How do you get a mermaid to pose? Like unicorns and dragons, they are fantastical creatures, not entirely of this world. I wanted my mermaid painting to look real but not in a literal or material sense.
Although in previous posts (here, here, and here and here) I’ve suggested using photography for figure reference, when it comes to mythological or storybook beings I prefer to use life studies rather than photos because I feel freer to be guided by my imagination.
I did two studies, one in charcoal and one in paint, both directly from the model. In the charcoal study I concentrated on the basic linear gestures and on the soft lighting of the form. I also started thinking how to join the human form with a fishlike tail and how to bend the tail so that she could ride “sidesaddle” on a tamed sea creature.
I recalled from my experience snorkeling that skin tones appear cooler in water than they do in the air, and the side planes of the figure fall away to a bluish hue, lit from all directions by scattered light in the water. The color study above, made with the model in front of a blue cloth, allowed me to start exploring this unusual and magical color quality.
In both studies I took the first step toward my mental image, making changes in what I was seeing and not copying the model literally.