Category: Priestess

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.

Second layer grisaille.

Added shadows and hair.

I’ve had a busy time in the studio over the last week, with my daughter helping me make progress by putting down a base coat onto the walls behind the doorway – I’ll add shadows on the walls and floor behind her soon. I’ve finished almost all of the second layer of grey work on all three girls, who are causing Elizabeth to suffer great jealousy! I’ll have to paint her again soon to reassure her. The white cloth that the seated girl is wearing has been a treat, because of all the opportunities offered by the lacy bits of trim, ribbons and so forth. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.

The twins have gained a full head of hair, a book, and some shadows to put them onto the ground. I’ll take a closer look at the fabric next, checking on some of the folds and shadows in the cloth.

I had a lovely surprise yesterday when the beautiful Celeste Yarnell and her artist husband Nazim dropped in to the studio and shared a cup of tea with me. Celeste was a childhood crush of mine when she appeared in Star Trek as Chekov’s girlfriend Yeoman Landon in the Star Trek episode, “The Apple”. And if that wasn’t enough to make an adolescent’s heart beat faster she was busy kissing Elvis a year later in his movie Live A Little, Love A Little. Star Trek and Elvis!

Here's the rough composition in grey as it stands right now, in its most elementary state. I'll begin marble, foliage and wall treatments once I've finished the first layer of grey on the girls.

The grey work continues to expand across the canvas – it’s beginning to feel like a proper painting now. I’m having a great time working on the piece, which is the most reminiscent of a pre-raphaelite composition that I’ve done so far, although I doubt that anyone would mistake this for a nineteenth century painting. I will push pretty hard to finish the grisaille this week, perhaps even starting on the colour work if I can. I’d like to begin a new piece as soon as possible, perhaps a flying painting of resurrection and angels next.

This girl is listening to her twin.

This one's explaining how to arrange the circle

And this girl wishes she could join in the working.

The grisaille work is moving along quickly, with the three major figures already painted in the first layer of the grisaille. I want to get more of the bodies complete, then I’ll make a second pass at all three, fixing all the bits that aren’t the way I like them.

I’m thoroughly enjoying painting them, the work is moving fast and pleasantly. I particularly enjoyed the greys and whites that are beginning to shape the structure of the third girl’s dress. She’s sitting in a doorway to the left of the twins, wishing she could participate in their secretive reading of the book between them.

I’ve moved the height of the wall behind the twins up so that their faces will be surrounded by one area of colour in the finished piece, pulling focus to them. I’m planning the colour palette more carefully than usual, taking my inspiration from Waterhouse’s lovely Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Stanhope’s fabulous canvas “Love and the Maiden” at the Cult of Beauty exhibit at the Legion of Honour.

Detail of the center of the painting

Detail of the left hand girl

Detail of the right hand girl

It was so satisfying to get to work on drawing the girls in the new painting. We’ve been very focused on preparing the conference, including a trip to San Francisco to visit Sadie Valerie and the wonderful exhibit at the Legion of Honor, the Cult of Beauty show that has traveled from London’s Victoria and Albert museum. It’s a magnificent display of paintings by pre-raphaelites and other aesthetics set within elegant furniture and decor from the Arts and Crafts movement, including some gorgeous William Morris tapestry and paper designs. Aptly named, the show really made me feel like a member of the cult of beauty. In a world so centered on violence and ugliness we need it now more than ever!

I’ve been working in grey pencil to render the first outlines of the girls, which are coming along quite nicely. I’m very happy to be working on this. I’m composing it based on nineteenth century works by Waterhouse, who I admire greatly, but I will be careful to make sure that this is the world of the present. I’m particularly concerned that my paintings are 21st century works that avoid nostalgia.

I’m thoroughly enjoying myself in the studio working out the architecture of the new painting, making shapes for a courtyard beside the ocean somewhere on the coast of California. I want to create a setting for two girls to look at a big old book, under warm sunlight and shady leaves, in the golden sunshine of early evening. They’re sitting in a private world, but among trees and plants, with stucco and marble. I think their lives are comfortable, but they want excitement, so they’re exploring the book to learn how to work magic. Another girl will probably be watching them from the doorway on the right. In order to get some sense of really successful spatial composition I looked through Peter Trippi’s excellent monograph on Waterhouse, one of my favorite Pre-Raphaelite painters. Several of his paintings make use of leafy courtyard spaces in this kind of composition, with pretty girls reading, or listening to music.

