Aquarium Acrylic Painting nearly finished


The still untitled acrylic aquarium painting project is winding down.


by Robert Conway

    I would have to say that this acrylic painting is about 85 percent finished. I have been working on this artwork on and off since last March so I just am just itching to put this monster to bed, you know ever since I started to go for a more realistic look in my artwork I have found that I am now investing a lot more time in completing one of these things. This acrylic painting is based on a six image Photoshop composite layout I made of some iPhone pictures taken of the huge aquarium located behind the bar at the Hoboken, New Jersey nightspot Teak on the Hudson.

    At least now I am getting to the fun part of the process, the real nitty gritty, this is when I get to break out the tiny brushes and start working on all the fine details, this is the most satisfying part of the painting process for me. I have some tough challenges ahead however, first there is the stone Buddha face in the lower left hand corner that needs some lighter delicate shading, then to the right of that is the orange and white fish tangled in the weeds, an area in which I have been avoiding, that part needs to be right on the money in order for the whole painting to work.

     The other part of the finishing process is that I must make sure that all the elements in my composition meld together harmoniously, I have to make sure that these fish, plants and rocks are all working well with each other and are not in a competition fighting it out for the viewers attention. I also have to be sure to maintain the illusion that these aquarium fish are existing in murky water through out the entirety of the painting, so this means that the details need to have a little blur to them instead of being super sharp in order to make this effect work.

   The key to this painting is the illusion of depth, I have varying levels of depth in this artwork(which reminds me of those shoebox dioramas that I used to build in grade school) and I have to make sure that all the levels of shading are correct, my goal in this piece is give the viewer that feeling that they are looking through glass into an actual aquarium.
    In order to nail down this visual illusion of three dimensionality I am going to have to make sure that the area in the painting were the aquarium filter bubbles intersect with the two fishes(see detail above) is spot on. This densely packed area of the painting is like a busy intersection, I consider it the machine that drives the whole painting along, If I can convincingly render these three overlapping elements together then I think the battle will be won.

March 7, 2014


24 thoughts on “Aquarium Acrylic Painting nearly finished

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! This painting is incredible. Even though it is not finished, I absolutely feel as though I am looking into a real aquarium. Your use of light is inspiring. I can only imagine it is better in person. WOW!

    • oh thank you so much, it is taking a long time but it is very good therapy when I am painting it sometimes I feel like I am underwater. This is one of my all time favorite ones. – robert

  2. This is a really wonderful work. I also like to work on this kind if realistic painting and totally understand how great it feels when suddenly something alive comes to you from 2D image!!! Thank you for sharing the process and work!

  3. This is a really wonderful work. I also like to work on this kind if realistic painting and totally understand how great it feels when suddenly something alive comes to you from 2D image!!! Thank you for sharing the process and work!

    • oh thanks for the kind words, I am really enjoying finishing this one, all the elements in the painting are starting to blend together and it is really getting the underwater feel, I just wish I could paint faster! -robert

      • Yeah, sometimes it seems work faster might be better, but at some particular time there is a wish just to paint slowly and to enjoy the process.. If you get the feeling, it means you go in the right direction! I wish to paint something bigger as well (acrylic is my favorite medium), but now I am so much busy with other stuff…

        • I’ll take your advice and just enjoy it then. I am into acrylics too, I am a quick dry guy, all that clean up afterwards you have to do with oil paints is such drag, I would rather be sleeping. Good luck with that new project, I am also starting a new painting, different direction, no fish for a while.
          -thanks robert

          • i understand that thing about cleaning brushes, but it appears that oil gets dry so slow that you can even forget to clean it once. But it is impossible with acrylic! Thank you for wishes. I would like to see the new project you are going to create 🙂

          • one other thing about acrylic painting that I love is that you can rest the side of your brushing hand against the canvas, it gives me better control with my brush work. I will definitely keep you posted on the new work, when it actually starts to look like something. It is an image of my son swimming in a pool, close up, it is going to be the first time I have ever painted a person, so wish me luck, at least his eyes are closed which is a big help! 🙂 nice to hear from you – robert

