Category: Britain

Once again I’ve been very busy working on the October project, figuring out administrative stuff. It’s going to be worth it when it’s all ready to go though.

In the studio I’ve been busy with Prussian Blue, which is great for creating that faded blue colour of old tattoos. The Emperor has new ink – two imperial eagles, one on each of his upper arms. I had trouble locating the right hand tattoo properly and had to repaint it to get it to feel as if it is wrapping around the curve of his arm properly.

The hanged man got a glaze of the same colour over the rock that I’ve added to the bottom of the painting. I remember finding this particular prehistoric cup and ring decorated stone in England in May of 2010 when traveling with a group of students in the North of England near a small town called Wooler in Northumberland, England. The location is wonderful, up high on a moorland hillside overlooking a wide valley. We were pressed for time when we went in search of the stone, and I though we would never find it, because it’s flat to the ground and easily missed. When we found it I remember being completely delighted, because I’d read about this particular site a few years ago when I was busy researching prehistoric art and architecture for my PhD, but never imagined that I’d have a chance to visit it. I’ve included it in the painting because I want to get a deeper sense of what betrayal means, not emphasizing personal relationships alone, but also referring to our relationship to the past. We are the product of many generations of our ancestors, and I want to acknowledge my debt to mine by remembering their culture and acknowledging their influence upon the present. The hanged man reaches for a ring that is sitting on a rock that’s carved with symbols from five thousand years ago, associating him with his ancient forebears.


The beginning of the landscape, Raw Umber brushed and ragged.

The landscape takes shape behind the shaman. The beginning of a tree trunk cuts through the horizon, soon to be developed into an old oak.

Once the blue was wiped away from the morning glory and the figures, cleaning up any overlapping colour, it was time to start work on the horizon line. I want the landscape to be a little wild and unkempt, to be reminiscent of a location somewhere on the edge of Dartmoor in South West England, or among some of those mysterious Sierra foothills in California where the oaks dot the open rolling landscape, grazed by herds of wild ponies, far-ranging cattle or sheep.

The paintings are increasingly part of a series of windows into a strange alternative world in which the people are involved in alchemical processes that alter the environment and their lives. The landscapes are becoming increasingly green and verdant, almost as if the world in the paintings is taking on a life of its own as it gets more frequently captured. I’m enjoying finding out what’s going on in there.

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 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.

I have no photographs to share from today’s Pre Raphaelite adventures, because once again the paintings we saw were concealed under thick glass, preventing me from getting decent pictures and making close examination difficult.

This time we were at the Tate Britain in London on what seems to be becoming a fairly regular pilgrimage for me, visiting two of my favorite paintings: Ophelia by Millais and Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott, both magnificent.

Presently the Waterhouse is hung very poorly for a painting that is so popular, too high on the wall to see, and because it’s been glazed it’s impossible to look at it in any detail.

I’m searching for evidence of wet-white technique, and perhaps found some here: Although the face of Ophelia appears to have been painted en grisaille, there are areas of the creek water that may have have a blue glaze over a wet white layer. I suspect that he painted the flesh using a Raw Umber blended into the white to find the shadows, then adding glazes of skin tones to bring it to life, finally adding the deeper shadows in a last layer.

Ophelia is painted on a smooth ground; a gessoed canvas that reveals no texture.

I feel extremely fortunate to have seen as much Neolithic art as I have. Here on Anglesey there are some excellent examples of rock art still within its context, dating from four thousand years before the current era. It’s incredible that it’s still here to be seen.

First four pictures are at or around Barclodiad Y Gawres chambered cairn, Anglesey; the remainder are all from Bryn Celli Dhu. Both of these are splendid examples of Neolithic architecture with accompanying rock art.

Spent the last couple of days hiking in the Borders of England and Scotland, first in Lancashire where the Emperor Hadrian built his two thousand year old wall, walking past the quarries from whence the legions cut its stones and the forts that were used to guard the Northern frontier of the Roman empire against the Scots and Picts.

Next to Dumfries for a wholly different kind of structure: Andy Goldsworthy’s “Striding Arches”; a series of free-standing arches that have been constructed here at Cairnhead near the village of Moniavie; in New Zealand and America.

The first photo shows Hadrian’s Wall at sunset – ‘nough said. The two below are of two of Goldsworthy’s arches, one at Cairnhead, another at the peak of Colt Hill.

