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.
This was good practice. I propped a mirror up on my radiator, to the right hand side of my window with natural light pouring in, and off I went.
I didn't do a drawing before hand, just dove straight in there with paint, and I admit I prefer this approach.
It's funny how it takes awhile (for me anyway) to get it looking even remotely close to how you want it to look. The early stages look awkward, strange, and incorrect, but gradually you refine it, paint over bits, drink tea, stare at it, and one day it looks like genuine progress has taken place.
A few friends have commented how serious I look. My response is always the same- how would you look if you were staring at your reflection for hours on end? In that respect I think I look cheerful. I had to make a slight adjustment about halfway through the painting as I got my hair cut, so it revealed more of my forehead.
The orange glow reflected on the right hand side of the face was really an accident. I was relying on natural light, so one of the evenings when I began to lose that light I turned on the lamp behind me. I thought it looked good so I incorporated it into the final painting. I think it works better because of it...
I did say that some day I would like to contribute another Sacre Beer label artwork. I'm happy to declare that that day has arrived. The title of this latest edition is Defeating Synths, and like the last one (Leopard) the idea arrived quickly. I decided to play on the sometimes uneasy relationship we have with technology, with the mechanisation of our world. Some day I'd like to produce one of these labels using oil. Watch this space...
This was a private commission, which I'm pleased to have finished. The client/customer asked that there be a female figure in it and the colour purple. Here we are then!
As always I began the process by scribbling several thumbnails in my sketchbook. This is a process I very very rarely waver from. After that I did a couple of quick colour studies, although I had a fairly solid idea as to the colour scheme from the outset. Once the final idea was decided, I did a more detailed pencil drawing, which was then transferred to canvas. So at this early stage the design of the painting and the colour scheme are already worked out (preparatory work really does go a long way).
I sometimes begin my painting with a imprimatura of a neutral colour like Burnt Sienna, but this is not always desirable. I like to crudely block in the basic shadows next, usually with a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine. It's a good way of establishing the value range, and it gives the painting a bit of shape, form, and contrast.
After this stage I ideally look to solve the background as quickly as I can. It can make or break an image, and in this painting it did take up a lot of space. At first I was going to have the background as one block of monochrome grey, but it lacked drama. Hence the diagonal shadow cast by the light source from the left, which leads to the centre of interest. Funnily enough I can't imagine it any other way now, although I only decided on it a week into starting the painting. Preparatory work is great, but little discoveries along the way can add more dynamic to an idea...
The whole painting was rendered with Quinacridone Red, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Burnt Sienna, Flake White, and of course Titanium White.