September, 2011 Archives

The vines wrapping around the Emperor’s legs have become much more substantial, reaching all the way up to his knees and down to the a point just above the horizon. I started working on the leaves that are emerging from the shaman’s mouth, but realized that I really need to get the background and the rest of her body painted in the base coat of Raw Umber before proceeding any further, so I switched over to the hand at her stomach, enjoying finding the subtle shifts of value and working out the placement of the tendons, fingernails and knuckles. I’ve made the hand a touch large to make it feel a little closer to the viewer.

Now it’s time to work out the position of the legs of the chair and to get that landscape started so that the leaves passing over it make sense. I can’t paint the white underpainting of the vines where they meet the chair legs until I have figured out where the legs are situated.

The New Romantic Figure exhibit closed today.

The Shaman's hand, under-paint.

The ever-growing morning glory vines

The green woman / shaman

After a week of scattered attention in the studio it was really great to have a full day of time to dedicate to painting. The foundation layer of the vines has progressed much further, including an exciting passage of work on the flow of the vines emerging from the Green Woman’s mouth that pulls focus to the left side before plunging back toward the centre. I want to make sure that there’s movement in the plant that feels as if the Green Woman is directing the plant to dominate the Emperor, so I’m completely avoiding wrapping the tendrils around her arm, focusing instead on the vines twisting upon themselves and passing beside her hand on their way to the legs of the chair, so that while the Emperor is getting captured and trapped she remains completely free of entanglement.  I’m also differentiating the relationship between the two figures by avoiding painting any flowers close to the Green Woman’s body, while the vines approaching the Emperor by climbing up his chair will display a large number of blue blossoms.

Meanwhile the creeper has twisted itself all the way around the Emperor’s right leg and arrived at his left, wrapping around it and heading toward his scepter stick. On the right-hand side the vines are almost (but not quite – I like the suspense of that “almost”) touching the globus cruciger, and I think I’ll bring some of it around the side of the ball, heading toward his upper arm. He’s feeling increasingly besieged.

I paint the white foundation for the vines because it provides texture and a guide for the next layer. When I paint the Raw Umber over it to define the leaves and flowers the thick, textured white surface creates nice variations in the thin browns that read well as the changing surface of the leaves. Without it I’d have to paint much more detail – the accidents of the paint work well for me here.


Increasingly aggressive morning glory vines

A sketch for the Resurrection (Judgement)

The morning glory has spread to cover much of the calf of the Emperor’s right leg, but I want to show more of it reaching up to pass his left foot, perhaps even stretching out tendrils toward his abdomen and increasing the feeling that he is being overwhelmed by the creeping vines. Working on the intertwined leaves and stems is still immensely satisfying, and I’ve pulled out the Empress painting so that I can give it more attention in the same manner. When I painted the Traveller I found that a layered approach to the plants was effective, so I think that the decorative work I already did to the Empress should serve well as background to a new layer of foliage that’s more like this new piece, especially if it’s darkened a little.

I’ve been drawing for a resurrection painting. In the Marseilles tarots the Judgement card is clearly Christian, although it probably comes with an alchemical slant to it given the nature of the imagery of those decks. It’s been tricky for me to get behind the imagery of the card, because I find it so hard to believe in the resurrection of the body, but I think I’ve found a way to express a more allegorical resurrection in which the energy of the soul emerges after the death of the material body. For me, this is going to be a painting that celebrates unity with the universal mind of God.

In the sketch I’ve drawn the figures emerging from a Neolithic chambered mound reminiscent of the extraordinary Maes Howe in Orkney, watched by a group of people gathered around the entrance. I’ve studied these amazing pieces of ancient architecture for many years and love exploring their mysteries and I wonder how Neolithic British ideology dealt with life after death. This is a period that begins four thousand years before Christ – did they even conceive of an afterlife?

I shot reference pictures of Mark, first with him balanced on a ladder challenged with the tricky proposition of looking like he was flying upward with pointed feet, then shot him standing on tip-toes on the ground while I went up the ladder to get the right point of view for the figures who will be lower in the composition. Clearly I’m feeling the powerful influence of William Bougeureau’s extraordinary painting Les Oreades, which we saw at the D’Orsay in Paris last May. It’s an extraordinary piece of work – virtuoso painting by a great master. I remember standing before it in open-mouthed awe of his handling of the complexities of the intertwined bodies. Perhaps one day I’ll emulate this magnificent work more closely.

The Morning Glory vines start to wrap around the Emperor's legs

I’m thoroughly enjoying painting these vines, which are more realistic than my earlier more decorative flowers in the Empress painting. I’ve used my reference pictures from the back garden a little, but I’m getting great pleasure out of inventing passages of the vines, leaves and flowers, especially the wiggly bits where the vines twist on themselves and about the sticks that support the Emperor’s chair. I found that adding dark leaves around the ones that I silhouetted in white worked effectively to bring dimension to the mass of flowers and foliage. I have to connect the work I did yesterday at the lower part of the picture with that which I completed today at the top. It’s going to be fun to run the vines across the painting to meet with those emerging from the shaman’s mouth.

