Turtle Prints and Watercolors

by Brian Gordy


I spent years watching turtles plop into the river as I approached in a canoe.  More accurately, it was mostly hearing them drop as they spotted me way before I knew they were there.  I became more determined to spot them first.  I made it a point to cast my eyes much further ahead, and started to concentrate on becoming a more skilled canoeist... or, at least, quieter.  Upon finally becoming quiet enough, alert enough and strategic enough, I was treated to a most fascinating and beautiful exhibition of compositions, poses, textures, shapes, colors and highlights.  I noticed that the individuals basking in a group didn't necessarily look like the same species as one next to it.  I noticed there were some very large turtles, which I imagined would have lived through some very challenging pollution years in this river.   I decided I wanted to look further into this turtle thing- find out more about them- do a few watercolor studies - see what comes of it.  Sixty-some watercolors later I'm still "looking into this turtle thing".  Who knows... something may come of it after all.

Basking is the first painting of the turtle series.  I learned very early that in order to gain a vantage point that was going to give me a good opportunity for a watercolor it would have to be done with photography. I learned this by coming upon turtle after turtle that sensed my presence and slid off its log before I could get anywhere near enough for any detail.  Whether sensitivity to motion,  eyesight or hearing was their gift, I could never be sure, but they are truly gifted in the art of wariness.  I spotted this Map Turtle from land, looking out toward open water.  You can tell from its head position that it knows I'm there, and is about to bounce.  It bounced... but not until I found a nice shot of what looks like a smile of appreciation for the warm sun on his shell.



It was important to capture the stark glare of the light bouncing off the left portion of the shell and the snout.  That was achieved by laying in a two layer wash- first yellow ochre, then cobalt blue with a touch of purple- to suggest the color of the water but to be dark enough set the highlights up to be painted later. 

The flesh of a map turtle seems murky green at first glance, but when viewed at close range, shows the topo map-like lines that brought this turtle its name.  I washed the flesh with a cadmium orange, then when dry defined those lines by washing in a mixture of Sap Green and Burnt Seinna. 

The shell, kept white until now, was washed with the same green mixture, minus the orange undertone.  On the highlight half, a diluted mixture of that wash was laid into a pre-wetted paper to indicate the suggestion of glare.

A gestural indication of the shadows formed by the sun bouncing off bark using the green mixture tempered with sepia created the basking log and helped to develop a little depth.

Written by Brian Gordy — January 22, 2014

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All of the images you’ll find on this site were created in watercolor. All prints are giclees (jee-clays) printed on acid free, heavy weight “fine art” paper using permanent, light- fast inks. Each signed and numbered giclee is published in an edition of 100 images each per listed size. Prints are available unframed, or matted and framed with ebony stained wood frame and natural white mat (see "Framing Examples" below).

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