I enlisted my kids to help put the first coat of gesso onto the big canvas. They’re really good at helping me in the studio, seldom complaining and usually cheerful, especially when there are donuts and lunch offered as tasty treats.
After lunch I shot photos of Hayley, one of my drawing students, who modeled in an empire maxi dress as two of the virtues: Faith (holding a candle and pointing to the sky) and Prudence (looking into a mirror while holding a snake in the other hand). Although I have yet to design the entire scheme of the big piece I know roughly what it’s going to look like, and and have a half-figured-out imaginary world brewing in my mind as a setting for the figures of the virtues and the traveler. I’m particularly interested in the gardens of the Palatine Winter King and Queen and Sandro Botticelli’s paintings as sources of inspiration for the setting, so alongside alchemical symbolism and Neo-Platonic allegorical figures don’t be surprised to see lots of trees and inter-twining vines, with flowers and romantic, dreamy women.
I’ve done a little sketching for the thirty footer, and decided to work with the seven virtues, Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice, with Faith, Hope and Charity. The wall I’m thinking of for the piece has a large chair and podium in the centre of it, so I think this might work well because of the distinction between the four cardinal virtues and the three church virtues. Hopefully you can see the drawing well enough to make out the figures standing on their gilded spheres. This is the first sketch, so I fully expect to see change before I commit to shooting pictures for the actual painting, nevertheless, I like the idea. I’d started drawing for a quite different piece with a magician entertaining a crowd, but this is more appropriate for the venue and the composition of the wall that’s available. Painting the virtues is also quite fitting to my liking for classical training in the studio; since my students are going to be helping with the piece I’d like them to have an opportunity to work on a substantial piece of work that reflects the foundational training they’ve already had.
I’ve already painted (and sold) Temperance and Justice, and I like the tall playing card design I produced for them. In this case I’ll be working on seven images of virtue instead of the three (Fortitude, Justice, Temperance) found in the tarot, so I’m digging deeply into renaissance symbolism found in emblem books and alchemical texts to make sure that the imagery is correct.
By painting a glaze of very light grey over the sky and taking most of it off with a rag I’ve brought solidity to the bottom of the clouds, then put on some pure titanium white on the top edges, picking up the highlighted bright sunlit cotton wool of the cumulus masses.
That’s one of those big Californian June skies we’ve been having this month. I love this place.
The bear needed much more substance, so using my palette knife I scraped white over the first layer to build depth and dimension. Soon I’ll put a lot more detail into the pelt.
There was a large group of cheerleading trainers here for a weekend retreat to learn how to pass on their extraordinary gymnastics to high school kids. I’ve never seen such amazing flips and spins as I did today from these young men and women. I hope to shoot pictures of one of them tomorrow for the scorpion painting – funny how these things fall into place so perfectly – synchronicity is wonderful.
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself in the studio, helping Rich cut panels in the new woodshop, setting up the skeleton for the Angel of Death painting and making the landscape for the Fortitude piece.
First the woodshop, which is completely wonderful. Rich has a week to go and paint seascapes on the California coast, so he needed to rip a sheet of plywood down to panels, ready to gesso and carry to the beach. (Painting seascapes isn’t a bad way of life, if you think about it.) I don’t want to get repetitive, but getting the shop going right next to the studio is so good, I can’t wait to get my students in there making panels and stretcher bars.
We got to spend an hour or two chatting and eating a meal together, and he helped with arranging the skeleton for the Angel project. This was really fun to do, in a gruesome way. The skeleton looks like a rock star again, with his jaw propped open into a big grin, arms raised as if he’s welcoming applause – but this guy is stepping on skulls in a pile at his feet.
Finally, I’ve added a desert landscape into the background of Fortitude, following the pattern of the other two virtue cards Justice and Temperance I’ve slightly curved the horizon to give a slightly fish-eyed appearance to the painting, bringing the girl and the bear into the centre of an implied circle in the landscape. I added a bit of width to the shoulder of the bear, feeling that he was a little too square and flat against the edge of the panel.
This evening I’m off to the ballet to see my daughter dance – perfect!
