August, 2010 Archives

I continued working out the composition in Photoshop, creating an elevation of the wall with the furniture in place so that I can see how the figures are going to work in relationship to the environment. I’m looking forward to continuing with the work when my students are here and can get involved.

Last night I worked on the right hand side of the Angel of Death, bringing that painting a little closer to completion. I’m not particularly happy with the way these feathers turned out yet, they need more depth; another layer of colour will help to make them work. I haven’t done any of the feathers above his arms yet, so I’ve moved the platform over so I can get them started in the next week.

At our academic convocation this morning our Dean Joan Griffin introduced me to the Freshmen student class as Professor of Magical Arts! Very Hogwarts. (My PhD robes are particularly medieval, so I resemble a magician when I’m fully clad)

Today was crazed, in a good way. It started right off the bat at nine by setting up for a photo shoot for the Virtues painting, with my student Devon modeling for the four cardinals, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. I loved the shot we got for Temperance – she looks like a ballerina with the two vases held high and low with arms akimbo, and Justice turned out great, with a nice sword pointing to her outstretched foot. I wasn’t too thrilled with the way Fortitude turned out, so I’ll rework that one soon. Devon had a special surprise for me when we got to Prudence – she opened up her bag to reveal her pet snake, a young Python who seemed quite willing to curl around her hand for his picture.

After we shot the pictures I spent a little time working on photoshop to create a composite image of the three that we can use for the painting, arranging them so that they create a nice stepped composition coming away from the centre of the painting. I’ll need to continue with the work in the next couple of weeks so that we can get to work drawing out the composition.

Over at the Angel of Death canvas I’m planning to get back to painting the peacock feathers on the wings this evening. It’s accompanied by a newly gessoed 8′ x 8′ canvas which I’ll use for the Empress painting, although now that things are moving faster as we accelerate to the beginning of the academic year I’m not quite sure when I’ll be able to get it started.

Joseph worked hard today to complete the gesso coat on the wall, finishing off the third layer. I’m almost happy with the way it looks, but I think we’ll do a bit of touch-up work on a few spots which still look a little thin. If you don’t properly cover the canvas the paint will soak into the surface, changing the colour of the pigment to a deeper value and drying to a different finish; so getting the foundation of the painting right really matters.

I spent the day in Ventura at the Faculty retreat, re-connecting with colleagues and learning about technology in the classroom.

I’m swamped with administrative work for the new semester, so painting has had to wait for a short time until we get started. I’m particularly looking forward  to beginning my Life Painting and Drawing classes, because working from a model in the studio offers a greater challenge to the artist  because of the slight (although unintentional) movements of the body. You have to balance accuracy with creative trickery to make the drawings work.

The two eight by eight canvases are stretched and washed, and need a few coats of gesso to make them ready for painting. I feel very good about the imagery for these, being well prepared for the Empress following the photo shoot we did recently, and having a very clear picture of the In Between painting in my mind. Once the gesso is down I’ll be able to get to work drawing the Empress out.

The giant Virtues canvas needs a third coat of gesso to fully cover it before we can start any work on the piece. I’m looking for models for the drawing right away, remembering those beautiful paintings by Botticelli, Primavera and Venus.


Do you remember Slartibartfast’s love of fjords? (He was the eccentric designer responsible for Norway in The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy) I felt a bit like him today while painting the detailed edges of the wings, where the long delicate strands of the peacock feathers trail out from the body of the wings. Using a one inch striping brush made the work easier, but still required concentration to get the detail right. I’m shaping the brighter areas inside the wings into more eyes, so they are consistent to the whole peacock motif, but hopefully they will retain at least a sense of the bird of prey that I originally went for.

I’ve been doing a little more research into the Virtues for the big painting, figuring out some of the symbolism for the figures. I’m enjoying the work, because I am getting into some good alchemical texts and emblem books. More on this later.

The first of the eight by eights has been washed with distilled water and now leans against the studio wall drying. I hope that Ethan will be able to help me with the gesso tomorrow so that I can start drawing sooner rather than later.  I didn’t get much painting done today, although I did put a layer of Sap Green over the white feathers I painted yesterday, and dropped in the blues and Iron Oxide Red “eyes”. I need to darken the new feathers to balance them with the rest of the wings, and I also need to pop some white highlights into the blues so I can put a little bright turquoise onto them.

This evening I visited the space where the Virtues painting is going to go, measuring the dimensions and making a very rough sketch of the layout. I’m very optimistic about the potential of the painting, which should work very well in this location.

We had a very busy day in the studio. Ethan and Joseph were occupied with the second coat of gesso on the big Virtues canvas, then Joe got into stretching the third of the eight foot square canvas that Cyn McCurry sent from Texas onto its panel, ready for a wash of distilled water prior to preparing the surface with a coat or two of gesso so I can draw the empress and her attendants onto the new surface.

While the lads worked hard at preparing the surfaces for painting I added more peacock feathers to the Angel of Death, getting them most of the way up the right wing. I’ll add colour to them tomorrow and figure out what needs to be done to the top of the wings, then get to work on the empress drawing if the gesso dries fast enough to take the graphite.

I scanned images from Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens, a well known alchemical emblem book. Emblem books were incredibly popular bestsellers in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, filled with allegorical pictures and their accompanying epigrams, generally speaking rooted in mystical Christianity and Neo-Platonism. I love these books! They’re inspiring, mysterious and fulfilling, and profoundly supportive of the desire of man to understand the mind of God, while written and illustrated in a style that is unapologetically intelligent, requiring the reader to be thoughtful and patient as the sometimes obscure messages of the emblems is revealed by research and exploration. I emulate them in my paintings, hoping to equal their spiritual depth and to follow their guidance toward a better understanding of the universe.

The first layer of feathers reaches to the top of the left wing, leading me to much head scratching and sitting and looking at the painting in order to figure out what to do with the structure of the wings around the top of the arms and shoulders. I want the wings to feel more like a cloak, instead of being so flat and simply hanging in space behind the skeleton, so either I expect to shape feathers around the top of the wings, or to paint a set of wing bones that come in and out of the highest feathers.

More peacock feathers have emerged on the wings, after trying out a green glaze with a little Iron Oxide Red and some Cobalt Blue to create the eyes. I’m going to try a little white highlighting, then a glaze of Ultra Blue to finish them off. On the left there’s another batch of the feathers based out in white and Van Dyke Brown which will get their colour tomorrow.

I’ve glazed the leaves with Ceramic White to unify them with the background. Next I’ll re-establish the edges of the leaves with a touch of Raw Umber. I want to try this out as my first colour for the first layer of my figures when we start work on the big canvas, because I’ve been admiring the work of Burne-Jones, who appears to have used it for establishing all his figures, mixing it with white for highlights. He was a superb Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painter who was a great friend of William Morris, designing the beautiful Kelmscott Chaucer with him, a book I’ve always loved, which is now worth a quarter of a million dollars. I was able to admire two copies of it at a book fair in London in May and was overwhelmed by the beauty of its elegant type and border work.

Joseph has continued with gessoing the big canvas, almost reaching half way across. I’d better get to work designing the painting!

A small, very light package arrived from China yesterday, filled with beautiful green and blue peacock feathers, so I’ve re-started work on the wings because they were so overly simple and flat compared to the rest of the painting.

So far I’m keeping the work monochromatic, waiting to add the classic eye shape of peacock feathers until the base is dry, when transparent glazes of Pthalo blue and green and Ultramarine blue with a little Burnt Sienna will produce the shimmering colour I’m looking for.