January, 2011 Archives

I’m not sure where to begin with writing about the changes I’ve made to the painting today, there have been a multitude of small alterations, while a few areas got a lot of attention.

First, the Iron Oxide glaze work around the leaves is complete on both sides of the painting, making the vines much more lively. I’ve used the same glaze on the faces of the pink girl on the left, the Empress, and her attendants to her right, particularly the central girl, whose eye has been opened up a little more than it was, dispelling some of her sleepiness. It needs a little touch-up to lighten it because there’s too much contrast there, pulling focus from the Empress’ face. All the faces look more lively because of the warmth around the edges and near their hair.

The marble has been treated to quite a lot of work close to the bottom of the canvas – I was able to really test the limits of my easel, pulling the painting up to highest I can get it to in this studio, enabling me to work comfortably at the bottom of the painting. (Thanks to Jay for repairing it so effectively!) There’s now a glaze coat of Ceramic White softening a thin layer of reflected colour around the feet of the girls; it’s a little difficult to see in the photo, much more apparent in reality; there’s a little pink in the stone at left and centre, while a touch of Indian Yellow tints the area around the right hand side.

I can see a few more detail areas that I would like to work on, but generally speaking I think that that’s it for the Empress for now. I’ll get a proper photo taken next week and post it here.


Iron Oxide Red lines the edges and warms the shadows cast on the legs and feet of the attendants, bringing the painting to the brink of being complete. In the foliage on the right side the same paint has begun to add some solidity to the upper part of the morning glory, while some Ceramic White has softened some of the pink buds and made them feel more substantial, and a dash of the white inside the heart of the open blue flowers has created a simple stamen that adds some convincing detail to the blooms. The flesh feels far warmer, less thin than it was.

The sandals have been highlighted with the same white, making the straps feel more three dimensional, while the left hand attendant’s footwear has changed colour, becoming a gold with white highlights.

This year’s Gilded Raven site traffic passed 30,000 individual visitors today! Thanks again!

Foot Massage

The sky is based in a light grey around the white clouds, which now have their counterpoint rocks on the ground, making the imagery of the painting clearer. The grey is a mixture of Foundation White (a mixture of Lead Carbonate and Titanium Dioxide) and a small amount of Raw Umber.

My dog made it into the photo, which must be a first! I’m enjoying taking a little break from the Empress, just visible on the left of the photo, which has been the focus of my attention for a long time now. It’s pleasant to work on something else for a little while.

160 more visitors to the blog will tip the scale over 30,000 unique visitors this year. Given the site’s daily statistics, probably the 30,000th person will arrive on Friday. Thanks for coming! Knowing that many people are interested in what I do really helps a lot, without you I would feel as if I worked within a vacuum.

With the new semester comes great buzz; new students appear in new classes and a flurry of activity takes place to make sure that everything is working properly and studies begin smoothly. I’ve been hard pressed to paint anything much, but did get started on work on the Magician painting, sketching in some of the Foundation White forms of the figure and beginning the puff-ball clouds overhead. I enjoy this stage of a painting, when things begin to emerge from an otherwise formless canvas.

Now that the students have returned work on the big virtues painting has renewed. Casey has continued with his efforts to complete the sky, putting down a glaze layer of Foundation White over the Cobalt blue, making it look nicely misty and fading away from a bright centre where the lamp will be positioned that lights the East end of the room where the painting will be installed. You can really see the difference between the glazed right side of the blue and the intense untouched Cobalt blue at left.

It seems strange to post a picture that looks so similar to the previous post’s image, but the work I did today makes a substantial difference to the solidity of the figures, bringing warm shadows to the orange girl’s legs and definition to the hands and edges of the dresses. I spent an hour or two with my script brush cleaning up rough edges and rubbing subtle iron oxide glazes into areas that needed shade.

I used Ceramic White to make the top two layers of the newly painted skirt a transparent sheer white, edging them with a denser stripe to make a hem. I want to define the lowest layer a bit more, but will wait for this layer to dry before doing so. I used the same white to lighten the yellow dress to the right because I felt that it was too densely bright against the softer, more pastel colours of all the other dresses.

I want to share this extraordinary painting by Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, that was in London at the Tate Britain when I was there last year. I don’t know if it’s still hanging as it was, because it was on loan from Puerto Rico, who bought it in the 1960’s. I think it lacks the stillness and poetry of his more modestly sized paintings, but it’s extraordinarily ambitious, richly detailed and profoundly beautiful, having some remarkable passages of composition within it, notably the group of figures around the body of the great English hero-king. Although this painting shows him being mourned there’s an ancient legend that Arthur sleeps in an enchanted cave, and will rise again to save England. I’d quite like to paint him one day.

The golden colour of the skirt has made a big difference to the colour balance of the whole painting, especially noticeable now that the shirt has turned grey in preparation for its own turn to change. Now that the green is gone from the dresses the girls present an almost entirely warm palette within the greens and blues of the outer world. I’ll pop in some blues to the shadows very late in the painting to balance the warm and cools of the piece, but needn’t worry too much about the outer world because there’s already a lot of warm and cool vibration going on between the surfaces of the marble and in the plant life.

I’ve added some Iron Oxide Red to the Empress’ extended foot and the creepers beneath it, also increasing the shadows immediately beneath it with some Raw Umber. The big toe has been redrawn, but needs more attention before I’m satisfied that I don’t need to redo the entire foot.

I’ve used a 00 Silver script brush to put down white highlights along the  leading edges of the marble slabs, making them appear to pick up a highlight and deepening the gaps between them.

