- The Process of Making a Painting -


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 image.


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 synonymous.

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...