Monday, October 25, 2010

Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle--Vickie Henderson

What a joy this painting was to create.  The biggest challenge for me was the sea and sand, but I was so eager to see this turtle come to life, that I plunged in anyway, letting my eyes guide me through confusion.
All the while I painted, I enjoyed incredible memories of late night, moonlight beach walks and watching these ancient creatures lay their eggs, 150 of them, then cover them again with great swings of their massive front flippers.  This is the only time a female sea turtle comes to shore after they initially hatch and reach the sea.  The males never return to shore at all.
Here is my initial attempt to create areas of sand and foam above.  I realized as I stood back from it, that this wasn't working--all that clutter would distract from the turtle and the angle was wrong.  So I used my scrubber lightly to smooth things out (below), change the angle and tried again.  I wanted everything in the painting to enhance the turtle, point to the turtle, background colors to highlight and reflect her colors, and the texture of sand and foam to lead to her.
The really fun thing about plunging in and marching into unknown areas of creating, you're going to learn something no matter how it turns out, something about painting and something about yourself.  I find these discoveries so gratifying, even if not beautiful, simply because I faced the unknown and gave it a good try.
Loggerhead sea turtle tracks leading to her nest and back to the sea

Capturing my June sea turtle experience on paper was an intimate experience that stirred my curiosity and pulled me deeper into a connection with an ancient vertebrate that has always captured my intrigue.  In my previous post, Curiosity and A Loggerhead Sea Turtle, I mention new terms that I found in my research as I tried to understand her anatomy.  I also bought a wonderful book on the secondary market, written by a biologist who lives in the same area of Florida (Brevard County) where I participated in my sea turtle walks.  In his book, Sea Turtles, Blair Witherington took me even deeper into the beauty, mystery, and heart of these ancient creatures, describing them as elegant in their element, the sea, and providing beautiful photographs along with poetic details of their lives.  A wonderful book.
A late Loggerhead nester returning to the sea.  With permission from friend, Jim Angy.

As for the new terms, here's some of what I learned about sea turtle anatomy.  Each species of sea turtle, seven altogether, has a characteristic number of large scutes (shell plates) on their hard carapace (shell), as well as a characteristic arrangement of scales on their head.  They have more flexible shells than land turtles, with the carapace and plastron (under shell) being joined by a bridge of supple cartilage, allowing for more speed and maneuverability as they navigate through many miles at sea.  Blair Witherington, as a young herbetologist, thought they were slow and clumsy, as would most of us.  Instead, he discovered while swimming underwater with them, they were actually very elegant and had effortless speed in the sea.

Watercolor on 9 x 12" Arches 140# cold pressed paper.  Pigments used:  WN French Ultramarine, WN New Gamboge (yellow), WN Van Dyke Brown, WN Burnt Sienna, a touch of DVP Permanent Rose as needed, and WN Permanent White Gouache.  Most of my grays are a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna.

For the story of my June visit to Brevard County, FL to see nesting sea turtles, visit The Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Vickie Henderson Art and Space Coast Beach Buzz with Marge Bell.
More about creating this painting at Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle--Part II
To learn more about sea turtle nesting on the coast of Florida visit Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

To see a peak into Blair Witherington's beautiful book visit Sea Turtles, An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles.  This book is out of print, but with some patience you can find it at a good price on the secondary market.  I bought mine at Amazon for less than $12 and its brand new. ( The real draw back of this, the author doesn't get compensation in this secondary market and his book is wonderful!)  


  1. He's gorgeous, Vickie! I'd love to see one of these in person.

  2. What a WONDERFUL post, Vickie, thank you. Just a delight.

  3. This is such a great post, Vickie! Beautiful painting and thanks for all the info!


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