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.

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Cerulean Sky

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.

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Gray girls

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!

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Three girls in the courtyard

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.

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Three Girls

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.

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Drawing the Circle

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.

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Architecture for the Priestess

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.

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Adding purple to the shadows, Ceramic White to the highlights.

I’ve used the Carbazole Violet to deepen the shadows of the face, then popped in a bit of Raw Umber to emphasize the darks. The beard got a treatment of whites and Raw Umber to make it feel more bristly, then I used a little Cermaic white to pop in highlights. I’ve re-worked the teeth, which are consequently a touch too bright. I’ll have to glaze over them to drop them beck into the mouth a bit more. The length of the extended arm got a glaze of Ceramic white that unified the flesh, especially after I worked a little Carbazole Violet into it in the small areas of shadow. I’ve coloured the arm and hand purple because the guy has been hanging upside down for a while – the blood would sink downward.

I’m contemplating the next painting, which I will start pretty soon, with so little to do to complete this piece. I’ll miss working on the Hanged Man. He’s been a lot of fun.

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Purple, orange and green

The grassy land receding to the mountains, obscured by my platform which is in place so I can reach the raised arm and leg.

The man's arm has been treated to areas of Ceramic White, with a little Alizarin Crimson in the shadows.

If you had asked me ten years ago what colours I would use most in 2012 there is no way I would have predicted that Cadmium Orange, Viridian, Lead White, Carbazole Violet and Raw Umber would have begun to make regular appearances on my cart. I used to use an almost entirely earth tone driven palette, which has gradually given way to richer colour and much more glazing.

Yesterday I glazed the white grass with Sap Green (another favorite these days), mixing it with areas of Yellow Ochre to make some variations in the colour, while also varying the thickness of the glaze to vary the value of the colour – a shallower glaze means that more white shows through it, so it reads lighter. In the foreground areas I added a bit of Raw Umber to the green to darken it in those areas close to the rock so that the grass would get a bit of depth between the stems. It’s coming along nicely now, feeling rich and deep. I think the more glazes I put on, the richer and more complex the painting becomes.

Once the grass was done I moved to working on the raised arm, which had only had a couple of layers of paint, consequently it was pretty rough. Now the modeling is improved by highlights in Ceramic white and Alizarin Crimson. The transparent white is a lovely soft paint, nicely transparent when you’re looking for a glaze, but pretty bright too, although obviously it can’t compete with Titanium for profound brightness. The Crimson is working beautifully in the shadows. I’m emulating Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite painter in this work, recalling that lovely painting in the Birmingham Museum that we visited in May last year.


The Rosetti painting looks a bit odd because it’s under glass.

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Monday I had a unique opportunity to spend a couple of very pleasant hours up close to the Bouguereau at the Weisman gallery in Malibu, thanks to Michael Zakian, the curator and art historian at Pepperdine University. Alexey Steele, Tony Pro, Jeremy Lipking, Mike Adams and I had a wonderful time getting close to the paintings and taking the opportunity to really examine the detail of these lovely works. There’s a photo of us together on Facebook looking like a bunch of gangsters.

I’ve posted a photo of the painting, then a close up of the beautifully painted hand that rests upon her hip, which I sketched out for reference. This morning I had some time to chat with John Nava, the amazing painter and creator of the figurative tapestries at the Los Angeles Cathedral, and we briefly discussed Bougeureau, who we both admire for his technical skill. John pointed out that despite his technical excellence there’s a lack of substance in the great Frenchman’s work – and I have to agree that his work tends to be sentimental althoughhis skill is so intensely wonderful that it transcends his lack of depth.

On the reverse side of the same wall there is a little study for a different painting that is of great interest to studio painters seeking to emulate the technique of the great French academic artist. In this little picture we can see the process of painting in his method.  First a drawn sketch to feel out the composition, then a little painted sketch like this example, inking out the outlines and making a loose generalization of the areas of colour. Next, a more formal drawing of the shapes on a large canvas, then rendering the actual painting.

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