With a little sketching and contemplation the composition is becoming clear, and more lines are on the canvas to guide the drawing of the Virtues. My students have been invaluable help because much of this work requires three people simply to draw a straight line across the wall! I’m very excited about working with them. We’ve continued to use our ancient tools to lay out the work, now scribing curves by using string and chalk to find the lines of the apple trees that will grow at the ends of the painting, gracefully curving toward the centre.
I’m particularly interested in capturing lightness and grace in the painting, and have been studying the work of the Victorian artist Alma-Tadema because of his attention to marble surfaces to allow a white foreground into the piece, which will make the figures of the virtues stand out more. We’ve also taken a look at the work that was done on the design of Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings movies for inspiration, enjoying the graceful lines of slender trees and buildings.
Using the same model for all of the virtues makes the women more clearly allegorical, and I want to capture the same dramatic energy that unified figures can bring, the graceful repetition that can be seen in Burne-Jones’ lovely The Golden Stairs (below left) or The Mirror of Venus (below right). We’ll make a wall of reproductions for reference now, so that the work grows in an environment where it is influenced by these sources.
It always surprises me that it takes so long to prepare for the first steps of actual painting, but it makes perfect sense: there’s a lot to do; imagining the piece; drawing first sketches; finding models; working out the composition; rendering the structures and figures; then sealing the canvas. I’m anxious to get started working with paint – it’s very exciting to embark on a project of this scale, easily the biggest painting I’ve undertaken.