Painting oysters with Kim Hovell

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Artist Kim Hovell is a bit of a local celebrity in Annapolis. I met her through our shop, Navette, and she quickly became one of our biggest customers. We've now been good friends for about three years.

She's incredibly kind, talented, down-to-earth, and funny- which makes it really easy to want to support her in all of her endeavors. Kim's mainly known for her oyster paintings and beach scenes, but I love all her work. In fact, the only Kim Hovell original I own is of a nude she painted- I was drawn to the sensuality of the curves, soft colors, texture, and depth.

I also have several prints of her oysters. And to date, it's her number one most requested commission from private clients and galleries.

Kim occasionally hosts Sip and Paints at Maryland Hall and they quickly sell out within an hour or so. I've never been able to get a ticket in time- though the best way to be notified of these events is via her personal Instagram.

Painting has always been my absolute favorite creative outlet, but I haven't properly prioritized it over the years. I make excuses constantly- I'll waste money on the wrong supplies, I don't have space, I don't have time- but I'm at a point where I feel like I need it in my life again. 

I finally asked Kim if she'd give me a private lesson and answer a few of my questions, and she graciously obliged. I enjoyed it so much that I can't wait to set up a mini studio in my apartment.

All in all, I painted for probably ten hours over the course of three days. I wasn't moving quickly, but if you want lots of depth and layers, you have to build the paint. Kim starts a few paintings at once, and adds to them every day until they feel done.

Supplies List

We used Golden Heavy Body Acrylic Paints. I chose ultramarine, titanium white, light magenta, and a bit of yellow, brown, and neutral gray to mix in for shading. We used a lot of white so you might want to get this big 16oz jar.

I really liked using pink, haha. You could easily blend it yourself but this was so convenient. Check out the specs on the Golden website- I found it helpful.

We started off with acrylic spray paint to coat the canvas because it dries quickly, but you can also paint your background. Just let it dry completely unless you want to mix it in with your underpaint layer.

My favorite brush was one like this- dense, flat, and about 3/8" across. I felt like I could get both thick lines and thin ones with this brush. It was good for thick streaks of paint.

A wider brush and a fine brush will also be helpful. You can start with an affordable paintbrush set and see which ones you reach for the most before you invest in nicer brushes.

I also used a lot of water (to thin out the paint and to spill onto the canvas), paper towels (to scrape off paint and to test out colors), and Golden High Flow paint (this set has good reviews) to drop into the puddles. I had a lot of fun with the High Flow paint- it has the consistency of ink.

My canvas is 20" by 20". Nicer canvases tend to have more depth- the one we used was about 1.5" deep and probably retailed for around $25. There are cheaper canvases for practice, and you can also start on acrylic paper- it has a tooth and is thick so there won't be warping.

You can find these supplies on Amazon, Michael's/AC Moore, or at Art Things in West Annapolis.

Let's begin...

Go in (with lots of water) and do a rough outline of your oysters. I am using blue, white, and High Flow paint in a dark blue. I rotated the canvas a few times so that the oysters had a random orientation- otherwise, I'd probably end up lining them all up in one direction. This stage is the most fun (in my opinion) and I wish I'd created more puddles and more mixing between the colors when they were watery. 

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The paint is still very wet but I'm creating a bit more definition with the blues. I leave it to dry.

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After letting the last layer dry completely, I add in some white and dark grey/black to highlight and outline the shells.

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Layering in some pink and neutral gray for depth.

At this point, the oysters look wayyyy too defined- almost like agate or stained glass. I've put on more water and more high flow dark blue ink. I paint in a rose background but don't like all the separation.

In order to soften up the oysters, I've pulled the background color into the oysters. It's a couple of hours in and I'm finally loosening up. Takes a bit of time to get into the groove- I was very stiff at first.

New day and revisiting this painting. I'm moderately pleased but it's way too muted and flat. I was so thin with my layers that there aren't the goopy paint streaks of my dreams. I wish I'd worked with thicker paint (not diluted with water) right after my underpaint stage.

