Knowing When I’m Done

Pecten Spray - Diane Prater
The act of being finished with a painting is a tricky one for many artists and particularly when working in watercolor. For me personally, it’s the point at which I feel I’ve said everything I need to about a particular subject. Just as in conversation where you stop talking once you’ve expressed yourself, when I’m satisfied with the saturation of color; the quality of the design; the interplay between foreground and background; I’m finished.

There’s a fine balance between what may feel like “not quite done” and, “oops, I’ve gone too far”. The  general rule with watercolor is there’s no going backwards. So as I’m heading towards completion, I slow down a bit making sure I’m not going past the point of no return.

Why Do I Prefer Watercolor?

Sunset Sailors

One of the great advantages of painting in watercolor is that if the artist remains attentive to what’s happening, the beautiful flow of paint and water almost takes on a life of its own. I can work with that flow, guiding and directing it, using it to my advantage as an active partner in inspired creation.

There’s also a crispness achieved by the juxtaposition of transparent paint against white paper. The effect creates a sort of “snap” that leaves you with the impression of a piece having been freshly painted regardless of how many times you’ve viewed it. And the medium is so versatile –  the result can be sharp and clean like a clear, unsullied sky after summer rain., or dark and brooding like the heaviness of an impending storm.

Where Do My Shells Come From?

Traveling Light - Diane PraterI collect shells from far and near. While a few of my favorites are found locally, I’m obtained some unique specimens from China, Vietnam, Australia, Brazil and the Philippines. Sometimes I paint a grouping of shells which are simply variations of the same species. Often I enjoy combining seashells from various locales in one painting –  especially when they almost appear to be related by similarity in coloration, patterning or some unusual feature.

In many of the more remote locations around the world, the harvesting and sale of seashells provides a cottage industry for locals who market worldwide to collectors. In this way I have direct access to certain types of shells that I might ordinarily be unable to obtain.

What Is My Inspiration?

Sea JewelsHow do I become inspired? Where do I seek inspiration? What speaks to me? It’s difficult to pin point inspiration in any factual or concrete statement that would hold true for all situations. It could be a simply gorgeous summer sky; the translucent blue-green curl of a wave; or that transient breeze on a perfect day which you’d love to capture in a bottle to save forever.

In my mind’s eye, I see lovely shells, a millennia’s product of inspired design against a backdrop of swirling water or fresh open air – against monumental and billowing clouds or rushing tidal currents. I let my imagination soar and run rampant with possibility. And then I endeavor to paint more than just a picture, but all the feelings those elements evoke in me.

My First Step In The Creation Process

Unsung BeautiesI photograph my shells prior to painting. It could be that I shoot them in the crisp, cool light of daybreak. Midday provides brilliant overhead lighting often conducive to highlighting their best qualities. Or perhaps the waning glow of a late day sun captures the transience of a moment just before the tide ebbs. Photographing the shells first allows me to explore many creative options prior to sketching or picking up a brush. The photo session also serves to inspire and open me up to the possibilities conveyed through each shell’s unique “personality”.


I Feel Like I’m Floating

Clear Waters Ahead - Diane PraterI love the impression of shells floating in air or ascending from the water. Like the elation of a childhood “flying dream”, these buoyant images lift us up above our daily cares and transport us to a place where the light is radiant and our vision is clear! How can anyone remain earthbound or care laden in such an idyllic atmosphere? You  may find yourself experiencing the same elevated feeling I do as I paint and imagine myself sailing along side these exquisite beauties.


How I Choose The Shells That I Paint?

Angel Wings
I really love the interesting and dramatic – unusual angles, sensuous curves, unique shapes. It’s difficult to find all these features in any one seashell, but the search itself provides continual inspiration. Each shell species is a  reminder of the inspired design preceding all life – nature’s geometry expressing itself through so many lovely ocean jewels.

I also find it helpful to handle a shell, making mental note of its physical characteristics as part of the selection process. I’ll turn it over and around in my hands, thinking about how it will work as a solitary element or in as a component of a grouping.

Conveying My Message Through Color

Travelling Companions - Diane PraterDo you love color as much as I do? Bright, bold, brilliant color! Color can truly change emotion – lift your spirits and elevate your thought. I especially love painting backgrounds in intense blues, luscious greens and sunny yellows, but also enjoy working in deep purples and brilliant reds. These hues make such lovely contrasting and abstract backdrops for the crisper colors and textures of the more graphic shell images in my paintings.