Lightness in the Dark

You can’t draw portraits of death deities without reflecting on the issue of mortality, or at least I can’t. I took the gallery owner’s challenge; to go beyond sugar skulls for the Day of the Dead show, and started looking at death deities and their lore. What I found were some interesting similarities, some major differences, and some great stories. What I was hoping for, as the title of this post suggests, is to shed some light on these characters/archetypes/beings, and thereby illuminate the subject of death as transformation, a natural process that all living things share. I’m not trying to say that death is good, but neither am I declaring it bad. It simply is.

Raven Detail 3


There are five pieces in the show, each subject from a different religion/culture: Irish, English, Norse, Greek, and Egyptian. Starting with the Irish, because I promised to post more pictures of the Raven, is the Morrigan. In the notes for the show, this is what I wrote:

The Morrigan
One of the Celtic ‘triple goddesses’, a deity with multiple aspects, that of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. She is linked with cattle, and therefore fertility. She is also associated with rivers and lakes, the water being seen as a sign of rebirth. The Morrigan is also known as a battle goddess, but not by wielding a sword. Her power is in her ability to enchant or curse. She can clear a battlefield with a poem. She can transform into a raven, flying above the warriors, choosing who will die. She can be seen at a river ford, washing clothes and armor before battle, symbolizing the washing and anointing of the body after death and preparing it for the next life.

This is a greatly condensed description of her attributes, and with a bit of searching you can find good information about her on the web. One of the sources I found was:

They covered the basics of the Morrigan, etymology of her name, where she appears in the legends and myths, etc. Check it out.



The painting shows the transformation of the Morrigan into the raven and perhaps the other way as well. I did a couple of new things with the artwork. In the knot, I came back with thin lines of gouache (Prussian Green and Alizarin Crimson) on top of the watercolor, trying to emulate the iridescence of the black feathers. It’s very subtle and doesn’t show very well in my photograph. I’ll have to see if I can get the art scanned after the show comes down. And there is no black here. It’s all a mix of Indigo, Prussian Green, and Alizarin Crimson. The background behind the knot is Indigo gouache.


The human figure was initially left white, and then I changed her pose. I had to define her new edges with watercolor and then a thin wash of white gouache over all. Her face I struggled with. I was using the gouache and the colors kept looking too intense, so I kept reworking it, blending and adding. What I should have done was paint the face in watercolor completely, and then done my white wash over that. If there’s a next time…

Raven Detail 2

Next post, Herne the Hunter.


The Raven Returns

The print show is up, the ink put away, and the proofs are in the flat file. Actually, that was almost two weeks ago. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The next show at Avanti opens October 10th. That’s just over two weeks away. And again, none of the art for that show is finished. Complicating things a bit is the show I’m doing this weekend, the Emerald Spiral Fall Expo. I will be manning my wife’s booth as well as selling my own work. It will be a fun, long day.

The show in October is themed on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Curator Wendy Keen said she was hoping to go beyond sugar candy skulls and dancing skeletons and I am happy to oblige. The main piece is one that I thought I had posted work on before, but I can only find the line art.

Knotted Raven 72

The first layers of color were laid down right before a show in May and I started work on painting the knot at the show. Then the 30×30 work started, and the printmaking, and life. So the poor raven sat and waited. But things happen in their own time, and the Day of the Dead show is the right time for my friend here.

The concept for this piece changed significantly since the line art was scanned. In the beginning it was just an exercise in outrageous knot-work. That by itself, however, did not seem to be enough. I tried different ideas for putting the raven in context (though never atop a bust of Pallas) and eventually it chose the Morrigan, a Celtic goddess of death and transformation. I say it chose because it did not entirely feel like my decision. In art school my teachers always told me to ‘Listen to your art. It will tell you what it needs.” This wasn’t so much a matter of my listening, but rather being dragged along by giant talons.

As scavengers, ravens frequented the battlefields of our early history, and were seen by the Celts as the Morrigan incarnate, freeing the souls of the fallen. It is in this guise that this raven spoke to me.RavenProgress1-72

Things have progressed some since this picture was taken. The white space behind the knot-work will be filled in with indigo, a preview of which you can see in the beak, and there’s some subtle coloring to the knot as well. I’ll take more pictures and post as soon as I can.

The Next Thing

I’ve had an idea kicking around even longer than the Green Man (he’s actually one of the more recent). A raven done in Celtic knot work. I figured out the knot several years ago in a sketchbook and never did anything about it.

Knotted Raven 72

Earlier this year I got a call for submissions for a juried art show on the subject of Crow/Raven: Magic and Mystery. But the art wasn’t anywhere near being ready for something like that, so I never even responded. Then about a month ago, at an opening for a show my wife was in, I met the curator for the Crow/Raven show. In the course of our conversation, he prodded me, wondering how long it would take me to get the art finished. When I convinced him that was not going to happen, he told me there was a lecture series associated with the show, and asked me if I would like to work on the art in the lobby between the lectures.

For some strange reason it took a bit of convincing for me to say yes, but I did. As a result, I will be working (painting, hopefully) on my knot work Raven on Sunday, June 8th, from 1pm to 2pm, somewhere in Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands. Stop by if you can and say hi. I will be working, but having a conversation will be just as much fun. And the lectures sound fantastic.

I’m really looking forward to it. Hope to see some of you there.

The Wake-up Call

Flicker Feathers

This will be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending on your time zone or your tendencies.

Sunday morning I was awakened by the thumping of a flicker on the side of my house. I had actually woken up about an hour earlier and then dozed off while musing over what to post that day, so when the flicker drummed me awake I thought, hmmm, maybe this bird is trying to tell me something. There is a lot of symbolism surrounding the flicker, primarily spiritual, emotional and creative change. (This according to “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews.)

And this is not first time I’ve had this bird fly into my consciousness. Flickers are common in my neighborhood as we have a good mix of tall trees and green lawns. I’ve had them come very close to me while I was working in the garden, and they are often calling, chattering, or drumming in the nearby trees. Perhaps the most interesting encounter was finding five tiny feathers, no more than an inch long, laid out in a neat fan on my porch one morning.

Suffice it to say that, with all this contact with the flicker, I am no stranger to change, even if I am brought to it kicking and screaming. I am actively involved in trying to change my life on several levels. That is part of what this blog is for. Flicker was just reminding me.

Either that or he was telling me I’ve got bugs in the side of my house. Then again, maybe it’s all the same.

We have wooden siding, and not particularly high quality stuff. There are splits and knot holes. Lovely places for bugs to get in, and for flickers to get breakfast. I’ve known this for quite some time, but I don’t have the expertise to fix it myself nor the finances to have somebody else do it. So I bide my time and hope that the situation doesn’t reach a crisis before I can deal with it.

And this is where change comes in. Do you have habits that get in the way of your creativity; or even worse, your health? I do. These may be things that we are hoping will just go away. It can’t be that bad. I mean, I still get some work done. Right?

We, my friends, have bugs in our houses. And even if we call the exterminators, what made the walls susceptible to bugs will still be there. Don’t get rid of the bugs; fix the house.

The painting is watercolor on Fabriano hot-press paper. It was an interesting exercise in using multiple layers of paint in different techniques, all the way from wet-on-wet to dry brush. I did most of it in about two hours, trying to work quickly. After all, I only made it as a header for this post. But I like it and I hope you do too.