Because I wanted to figure out how much work was necessary to complete the Emperor’s legs I decided to start painting the morning glory vines as they wrap up the legs of the chair and around his feet. I took several photos of the vines we grew from seed in the back garden this year. I love the big, fragile flowers, especially the rich blues, although the crimson ones are pretty great too.

In order to get started with the work I painted them in white over the top of the chair legs and the skin, planning to add shadows and value in the next stage. I’m looking forward to bringing the vines across the ground and around the shaman.

The Emperor is completely painted in Raw Umber, but I’m not entirely satisfied with his feet, which are not as dynamic as I’d like. However, I expect vines to wrap around them, so it may not be necessary to get too detailed. I’ll leave them for now until the demands of the composition become more clear.

The  woman in this painting is based on the shaman found on the Gundestrup cauldron, but in addition to the characteristics of that figure a Green Woman’s vines have begun to emerge from her mouth to cascade around her. When leaves are added to the vines they’ll be complemented by the bright colours of morning glory flowers. She’s becoming the personification of nature.

Head-dress horns have appeared on a strap tied around her head, while her hair has become more substantial and detailed, with variations in direction and light and darkness.

Like everything else in the painting she’s painted in Raw Umber over the top of a layer of greys created by mixing Raw Umber and Foundation White. It’s been extremely satisfying work, mixing my love of ancient British folklore with studio painting.

  The Emperor is beginning to get increasingly convincing now that his shorts are becoming more substantial, although I’d like to add a second working of the Raw Umber to the painting I did today to make the value more appropriate for the next layer, which will introduce colour to the canvas. Meanwhile there’s a lot more work in the brown to define the imagery, particularly the woman and the completely neglected greenery – I’ve yet to begin sketching the vines around her, or their progress up the chair legs. The Green Man imagery is very important to me – I’ve admired these strange carvings in churches since I was a teenager, seeking them out in obscure folklore books.

Still feeling a bit shaky today from a bit of an upset stomach (food?) that caught me by surprise last night, I took it pretty easy today, working for only a few hours with frequent stops to rest and recuperate. I added the bands to the globus in the Emperor’s left hand (stage left, our right) and painted a small ball dangling from the end of his scepter-stick. I’m planning to paint a tattoo or two onto this character, and hope to work on ideas for designs this evening.

The Emperor with the symbols of his office


The spherical globus cruciger taking shape


The Emperor holding his scepter stick.










I’ve continued working with the Raw Umber to re-render the right arm holding the spherical globus cruciger, his torso and the left arm holding the scepter. Working on the hands was enjoyable – I like getting the varied planes of the shadows right so that the gestures of the fingers feels strong. The right hand needs more detail, but today I didn’t have much energy left, so I’ve left it until later. I’m especially enjoying the way the ball is getting more solidity because of the shadows around it in the recesses between the fingers.

I’ve added dark and light areas of texture to the stick too, making it much more substantial. I’d like to re-render the extended fingers of the left hand because they lack definition in comparison to the rest of the hand.


The grisaille layer of the Emperor's head, with incorrect eye.

After creating a decent layer of grey passages from mixed and blended Raw Umber and White I like to rework the painting, finding the deep darks with Raw Umber and using my fingers to smooth areas of value over the greys. This gives a warmth to the grisaille that I like very much.

I’ll also use white at this stage, avoiding blending it with the Raw Umber unless I’m repairing something that’s incorrect – like the right eye, which I’ve repainted a quarter inch lower than it was – but beside that one exception I use it only for popping in bright highlights over the greys.


I use a very fine striping brush to put the paint down in heavy lines of Raw Umber at the edges of the area of value I’m working on, then dragging the paint with my fingers to fill the areas of shadow, softening the shapes of the shadows and glazing over the mostly correct earlier layers. It’s much more like drawing at this stage, being focused principally upon the deep darks, whereas the earlier grisaille was more about blocks of light, medium and dark value.


I’ve altered the hand to hold this new spherical shape, which will become the globus cruciger (Python’s “holy hand grenade of Antioch”).


The Raw Umber re-rendering of the head, correcting the eye and introducing more shadow.

The Emperor's head and shoulders


The holy hand grenade takes shape.

The New Romantic Figure

Here’s your last chance to meet the artists and talk with them about their work.

I hope you’ll join us at the Kwan Fong Gallery at CLU for a reception this Saturday evening (10th September) at 7pm. We’ll be enjoying good company, some discussion of the paintings, and light refreshments.

The KWAN FONG Gallery is in the Humanities building up the stairs beside the flagpoles on Memorial Drive.

California Lutheran University

60 Olsen Road

Thousand Oaks, California, 91360