Category: The Star

  I’m very pleased to publish these two pictures of The Queen of Cups and the Star as they appear in the New Romantic Figure exhibit. I love the tabernacle frames. We’ve matched the colour of the decorative trim around the Star to the Iron Oxide of the base coat so it picks up the colour of the painting nicely. The Reds of the Queen’s dress are set off so nicely against the white of her frame that I was reluctant to decorate it, so presently it’s a simple white, very classical, very clean.

I’m so happy to get this show rolling, it’s been close to my heart for a couple of years. It looks lovely now that it’s got good lighting. The twelve page full colour brochures arrived this evening, ready for the reception tomorrow night, and I have about eighty posters to give away too. Ask me for one if you can make it to the event.

The Kwan Fong Gallery is at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California, 91360

The Opening Reception is at 7pm on Saturday 20th August, 2011.

What a treat it was to see the paintings in these frames for the first time! Although they were still only painted with primer this morning I could see that they will lift the paintings into an altogether different plane. I’m really grateful to Stacey, Aaron and Joe for their help. These are fabulous!

On the right there’s a shot of the Star frame in it’s yellow state. Using Photoshop I tested a variety of colours for both the Star and the Queen of Cups (which I keep calling the Lady in Red because of that lovely old Chris de Burgh song).

Although I’ve been very busy with the last couple of days of my classes (I teach Drawing and Painting classes during the summer) I did find some time to get some more work done on the stained glass window, which needs one more layer to complete the coloured light that’s cast upon the boxing. I used Ceramic White as a glaze over the panes, lifting it off with my finger to blur it. I still need to paint the coloured light that’s passed through the glass onto the boxing of the glass.

The Green Man painting got framed today, in a deep box with a receding molding. I like this unusual shape very much and plan to do similar framing for more work in the future. It’s really simple, using base molding with a decorative trim inside the leading edge. I like it in white, which gives a nice contrast to a pretty dark painting. This one won’t be in the exhibit, I’ll have to save it for the shows next year.



The legs bothered me because they were too dark and roughly painted, so I worked on an additional layer of Ceramic White and a flesh mix of Cadmium Orange and Viridian with Foundation White to raise the value a little, then adding a touch of Ceramic here and there to highlight the dress and arms.

She’s done.

The Star’s destined for a group show of romantic figurative paintings that’s going to be in the Kwan Fong Gallery on 20th August. It’s going to be quite a show with an extraordinary group of artists! We’re making preparations for the exhibit now, building partition walls and installing lighting, preparing to print flyers and posters. Mark your calendars! The opening reception will be at 7.00 pm.

I’m so pleased to be showing alongside this group of artists. I admire them all.

New Romantic Figure Painting

Including works by Peter Adams, Mia Tavonatti, Tony Pro, Alexey Steele, Jeremy Lipking, Michael Adams, Cyn McCurry and Michael Pearce.

Saturday 20th August    Exhibit opens
Saturday 20th August 7pm    Opening Reception
Saturday 10th September 7pm     Artists reception
Friday September 30th   Exhibit closes

Although ivy is the bane of my gardening life, for this little study for the allegory of the green man it’s the perfect plant. It’s impossible to destroy, totally invasive and undeniably full of indestructible life. It’s energy and tenacity is timeless.

Now that the purple has been gently added into the shadows the face is taking on more of a three dimensional appearance, which will increase even more when I paint some shadows behind those leaves. Presently I’ve used a local ground of grey to sketch in the shapes and veins of the leaves, which will gain far more substance when a glaze of green goes over them. The orange of the Iron Oxide Red ground is shortly going to disappear under a glaze of greens and browns, resembling the background of the Star, which is almost sad, because I love that orange and grey combination. One day I’ll figure out how to use it in a painting as the end result, not an early stage in the process.

The Star painting is complete and awaiting photography. When it’s been shot I’ll post an image here. If you want to see the actual thing come to the CLU gallery in late August, when it will be on exhibit. I’ll post more about that event shortly too. There will be some fabulous paintings by some amazing artists who are reshaping figurative painting in the US.

A pleasant afternoon visiting the Getty with Mike Adams and a group of my students didn’t leave a great deal of time in the studio, but after dropping off the students and taking a short break for a glass of good Californian Chardonnay I made it back to the easel to add some warmth to the Green Man painting.

In the first shot I’ve added flesh over the brown layer, quite blocky at at first, then looking for subtle shifts in brightness and colour. I used Red Ochre, Ceramic White (nicely transparent, and a good substitute for Zinc Oxide), and a mixture of Cadmium Orange and Viridian for the flesh tone. After roughly blocking in the areas of colour with quite thin paint I used a soft fan brush (Silver) to blend the new paint together. It’s all pretty thin and transparent, so you can still see the shift of value in the grey layer showing through the skin-coloured layer. I didn’t get to the bottom right side of the face, so you can compare the areas that have been glazed with those which haven’t. Once this flesh layer is complete I’ll re-establish the darks, this time probably in a warmer brown.

