Category: Numbers by painting

Here’s a first draft for Justice. It’s far more stylized than the drawing for angelic temperance, but I’ll develop that drawing later. I’m enjoying this formal approach for a change. I think this is the natural progression from the very simple Numbers by Painting pieces I began and abandoned earlier this year. The number symbolism can carry into these large pieces fairly easily and add structure to the composition.



 Two, Four, Five, One.

I found a little time in the studio to work on the Numbers by Painting series. I laid on a layer of Payne’s grey  to darken the outside areas of three of the pieces. On One I dry-brushed the Payne’s grey onto the raised edges of the circle, dropping the touches of cad red behind the dark layer so that it became more internal to the ridges of gel medium. (I used Windsor and Newton’s Liquin Gel, which seems to be pretty reliable for impasto work.)

On Two, I added a ragged on layer of the same Payne’s grey to build up the surface a bit more, and put some Titanium white into the circle. I love the rich dark blues Graham’s Payne’s grey gives up when it’s thin, and the lovely velvety rich blue black when it’s thick.

The symbol for two resembles the power button on my computer, and has very ancient roots. It’s found in Neolithic and Mesolithic rock art all over Europe in association with cup marks that have been ground into the stone.

Here are the photos that I should have posted yesterday. All in process, nothing completed.


Two, Five and One in their present condition. 


Here’s a closer shot of Two. You can see the stippled surface where the rag breaks up the surface of the paint.


Here’s a shot showing the surface of Five. The semi-transparent white allows a little of the brown undercoat to show through. The Ultramarine blue over the brown becomes a lovely, almost black surface. Here’s the shot I posted of the earlier stage for comparison:




This is the drawing for Three. The Yin Yang really exemplifies the trinity in Pythagorean numbers, as the monad separates into the dyad, instantly creating the tension of relationship, the triad. Because the symbol is so over-used I’m going for an interpretation of three as the perfect three dimensional cross, as Guenon described it, with each direction up, down, side, side, forward and backward. It suggests that the centre of the universe is everywhere. 

I laid on a coat of Ultramarine blue over the brown surface of the number five piece, and used some zinc white mixed with a little payne’s grey to make a semi-transparent blue-grey to glaze over the number two. I pulled the glaze using a clean rag so it has a translucent  patchiness over the white under painting. Newspaper can be good for this too, but it’s quite extreme, leaving saturated and completely removed areas against each other. Using a rag laid flat on the wet canvas then lifted off carefully can remove too much, and require repetition to get it right, but it’s great when it works out properly.

I love to break up the paint surface with a rag, it adds a randomness to the texture that works very effectively when defined later.

The next Neolithic painting (I’m calling it “Storm” for now because the small figure in the background with arms akimbo is brewing a storm) is on the easel staring at me and picking a fight. This is the third time I’ve started painting a falling figure and painted it out. The first one was pretty good too. The model for it was the actor David White, who was a very nice fellow. 


I’ve done quite a lot of sketches now for the numbers series. The canvases were all ready to go by Friday morning, so I started laying out some of the drawings. By evening I painted on the first layer of burned sienna onto the canvas on numbers four and five. I really like the symbol for the number four, with its inward and outward pointing arrows.



These would make excellent tattoos. I might have to contact the excellent Pat Fish.


Moving ahead with the boxes, I poured good quality gesso onto the previously primed panel and used a 1/4″ quarter round piece of molding to spread it around the surface. This gives me a nice thick textured surface to work on. I began shaping the gesso into a circle for the first piece, which will be a representation of the monad.

Laying down the gesso with a dowel rod or a piece of quarter round can make a big mess of the floor of the studio, and of the new shoes that your wife bought you for Christmas. Just sayin’…

I’m beginning a series of paintings of numbers using Pythagorean and Renaissance alchemical ideas about how numbers represent divine order. I have seven boxes that I have stretched canvas onto, now I’ll lay on plenty of Gesso to prepare them. Some of the pieces are going to be quite three dimensional, so I want to be sure to create a really solid ground for the paint and medium to hold onto.


I like the way these panels will push out from the wall, requiring the viewer’s interaction. I can use the sides of the pieces as much as the front if I choose to, inducing much neck twisting and investigation.  

To the Pythagoreans, some numbers are representatives of the fingerprints of G-d on the universe, like Phi, Pi and the units. Pythagorean interpretations of these numbers explain the divine order of the cosmos.