My Creative Process – Meet the Tortoise

By Canadian Artist, Susan Seitz

I Love painting large scale pieces. It is incredibly satisfying, fun and in some ways easier than working on small canvases. I thought I would share some of my process in creating this beautiful tortoise recently as a commission piece for a client. If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a love note!

My process to painting is different for every painting. This one required a simple grid so that I could make sure the tortoise looked like a tortoise when it was done! The basic outline was chalked in. The lines within the tortoise and the shapes on the leg and face, were not specific to the photo. I painted more of the essence of what I was seeing, rather than the details that were there. The client was looking for more greys in the finished painting, so to warm up the canvas, I primed the canvas burnt sienna. I don’t paint with a planned “system” in mind, (paint the darks, or the lights first), instead, I allow the subject to inform me, what is calling my attention? I started with some dark outlines – looking at the shapes within the shapes, and not thinking I was painting a turtle. I loved the line work – and how as it developed, it gave a sense of age. I was very present with the rhythm of the lines as I painted them. I loved the feeling of seeing the layers upon layers placed and how magically they became the tortoise leathery skin. The client requested some green to appear in the top left, as well … requested a brighter red to connect with her leather couch in her space. The reds were brought in the upper shell and I used some to wash in the tree line. Much of this painting was created over days, weeks, allowing each stage to sit so that I could take a step back and notice what I would like to do next. I knew the finished piece would be hanging high up on the wall, away from any viewings close up – so I wanted my brush strokes to be simple, yet powerful in describing the details (without details). The entire piece was essentially made of many brush scribbles, when you view from a distance, became the tortoise. Glazes of grey tones were washed over the warmer tones in the end, as well, highlights of light in the shell, and leg & face, with some detail to the eye, were painted, almost to say “I see you.” when it was completed.

The finished piece was mounted right beside her sister painting that was created a year ago. They are now in their forever home!