December, 2010 Archives

Three greens loosely brushed over the patchy en grisaille work behind the wall makes a good first layer for the bushes below the pink blossoms of the cherry tree. I’ve used Rose Madder for the pinks (a Pre-Raphaelite favorite), mixed with a little Foundation White and pounced onto the canvas with a beaten up old sable brush, then gently dabbed with a soft rag (old fine woven t-shirts that have been washed make the best rags). After the pinks and whites were down I experimented with adding detail to some of the blossoms in the bottom of the tree, but I think this is best left to another day, when this layer has dried.

On the other side of the canvas the morning glory has become more substantial with the addition of a layer of Sap Green over the en grisaille. I find it vaguely amusing that I’m using what’s essentially an alla prima technique for the blossoms and bushes in the background, while the more detailed work in the foreground gets en grisaille, because these were techniques that were almost physically fought over in the nineteenth century by painters like the fabulous Bouguereau in the corner of the academic salon, while equally the delicious Renoir and Monet et alia held up the corner of the new-fangled Impressionists.

The photos seem to be much darker than usual. I’ll have to get better lighting in here. That warm glow on the second shot is particularly misleading, it’s just the pool of light cast by my studio light.

The first layer of cherry blossom is down, giving a much clearer sense of the appearance of the  complete painting. I was a little nervous putting pink into the mix, but felt that it was necessary to do it now to make life easier when it comes to getting it going full swing. There’s just enough here to give me a sense of balance for what colour I’ll need later in the layers.

At the bottom of the tree there’s a gap where the ocean peeks through, then a bush makes its appearance over the top of the wall with the seat in it. This will be green, not pink, so although it feels odd right now the balance of colour will come later.

On the left hand side I’ve added the first layer of some morning glory creeper wrapping around the wormwood and dropping down the marble wall. I’ve painted a couple of creepers that are reaching toward the Empress. I think the plants are beginning to take on that vibrant life I’m looking for, with this intentional movement of the vegetation toward her. It should end up making things feel very alive, and focus all the attention on her.

I’ve been thinking about colour, with the pink that’s going to happen in the upper right needing balance, so I think I’ll make the morning glory flowers on the bottom left pink too, to give a grounding elsewhere in the painting to the cherry blossoms. I’ll probably add a dash or two of the colour to other places in the image too to make sure it doesn’t feel isolated.

Cherry Blossoms

At last the cherry trees I promised long ago have made their first appearance, albeit in a very slender and rather deserted showing, without any of the leaves and blossoms that will make them so pinkly pretty. I’ve contrived to make the branches point to the Empress’ belly again, like the lines of the architecture – I want to make the painting feel as if every living thing is focused upon her, so all the plants are reaching toward her; the morning glory that almost touches her hand, and the ivy on the pillars that grows at the same angle as her body are already in place – watch for more as the work continues. I’m looking forward to developing the environment around the girls to become an increasingly rich and detailed world, like the work of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Stanhope I mentioned yesterday.

I spent a little while reworking the morning glory flowers with some Cadmium Blue. I’ll add a little Rose Madder around the centre and into the pentagrams before I glaze these blossoms with a French Ultramarine. I wasn’t happy with the early rendering, but they’ll do for the base for new work. I’ve also added Naples Yellow veining to the leaves.

The wormwood has been lightened by an overpainting of a pale blue / green that brings the value to where it should be and allowed me to put back some of the detail that was lacking. I really want to add more plants around the bottom side of the wormwood, coming over the wall and curling up towards the Empress.

I still dislike the design of that yellow dress on the left. I’m going to have to revisit it pretty soon (again).

I found an excellent Art History blog that’s very well written and extremely knowledgeable. I recommend it: Three Pipe Problem. My students, go see this excellent resource.


After a few days of feeling completely exhausted and running a fever I forced myself to get to the studio this evening, not achieving anything monumental, but making at least a little progress on the Empress. Because it’s been a few days of feeling crummy this was important, although I think an early night would be smart this evening, so I’ll be happy with what I got done, and continue tomorrow with a bit of rest.

I’ve added stems to the ivy on the pillars, making them complete, and added drop shadows and a little outlining in Raw Umber and Iron Oxide Red on the morning glory. I’ve put an hour or two into the Wormwood, using Raw Umber and a Cobalt Blue in the shadows of the leaves, but I’ve made it a touch too dark,  I think, so perhaps I’ll work at lightening the plant a bit. I experimented with painting more morning glory above the absinthe, growing over the surface of the marble shelf, but wasn’t satisfied with it, although I think I’ll look at some smaller leaved creeping plants to add to this area. Perhaps some roses could creep in somewhere…

I keep thinking about the foliage in the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite painting I referenced in late September, Love and the Maiden by John Stanhope,. I’d like to achieve that same lushness in this painting – with that complexity and detail combined with his gentle palette (which comes up with too much contrast in the link).

