Category: Folklore

Morning glory emerging from the shaman's mouth

I like to make little games for myself when I’m working on repetitive forms like these morning glory leaves – today I decided to stop working on the right hand side of the painting so that I could set myself the goal of joining up the leaves coming form the shaman’s mouth with those close to her hand, so I began defining the shapes of the shadows of the plant as it passes over her shoulder, then turns back on itself to climb up the Emperor’s chair. Now I’ve started to create substance in the vines emerging from her mouth I’m aware of a compositional problem that I hadn’t noticed before; the vines spilling out of her mouth over her right cheek (our left) aren’t as abundant as those on her left, so I will probably add some leaves that will cover a bit of the hair below and next to her ear.

While working on the leaves I redid the hair and the shaman’s horns, which had become too patchy after working on the sky a couple of weeks ago, I added a little darkness to the features of her face too, so she looks a little fresher and stronger. I’m enjoying the way this is going.

Here’s a really good green man from Norwich Cathedral.

Now the basic white layer of the leaves is done it’s time to render the leaves and flowers in my customary brown. This is satisfying work that’s going to be a big feature of the finished painting – imagine that mass of vines and beautiful morning glory flowers when it’s completely done. For me it’s as much about imagining the end result as it is painting – actually it’s going to be a test of endurance putting down all the foliage, being fairly slow work, but I can see how it’s going to be at the end.

I’m excited about a big show in September ’12 that I can now confirm – I’ll be exhibiting my biggest paintings at the Carnegie Museum over in Oxnard, Ventura. It seems like a long time until then, but I’m sure it will go too fast. I’ll go and visit the space and figure out how the various spaces can be divided up into alchemical themes and what’s going to fit where.

Very much on my mind these days: the Fisher King, the guardian of the Grail, who:

“was wounded in a battle and completely crippled, so that he’s helpless now, for he was struck by a javelin through both his thighs; and he still suffers from it so much that he can’t mount a horse. But when he wants to engage in some pleasure and sport he has himself placed in a boat and goes fishing with a hook” (Chretien De Troyes, Perceval 38)

Here’s a good summary of the Fisher King’s appearances in Arthurian literature by Matthew Annis. Perceval meets him in his castle at dinner and sees servants bring candles, the lance of Longinus, the Grail and a silver plate in a procession, returning with the grail at each course of the feast. Afterwards the grail is taken to the Fisher King’s father who lives in an adjoining room and has been nourished for twelve years by the divine host that is borne on it. Perceval fails to understand that he was supposed to ask the Fisher King about the nature of the spear and who the grail serves, which would have healed the King’s injuries.

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.


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.

I covered a lot of canvas today by working fast and deliberately choosing to make broad compositional strokes rather than finessed detailed gestures. The chair is looking appropriately wobbly and now the composition is beginning to make sense. I like the rickety structure holding the chair together; later I’ll paint boy scout rope lashings to hold the sticks together. I didn’t paint the Emperor’s right hand because the reference shot isn’t particularly inspiring, with an awkward thumb and a strange angle to the hand that lacks any grace. I’ll get Aaron to pose for me so I can improve it later in the week.

Working so fast was very exciting and slightly disturbing, but if it means that I can figure out a methodology for creating greater quantities of paintings without sacrificing quality I’ll try to keep up the pace. The master Bouguereau painted as many as forty-five magnificent paintings a year!

I’m really feeling the pressure of time upon me these days, so I want to work with speed and accuracy without sacrificing quality. Consequently the work is getting looser and more brush-strokes are visible, at least at this stage, although I’m painting into a wet white ground, dragging the Raw Umber into a white surface to create soft blends of grey. I see problems in the face that I will need to correct later as a result of working quickly, but I’m enjoying the challenge I’ve set myself to move more quickly – it gives me a self-conscious decisiveness about the gestures that leaves the sensation of speed in the work, which is quite appropriate for the Emperor in his wobbling chair.

I’m increasingly interested in the narrative offered by the painting as an allegory for the supremacy of natural philosophy over materialism. As I continue with the work I’ll introduce symbols that will make this more apparent.

I’m searching for some young deer’s antlers to add to the sides of the head of the green woman who sits at the bottom of the painting. I want to emphasize the shamanic quality of the character and to emphasize her connection to the natural world. If anyone happens to have any that I can have, I would really appreciate hearing from you!