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This is the official collection of shell paintings by Amiria Gale (me). The paintings explore memory, stories and truth. They are about perception, blindness and the veil across our eyes. These ideas are explored through the interplay of organic form (the boundary between shell, land, sea and sky) and are captured in memories of diving deep and holding your breath; exploding through the surface in need of air; the splintering of sunlight and salt in your eyes.
This is my favourite shell painting. I painted it a long time ago, over four weekends. After a crazy hectic week at school I holed up in my bedroom and painted furiously, taking five minutes for lunch, and not stopping until the light from the window was too dim to see.
It is one of the first paintings that I ever really planned. Up until that moment, paintings had spontaneously occurred as they happened, but with this one, I knew what I wanted it to be like before I began.
Sometimes, when you swim in the ocean – especially when you are young – the waves grab and haul you under, tumbling you head-over-heels, snatching oxygen and pummelling you. Captured glimpses of the shore – coastal landscapes – fractured and distorted through a lens of brilliant salt-water, whirling about.
The inspiration for my Shell Paintings
These are photographs of some of my favourite shells – many of which inspired my paintings. Most of these are broken, providing glimpses into the cavities inside.
Shell Paintings with Acrylic Mediums, Modelling Compound and Texture
Many of the students who study my artwork seek advice about the practical processes and techniques I use when completing my paintings. I have thus provided detailed information about the process undertaken – using acrylic paint and modelling compound (and other acrylic mediums and mixed mediums) to create surface effects within the painting of shells.
Like many of my shell paintings, I started by selecting an object or scene that had relevance to me. In this case it was a weathered sea snail shell that I had found on Pouaua beach (near Gisborne, on the east coast of New Zealand). I noticed it hiding away in the corner of my box of shells and lifted it out. It rested in my palm, warm against my skin and when I unfurled my fingers, I liked the way it sat there, ugly and brittle, tiny holes and pock-marks in the surface. I blutacked the shell to a painted board in front of me and photographed it; brushstrokes creating a gentle background of horizontal lines.
I then used graphite pencil to turn the shell into art: swallowing the seashell in a mess of lines, weaving the curves of the shell into the land and sea. I this drew directly onto a MDF and pine base – a board pre-painted with a layer of gesso (to make the surface less absorbent). Lines were initially drawn lightly, but were darkened or semi-erased as I established and refined the composition; my eye gauging whether forms were balanced and the composition cohesive.
This shell painting above explores the [illusory] boundary that exists between physical objects…and how this boundary seems clear, but upon closer examination erodes away. The land, shell and sea all appear in the painting to merge together. It is difficult to tell where one stops and another begins.
Once the initial drawing was complete, I began to apply impasto medium and modelling compound to create a textured shell surface. The shell form was masked at the edges with removable tape and impasto medium was spread across with my fingers. I then purposefully textured the surface, using a dabbing motion. In some areas, where a thicker consistency was required (and a rougher surface) modelling compound was also used. When the masking tape was removed, clean edges were left around the texture. (Applying tape to curved edges take practise, but is not as hard as it looks).
Blocking in areas of the painting using acrylic washes occurs next, establishing the positioning of tones and colours. Often many layers are added before a colour choice and tonal definition is successful. I use gel medium and/or liquefying medium to thin the paint in places, creating glossy, transparent layers. As colour choices are determined, areas are painted with increased care, applying thicker layers of paint and dry-brushing.
I spend days (and sometimes weeks) applying acrylic paint, defining tone, adding detail and creating focal points. Smooth blending is achieved both through wet-on-wet and dry-brush painting techniques. Forms merge from shell to land to sea, helping to reinforce the ideas behind the painting.
Frequently Asked Questions: Shell Paintings
What is your favourite media to work in and why?
My favourite medium to work in is acrylic paint. I prefer this to oil paint due to its fast drying time. I also love to work over a range of other mediums, such as bits of paper or rubbish glued on…or textures created with modelling compound. I enjoy this for the variety and visual interest it gives the surface of the painting.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from the physical forms of the subject itself (intricacies of the shell etc) as well as the idea that a particular artwork is expressing, as well as a whole range of artists (although it is difficult to pick out one artist in particular).
Why do you paint seascapes and shells?
I paint seascapes and shells because these are important to me. They are the stuff of my childhood. I also love them in terms of aesthetics.
How would you describe your style of painting?
I would describe my painting style as a combination of semi-abstract and realism.
How large do you usually make your work?
Paintings range in size from very small (150 x 200mm) to very large (1.5m wide).
If you are a student and you have reached this page because you are studying my art (or you are an Art teacher) you may be interested in the Student Art Guide. This is a website that I have created to help high school Art students excel. It contains a range of resources, materials and guides to help high school Art students and teachers. All content is free. I would love to have you stop by!
This website has been created by Amiria Gale and contains artwork as well as unrelated ramblings. Amiria has been a teacher of Art & Design and Curriculum Co-ordinator in Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria now runs the Student Art Guide, a website dedicated to helping high school Art students excel.