Someone asked what they should use to make a painting: here’s what I use much of the time:

A little time in the studio this afternoon led to getting the right hand patch of wormwood complete in grey, and a layer of mixed greens over the left hand side to find that odd blue-ish green.

I’ll re-draw the leaves now that the value and colour are there, popping in a bit of shadow work and definition to control the shapes of the leaves a bit more – everything’s a bit too loose right now.

I’m moving super slowly this last couple of days, feeling weary and worn out, but I’ve expanded the Wormwood on the left of the canvas and laid a layer of dark leaves down on the right. I’ve yet to add colour to the plants, but this will go fairly quickly now.

I thought I’d add a closer shot of the citadel in the Magician painting because the previous image doesn’t reveal a lot of detail. The guide lines I laid down for the clouds will disappear in the painting, leaving those strange cotton wool balls puffs across the sky. The flags bring the wind down to the earth and water, while the Magician is conjuring with a bowl of fire.

I’ve drawn the landscape for the Magician’s world onto the canvas, with distant mountain range, a trough of water, a cross of long rags attached to sticks, and rocks and clouds that resemble each other. All four elements are represented in this painting.

In the distance, placed on the golden section at the centered horizon line, there’s a citadel on a hillside. I’ve drawn perspective lines to help me draw the clouds in a receding pattern emanating from the city. The composition still lacks the raven who will sit in the foreground of the left side. I’m concerned to get the bird right, so I started looking for a stuffed raven, and discovered a weird legal fact: it’s illegal to make taxidermy mounts from American ravens!

I’ve painted the morning glory flowers blue, but still need to add a couple of layers of colour to the leaves – they’re quite flat at the moment. I’ll continue working this evening.

I painted the Empress’ morning glory flowers blue this morning, but otherwise didn’t get much work done, spending a lot of time thinking about how the painting goes forward from this point and fiddling with cleaning brushes and tidying the studio. I stayed up too late last night after a busy and productive day, waking up grumpy and tired – not good for continuing effectively with the work.

There’s a lot of work yet to do on flesh and detail, but first I’d like to get the foliage complete on both sides of the painting.

Although I didn’t do much to the Empress, I got the Magician figure drawing mostly laid in, working in blue so I can see it more clearly from a distance. She’ll be in a desert landscape pretty soon, which I want to work out quite carefully because I want the rocks on the ground to echo the shapes of the clouds in the sky. She reminds me of characters found on Harry Potter sets.

Working pretty fast, I’ve added a glaze of Sap Green over the greyscale leaves of ivy and morning glory. Easy work, but a huge difference! I’ll add some Iron Oxide red to the leaves tomorrow when this is dry.

Rich Brimer dropped in and took this picture while I was working on the foliage. He’s been working on capturing the movement of ocean swells in his paintings – lovely!

Drop shadows make a huge difference to the way an object sits within a painting. Now that there’s a glaze of Raw Umber around the morning glory and some highlighting of some smaller leaves the plant seems more substantial. Although not included in this photo the ivy has benefited from the same treatment, feeling far more substantial and three dimensional. The addition of five flowers makes the plant complete, and adds a nice symbolic note to the painting aside from the heart shaped flowers, for the pentagram generated by the five pointed star is a beautiful geometrical shape embodying the golden ratio, and was a symbol embraced by Pythagoreans and early Christians as a sign of divinity’s presence in the natural world.

At the bottom of the photo there’s an Artemesia Wormwood plant growing in the space made by the corner of the marble slabs. There’s no shadow to its upper right, or around it where the light should be blocked, and consequently you can really see how the new work sits above the surface of the marble when a drop shadow hasn’t been added. Once this is dry I’ll add a glaze of Raw Umber to create its shadow and the plant will feel much more convincingly in place. With luck I’ll be able to put a glaze of green over the morning glory leaves and flowers tomorrow, then add a touch of blue to the mixture to colour the wormwood its characteristic pale, almost coral hue. I’m slightly apprehensive about putting the colour onto the flowers because they’re so intensely bright in nature that they may dominate the painting if I’m true to them.

It’s gloomy in the studio these days with solstice upon us, bringing the shortest day of the year tomorrow, unusually accompanied by a full moon.