Louis Dodd: Technical Virtuoso
Comet, The American Clipper Ship, 1851
Oil on Wood, Date Unknown
US Frigate Savannah Passing New York
Oil on Wood, Date Unknown
who was louis dodd?
Connoisseur Magazine stated, “Dodd is a painter of 17th and 18th century marine art, both ship portraiture and port cities. His ability is unsurpassed. This is coupled with an intimate knowledge of ports and famous structures. He is possibly the most historically gifted artist to come into the marine field in the last 100 years.”
Born in 1943, in Hastings, England, Louis Dodd attended the Hastings School of Art and the Goldsmith School of Art, majoring in illustration. His ability in draftsmanship and line work earned him a National Diploma in Design. After college, he spent several years in typographic and graphic design work, but he was determined to become a full-time fine artist.
Dodd began each work with a fine line drawing of the subject ship along with a rough outline of secondary nautical craft. These were incorporated then, into the structural landmarks of the harbor or port scene in question. The end result was reminiscent of the great masters of marine art.
Dodd painted mainly on mahogany panels or on fine laminated hardwood panels with one side finished in mahogany, a traditional support for paintings for many centuries. He first applied a chalk ground, which was left to dry and harden, then scraped down and smoothed. He used a white lead base to fill in any blemishes, since a scratch could appear as rigging if left untreated.
The wide background areas are where he began his paintings, and then the more detailed work until all the main elements had been added. He then applied glaze using transparent colors sympathetic to the base painting. The fine detail work such as the ships’ rigging came next, and the painting was completed with varnish.
The paintings of Louis Dodd are exhibited in some of the world’s finest collections of marine art including the Channel Islands Maritime Museum. He had the distinction of winning the Schaefer Award, the highest given in the field of marine art, three times. Mr. Dodd passed away in 2006.
louis dodd’s Painting technique
Because his oil techniques are similar to those employed by the old masters, his paintings have the feel of 18th-century masterpieces. In fact, he’s been compared to the great Italian painter of Venice Antonio Canal (1679-1768), better known as Canaletto, whose visits to London beginning in 1746 actually influenced the English marine painters of that time.
This remarkable panel shown below reveals the many layers of his paintings. Like artists from the past he chose to paint on wood panel, which is finished with several coats of a pure white chalk-based substance called gesso, and then sanded perfectly smooth before painting even begins. To ensure stability, Dodd selected either used panels that are over 100 years old (which are getting more and more difficult to find), or special plywood which is engineered to be stable. The gessoed panel was then sealed with a shellac. Dodd then started by priming the surface and laying down a base tonal color before he begins the primary painting and drawing in of the composition. He followed this up by building up thin layers of paint, underpainting them using transparent glazes over each other to get just the right tone and color. He finally would overpaint the detail, and then a final varnish. His paint layers are so thin, and dry so quickly that the often-quoted rule about waiting at least a year before varnishing the painting does not apply. That really refers to a modern technique of painting which often involves very thick layers of paint which take a long time to dry.
The final painting has almost a luminescent quality as a result of this thin painting technique which allows light to pass through it and onto the pure white gesso background where it bounces back out to our eyes making the painting virtually glow from within, a phenomenon we associate with Renaissance paintings.