Balancing Colour

The green skirt was irritating enough to deserve repainting, so it’s been replaced by a new version rendered en grisaille, bringing softness and gentleness where once there was a tweedy, rough surface. I’m considerably happier with this more balanced approach, with a design which is similar to but not a duplicate of the pink dress on the left, bringing the green girl more into harmony with the rest of the Empress’ attendants.

I’ve been very taken with this Pre-Raphaelite painting by Burne-Jones titled “The Prioress’ Tale”, illustrating a story in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I love the composition of the painting and his use of rich colours here, although it seems that the story it illustrates is not going to be one of my favorites of Chaucer’s canon, being one of the nasty medieval “blood libel” tales that got Sarah Palin in trouble last week.

In the beautiful Kelmscott Chaucer that Burne-Jones illustrated for William Morris there’s a similar illustration of the tale by the artist in the form of a woodcut, this time showing Mary as an angelic floating figure. In both the painting and the woodcut Mary is seen placing a grain of wheat into the child’s mouth, which miraculously enabled him to continue singing her praise even after his death. In the painting the boy is standing in his grave, having had his throat cut.

This afternoon Mike Adams came by to talk with me about Scultura Marmo, our exhibit of the work of sculptor Bela Bacsi, whose marble masterpieces will be in the Kwan Fong Gallery at CLU from February 12th. No sooner had Mike left than Bela himself appeared to discuss lighting for the show. I’m very excited about the show, which is going to expose some of the secrets of marble carving Bela learned directly from Italian masters in Florence.

After a day of subtle change, now a day that brings a big difference: all of the hair has been repainted, bringing dark chestnut and red tones to the formerly grey locks. The girls’ skin seems extremely pale against the new hair, but that may just be because the hair looks shockingly dark after so long a time in grey. In addition I think I’ve probably allowed the hair to get a bit bright on the left hand girl, making her appear a bit too red-headed, which isn’t quite what I wanted for this painting although it’s tempting to follow in the Pre-Raphaelite footsteps of those beautiful paintings by Rossetti. Because of this uncertainty I’ll wait a few days before making any decisions to alter this layer, allowing the new work to settle into the painting.

The work was done using two Silver striping brushes (a larger brush than those I use for fine lines, I guess a one inch), a one inch fan brush and a sable filbert. I brushed on the Van Dyke Brown, added streaks of  Iron Oxide and White, then blended the three together, loading the fan brush with paint and turning it sideways to start the stroke, then twisting it as it moved through the paint.


Although there have been no major changes to the body of the painting, there’s been a great deal of detailing done to both the Empress and the girl in the pink dress, controlling the edges of the dress and flesh. For the pink girl I’ve used a Silver Script brush to create lines on the edges of things in Iron Oxide Red, then smudged the paint with my finger away from the hard edge toward the shadow. This makes a nice fade from hardness to softness that works well to define the transitions from one area to another. Botticelli used a similar technique for his paintings, carefully lining the edges of his figures to define them from their surroundings. In this detail of his Venus you can clearly see his lines. The Pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones used the same kind of lining work in many of his paintings, clearly inspired by Botticelli and the Lippis, although other members of the Brotherhood were more interested in their subject matter and colour pallette.

The hand got some much needed attention in this fashion, making shadows warmer and more carefully defined, and making it clearer. Because the edges of the figure are more clearly distinguished from each other they create a feeling of solidity, particularly now that the right side is darkened, creating shadow and increasing the illusion of light within the painting. Her hair has been re-done abusing a fan brush by loading it up with white paint dragged into the Burnt Umber that I added over the previously existing dark areas. Tomorrow I’ll glaze this and re-establish the shadows using the same overloaded fan brush technique, finishing the hair by using a striping brush to paint some strands of flyaway hair here and there.

I worked on the Empress’ neck and chest for a while, correcting some overly simple work on the structures of the chin and the sinews in the neck that give the its shape. I noticed that the chin was slightly crooked, so altered it a little, then added a touch of Iron Oxide to the right side of the face to give it a little shadow; the neck became a little wider on the left, with a curve taking the place of the over-sharp join of the neck to the clavicle.

Using Iron Oxide Red to re-establish detail and shadow into the fabric and flesh has really paid off around the yellow belt and the upper foot, where everything is looking far more substantial. I’m looking forward to continuing with the work to bring more solidity to the entire painting, as it has in the pink dress, where I darkened the sash and added shadow to the right side. I’ll add some darkness to the shadow beneath the arm, that still lacks substance and feels oddly flat without it.

The yellow belt brocade looks much more substantial now that it’s had a touch of Yellow Ochre to colour the spaces between the white highlights of the pressed fabric. I’m satisfied with the way it turned out, and I’m looking forward to getting another layer onto the hair to make the girls much more complete. Their existing hair is only a layer of blended Raw Umber and Foundation White, so it remains insubstantial and overly simple,  not to mention the mushy feeling around the edges where glazes from the sky and tree blossom have impacted the dark paint, making it appear milky. In the next layer I’ll use a warmer and richer brown (Burnt Umber) and Ceramic White to colour the body of the hair and get more detail down.

I’ve worked on the flesh of the arm that comes behind the feet too, using Harding’s Foundation white with the oxide to correct an over-simple velatura, particularly the upper arm. I’m less content with the lowest of the Empress’ feet, and might even re-render the drawing, I’m finding it so dissatisfying. This would be a nuisance at this stage because I will have to match the colours of fabric, flesh and vines wherever the new work goes down, but if I dislike the foot after giving it another shot tomorrow I will probably end up doing it for the benefit of the painting. In museums I notice problems like this are seldom left alone by the really great painters, while in the work of lesser masters sometimes you can see what they left uncorrected, for reasons of economy or time. I would prefer to attempt to imitate the greatest, however impossible it may be to reach the heights achieved by them.

Feet and Fabric