          • That is a great thing to paint a human!!! I think you will definitely like it. I suppose anyone who had ever tried drawing a person will do it always! Most important is to sketch them instantly

          • thanks, wish me luck, the last time I tried to draw a person was i college, and it was horrible, it is something that I always seem to avoid, like my last obstacle, so I am going to have to face it and be victorious. haha. thank for the vote of confidence 😉 – robert

  4. Thanks for liking my post at tendingtime. I love how you’ve taught yourself to paint. And I can imagine how satisfying it is for you to get to the tiny brush stage. I like the painting at its ‘unfinished’ stage, at least in the photo, but understand your goals with it. It is just that I am moving in the opposite direction with my work, trying got lose detail! But vive la difference!

    • thanks Sarah, I really liked your post about the benefits of painting fast. The biggest problem I have with my acrylic painting is that it takes a very long time to finish one. I think I am going to take your advice and loosen up a bit the painting I am starting now, it is pretty busy and I have been just thinking for the last few days that I just don’t want spend all that time painting these elaborate details anymore. This would be going against a lot of the rules that I have established over the years, but I might have to give it a go. – robert

      • Robert, thanks. I’ve been through this,(and continue to go through it) the constant tension between creating a detailed painting and loosening up some. I think it is great that you have established rules through the years, you’ve had to to teach yourself and the structure you’ve given yourself has gotten you this far. Your work is great. But if you are starting to feel constrained by some of the things you’ve set up for yourself, then maybe it is time to let some of them go. Trust me, though, easier said than done.
        Good luck!
        And if you aren’t subscribed to Painter’s Keys, you might like them, I find they are inspiring and helpful.

      • Robert….thanks for liking my painting…ive just started painting and know ive got lots to learn….id love to know how you tackle your pictures….do you paint the background first then the fish…then the shadows …?

        I love them by the way….amazing 🙂

        • thanks Irene, I work out the composition evenly over the entire picture. so I don’t’ work on one specific area in the beginning. I move all over the entire canvas and just come back and revisit areas many times. this way it helps me gauge my progress better. I try not to pay attention to one certain area over the other, in this way it helps me visualize the entire composition as a whole and I just keep working around coming back to places until everything is tight. but every one does it differently. its great to hear from you and good luck with your painting. – robert

  5. Hey I loved making those shoebox dioramas. I’d totally forgotten about that grade school skill that most likely was preparing me for what I love to do now. I have no doubt you’ll accomplish the depth you desire in this painting…though I can totally see how you’d like to ‘loosen up a bit’ – the intensity of sheer focus. No small feat! Thanks for sharing your process.
    – Pierr

    • thank you Pierr, yes I started a new painting because I have been staring at this one for quite a while and I am really loosening up and I am not obsessing on capturing all that detail and I am totally enjoying it. yes the intensity of the focus was driving me nuts a bit, I will finish that one latter. thanks for dropping by, robert

  6. Glad you like “Tahoe Tumble”. I admire your work as well–being a fellow realism painter. You’d probably like my “Reef Renewal”, too–it’s a big one of a diver transplanting new coral into a half dying reef. my website is

  7. Thank you for stopping by my blog and liking my post! This painting is beautiful! I too am striving for more realism in painting and aspire to talent such as yours 🙂 I completely understand about not being able to rest your hand when using oils…I get so shaky sometimes! I have another painting in the beginning stages inspired by Monet with a bridge and water lilies…I stopped out of fear of not being able to capture the realism I am picturing in my head! I will get back at it this week…I’ve never tried acrylic but it’s something I would like to look into 🙂

    • Oh I want to see your water lily painting when you are finished! I love painting anything with water in it is so relaxing and enjoyable. In concern to painting anything realistically, if I didn’t have everything worked out before hand like working from a photo or a photoshop composition I would never be able to finish one of these paintings. For me I used to have such a hard time doing a painting from my head it just never worked out and was super frustrating, that lesson took me years to figure out. I love acrylics, oil painting is better for blending and I think in the end has a deeper richer color but acrylics are just easier and the clean up time is fantastic. nice to meet you – robert

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