I add in a lot of titanium white to create some paint streaks. I also mix the white with a few other colors I've used to create different subtle shades. The painting brightens up a LOT. Kim gives me an ink pen to sign my rendering because I don't feel like risking it with a paintbrush. 

The final product. I like it! A decent first effort. I really just wish I'd gone thicker earlier, and let the paint work for me more, rather than me work the paint. I see too much of my brushwork and really wish there were more drips and streaks and points where the paint naturally flows together. 

Now, onto a few questions with Kim Hovell!

So, how did this all begin?

It all began when I signed up for First Sundays on West Street in Annapolis with the hope of selling a few oyster paintings to pay for life after I quit my job to travel through Europe.

At what point did you realize that you could turn this into a business?

It happened gradually. I keep trying to streamline and figure out how to not work nights and weekends. I still wake up in hot sweats that it isn't going to work out but so far it has just been getting better and bigger.

Where can we find your work? What are your plans for the future?

Locally, you can find prints at Twisted Sisters, Whimsicality, Side Street Framers, and Candles Off Main. I have prints and originals at Natalie Silitch and Here. A pop-up shop, wherever those ladies decide to pop-up next. I plan to have originals for sale on my site soon. I also sell on Etsy and have prints in shops around the country.

Do you have any tips to artists who are just starting out?

Just get out there! Sign up for shows, go to events, and meet your fellow artists and patrons. We are lucky to have so many great resources for creative people in Annapolis and the surrounding area. By far, the best part about this job is all of the wonderful people I have met.

What do you do to get out of a creative rut?

I usually try to get out of the house and connect with those creatives. I am beyond lucky that I have a life filled with positive, genuine people who inspire me.

Best piece of advice you've ever received?

I don't think I could narrow it down because I am always asking for and receiving advice. A huge part of my career has been keeping an open mind and asking others for their opinions. I have taken a lot of missteps but I have had a lot of people help me get back on track.

What paint colors do you use the most?

I literally buy titanium white by the gallon- it’s just not economical to do it otherwise. And a lot of Blues! Pthalo Blue, Indigo, ultramarine- those are my favorites.  Then I like to incorporate burnt umber, cadmium red, and raw sienna.

What's your favorite piece you've ever painted?

I have a few but the one that stands out is the first oyster shell which is just called 'oyster'. My memories of painting it are so vivid, I was just sitting around my Baltimore rowhouse trying to kill an afternoon. My style has sort of changed since then and I really like painting watery pictures of a bunch of shells now.

Best-selling print?

By far 'Chincoteagues on Aqua'.

Please share some artists you admire.

I have been looking at a lot of Helen Frankenthaler lately. I also love Anne-Sophie Tschiegg, Roos Schuring, and Sally King Benedict.

Top museums for inspiration?

The Hirshorn in DC is my favorite. I also think the American Visionary art museum in Baltimore is a lot of fun. As awe-inspiring as it to see the works of masters up close, I’m consistently amazed at how creative the self-taught artists of the Visionary Arts Museum are. A friend just visited The Clark in Massachusetts, which is having an Helen Frankenthaler exhibit, so that is next on the list.

Most beautiful place you've ever traveled?

The first place to pop in my head is Glacier National Park. But I can't pick just one so here goes: the sunbleached shutters of the villas in Arles, France, the alpine lakes in Banff, Canada, the snow-capped peaks looming over Salzburg, Austria, the cozy villages of Bavaria, Germany, the vineyards of Tuscany, the hill-hugging towns of Cinque Terre; the perfectly English idyll of the Lake District; the Tetons; Point Reyes, CA, sigh... The world is a beautiful place and i have a lot more to see.

What are three things in your purse that you can't live without?

Tape, screwdriver, and hanging wire... not the answer you were looking for?

Favorite meal to cook at home?

Thai food.

Favorite candle?

I really like this candle from Candles Off Main called Saltaire (by Mer-Sea), it kind of has a minerally scent like you are by the ocean.

What's your dream weekend in Annapolis?

Anything on, in, or by the water.