Category: The Traveler

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

Increasingly aggressive morning glory vines

A sketch for the Resurrection (Judgement)

The morning glory has spread to cover much of the calf of the Emperor’s right leg, but I want to show more of it reaching up to pass his left foot, perhaps even stretching out tendrils toward his abdomen and increasing the feeling that he is being overwhelmed by the creeping vines. Working on the intertwined leaves and stems is still immensely satisfying, and I’ve pulled out the Empress painting so that I can give it more attention in the same manner. When I painted the Traveller I found that a layered approach to the plants was effective, so I think that the decorative work I already did to the Empress should serve well as background to a new layer of foliage that’s more like this new piece, especially if it’s darkened a little.

I’ve been drawing for a resurrection painting. In the Marseilles tarots the Judgement card is clearly Christian, although it probably comes with an alchemical slant to it given the nature of the imagery of those decks. It’s been tricky for me to get behind the imagery of the card, because I find it so hard to believe in the resurrection of the body, but I think I’ve found a way to express a more allegorical resurrection in which the energy of the soul emerges after the death of the material body. For me, this is going to be a painting that celebrates unity with the universal mind of God.

In the sketch I’ve drawn the figures emerging from a Neolithic chambered mound reminiscent of the extraordinary Maes Howe in Orkney, watched by a group of people gathered around the entrance. I’ve studied these amazing pieces of ancient architecture for many years and love exploring their mysteries and I wonder how Neolithic British ideology dealt with life after death. This is a period that begins four thousand years before Christ – did they even conceive of an afterlife?

I shot reference pictures of Mark, first with him balanced on a ladder challenged with the tricky proposition of looking like he was flying upward with pointed feet, then shot him standing on tip-toes on the ground while I went up the ladder to get the right point of view for the figures who will be lower in the composition. Clearly I’m feeling the powerful influence of William Bougeureau’s extraordinary painting Les Oreades, which we saw at the D’Orsay in Paris last May. It’s an extraordinary piece of work – virtuoso painting by a great master. I remember standing before it in open-mouthed awe of his handling of the complexities of the intertwined bodies. Perhaps one day I’ll emulate this magnificent work more closely.


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.

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 finished the brown layer of the skulls, which means that everything should start moving a bit faster now. I’m very pleased to see how much the painting has opened out, with the skulls streaming out off the sides of the canvas. I’m also very happy with the skeleton’s legs, which I extended so that he’s closer to the edge of the composition. He feels as though he’s about to step out of the painting.

On my list of concerns now: make the wings more three dimensional; add the shadow of the angel to emphasize the wave like surface of the sea of skulls and to make him more three dimensional; add colour to the bones; redo his hands; figure out how the flowers are going to work; render the pebbles before the wave of skulls in the lower left; darken the sky.

I’ve posted a picture of the Traveler alongside the Angel so that the two can be compared with each other.

I got the news today that we’ll be able to install the new wall into the studio sooner than I’d thought, so it’s goodbye to the wide open space of K2, but hello to the one faculty member, one studio model! The wall will go in after this weekend, so we’ve pretty much cleared the space to make it ready for construction, which includes a new sink and a doorway. Having a big wall in the studio will also enable me to make very large canvases, because I’ll build a frame that will mount to it, perhaps eight feet high by as much as twenty four feet wide.

I finally got to see the Gerome exhibit at the Getty Musuem – well worth the trip. He’s the artist who painted that famous gladiator who’s asking the bloodthirsty crowd if his defeated enemy should live or die. He also did a well known image of Pygmalion and Galatea – the one of the artist embracing his living statue. I hadn’t realized that this is a painting that refers to Gerome’s own sculptural practice of carving marble, then coating it with a pigmented wax so that it resembles human flesh. These sculptures were immensely lifelike, looking just like the painting, truly as if they could come to life any moment.

Also at the Getty, I took great pleasure in this icon painting, particularly the decoration of the fabric. With the Angel of Death approaching completion I’m contemplating the appearance of the next painting in the series, the Angel of Birth. This rich decorative work is immensely appealing to me, and I wouldn’t be at all unhappy about producing a painting that came close to the visual treat that this icon represents. In addition, I’m increasingly enamored of these long-fingered, graceful hands that we see so often in icon paintings.

Michael Pearce  The Traveler, 2010.

Oil on Canvas. 96″ x 96″ (284.8cm x 284.8cm)

After three days in bed with the flu, I’ve made it back to the studio for a couple of hours, where I’ve been painting in short bursts, alternated with sitting down and resting with some ginseng green tea, which is becoming a studio necessity. Working despite feeling crappy has been worth it to get the painting through its last steps, but it’s pretty hard going.

All the foliage is now green, using Sap Green with a bit of Iron Oxide to brown the edges of the leaves, and some deep shadows around them painted with Van Dyke Brown. I’ve added a soft layer of acacia leaves to the leaves high in the painting, giving them more mass at the same time as making them blend back a little. The blue forget-me-nots now have little yellow centers, and I worked the foliage around them to make them sit amongst the leaves rather than floating on top of them.

I’m down to needing about twenty minutes of painting needed to make the painting complete, but can’t do it until the foliage is dry. I simply to need to put a soft glaze of white over the cliff edge, medium distance, so that the plants and rocks fade back a little from the closer pathway, daisies and grass. I also want to make the sea a little darker and perhaps a touch bluer.

Tomorrow I will post a photo of the completed painting. (Actually I can imagine finding myself adding another layer of roses to the right and left sides to provide them with another layer of depth.)

I love California in the Spring. As I write this I’m looking out over a landscape lit in golden light, with trees glowing yellow green, spring flowers in pinks and whites, and red leaves pushing their way out as emerging new growth.

So close now! I’ve added more foliage to the right side where the convergence of sky, land and foreground was creating a disturbing node too close to the edge of the painting – now the foliage is there it covers the intersection and directs the eye toward the acacia above, so the pleasant wave like composition is emphasized. Much better! Tomorrow I’ll put some greens onto the grey leaves and finish up for now.

I’ve added some purple into the distant mountains, dry-brushed on, then an additional layer of dry-brushed white to soften it and blend it to the background.

The poppies have had another layer of reds and dark brown to make them more solid, and the california orange poppies have had a touch of darker orange. I glazed the forget-me-nots with a blue. Now the mountains are bluer they are better balanced in the painting.

I turned the roses red and added lots of new en grisaille flowers to the painting. On the right, mingled with the roses, a laurel, used by the Greeks and Romans to celebrate victory. Above the roses a spread of tiny forget-me-nots, for remembrance. Behind the traveler I added some Opium poppies that will go a rich red, obviously for forgetfulness and dreaming, then some California poppies for sleep (they’ll be orange).

The painting is beginning to feel quite rich. There’s plenty of imagery to see, lots of detail. I almost forgot to mention that I also added a moth and a ladybird amongst the leaves, but I leave it to you to find them when you see the painting.