These original oil paintings are carefully crafted with only the very
finest artist's quality brushes, paints, mediums, varnishes, canvases and
linens, according to centuries-old traditions to ensure their longevity.
And considerable care and effort goes into their creation. I would like
to provide some background information about the long process that brings
these paintings into existence.
It is important to understand that I do not have what might be called
"instructions" for these paintings. The Goddess figures do not
exist, for I am trying to portray a kind of transcendent calm and serenity
that is rarely seen in the struggle of normal human experience. The garments
which the Goddess figures wear do not exist, for I am trying to paint the
fabric as though it had suddenly blown around Her an instant before the
image was seen, a divine wind to caress and conceal Her mystery. The landscapes
in which the Goddess figures dwell also do not exist, for I require a certain
geometry in the surroundings that direct the inquiring eye of the viewer
into the Eyes of the Goddess.
I envy the landscape painter (and I can sometimes consider myself such)
for they encounter their designs "ready-made",
already existing out in the world. They do of course have to determine
where to place the "window" of the picture-plane, and there is
of course that important "artist's interpretation" that translates
a 3-dimensional world into a 2-dimensional painting, but mostly their time
is occupied with the business of painting. When artists are working directly
with models or from the landscape, all the information necessary to make
the image "right" is in the field of vision before the artist.
When something in the painting doesn't look "right", a quick
look at the source will reveal what corrections need to be made. This option
is not available to me, and so when difficulties arise, the solution is
often only realized after many incorrect options have been explored. A
figure, costume element, or architectural detail may be drawn 20 times
before the eureka moment - "That's the one!" - occurs.
This way of creating an image is not in any way superior to other faster methods;
it is only different...and more time consuming. With structurally complex
paintings like Parsival's
Lament, the designing
of the image may require twice as much time as the actual painting of the
Every painting starts with an inspiration that happens like a flashbulb
in the dark. First, there is nothingness, or perhaps only some idle internal
dialogue of mind-numbing dullness. And then, without warning, a luminous
image flares incandescent in the mind. But just as quickly, before any
aspect of the vision can be studied in detail, the flashbulb dwindles and
extinguishes. The image is gone. A good friend of mine believes the luminous
flash is an eternal image, older than the universe, and the painting is
only a corruption of the exquisite purity of the vision itself. I believe
this to be true. Regardless of what the true nature of such insprations
might be, I begin a series of many sketches to try to capture some small
part of the essence of the vision.
The Design Process
I begin the design process with the Goddess figure; it is from Her that
I will draw the motivation that will sustain me through the next 4 months
of dedication to 1 painting only. At this stage I must determine such things
as: the basic position of the Goddess figure, how the serenity in Her face
will be achieved, the delicate gesture of Her hands, and Her hair moving
upon the wind. At this time I also design the gown of the Goddess, whatever
ornaments may be upon it, and how the gown will wrap around Her body. It
usually requires about a week to draw the figure and costume in detail.
Next I design the environment. Sometimes this is comparatively simple;
sometime it is fiendlishly difficult. I prefer to work with what is known
as the "Golden Proportion". A comprehensive analysis of the Golden
Proportion would not be appropriate here, but briefly, it is a geometric
system of dividing space, and is defined by the ratio 1::1.618... Also
known as the Fibonnacci Relation, or PHI, this extraordinary ratio is found
in mathematics, nature, the human body, and even in the starry heavens
above. In addition to placing elements in the composition according to
the Golden Mean, I also like to have many "radial" elements -
ray-like like tree branches, rock edges, or lines of perspective that radiate
outward from between the Eyes of the Goddess. The horizon line and the
vanishing point are alway located behind the Eyes of the Goddess. Such
details are not always noticed consciously, but I believe they register
subliminally. It can require considerable effort to bring the landscape
into orbit around the Goddess figure. It usually requires about a week
to design the landscape in detail.