Having been held up in both Los Angeles and Heathrow airports, I’ve arrived in Edinburgh with our students and made a delightful trip to Rosslyn Chapel, where Christian symbolism runs riot in an extraordinary display of stone carving. Here allegory is the language of the masons who built this lovely little chapel, almost bringing musicians, angels and biblical figures to life in the stonework of the ceilings and walls. I find this kind of imagery extraordinarily inspiring – clearly others do too, with Da Vinci Code devotees filling the coffers of the owners of the chapel, allowing them to rebuild the roof and repair the wear and tear of centuries of neglect and misguided restorations.

In these pictures: The Bronze Age tomb at Cairnpapple Hill, an allegory of death, one of many Green Men, a curious Angel and a horned Moses with tablet.

At Rosslyn

I built up some of the shadows for Amelia’s background. I like the way this looks so far, and we’ll see where it goes from here. The light is beginning to feel real and she’s coming off the canvas quite nicely. This is almost a return to the way I was painting several years ago – very Caravaggio influenced and interested in figures emerging from darkness. I think now the paint will be richer and more vibrant with the knife work combined with the brush.

That line, incidentally, is at 1 : 1.62 of the vertical height of the canvas.

I’ve been considering the development of style in my work. I’m painting pretty much the same theme of ideas that I wanted to make when I was a much younger man, but the difference is that now I have the technical ability to do it. We have a responsibility to pass on technique to the next generations of artists so that they are able to make whatever they want to – the modernist century was not good for that mindset, being more interested in the idea that personal exploration was more important, and I think it is, but not at the price of learning the tools we need to be able to put the ideas we gain from digging into ourselves onto canvas, or installations, or whatever creative medium we choose. I want my students to be able to balance their work between technique and experiment.

Nuff said. 

 Temperance is moving along too. She has a nice pair of swan’s wings to boast of that I’m happy with. Of course they’ll need lots more detail to show where the feathers are, and I’ll be defining their shape and colour as time goes by, but this is a good start. I used reference shots of swans and pelicans taken when I was at a bird sanctuary near Bath, England, shot in 2006 during a family trip to visit my parents and brother’s family! Go figure. Never throw your pictures away!

I reworked Temperance’s face while I was at it and got a good layer of grey value work on there, improving the rough layer I had already done. She looks a bit stern right now, but you can’t do everything in one go, and sometimes it’s far better to wait for the paint to dry if you have work done that you like, fixing what you don’t like later, when you won’t destroy the good things.

Today’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, when the sun at sunrise reaches the most northern point of its journey across the horizon. Depending on where you are on the earth, at midsummer the sun rises roughly North East, setting at the end of the day roughly North West. At mid-winter it rises roughly South East, and sets roughly South West. Days on which this event occurs are called solstices, which literally means “sun stands still”. 



A simple way to imagine the division of the horizon is to divide a circle with a diagonal St. Andrew’s cross, creating a universal solar symbol that appears in archaic cultures worldwide.

Other important astronomical events, including lunar limits (orange dots) are shown in the diagram below. Solar events are in blue.



At solstice the sun rises in roughly the same spot on the horizon for three days before and three after the solstice day itself, for a standstill total of six days. The sun has reached the extremities of its sunrise and sunset positions, as far North as it will rise on midsummer’s day, as far to the South as it will rise on midwinter’s day. The lunar “Metonic” cycle is also predictable (although over the much longer period of 19.67 years) and has similar extreme rising and setting positions that may be marked using the same technique of alignment. Alignment to lunar or solar events is an important feature of some stone circles and chambered cairns.Other significant positions in the solar year include the days of Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, when the day and night are exactly evenly split and the sunrise and sunset are due East and West and the other two cardinal directions: North, the fixed point around which the night sky spins, and South, which follows the sky’s solar zenith line. Neolithic architecture seldom was aligned to either North or South, but tending toward the solar extremes.

Christmas Day is on the 25th December. I wondered why this important festival missed the winter solstice, then discovered that the 25th is the day the sun starts moving again, after it has been stationary for the six days of solstice. The symbolism is lovely, the Christ is born on the day darkness is overcome, the sun wins its victory over night. The birth of other avatars has traditionally been celebrated on this day for the same reason, including Mithras and Sol. 

Summer Solstice