Virgo Detail

I’m going to try to keep these posts coming more frequently. So they may not have very zippy titles. I’m also posting on Instagram (kecain59), my website blog (kevinecain.com), and on Facebook, hopefully every weekday.

This is a detail of the border for mutable Earth on the Virgo piece. Normally Celtic spirals are painted in three different colors, but since these borders​ are related to the elements, I’m keeping them monochromatic. For Earth I’m using Oxide of Chromium, Serpentine Genuine, and a mix of Sap, Oxide, and probably something​ else. My palette gets a little chaotic.VirgoBorderDetail

The Zodiac 2

Not all of our original concepts turn out to be practical. A case in point was my idea to paint each Zodiac sign as they progressed through a lunar month. (Aries with the moon in Aries, Taurus with the moon in Taurus, etc.) I got a late start on Aries, beginning it on the day the moon passed out of that sign, so I got it inked, but not painted. Then I only had one practical working day for Taurus and had to jump into Gemini the day after that due to other scheduling. Perhaps if I had consulted my calendar prior to diving in head first. Ah well. With a little retro-scheduling I think I have a timeline that works.

AriesFirstColor_Sm

Aries first color: Naples Yellow and Garnet Genuine over a pale wash of Buff Titanium.

The result has been to take a more realistic approach to the project. I am attempting to ink the artwork while the moon is in the sign and the painting will be an ongoing process that has to fit around my other work. The goal is to have all twelve pieces finished in time for a show in May.

Taurus_Gemini_Close_Sm

Taurus and Gemini. The calligraphy is done with a straight cut Brause nib and Calli ink. The line work with a Micron 005 marker.

A hopeful time-saver is laying out four images on a single sheet of Arches 140 lb hot press. Since I’m starting with an overall thin wash of Buff Titanium, I can do four images at once. The framework the roundel sits in will also be consistent in color. Even if this does not make the work go faster, it will make it more efficient.
Cancer is on the schedule for today. So off to work.

 

The Self-Imposed Deadline

Ideas simmer on the back burner like a pot of marinara. Concepts cook down to their essence. Images meld and mingle into new flavors. This all sounds better than “I haven’t gotten around to that project yet.” But it actually can be what happens if you let it.
I have an idea for a Large Project that fits in to my Celtic artwork and my esoteric interests rather nicely. It will eventually involve many pieces of art and I have been thinking of how to make it more manageable. One day this winter, as I was sitting in my big, comfy chair, all wrapped up and fighting off a fever, my mind got bored and started to wander. There are Celtic versions of the signs of the Zodiac that I knew would have to be part of the Large Project, but they had sat, simmering on the back burner for the last 5-6 years. And suddenly, in my bundled-up, fevered state, I saw what they were supposed to look like.
zodiaccomps
Once I knocked my fever down I went straight to the drawing board and cranked out these designs. It took me about three days. A bit more thinking, playing around with color, and gathering of opinions occurred. I needed to fit the work in between other jobs, so it sat for a while even though I knew I was starting to run up against the clock (I want these printed before a show in May).
There was then a sudden realization that I should paint each one of these while the moon is in the appropriate sign. I asked my wife where the moon was today and she told me it was in Aries until early evening. Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac. If there was a more auspicious place to start, I wasn’t going to wait for it.
I had already laid out the basic design on watercolor paper, so I did the calligraphy, traced the design elements unique to Aries, and inked it in. I didn’t get to the painting because I ran out of time before having to dash off to a meeting. But it’s underway.
ariesinkphotoweb
The moon is moving into Taurus shortly after I write this, and it will only be there for two days. This pot is no longer simmering.

Bee Spiral – the Finish

The good news is that the piece survived being wrapped around an 11” diameter drum scanner. The gold looks no worse for wear and I am almost breathing again. The less than good news is that gold leaf doesn’t scan worth a damn. I’m not laying this on the fabulous folks who did the scan, they did the best they could, and if it wasn’t for the gold, the scan would be perfect. This is going to lead me on my next big adventure in art prints; how do you reproduce gold in an archival print?

Meanwhile, back at the drawing board…

BSpiralBeeDetail1webMy original concept had the bees in a more abstracted form. But when the colors in the spiral started doing cool things, I knew the bees had to be more realistic, thereby adding depth. They are not completely realistic, they still fit within the confines of a circle, but there was a lot of – draw a few lines – look at a photograph – draw a few lines – look at a photograph. The painting process wasn’t much faster.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I'm laying down the first layer of black, which isn't really black.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I’m laying down the first layer of black, which isn’t really black.

With the bees finished, I moved on to the ‘black’. I write it that way because it isn’t black. In fact there isn’t any black on this piece at all. What you see here is a mix of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine. If any of you have studied classical painting, you will have heard of this mixture. I had not until recently. My usual mix for black is Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Green, and Indigo. I think these pigments have seen changes that offer better lightfastness and lower toxicity, and I think there has been a color shift as well. My old black mix doesn’t respond the way it used to. It’s a subtle thing that most people would not notice. I do. So I went to the Ultramarine/Burnt Umber mix and got very nice results. There was a slight panic when I realized I had no Burnt Umber paint. Luckily I remembered my natural pigments and ground up a small batch. It blended beautifully with the Ultramarine. The snippet you see above is just the first layer. I went back with two or three more layers to get the density I wanted without that flat wash look.