Once I have a completed a linear design, I do an 8.5" x 11"
color sketch of the composition to get a sense of what the tonal and chromatic
architecture of the finished painting will be. How do the shimmering patterns
of light and dark, warm and cool, bright and dull, allow the eye to move
through the painting where they can finally settle on the Goddess figure?
I try to answer many of these questions in the color sketch stage, which
usually takes about a week.
The canvas must be prepared, and this also takes some time. The stretcher
bars are assembled together, and the unprimed canvas or linen is carefully
stretched onto the supporting stretcher. Four coats of gesso are applied,
with careful sanding between each slow drying coat. When the primed canvas
has the right texture overall, special wet-sanding must be done where the
Goddess figure will painted. I like to see canvas texture in the surrounding
environment, but the surface under the Goddess must be glass-smooth. This
often requires 2 or 3 additional coats of primer, with wet-sanding between
coats. When the canvas is properly prepared, the composition can drawn
with a charcoal pencil, and sealed with a very light coat of charcoal fixative.
A very thin primer-coat of flake white is then applied to the whole canvas
and allowed to dry for a couple of weeks. The final preparation is the
underpainting, which consists of a thin turpentine wash of a neutral color
to establish the basic tonal values of the painting, which is then ready
for opaque color. It usually requires about a week of steady work to prepare
the canvas in this way.
At this point I will have been working 12 hours a day for more than
a month, depending upon the size and amount of detail in the composition,
but I will then be ready to move on to the real show...
The Painting Process
Several painting mediums are carefully prepared so that each subsequent
layer of paint contains a little more oil than the preceeding layers; this
will ensure a long life for the painting without cracking. I begin the
application of color with the most distant forms first, working slowly
towards the foreground elements. Even with significant preparation, some
design problems only present themselves in this final stage, and in the
absence of instructions, the solution is not always quickly found. Some
shifts are comparatively short, where paint must be allowed to dry before
proceeding; other shifts can run to 36 hours where large areas of paint
must be modelled to porcelain perfection while they are wet. Transparent
glazes are added to certain areas as the painting nears completion, and
this is perhaps the only part of the whole process that happens quickly.
The final painting element is the signature, which I like to incorporate
into the landscape itself - as though the landscape and artist were somehow
The finished painting is allowed to dry for a week, and then a very
thin retouching varnish is applied to unify the surface of the painting.
Different paints dry at different rates, and it is important to see the
entire painting with homogenous specularity to confirm all the colors are
correct. The paint on my paintings is applied fairly thin, and so after
a period of perhaps 1 or 2 months, I apply a final sealing coat of damar
varnish - the perfect gem-like surface for an oil painting.
Larger more-detailed paintings require more time to paint than smaller
less-detailed paintings. After dedicating 4 - 6 weeks in design and preparation,
it generally takes an additional 4 to 12 weeks to complete the application
of color to a painting, again depending upon the size and amount of detail
in the composition. A 48" x 30" painting with a significant amount
of complex design elements and painting detail (like Children
of Eternity or The Awakening) may
take more than 1000 hours to complete.
When a painting is complete, it must be properly photographed for archiving
and/or reproduction. I have been co-ordinating this for almost 20 years,
and it remains one of the most difficult aspects of my job. A painting
is usually photographed several times before an acceptable 8" x 10"
color transparency is made; sometimes another photographer must be hired
if the result is not satisfactory. Whether the image is destined for traditional
offset printing, or for one of the marvelous new digital fine-art printers,
the approved transparency must be sent for high-resolution "drum-scanning".
This also is a very difficult process, which is often done numerous times
before an acceptable scan is made. Photographers and graphics houses that
are capable of doing quality work deserve every penny they charge, but
they are not inexpensive.
Now the painting is finally free to see the world: to be shipped to
a gallery, or to a collector...
For a more in-depth description of the way I work, please have a look at this
PDF-version of the "How-To" interview I did for Art Scene International magazine; it's a fairly
good step-by-step demonstration of the painting of Ancestors
from start to finish...