Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Painting

Given the amount of space and science fiction work showcased on my site, people may be surprised to see me tackling a terrestrial subject like a lighthouse on a cliff. However, painting from life subjects is an essential method for anyone who wants to learn how to draw and paint, digitally or otherwise. I learned this both on my own, and through many art classes during college. While I majored in Industrial Design, the core program was based on London’s Royal College of Art – a program that focuses heavily on drawing from nature and life.

Cape Disappointment, located in the Southeastern corner of Washington State, has a lot of history to me and my extended family. We’ve held annual family reunions in the area for over three generations. Some of my earliest memories include trips to the ocean beaches and the lighthouses, so I thought I’d tackle a landscape that held some value to me personally.
This is a 20″ by 30″ stretched canvas, and I used acrylic paint. Some of the additives I used included a clear gloss medium which helped me build layers of transparent details building to the overall look. I started by blocking in the sky and water.


And that’s a shot from my home studio. From there I added the cliffs, clouds, horizon, and later came back and made the churning water. Sadly most of my visits to Cape Disappointment took place during rough weather, even in the summertime. Even under dark skies and rain it’s a beautiful location.


Next I added the lighthouse forms and tree line. At this point they weren’t detailed, merely placeholders while I brought the rest of the painting up to a similar level of detail.


After getting all the elements in place, I focused on the lighthouse itself. My wife and I deliberated on having an explicit light beam coming from the lighthouse, out into the sky. To me it felt forced, so I left it as you’d expect to see it in person – a lonely light against a dark sky.


The closer you get to finishing a painting, the longer it takes to get all the details. I spent the last chunk of time working out how the rocks should look, water splashing against the shore, and refining the clouds and trees. In the end, I’m happy with the painting, but it still doesn’t feel finished. The curse of the painter, I’m learning.


I put it on a wall to take some photos, and my family liked it so  much, it’s stayed there so far.


As an exercise, I like to refer to this as “practicing my clichés”, referring to a quote by Kevin Costner in the movie Bull Durham. In that movie Costner plays Crash Davis, a veteran baseball player tasked with trying to coach the brash and young Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (played by Tim Robbins) into becoming a big-time pitcher. Here is Crash Davis’ sage advice regarding interviews:

Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
Crash Davis: ‘Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down.

Some may find a lighthouse on a cliff is a bit of an artistic cliché, especially when you consider Art spelled with a capital “A”. But they make me feel good, they’re fun to paint, and people enjoy them. To me, this was a fun exercise. Enjoy!

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