Now Fortitude’s sky has clouds and my model has legs and the bruin is becoming more defined. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s work, when I hope to get another layer of sky down, and to develop some mountains in the distance. There’s almost enough information down to move into the colour stages of painting the figure.
Wouldn’t it be a blast to have a celebration each time I finish a card? We’ll invite people to come and eat and drink and to see the gradual accumulation of the deck as it includes the entire trump group. Each event will have as its theme the card that has been most recently produced, so we’ll have a Hanged Man night, a Priestess night, a Magician night, and so on…
No canvas has shown up yet – I’m totally impatient for the package to arrive.
After my morning class I got started preparing the angels and devils sketches, moving toward decisions on what these big pieces are going to be.
I’m particularly enjoying the scorpion-like people in the desert, and the hermit with the three figures in the distance. The two angels are more obvious, lacking subtlety, so they might not make the cut. I plan to continue drawing to see where the ideas go to, following the pathway the images take rather than trying to dictate their growth too severely. I like the way that one of the figures has fallen to the ground in the second scorpion sketch, for example, it brings a narrative to the image. Will the other scorpion person attack him now he’s down? Why is he on the floor?
I also spent a bit of time altering the hands in the Fortitude painting, giving them a bit of drama as they move to hold the mouth of the bear, controlling it without effort – not unlike the magician card. I think placing them in action is more interesting than having them already engaged.
Short on cobalt blue paint, I used pigment mixed with a little oil, then added walnut alkyd to produce the lovely rich colour seen here. There’s something very satisfying about making your own paint, but it takes a lot longer and I’m very grateful that i can get such good colours in pre-mixed tubes.
I spent a pleasant weekend camping under a cloudy sky, most unusual for Southern California at this time of year, so we took dozens of pictures of cloud formations as reference for paintings.
On Saturday Terry Spehar-Fahey and her husband took us to lunch at my favorite sushi place, then we went on to the gallery to visit the show. It was lovely to see a steady stream of visitors to the space, and to chat with a couple of people about the work. I need to publish a book about the work to clarify the more obscure references to alchemy and prehistory for people.
The canvas is on its way!
…waiting for the canvas to arrive so I can get started preparing the big panels! I’m hoping that it will come in the next couple of days. The panels are leaning against the wall patiently, although sometimes I have the strange paranoid sensation that they’re chuckling quietly to themselves, “yeah right… have a good time, ha ha hah…” But this nervousness is superficial because although these are big pieces they require the same amount of work as a smaller painting, needing the exact same work to make the figures correct and the same techniques to finish them, so ignoring the chimeras of inner trepidation I’m focusing on my excitement to begin, for these will make a really impressive addition to my body of work.
Meanwhile, the Fortitude bear has grown, I’ve sketched some new hands (which are no good and will have to be completely redone, but doing these has helped me to understand how the correct hands will go. I’ve called Jen to see if she can drop in sometime in the next few days so I can use her hands in the same light as that in which I had her pose in the first place, so with a little luck this will all stay on track to be finished in a week or two.
I’m still looking for my models for the Devil painting, which is morphing in my imagination. I’m not so set on having overweight slaves because that would imply that greed is the only vice that is available to prevent the initiate from finding their way to the divine, which among other things is actually blocked by enslavement to material possessions, laziness, greed, lust, and excess.
I’ve laid down the first layer of the bear’s head, but will wait until I get it more established before deciding on the arrangement of the hands over his muzzle. He’ll need a lot more definition in his fur to make this painting work properly, but I’m confident that with careful treatment he’ll turn out well.
The face is much improved, benefitting from a bit of attention this morning and afternoon. She’ll need some hands next.
I moved her eye up a little, her eyebrow up quite a lot, extended the nose and chin out a little and softened the transitions between lighter and darker areas of value.
The bear looks very dark now that the face of fortitude is pretty solidly established, so I’ll need to get on with doing some bear studies in order to get into painting him.
I need to find models for the enchained slaves of the devil so that I can put the next composition together. Male and female volunteers please contact me via facebook! (My link is in the right sidebar) You need to be of a Rubens-esque body type, live in Southern California, and be okay about nudity.