Sail Into Success

“I watched 29 sailing ships come into harbor at the end of a sailing race in August 2022,” says Poppy Balser. “The conditions were perfect, and as I was also on the water, I got to see them from several angles. It was afternoon and the sunlight was warm upon the water, creating shadows that not only provided nice shapes but also beautiful shades of alternating warm and cool reflected light.

“Looking Up, Looking Ahead” (watercolor, 18 x 24 in.) by Poppy Balser

“I had a lot of photos of this (and the other 28) sailboats. I made a couple of 8 x 10-inch studies and chose the one I liked the best to make a larger version. I then drew out my scene on an 18 x 24-inch piece of 90-lb. watercolor paper and painted it in black and white. I wasn’t sure if I liked the proportions of the 18 x 24 when I realized I had put the boat exactly in the center of the piece, so I cropped the black and white to a 16 x 20-inch to see how that looked. In the end, Idecided to stick with the larger size, which I knew would work if I repositioned the boat a bit. 

“Using the black and white as a guide, I transferred the drawing onto a fresh sheet of 140-lb. watercolor paper, moving the position of the boat to one that was a bit off center. Then I painted it in color, establishing the main shapes in light washes first and then adding the darker shapes after.

“Honestly, I almost put this painting aside more than once and started over. It got off to a good start but when it came time to paint the figures, I needed to  figure out how to make them interesting without getting too dark. In the small 8 x 10 study I made first the figures came out quite dark. That worked OK in the little one but I was concerned that I had to change it for the bigger one. I didn’t want the main center of interest to be a big dark mass. My references for the painting were not super sharp resolution and so sorting out the positions of the crew and the rigging was a challenge. I ended up putting the piece aside, while I weighed whether it would be better to just start over or to continue. I’m glad I took the break and went back to it. When I approached it with fresh eyes and the benefit of some time, I was able to paint the figures in a way that worked.”  


“Be consistent.  If you find a contest you like, enter it every month. Don’t necessarily enter the latest thing you painted while it’s brand new, because you may find after a while your opinion changes about how strong that particular painting is. Enter what you feel is your best work, and if it not recognized this time, keep in mind that another judge may choose it.”

“Looking Up, Looking Ahead” won Best Vehicle in the March PleinAir Salon competition.


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