Category: Bouguereau

The girls are beginning to feel as if they are in a place instead of floating in a white void.

Not so ghostly, but still Stevie-Nicks-ethereal.

The painting has come a long way since my last post, with the Cerulean blue sky glazed over with a Foundation White, then a sycamore tree referenced from Bouguereau’s painting “A Young Woman Fending Off Eros” painted over it en grisaille using a Raw Umber and white to create a three toned base version. The lighter leaves are on the outside, while the darker two tones work their way towards the centre of the tree. After it was dry I loosely glazed the leaves with a mixture of Sap Green, Raw Umber and Iron Oxide Yellow, then used a rag to soften the glaze and clean all around the edges back to the blue sky. I also used the rag to pull off some of the glaze and create little pockets of light in between leaves. When that all dried I used Ceramic White to crete a cloudscape, dropping in little of the Iron Oxide Yellow for some colour. I’ll go over the entire sky – including the tree – with a unifying glaze of the same Ceramic White, then re-establish the leaves once again.

The girls have colour on their dresses now – a warm Red Ochre on the girl on the left, a Yellow Ochre on the right. I blended the colour into wet Foundation White. The flesh on the left hand twin has been given a second layer of colour which deepened the shadows and brought some colour into her lips, the bottom of the nose and around her eyes. I used a Raw Umber on a OO Script brush to deepen shadows and redraw the darker areas of the faces. The girl in the doorway has had a first layer of flesh colour and plenty of white to bring the lace of her dress to life. I’ve begun to add Raw Umber, redrawing the figure and giving it some depth in the shadows.

Finally, the architecture has been treated to some colour, with a nice Viridian filling the stripes on the ground, while Naples yellow scumbled with Foundation white over the walls behind the girls, except the interior behind the girl in the doorway who’s now flanked by a deep mustard yellow ochre.


Bringing colour to the skin.

The first layer of flesh is appearing over the grey of the girl on the left, but feels quite pale and insubstantial at the moment. I will want to address this in the next layers, introducing pinks, blues and reds into the mix to give the skin more solidity. I’ve also worked on her hair, picking up the light and dark areas – a glaze over this will work nicely.

I love the way a glaze of white over a layer of Cobalt Blue makes a sky look rich yet hazy, but thought I’d try a different hue this time, so I’ve covered the sky in the upper center of the painting in a base layer of Cerulean Blue, which is well known as a sky colour. I don’t recall having ever used it before. I’m looking forward to playing with clouds and layering the glazes over it, although because I plan to put a sycamore tree  behind the wall (taking a leaf out of Bouguereau’s book, so to speak) I probably won’t put a great deal of cloud structure into this one.

Monday I had a unique opportunity to spend a couple of very pleasant hours up close to the Bouguereau at the Weisman gallery in Malibu, thanks to Michael Zakian, the curator and art historian at Pepperdine University. Alexey Steele, Tony Pro, Jeremy Lipking, Mike Adams and I had a wonderful time getting close to the paintings and taking the opportunity to really examine the detail of these lovely works. There’s a photo of us together on Facebook looking like a bunch of gangsters.

I’ve posted a photo of the painting, then a close up of the beautifully painted hand that rests upon her hip, which I sketched out for reference. This morning I had some time to chat with John Nava, the amazing painter and creator of the figurative tapestries at the Los Angeles Cathedral, and we briefly discussed Bougeureau, who we both admire for his technical skill. John pointed out that despite his technical excellence there’s a lack of substance in the great Frenchman’s work – and I have to agree that his work tends to be sentimental althoughhis skill is so intensely wonderful that it transcends his lack of depth.

On the reverse side of the same wall there is a little study for a different painting that is of great interest to studio painters seeking to emulate the technique of the great French academic artist. In this little picture we can see the process of painting in his method.  First a drawn sketch to feel out the composition, then a little painted sketch like this example, inking out the outlines and making a loose generalization of the areas of colour. Next, a more formal drawing of the shapes on a large canvas, then rendering the actual painting.

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.

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!