Traveler, trimmed at the top. Perhaps I'll take another couple of inches from the bottom.
Magician trimmed at the top and bottom. Much better!
After a few days of humming and hahing I’ve committed to editing the Traveler and Magician paintings from their earlier square composition. Now rectangles, the compositions look much better balanced, with the focus of attention moving down to the sun and the hand and face of the Traveler, while in the Magician the relationship of the sky to the land feels more compressed and dramatic. I’m looking forward to building the stretcher bars for these paintings now that I feel more certain of their shape.
We’ve rigged up a camera obscura in the studio. It makes beautiful softly focused images appear magically in the darkened room. I love the shallow focal length – it makes very specific areas of the image very crisp, but these quickly drop off into gently diffused areas of softness.
There’s a lot going on this week. Tomorrow I’m going to Ventura College to see an opening of figurative art, titled “Skin Deep: Artists Examine the Nude” including some work by John Nava, whose fabulous paintings were rendered as tapestries in the Los Angeles Cathedral. I’m looking forward to meeting him very much.
I’ll be at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday at the Los Angeles Fine Art Show: Historic and Traditional, when I’m serving on a panel discussion titled Realism Today – Old Methods, New Visions
Saturday afternoon, January 21, 2012. 3.00-4.15 pm
Panelists [in alphabetical order]
- Adrian Gottlieb, artist and atelier director
- Michael Pearce, artist and chair of the art department at California Lutheran University
- Kate Sammons, artist
- Michael Zakian, art historian and director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University
Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine
I had the pleasure of hosting a studio talk at my space at CLU yesterday afternoon, including a brief demonstration of glaze painting, using a Sap Green over the background of the Star to show the luminosity and flexibility of oil painting. Between twenty and thirty people attended, and we had a very pleasant afternoon together. I spoke about the allegorical meaning of the four big paintings, alchemical symbolism, renaissance emblems, traditional painting techniques and teaching.
I was moved by an email I received this afternoon from Margaret Fieweger who told me that she was reminded of two poems as I spoke about the big paintings around the studio. First, accompanying the Magician, Fire and Ice – a piece by Robert Frost written in 1923
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
The second piece she chose to accompany the Traveler was Pied Beauty written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877.
Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.
I’m very pleased to be able to share these four images with you. They’re the result of a year and a half of painting.
The Angel of Death, The Magician, The Empress, The Traveler.
All Oil on Canvas, 96″ x 96″. Copyright Michael Pearce 2011
I’ve painted the Magician’s raised hand holding the bowl, with the first layer of some flames burning in it. To complete it I’ll glaze over this white fire with some yellow. I don’t think that the colour needs to get too complex in this case, fire being pure light; the challenge here is get the transparency of the flames correct. I mulled over designing the wand for a while, and decided not to make it too complex, because I thought it would be more of a distraction than a good addition.
The hand was a bit tricky because the fingers were stacked on top of each other, but I resolved it by simplifying the arrangement a little. I enjoyed adding some Prussian Blue to the shadows beside the lapel of the jacket and into the hair, making a very deep dark over the brown and creating a soft blue edge around the hair on the back of her head, an effect that I have loved for many years. I also glazed the rings in the belt with the blue, making it ready for white highlights tomorrow.
The Prussian Blue I mentioned yesterday has deepened and darkened the water in the pool closest to us, increasing the illusion of reflection in the water a little more. The colour of a reflected sky is deeper hued that the colour of the real sky.
I’ve added some of the same Prussian Blue to the black and the solitary blue rags tied to the sticks that form the cross, because they needed a little variety of hue to make them feel more solid. I’ve done the same with variation of hue on the other flags too. When we describe an object as “blue” (or any other colour), we actually simplify what’s actually happening with the colour of that surface, which in fact vibrates between a few different shades of blue, and may even include any number of other colours in its surface. Even a white wall has a soft gradation of colour as we look across ts surface, so when painting any area it’s important to remember to add some different colours to make it more convincing. I’ve dropped a little glaze of the Prussian Blue into the shadows of the rocks, deepening them and creating a little warm / cool vibration. It’s a problematic paint because it tends to stain whatever it touches, so you have to be much more careful with it than with other colours.
Those little stones scattered across the ground are glazed with Indian Yellow and Naples Yellow over the white I put down yesterday, actually making them a bit too colourful, so I’ll let this layer dry then re-glaze them with a little Raw Sienna and Van Dyke Brown to drop them down. The gold glitters a bit too brightly right now!
