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.
Rough texture over the vines that are coming closest to the viewer
Green grass and orange flowers. Building up the foreground of the painting.
I’ve been pretty busy in the studio, painting the foreground grass and working on detail on the vines. The foreground vines are much rougher and more textured now, which makes them feel like they’re coming forward.
I added some Cobalt blue into the shadows around the flowers, scraping it on with a knife, then scraped a touch of Cadmium red over the buds, using a rag to control the paint. The flowers were lightly glazed with a Transparent Iron Oxide Orange, then the white bits were wiped off, then additional orange oxide painted into the dark parts of the flowers.
My easel broke again. I’ll have to get the sled off again and figure out how to reinforce it with some steel, or something. Alternatively I suppose I could just paint much smaller paintings…
It’s seriously quiet in the studio because all my students are away on their Christmas break. I play lots of loud music when it’s like this, but lose track of the time regularly.
The trees have felt a bit too dark and heavy on the horizon since I glazed them with Olive Green, so I decided to put a coat of white over them to drop them back in a misty veil. In the first photo the white (which I mixed with a touch of burnt umber to make it a little bit grey, so that I can add pure white later to pop the highlights.) is beginning to cover the tree on the left of the canvas, then in the next picture I’ve wiped away most of the paint so that there’s a slightly swirly mist feel to the haze. I brought the haziness down into the furthest part of the landscape, where the land meets the sky, and allowed it to meet with some of the patchy areas of distant grass.
I’ve painted the grass seed-heads in light grey so that I can put greens, yellows and browns over the top, bending the stems and seed-heads to the left so that there’s a sensation of a breeze blowing the field – with the bending trees and the swept back hair we should feel some sense of motion in the painting. In the background some cow parsley and oil seed has sprung up, reminding me of the English countryside. I should probably look at some Constable paintings to see how he treated his landscapes – get some good advice from the master.
I’m still working out if I can bring those lovely mountains into this painting. It’s tempting.
The Emperor painting has taken a giant leap forward, with an entirely new foreground landscape beginning to develop around the Empress. I’ve enjoyed painting the underlying dark areas that will lie beneath a range of grass that will be the next feature to emerge. In addition, I’ve added some white over the edges of the foliage that climbs the chair, letting the dark leaves drop back into the sky a little by softening the edge between the blue and green. I used Foundation White because that’s what I used for the milky glaze over the blue.
I didn’t get any more painting done today, but I did get to snap a picture of this beautifully misty sky beside my home that I might want to use for reference in the Emperor painting. I love the soft transitions from mountain to mountain as the California ranges sit further and further away. This is atmospheric perspective in action! Lovely.
The Carnegie Museum is a lovely neo-classical building with a grand facade beside a grassy town square in Oxnard, California. It’s a perfect setting for an exhibit of my canvases, which will mingle beautifully with its lovely white pillared interior, carefully balanced with grey walls that won’t overwhelm the colours of the paintings. It’s a delightful space – I loved being in a gallery that doesn’t have excessively bright white walls! I met with curator Suzanne Belah today to look around the rooms again and to contemplate how the paintings will work, and to consider which new works should be my priorities in the progress of the new year. I enjoyed sitting in the building in silence, getting a feel for the quiet energies of the various spaces, which I think will allow for the paintings to be hung in a series of almost shrine-like settings.
The green glaze covering the leaves.
The freshly painted flesh and shirt, working nicely with the leaves.
The leaves have been treated to Sap Green mixed with Iron Oxide Red, and some strokes of Grey-Green to add variety, then the shadows deepened with a touch of Raw Umber. The buds have been painted with a little Cadmiium Red mixed with Foundation White. It’s a good start. I want to rework the leaves by bringing in some Iron Oxides to warm them and to the stems, which I started highlighting in white in preparation, before I got tired of the incredible staining power of Sap Green, which is truly a pain, getting into everything! I’ll let it dry thoroughly before recommencing.
With these glazes of green over all of the leaves it’s time to move onto painting the woman’s skin and her clothes, adding some Burnt Sienna into the shadows, popping subtle reds into the eyes, nose and mouth, and into a few areas of the neck and armpits. I enjoyed putting white highlights into the chest and arms, particularly introducing subtle movements of colour by allowing the paints to blend into the white. I glazed her shirt using a Yellow Ochre that balances the gold of the ball in the Emperor’s hand. Over the Raw Umber underpainting it appears quite green.