On the right you can see the progress I’ve made with the Star painting, which has a thin stream of water pouring from the jug the girl is holding. In addition to adding the water I’ve lightened up the legs with some Ceramic White because I thought they were a little too dark and not subtle enough. I’ll add a little of that orange and green mix flesh tone and some Red Ochre to them tomorrow, revisiting the shapes of the shadows without letting them get quite as brown as they were before.

For the last couple of days I’ve spent the afternoons working on the vegetation around the figure of the Star, building up patches of Raw Umber, then using a rag to dash stripes into it, lifting away the paint to reveal the Iron Oxide below it. It’s a great way to create a grassy look, and for the stems of the lavender. I created deeper shadows all around the figure so she stands out more from her surroundings, and added a glaze of Raw Umber below her skirt so that the legs became more three dimensional, deepening shadows around the feet and knees, then working with Ceramic White to lighten some areas of the skin that needed a little emphasis. The vase has benefitted from a glaze of Orange Iron Oxide, transforming it’s finish completely.

I used a Grey Green mixed with a little Raw Umber and white to add some colour to the stems, then mixed a little Carbazole Violet for the deeper shades of the spikes. It’s a perilous business painting with this lovely colour, because it stains everything it touches, which can be a problem, particularly when working near whites or flesh tones; a pigment that stains can cause some nasty surprises.

In contrast to the problems of Violet one of the great joys of painting in oils is that it’s usually so easy to wipe from a previously painted but now thoroughly dry layer. I’m waiting for the Star to dry thoroughly so I can take advantage of this, because I want to paint a thin arc of water pouring gracefully from the lip of the vase into the water below. It’s going to be a lot easier to get it right if I am able to edit the arc with a rag, with no damage to the dry layers of paint beneath it.

While I’m waiting for the Star to dry I’ve started on this new piece, a head study of Joe as a green man. Green men are enigmatic figures found carved on church roof bosses all over England with foliage emerging from their mouths and surrounding their faces; perhaps they’re symbols of Spring-time fertility; perhaps they’re inspired by folk memories of the little people. I’ll paint the leaves once I have the face roughed in.



Although it’s been great to see some amazing art over in Europe, coming back to the studio after such a long break was a relief, and I’ve had a productive day working on the background of the Star painting.

While the jasmine flowers have been emphasized with a simple addition of a layer of white the lower half of the painting has developed substantially, with the addition of lavender stems and some grass in pale shades. The grass still needs to be glazed with a green, while the lavender stems need a layer of deep purple to create texture in the points.

Using Raw Umber to create darker shadows around the girl made her come forward in the painting and created more variety in the structure of the leaves, while adding some depth to the shadows under her arm and hand make them emerge from her body. I’ve added some shadows into the lowest foreground for a rocky texture around her feet.


In Contrast


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.

After continuing the patchy Raw Umber brown a little further by using a rag to lift leaf shapes from the paint, revealing the orange glow of the Iron Oxide ground, I’ve expanded the range of the star shaped jasmine flowers to create an S shaped swoop down behind the figure. This done I spent a pleasant hour or two adding a layer of light grey leaf shapes as I did before, ready for a glaze of green that will give the background a softly focus leafy feeling.

I’ve added some sketched lavender points at the bottom, but I feel very reluctant to go into detail in this painting, preferring to allow the girl to be the centre of attention. It’s a trick used by those great Pre-Raphaelite painters Millais and Waterhouse, whose landscapes are sometimes so blurry that they resemble French Impressionist paintings, with the exception that the figures are rendered with greater care.

In the studio Joseph and Stacy prepared the space for a special event tomorrow: we’re hosting a group of friends of the CLU Art Department to spend a little time to learn about the work that I do to teach our students traditional technique in the BA program here. You can see the Traveler, the Empress, the Magician and the edge of the Angel of Death. I’m really pleased to see them all together in the space – it gives a sense of how they will work in a museum context.

Two layers of paint on the legs have given them some solidity, but I’m not yet satisfied with them; once I’ve applied a glaze coat of Ceramic White the color will match the upper half of the figure. The jug has been painted with a thin coat of very light blue, cleaning up some messiness and refining the finish a little. It still needs some warmth to drop in shadows and bring some vibration to the surface.

I’m considering how to complete the foreground, thinking about grasses and dirt. I don’t want to paint too much detail in this, because I want the focus to remain on the girl, but I think some more jasmine in an “s” shaped composition around the girl will work well. There’s already a nice texture built around her feet that’s suggestive of tangled foliage, I’ll add more leafy work, perhaps including some lavender spikes there mixed in with the jasmine lower down in the painting.

Some exciting news from the university – Tony Pro and Mike Adams are joining our faculty, Tony to teach Design and Mike to teach Drawing.

Semester is drawing to a close, with final critiques and big changes to our seniors’ lives. I’ve enjoyed the company of my students this semester. It’s good to see them understanding the processes of painting. I really hope they carry with them an appreciation for painting and making art that influences them for the rest of their lives.