I found a squirrel skull on one of my walks in the park, so I decided to draw it using pencil and graphite powder on toned paper.
Skulls, whether human or animal, are absolutely fascinating to me, and a big challenge.
As always, I started off with a light sketch, focusing on the larger shapes, before moving onto some of the smaller ones.
I had a strong single light source coming from the window, so it was easier to draw in the basic shadow shapes, before defining the whole thing with a variation of darker and thicker lines to suggest depth.
I then began to block in the shadows with a small brush dipped in graphite powder. This is a pretty quick way to block in tone, and quite satisfying. It's a case of building up the layers of tone gradually, one layer after the next, and filling in details, including highlights with a white pencil or white pastel.
I'm not entirely sure how long this took, but it was certainly several sittings. Fairly pleased with it overall.
I'd like to get my hands on a crow skull next.
I thought it about time to update the blog, keep it alive, even though it seems I'm using social media more and more to publish my work.
I'll get this thing going again with a look at my process concerning a triptych commission based on Red Tara, a deity from Buddhist mythology.
I spent over a week playing about in my sketchbooks, toying with ideas, concepts, compositions, etc. The usual process I follow, but especially for a fairly ambitious and complex commission like this. The biggest challenge was how I was going to reconcile the third panel with the others, as the idea of combining a futuristic cyber-punk type scene with more mythological and traditional elements was a daunting task. They needed to stand alone yet at the same time have a sense of flow, of shared themes and an aesthetic harmony.
I had a fairly strong idea early on how I wanted to handle the first two panels, but I had to re-work the final one a few times. I got there in the end I think, although it only fully satisfied that sense of lingering doubt after I decided to imbue each panel with a certain time of the day; the first panel representing early morning, the middle panel the zenith of the day, and the third panel night. That gave it a stronger narrative structure that I felt I could more cheerfully work with.
With regards the palette, the first panel is a combination of Quinacridone Red and Phthalo Green, which I'd never used before. I used the same combination for the kimono of Red Tara (the same friend by the way who posed for The Malignant Flower painting), which needed that intensity and high value. The third panel is largely a complementary pairing of orange and blue, for the most part anyway.
I stretched the canvas for all of them myself, which has a satisfyingly organic feel to the whole process, plus it means I can dictate the size of them myself.
A challenging commission all in all, but the journey starts again with the next project.
I seem to have painted a few skulls in the last year or so. It wasn't planned like that, they've all been commissions of one sort or another.
Painting skulls is enjoyable, and they are certainly challenging, but I don't plan on any more in the foreseeable future.
It was a huge advantage to set the skull up in front of me, with a strong, consistent light source, and paint from life. Photos have their advantages, and sometimes you don't have much of a choice, but nothing beats painting from direct observation.
I used to mostly mix my skin tones from the complementary pairing of red and green, but I tried out a new combination of pigments for this one- cadmium red, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, and flake white...
I would have liked a little more time on this, but that is often the case. I had just over a week to get it done, so I had to take a couple of 'short-cuts' here and there. It's painted on oil paper which I very rarely use. It tends to be either canvas or board that I work on, but actually it felt fine after I primed it with Clear Gesso (this gave it a bit of 'tooth', as the paper was relatively smooth).
Instead of starting with an imprimatura (a thin wash of colour, usually a neutral, to cover the whole image and set the basic mood), I blocked in the basic light and dark masses with a quick ebauche (a preliminary layer of semitransparent oil colour).
Once I set down the basic value structure, I worked on the sky first, and gradually moved to the middle, and then foreground figure, and ended up painting the birds last.
I think the motion blur on the birds is too subtle now in hindsight. I should have pushed that further. In fact, I would have liked to spend another day on the birds, but alas, the time just wasn't there.
I used a double complementary pairing for this painting; for the background (including the buildings) I used orange and blue, and for the foreground I went with a more violet and yellow-orange approach.
I was going for a certain atmospheric quality with this painting, and I think I've gone some way to achieving that. The background was patiently built up with multiple glazes, Burnt Sienna followed by Ultramarine Blue, layer upon layer, and so on until I got the desired affect. I think darks achieved in this way tend to be more dense and velvety, but you really need to be willing to wait. Each glaze (and there are definitely a dozen at least) took about two days to dry, sometimes three depending on how much medium was used. It's not a technique for everyone, but I like the result if you can spare the time needed. I also glazed in the rose, which I felt was needed to give it that luminous glow that only glazes can fully achieve. The first step was to glaze in a layer of Titanium White, then I built up alternating layers of Quinacridone Red and Phthalo Green until I acquired the depth of colour I was after. Again, it takes patience, but I think it's worth it.
The figure was painted more loosely, along with the desk and the vase of flowers. I tried to get a particular kind of texture on the desk, in which I painted in an initial layer, then when I added a second layer, I scraped and scratched it with a palette knife to reveal the original layer to give it a worn look.
I'm not going to go into detail about the theme of the painting here, I'll let the viewer interpret it for themselves...
This was another highly collaborative effort with the rock band Torous. This is my third illustration in response to their music, and each time I've benefited from exploring various ideas with the band. It really felt like a symbiotic relationship, and the journey of the image, as it morphed from one concept to the next, evolved painlessly. That's not to say we struck on the final idea immediately, not at all. But the creative process was so enjoyable, it always seemed like the solution was 'just around the corner'.
As usual, I've attached some of the earlier ideas that were eventually discarded. It interests me to see those initial sketches in comparison to the final image, as although they didn't make the final cut, they are imbued with a sense of enquiry and are therefore not altogether irrelevant to the final design.
The background was rendered with acrylic glazes, whilst the main event was painted in oils using a limited palette.