I’ve noticed that when I start putting colour onto the paintings after I’ve been working in grey and brown for a long time the fresh paint seems extraordinarily bright, so I have to restrain myself from greying everything down until I can see how all the colour works together.
With colour the foliage looks more lively.
Another layer of subtly coloured pink and green grays to make the stick more convincing.
The colour spreads further down the canvas, reaching the horizon line today. I need to work in areas because I want the highlights to blend with the darker greens in this stage, so I’ll move further down the painting later.
I worked with lovely glazed transparent Sap Green and Raw Umber with dashes of Grey Green for some variety and highlights. First I glazed areas of the leaves with the Sap Green, then popped in a darker mixture into areas mostly on the right side where shadows should fall more substantially. To make the darker colour I mixed some of the Sap Green with a bit of Iron Oxide Red – another beautifully transparent paint which is the same hue as Burnt Sienna in M. Graham’s range of oils. The deepest area of shadows between closely positioned leaves were emphasized with the Raw Umber, blended out with my fingers. I must work on the skin on the legs now, to introduce shadows and redraw the toes on the right foot.
The flowers are bright white now. I was tempted to put a glaze of colour over them, but I’d better be patient and do them all in one sitting.
I’ve added a picture showing the stick that I worked on a couple of days ago. I’ve added subtly coloured pink-grey and green-grey to make it appear more natural. Nature is seldom monochromatic.
I almost forgot to mention that I painted the surface of the moon on the little ball dangling from the stick, so now the Emperor is clearly the emblem of divine rule on earth.
The Emperor starts looking substantial.
The golden globus cruciger.
It’s so good to start adding layers of colour into the painting after this long period of working in browns as the plants and bodies take shape.
The Emperor is looking increasingly complete with every additional layer of colour subtly building the illusion of substantial flesh. The globus cruciger, symbol of the Emperor’s authority, has solidified into a spherical ball now that it has some colour and highlighting. I’ve painted some pale green and pinkish grey onto the stick he’s holding in his other hand. The stick is his sceptre, here suspending the moon which he dangles over the Empress, suggesting that he has power over her too – but the plants she’s directing up his chair will soon take care of his arrogance.
I like adding bright colour into the features of the face once it’s pretty much done, usually blues in the darkest shadows and reds into the mouth, eyes and the bottom of the nose. I’ve also put a bit into the neck and some areas of the arms and chest. This time I also popped in a few strokes of Yellow Ochre. I like the way the colours make the shadows pop against the flesh, and how the blues in the beard vibrate against the reds, without really altering the major colour scheme of the features. A good day.
Now the hands have been painted twice I’ll be able to pop in last touches to them tomorrow, then move the platform out of the way so I can see the whole painting again. Right now I can only see the Emperor, while the lower half of the canvas is almost completely hidden.
I’ve been working on adding more colour to the Emperor’s face and body, building up a layer of warmth, using a Burnt Sienna to make shadows richer, then blending to the edges of the hair with Raw Umber. For flesh areas I’ve used that mixture of Viridian and Cadmium Orange Mike Adams told me about. I like it because it’s vibrant and very fleshy, and has the benefit of being a quick mix.
I’ve dropped in a few strokes of Cadmium Red here and there, especially around the mouth, nose and eyes.
It’s great to get some colour onto the painting. I must get the first layer of flesh over the man’s hands so that I’m keeping everything going at the same pace. It worries me when things get out of order.
I put a layer of paint over the legs, working wet white to build a first coat of flesh. It was challenging to keep the feeling of continuity in the changes of colour in the paint while dealing with regularly cleaning off the leaves that must go in front of the skin, so I’m very glad that I’ve painted the Empress’ legs before doing the grass in front of them. This will save me a lot of trouble later.
I want to get to his hands tomorrow. There simply wasn’t enough time today. It’s very satisfying to see the figures become increasingly solid.
I thought I’d share a challenging quote from Vasari’s Lives:
“Art owes its origins to nature herself… this beautiful creation, the world, supplied the first model, while the original teacher was that divine intelligence which has not only made us superior to the other animals, but like God himself, if I may venture to say it.” Vasari.