Category: The Cardinal Virtues

Sunday morning I took photos of Lindsay, who’s a tall and slender young lady from my drawing class, whose looks are reminiscent of some of Burne-Jones’ lovely models, like his Sibyl in the panel painting to the left. Although I’m particularly impressed by the grace of Aesthetic movement paintings, I don’t want to imitate them, so I’ll paint her in contemporary clothing while using Pre-Raphaelite techniques to do the work. I think emulation of the past is fine, but imitation is only a technical exercise. I want to use classical techniques to create  millennial paintings.

I planned to use the images as reference for the musicians in the Priestess painting, but I’m so pleased with the results that I’ve changed my mind and want to paint them as individual works in their own right. With that in mind I asked Joe to prepare some panels with canvas stretched over them then I spent a little time gessoing them. I’m putting the gesso down quite thickly because the panels are small and light enough to hang as they are, which means I can sand the gesso to a very smooth surface without fear of it being damaged upon transfer to stretcher bars.

I’m looking forward to doing these  –  the photos came out very nicely, and there’s a simplicity to them that I think will transfer well to the paintings.

I’m still working on the family portrait of my Uncle and Aunt, which should be complete fairly soon. I’ve put down the skin tone over the grisaille on my Aunt’s face, and completed the grisaille on my Uncle’s face. I hope to complete the painting by Saturday, freeing me up to move on to painting some small works of graceful feminine beauty.

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.

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.

With the new semester comes great buzz; new students appear in new classes and a flurry of activity takes place to make sure that everything is working properly and studies begin smoothly. I’ve been hard pressed to paint anything much, but did get started on work on the Magician painting, sketching in some of the Foundation White forms of the figure and beginning the puff-ball clouds overhead. I enjoy this stage of a painting, when things begin to emerge from an otherwise formless canvas.

Now that the students have returned work on the big virtues painting has renewed. Casey has continued with his efforts to complete the sky, putting down a glaze layer of Foundation White over the Cobalt blue, making it look nicely misty and fading away from a bright centre where the lamp will be positioned that lights the East end of the room where the painting will be installed. You can really see the difference between the glazed right side of the blue and the intense untouched Cobalt blue at left.

I’ve finished the first draft of the Empress’ most recent face, now painting my daughter in the role of the main character, (she got a crick in her neck from keeping her head in that position while I tried to match her head to the position of the painting). Re-working the head has been a tricky project, but it’s paying off, and I think this is a better choice for the painting because the first face was positioned poorly, with a strange expression while the second, although very pretty, was simply incorrectly positioned and didn’t fit the composition.

I painted the face in wet white, the Pre-Raphaelite technique of painting the flesh into a wet foundation. My preference is to emphasize shadows once this layer has dried. It’s not unlike painting a velatura layer when working on an en grisaille painting, but it tends toward a softer value over the whole face. You can see the slight difference between the colour of the faces in the third phot0, which shows the neighboring girls alongside the newly painted Empress.

This is the first draft, so expect some changes to come, with the addition of hair, shadows and eyebrows (!).

The warm yellow and orange paint I’ve added to the dresses so far looks incredibly bright over the gray tones that have been the work of the last couple of months. I’ll continue adding the colours onto all the dresses and the skin, then glaze them back with a transparent white that will unify them all with the rest of the painting.

I’m spending increasing amounts of time looking at the painting and thinking about what effect my actions will have on it. Next step, to render the shadows onto the marble and also suggest some reflections on the surface, then to add pillars and figure out the shape of the trees and blossom. The pillars are important because they will emphasize the threshold that the courtyard represents, because the Empress is the guardian of that entrance.

Last night I visited Continental Art Supply over in Reseda to attend a special event there to meet representatives from major paint and art supply companies, among others Art Graham of M. Graham paint. He was, as always, charming company, filled with the self-assurance of a man who knows his work is well done, quietly and capably passing on his knowledge with a calm confidence gained from decades of working with pigments in pursuit of producing the best paint he can make. As the man who made it possible for me to continue painting in oil without using turpentine, Mr. Graham is something of a heroic figure to me, so this was the painters equivalent of meeting Elvis, or David Bowie. Thanks for making such great paint!

Two tasks occupied my attention in the studio, first, softening the clouds a little with a glaze of Ceramic White, so there is a bit less of a sense of an impending storm. I used a soft rag to even out a scumbled coat of the paint, which blurred the details of the cumuli and made the sky much gentler. I allowed the white glaze to cover the land on the horizon too, then ragged most of it off to make the land-mass blend to the sky a little.

Finally, a little time spent on fixing the architecture on the left side proved to be worthwhile, with much improved lines emerging to shape the marble balustrade. But I’m not finished with the shapes of the stone: the right side will additional reworking to make it right, particularly the back edge of the curve and I see at least one line that will require further replacement on the left.

My students are doing excellent work in the studio, which makes me particularly happy. We have only five weeks until the end of semester!

The sky has been painted gray in preparation for a coat of Cobalt Blue, which is the favorite (and most expensive) blue chosen by Alma Tadema for those intense, richly vibrant skies that set off the marble in the foreground of his classic paintings. This evening I picked up two 150ml tubes made by M. Graham, which should be enough to cover the skies of both the Empress and the Virtues, allowing for clouds and the central bright area of the big painting. The empress will be a solid blue, so I must work a fade into the gray before applying the blue in order to find that soft progression from light at the horizon to darkness up high.

My student Casey Hickman has started his blog, documenting his work on the Virtues mural, which now has a blue-grey sky based in over most of the upper half of the canvas. As expected with a painting so large, it’s coming along slowly, but moving in the right direction; I can better see how the composition is going to work now that the sky isn’t bright orange.

I spent the afternoon working on this face, softening the features and rendering the first layer of the hair. I’ll edit the hair so it’s a little less bouffant – you can just make out the top of the head now, where the dark edge first shows up, while the back of the head needs to move in past that first dark shadow on the left. I’m much happier with the shape of this head now, but I need to do more work on that of the reclining Empress herself.

I didn’t know that Andrew Lloyd Webber was such a fan of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. I discovered that he owns a huge collection of the paintings, accumulated over a decade. In 2003 he held an exhibit at the Royal Academy that I wish I’d been able to visit. I enjoyed the comment in these exhibit notes about Pre-Raphaelite art in the show “that it is not surprising that some critics have felt unsympathetic towards it for Victorian painting has long been unfashionable. It is important to remember, however, that Pre-Raphaelite painting grew from a spirit of disenchantment with modern life.” History repeats.

I’ve continued with the marble, adding a soft glaze of Iron Oxide Red around the breaks between the slabs, ragging off and lining the cracks, letting the rusty colour dry, then re-lining the cracks with Raw Sienna, softening the line with my finger, then re-establishing it inconsistently along the seam. Using a OO Silver brand script lining brush for the fine lines. I think I’ll need to apply a cool glaze of Ceramic White with a touch of cobalt blue in it, then bright Titanium White highlights to finish this off.

I’ve also put down the first layer on two more of the girls’ faces and based in their hair, realizing in the process that I’ve painted the first two with too much shadow, reverting to the chiaroscuro I used to do when I was deeply enamored of paintings by Caravaggio. I really want to pay attention to a lighter worldview, having spent a long time studying darkness. My  shadows need to become lighter.