait to paint before long.

After I get back to the paying gigs for a while.

Cheers,
Patrick

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Great White Shark Totem

SharkFinalFBWhile I’ve wanted to paint a Great White Shark for quite some time, I honestly didn’t think I’d be doing it right now.  It was suggested to me recently and after thinking about it, I thought I could indeed do it justice.   I’m pretty pleased with the result.  This was painted in Adobe Photoshop CC on a Wacom Cintiq 13HD display and a Wacom Cintiq 24HD display.  Photos were only used for reference, and all of this was done with brush work.

I’d love to say that this was a lot of fun the whole time, but editorial cartoons, year end bookkeeping, and a sudden short deadline video project popped up, so my painting time kept getting put aside.  It got to the point where I just wanted to get this done as it seemed it was never going to happen.  Thankfully, as is the case with finishing many of my Totems, I had a Saturday morning free of obligations which allowed me the time needed to finish it, which did end up being very enjoyable.  If you’re familiar with these posts and my work in general, you’ll be aware that Saturday mornings are my favorite time of the week.  I still get up at 5AM, but with no editorial cartoons sent out on weekends, I have four or five hours of music in my headphones, a few cups of coffee and nothing but painting.

The big challenge with this painting was the detail.  I thoroughly enjoy painting hair, fur, and feathers, but with none of those anywhere on a great white shark, it was  challenge to paint that leathery looking skin with enough detail to achieve the realism I wanted, but not so much that it looked completely out of place in water.  I also was afraid of overdoing it.  The environment is what made this one difficult.  I didn’t want to blur out the tail and fins too much, even though in darker water, they might just be shadows.  Then again, they couldn’t be too sharply defined, textured or brightly lit.  It was all a compromise and while another artist might have made different choices, I’m content with mine.  I’ve painted a Humpback Whale Totem before, but having painted this shark, I now think I could do a better job of the whale, if given another shot at it.  I think every artist can say that about past work, though, so I’ll just let it be, take the lessons learned and move forward.
SharkCloseCropI take a lot of liberties in the anatomy of my work, which should be rather obvious.  While I do need to know what the real anatomy looks like, my animals are caricatures of the real thing.  For example, in real life, a great white shark has rather black looking eyes, not a lot of life in them. My Totems, however, are all about personality, with my distinctive style of eyes a defining feature of the look, so I completely disregarded realism in that regard.  That little white catch-light in the eye would not be visible underwater, it’s physically impossible.  But remove it, and a lot of the life goes with it.  Again, these are the choices I make.

After I painted my Fox Totem, somebody said on my Facebook page, that, “Foxes have cat-like eyes.”   Clearly he doesn’t get my work, so I tolerated what was essentially a drive-by comment and moved on.

My wife has a thing for sharks, she has for as long as I’ve known her.  She’ll watch any documentary or read any article about them and has become quite knowledgeable as a result.  Her life long dream is to go cage-diving with great white sharks and I’ve resigned myself to go with her.  I plan to drag her along when I go swimming with humpback whales in Fiji someday, but you’re less likely to meet sharp pointy teeth with a humpback.  Of course, no matter how gentle an animal, if a bus rolls over on you by mistake, it’s the same result.  Neither of these dreams will go unfulfilled, I assure you.

Great white sharks are largely misunderstood animals.  I have a love/hate relationship with the 1975 movie, ‘Jaws.’  I do love the movie as it stands alone, for the actors, the script, the storyline.  I’ll still watch it again when it comes on TV and I can be counted on to let loose with a quote once in awhile.  But in the real world, Jaws has single-handedly caused the deaths of countless shark species, especially great whites, by justifying killing these monsters, as the general public thinks of them.

Shark hunting tournaments and the slaughter of these erroneously labelled ‘man-killers’ irreparably harmed the reputation and populations of great whites and every other shark species by association.  The author of Jaws, Peter Benchley said twenty years later, “I couldn’t write Jaws today. The extensive new knowledge of sharks would make it impossible for me to create, in good conscience, a villain of the magnitude and malignity of the original…. If I have one hope, it is that we will come to appreciate and protect these wonderful animals before we manage — through ignorance, stupidity and greed — to wipe them out altogether.”

There is a barbaric practice known as long-lining, which is often used only to take the fins from the animals, leaving them to die a slow death as they are thrown back still alive after the fins are removed.  Long-lining also harms countless other species of marine life in the process.  More and more conservation groups are shining a light on this and as a result, it is becoming poor fashion to serve shark fin soup in many places in the western world today, although it still happens in the Chinese community.  It is also still popular in China as a delicacy.

I realize it’s not my usual practice to use a blog about my latest painting to climb up on a soapbox and talk about animal conservation, but I’ve learned a lot about sharks over the years, largely because of my wife’s interest, and I’d like to see more awareness of the beauty of these animals and their valuable place in the ecosystem of Earth’s oceans.  We have done infinitely more to harm sharks than they could ever do to us and even though Jaws scared a lot of us senseless as children, it’s about time we grew up.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Patrick

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