Turtle Prints and Watercolors

by Brian Gordy


Walking down a rocky creek bed surrounded by dense woods on a hot October day, I came upon this Eastern Box Turtle cooling himself in the creek. He was unconcerned that I was inspecting him, so I picked him up for a closer look - brilliant markings on the shell, bright golden yellow flesh with a few random black splotches.

Knowing that this species can live in excess of 125 years, I guessed from the size of his shell, the deep fold of his skin and sagging eyes, he was approaching the century mark himself - a very humbling realization.  And, considering the fact that this large tract of land had been left untouched, then protected and secured for many more years than that, it seemed likely I was the first human this old guy had ever laid eyes on.  He was terribly unimpressed, and completely indifferent, if I read box turtle body language correctly. I placed my new model in a number of settings within a few feet of where I found him, trying to find backgrounds that allowed me to feature his markings and unique form.  After capturing a few composition with my camera, I carefully placed him back in the exact spot he was upon discovery.  I sat down on a damp boulder and watched him for a long, long time.  He never moved from the spot.  After some time I stood up, nodded a little bow and walked on down the creek bed. 

Watercolor Notes:

I had placed this turtle on a moss covered area of the creek-bed to allow the orange yellow and red ornaments on the shell to gain emphasis.  As usual, my first concern was to hold the crisply defined shapes- turtle, nut shell, leaves- intact, while I worked in the background.  After carefully drawing the composition, I blocked out those shapes using liquid masking fluid (my particular favorite is Pebeo brand drawing gum). Once the masking fluid dried, I was free to "scumble" in combination washes using Hookers Green, Burnt Sienna, Violet and Cobalt Blue to create the fuzzy, edgeless look of moss. 

Once I was satisfied with that element, and certain it was dry, I removed the masking material, which left all of those preserved shapes white. 

Next, I painted each of the individual shapes, leaving the turtle for last.  The leaves and nut shell were done with soft washes extended subtly with water, or laid into water that I brushed into the shape.  It was important here to keep them very transparent and light in value to let them lift off the dark background. I used varying mixtures of the same pigments combined for the moss covered rock on these objects, which kept them in color harmony with the background. 

I had painstakingly drawn out the design on the turtle's shell, Next, I masked out the part of the design that was not black (or very dark).  Once the mask was complete and dry, I washed Ivory Black into the darker areas of the shell, pulling the wash out into the areas that carried some reflection- creating the orb form.  When I removed the masking  again, it showed the design in white.  I used more intense relatives of the colors already used to punch up the design- Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, with a little Cadmium Red- again, making sure to keep transparency intact so the design glowed off the black of the shell.  

Final touches included washing in the yellow-orange flesh and enhancing darks everywhere to further bring out the luminosity of this Old Man Of the Woods.







Written by Brian Gordy — February 18, 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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