Studio Diary: Lady of the Lake (Pointillism Tutorial)

This is the painting I just finished, “Lady of the Lake,” acrylic on canvas, 12″x36″. I thought it would be interesting to start posting WIPs of my work, so here’s the first one! Mind you, I didn’t decide to do this until several hours into the painting, so it’s not as comprehensive as it could be. Maybe I’ll do one from start to finish for my next piece.

Click “More” to see in-progress photos and a description of my contemporary pointillism technique.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake

I was going to take a long break before I finished this one, but it got into the newest Visual Arts Club Student Gallery show at the College of Charleston, “Deconstructed”!  I actually  had a reason to finish it as quickly as possible this time. This meant long hours and a backache… I ended up putting about 55 hours of work total into the piece. (I usually paint while half paying attention to a TV show or film I’ve already seen, like Doctor Who)

The idea I had behind the painting: there are several pieces of art owned by numerous members of my family that feature scenes that, when you stare at them for long enough, turn out to  be figures. I’ve always loved that- the sort of secret recognition you feel when you understand a painting really well and can see hidden meanings in it. I wanted to capture that feeling in a work, and wanted to do a female figure; when viewing a series of landscape photographs I noticed the sinuous curves of mountains and how they related to the figure, so I decided to create a piece that is a mountain-and-lake scene at first glance, but reveals itself to be a female figure upon extended perusal, after which you always see the figure.

Having shown this piece to a number of people I’ve discovered it to be more of a Rorschach test for gender or sexuality, of sorts: men tended to see the woman (and her ample rear) first and landscape afterwards, while women tended to see the landscape first and woman afterwards. I like that there’s room for different opinions!

This is the picture I used as reference for the woman, a vintage photo I found on Google Image Search:

Reference Photo

I abstracted the form a bit to make it more mountainous. The whole process of this painting has really been a push and pull between treating the figure as a landscape and treating the landscape as a figure.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

I began to block in areas of colour using a 0/20 spot detailing brush, working in one single colour layer at a time. I started with dots of very light blue (serulean + white) for the outline, then once I had the figure/mountain, horizon and reflection plotted out, began to fill in shadows and highlights; I wanted to do a sunset, so I chose warm highlights and cool shadows. I used a cadmium orange layer, then a dark phthalo blue layer, then dioxazine purple, then cadmium yellow, then began to add a mix of the yellow with alizarin crimson. In the initial stages I like to use pure pigment because it informs the colours I will mix for the rest of the painting. I also added viridian green mixed with yellow and white to the mountainous areas.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

Using a mixed dark indigo colour, I built up the shadows and the reflection in the water (also the woman’s other half). I used an orangey pinkish red to start building the sunset glow. I made sure to leave space for the sun’s reflection. I also made the forms a little softer and rounder, more feminine.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

Sorry about how bad some of these pictures are- I was in a rush to keep painting, so I didn’t take many snapshots at a time, and some ended up blurry or cut-off…  I added a dusky magenta evenly throughout the painting but concentrated around the sunset area, ultramarine blue evenly layered but concentrated in the shadows and dark area of the reflection, and a high concentration of cadmium yellow in the sun and its reflection.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

I felt the piece needed a lot more yellow, so I spread out a light layer of cadmium yellow throughout the sunlit region and began to add titanate yellow (an opaque almost neon pale yellow) in a medium concetration throughout the piece as a unifying light colour. When working in pointillism, I really like the shimmering effect created by the white dots next to the colours, but I don’t want them to stay; instead, I try to use pastel and bright pale shades to unify the work as a whole. I modified the proportions to the left, mainly in the mountain’s shadows (to create the illusion of a back and neck, and smaller breast).

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36" - pointillism tutorial, acrylic painting tutorial

I then added another even layer at a medium-high concentration of a bright pale teal (cobalt teal mixed with white). This really bound the painting together for me, unifying the indigo at the left with the red at the right through overall shifting tones of cyan, green and yellow. Then I increased the concentration of cadmium and titanate yellow throughout.

 I will soon update this post with a picture from the side, so you can see the texture of the piece. Texture, both physical and visual, is an important aesthetic element to me. I use a combination of heavy gel medium and acrylic molding paste added to my paints (like with oil mediums) that extend the coverage and drying time of the acrylics I use as well as hold stiff peaks.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake - Acrylic on canvas, 12"x36"

This is as far as I got before I decided to take a break.

I ended up doing one more long 6 hour session before the final photo in which I used yellow and red to bring the shoreline on the left forward and remove the awkward symmetry  of the head. I added overall color layers of the following: bright lemon yellow, medium teal, light teal, light violet, crimson and a leafy green.

Alizey Khan - Lady of the Lake

The finished painting.

I hope this was interesting for you!

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