The painting looks terrible right now with nothing but structure roughed in. I’ve not worked this way before – usually I start with figures then invent backgrounds around them -this time I created the world first. I like this, but I had to be careful to consider the point of view so that the eyeline in the photo references would match that in the painting.

I shot reference photos of Trew for the painting – she’ll be both of the girls – with Aaron standing in as her friend for reference when she swapped characters. I’m very happy with the way the pictures turned out. Trew’s a natural model.

I spent some time bringing white and grey to the neck, hair, shirt, jacket and pants to bring some substance to these areas of the painting, first noticing that Amelia’s neck was over-simplified and in need of re-modeling. Shaping the neck with hair on the left side, I’ve reworked the highlights to bring more complex shape to the area where the clavicles meet at the base of the neck.

The shirt was overly simple, so I’ve begun adding some folds into the fabric of her shirt, perhaps adding some pattern later. The leather jacket’s texture and colour are both good, but the design of the lapel on the right needed a little reworking, so I’ve put some whites in to add reflections and the stitched seams. Finally, I began work on the right leg, where the light should brighten the fabric so that limb comes forward from the jacket. Everything is white and grey in preparation for glazing.

It sounds like I’ll be able to shoot pictures for the musicians in the Priestess painting on Sunday. I hope so. I want to have a plan for the next big painting. Ally showed me the fabric that she picked up Sunday, which looks like it will be perfect for the dress, being sheer and clingy, so it should create lots of folding drapes. She’s getting started making the dress now, so perhaps we’ll be ready in a week or so.

My colleague (and neighbor) the awesome theatrical designer Nate Sinnott says he will help with the rigging for the hanged man, so I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that I’ll get reference shots for both Priestess and Hanged Man this fortnight.

While I rode my bicycle to the cafe to pick up milk for tea I noticed a particularly interesting plant that I remember my father talking about; he said the acanthus was the leaf that was used for corinthian columns in Greek and Roman architecture. I stopped to snap some reference pictures with my phone, planning to paint some of these dramatic leaves in the right side foreground around where Amelia stands.

The virile energy of the fool and the manifested energy of the magician precede the energy of creation and order found in the image of the Priestess. In Case’s deck the Priestess sits solidly between the two pillars of the dyad, but the Marseilles deck conceals them beneath a veil behind her, with just a hint of carved stone on her left, suggesting that the triune mystery has not been revealed in fullness. In this card access through the pillars has not yet been opened, being guarded by an unusual watchwoman.

Some Tarot aficionados have attempted to explain the Priestess with a shocking anecdote that satisfies our human attraction to scandal, discovering that a distant cousin of the Sforza family, was executed for her heretical role as Pope Joan, the unfortunate female pope. Unfortunately, although the High Priestess is shown wearing the three layered papal tiara, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries this was not necessarily a reference to poor Joan and doesn’t mean that this was the image of some sort of Gnostic female pope; instead the tiara was used to establish this kind of picture as an allegory for the handmaiden of Christ: the body of the church. She holds a book on her lap – the holy writings; to this day the Catholic Church’s role is as the protector of the dogmatic tradition of the word of God; a role that the heirs to St. Peter have fiercely protected. The Priestess is the church; her book is the holy writings.

(excerpted from my tarot journal)

We’ve stretched the canvas over the panel ready for the Priestess, now we need to give it a few coats of gesso before the drawing begins. Ally has drawings of the dress made and Veronica has been measured for the fit, so as soon as it’s stitched and the hat made we’ll be ready to go. Meanwhile, I’ve found one of my male students who’s prepared to be the model for the Hanged Man, so I want to get the rig for the gravity boots set up so we can shoot reference pictures as soon as possible.

On the left of the photo you can catch a glimpse of a painting I’m doing for my mother of her brother (my Uncle Harry) and his wife (my Aunt Betty). It couldn’t be better timing for a little painting like this, right in between projects. I’ve done the first rough layer of Harry’s face en grisaille over a rich Burnt Sienna ground that will warm up the flesh nicely.

In the middle of the photo there’s a glimpse of a lovely blue that I painted as the sky for a small Temperance. I don’t remember why I stopped work on it, perhaps I was just distracted from it, but I think I should do a little more to it and complete it. The bars behind it in the stack against the wall are the stretchers for the Amelia Beheads the Alchemical King painting in which she’s reaching for the ball of light, which also needs little work to be complete.