I’ve made significant progress on the raised hand, using Foundation White and Burnt Sienna over the roughed in layer I had already done. I’ve redrawn the fingers to correct some slightly inaccurate work, and made highlights and shadows more solid. I ran out of time, so the work isn’t quite complete, but there’s enough there to use as a basis for a final layer tomorrow, cleaning up and finishing. While I hope to get the other hand with the bowl done tomorrow I’m also really looking forward to designing a twist to the handle of the Magician’s wand.
I’ve retouched the feet, using Iron Oxide Red and a little Foundation White to make them much more effective, adding shadows around them to ground them onto the dirt of the painting. The exposed stomach had a touch of the same, quite quickly applied and cleaned up with a Van Dyke Brown to redefine the edges.
The pool is turning blue, with a touch of Cobalt Blue mixed into some Foundation White fading from lighter at the top to darker at the bottom. I retouched the clouds to make them white because they were too orange. The new glaze has made the reflections sit back into the surface a bit more than they did, which I like, so I’ll let them dry before adding another glaze of Prussian Blue over the lower half. This is a great glazing blue that will stretch its range from almost black to a lovely blue, perfect for darkening the surface toward the bottom edge of the pool. Reflections in water are of a darker value than the sky they reveal.
I’ve retouched the little gold rocks with white so I can glaze them again later with a yellow to make them appear like gold.
I’m making preparations for the Priestess, getting a dress made for my model because in this piece I think the clothing needs to be really specific. It’s going to take a while to get everything prepared, so I’m also figuring out how the Hanged Man will work in sketches.
I’ve put down the first rough layer of Foundation White that will become the Magician’s bare feet. Pretty plain right now, they’ll be re-drawn and get a couple of layers more before they’re complete. I’m quite pleased to get them started, because they have needed attention for such a long time during the process of making the painting.
I’ve chosen to paint the feet bare because I like the idea that the Magician is feeling the earth between her toes, literally grounded as she completes the alchemical work to find the quintessence.
I’ve continued with the work of glazing the sky so that the blue and orange layers now sit behind a transparent layer of white mixed with a little Cobalt Blue. This makes the sky vibrate over areas of warmer and cooler colour, as the real sky does in the early morning or at twilight. I used a balled up rag to pounce the paint, making a smoother finish than can be achieved with brushes. Finally, using Foundation White, I brushed in highlights to the tops of the clouds, then pounced the white to make soft, wispy edges around them and softening the bottoms.
Finally, and very hard to see in the photo, I’ve added a little patchy white to the landscape here and there, just to make the surface feel a little more irregular.
The Silver White is working nicely as a very transparent, milky glaze over the orange and blue sky. It’s making the sky recede a lot more than it did when it was all orange, and is picking up some very nice warm / cool vibration from the brightly coloured layer beneath it. I can’t reach the top of the painting when it’s siting on the floor (it’s eight feet high), so I’ll have to move the platform over tomorrow so I can complete the work, work on the step-ladder for a couple of hours.
In addition to glazing the clouds to make them less technicoloured I’ve added a line of Foundation white along the line of the horizon where the salt flats are furthest away, making the landscape feel deeper too.
To my great pleasure today my model for the Magician came to the studio to visit. Sam did a great job posing for the painting, so it was a real treat to see her enjoying it, although I had to leave shortly after she arrived, so there wasn’t a great deal of time to chat, and I completely forgot to ask if I could take a few more pictures. I want to paint the Magician’s bare feet, without shoes, so that the character is grounded on the earth, which I think is appropriate for a person dealing with the elements so closely.
The orange sky has been glazed with a Cobalt Blue, ragged off and partly reglazed at the bottom with a new paint, a Silver White that I promised I would try out for my friend Steve Aufhauser. It seems to be a finely ground lead white that glazes rather well with a delicate milky white finish which feels a little bit blue. I’ll try it again in work tomorrow and see how it is when its less thinned by the medium. I’ll let this horizon line area dry then repeat the glaze but carry it further up into the sky, resulting in a more opaque skyline that gradually softens and allows more of the colour of the orange and blue behind it to come through.
I spent a little time enjoying the work of Jeremy Lipking on his website, noting a neat effect that he gets by using a highlight of dashed in white with a touch of yellow or perhaps a hint of orange in it against a blue grey background, making the light pop against the cooler area. I like it!