Bathers: A Classic Subject

"Bathers" 12 x 18 oil pastel, chalk pastel, and water on paper
Click here to purchase
I've taken many photos of the beautiful scenery at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Southern California. I've never felt comfortable snapping random photos of people, although the spa patrons are really the most interesting subjects there. I don't like to ask people if I can take pictures of them, because then they pose and it doesn't look natural. On the other hand, I don't want to be that creepy person that randomly walks up and takes pictures of people without their permission.

I've always enjoyed paintings of "bathers," which we might today refer to as sunbathers or swimmers. There's something about people in or about to get in water that makes them look so playful and free. I also like the fact that there is no idealized beauty in a lot of these paintings-- in Southern California, it's hard to find a place where people who haven't had plastic surgery are willing to bare their skin in public. The spa is a little different-- everyone lets it all hang out, much like in those old paintings of bathers.


For this painting, I began with oil pastels. I sketched in the shapes and blocked in the darks with a dark blue. I then added a little bit of color to each figure with the oil pastels, but left the water alone. Once I had the figures pretty well blocked in, I went over the painting with chalk pastel, which I used for the water. I liked the textured feel of the oil and chalk, but the piece didn't look finished. The next day, I decided to go over the water and figures with a brush and a little water, to get a better blended feel. Once that dried, I again took the chalk pastel to emphasize the figures and to add a little more value to the water. I left the rafts almost the same color as the water for two reasons: the rafts really are that color (although they've since added white ones), and I wanted them to blend in with the background so they wouldn't take away from the figures.

It was a hot day when I took this reference photo from atop the roof of the cafe, and the pool was loaded with people. I cut several out of the composition and just left the three strongest figures, although I thought it would be fun to leave the floating legs in the top corner-- suggesting more people beyond the scope of the painting. I also couldn't resist painting those legs and feet, because they reminded me of the feet sticking out from under the house dropped on the Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.

This is the same pool I painted in my larger piece, "Heavenly Pool." To view my blog post that includes that piece, click here:


To see some paintings of bathers by Paul Cezanne, click here:
To see a variation on bathers by Henri Matisse, click here:

And, a quick little daily painting I did in pastel of an ancient Egyptian pitcher:
"Primary" 12 x 12 chalk pastel on paper
Click here to buy print:
Visit "The Tomb" to see more of my Egyptian-inspired artwork:

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