The final. Whew!

The final. Whew!

I am very pleased with the finished piece. I’ve been calling it the bee spiral, but the real name is ‘The Waggle Dance’, and the gold pattern in the corners is derived from the motions the bees go through. Honey bees use this ‘dance’, and others, to communicate the location of a nectar source when they return to the hive. It is thought that some insecticides may inhibit the bee’s ability to waggle dance, thus making it harder to find food, which in turn, could be a contributor to colony collapse disorder. For this reason, I’m going to dedicate at least 10% of sales to research and preservation for honey bees.

Bee Spiral In Progress

The gold is done!

The gold is done!

The bee spiral is a project I’ve had in the works for quite some time. There were two previous attempts, one in which I didn’t like the line work, and the other where the gold leaf failed to stick. I changed materials for the gold leaf process and it appears to have worked.

Here's the honeycomb in the center of the spiral. I'm using Calli brown to ink in the lines. It's careful going working on the edge of the gold.

Here’s the honeycomb in the center of the spiral. I’m using Calli brown to ink in the lines. It’s careful going working on the edge of the gold.

One of the mistakes I made in the second attempt was to ink everything before laying down any gold. I knew better, and it came back to bite me. It wasn’t the cause of the non-sticking gold, but it did make things a lot more difficult as the gold wanted to stick to the ink. So I left the third attempt in pencil while laying the gold.

The first colors are laid down.

The first colors are laid down.

Medieval Celtic spirals are limited in their colors because of the use of natural pigments. Often they were yellow, red and green. I wanted to give a nod to this, but not be bound by it. The original concept was to use earth tones and the brown (seen at the top in the picture above) was a mix of Goethite (Brown Ochre) and Sepia. The result was meh. So I mixed some Cerulean Blue with the Sepia and floated it on top of the brown mix. The result was a crazy mottled surface with subtle spots of blue. It looked so cool I had to go back into the red (Red Ochre and Garnet) with Rose of Ultramarine and Garnet. The yellow was tougher because the water didn’t want to pool up on the paper. I think it’s the Azo Yellow that really attracts water. I tried my best with Gamboge and a touch of Pyrrol Red, but I didn’t get the layered look of the other colors.

I’ll post the final stages of the piece tomorrow. I have to go pick it up from the shop where it is being scanned. If you want to see it up close, come to Oddmall this weekend!

I’m Back!

It’s been ages since the last post. A show, an Etsy shop, two workshops, and an operating-system-upgrade ago, not to mention all of the seasonal celebrations, initiations, and continued learning. Oh, and let’s not forget about editing a YA manuscript. The dreary bit is that I look back at it all and wonder, “Where is the art?”. Sigh.

I am learning to accept that the conceptual stage of art making is still considered progress. And there are several projects that are in the concept/planning stage, one of which is the opportunity to be part of a group show, participating with folks from a workshop I took in February. More on that as it progresses.

Coming up soon (as in terrifyingly soon) is the summer version of a show I did last November – OddMall: Emporium of the Weird. It is a fabulous collection of art and craft ranging from fairies to steampunk to esoterica. I had a wonderful time and sold enough to make me want to come back. I wanted to have a nice selection of new stuff, but as you can see from the abbreviated list of activities above, I’ve been a little busy with other things. So in the tried and true method of last-minute, panic-inspired art making, here’s what I’m up to at the moment.

I wanted to add to my Celtic-Medieval Pop Art series and realized I had a great candidate in the Minecraft Creeper. I also wanted to make the art more like a manuscript page rather than just a vignette.

Creepus Explodius Hibernii with Steve cowering in the corner and an ocelot border. Haven't done the lettering because my calligraphy ink turned truly icky.

Creepus Explodius Hibernii with Steve cowering in the corner and an ocelot border. Haven’t done the lettering because my calligraphy ink turned truly icky.

People have already made pseudo-scientific art of the Creeper and of course given it a proper genus and species – creepus explodius. These being Latinesque, I had to keep them, adding the sub-species name ‘hibernii’,  meaning an Irish Creeper. Of course, the system of taxonomy didn’t exist in medieval times, but who cares.

The other piece I’m currently working on is far more serious. It is a Celtic spiral design incorporating honey bees. As I work on it, I strive to remain focused on the blessings these amazing animals bestow on us. We need to do everything possible to ensure their survival, and to that end, I plan to donate a percentage of the sales of this piece to an organization dedicated to preserving bees and other pollinators. When I get that nailed down, I’ll let you know.

Bee Spiral with the first bit of gold in the center. You can see the glue where the rest of the gold will go.

Bee Spiral with the first bit of gold in the center. You can see the glue where the rest of the gold will go.

I started the design work perhaps a year ago. Then this spring I decided to go for it and ran into all sorts of problems laying down gold leaf. I trust that I have worked through the issues and I’m taking another stab at it. It will be a stretch, but my goal is to have prints available at OddMall. After that they will be up on my Etsy site, and of course you can always find my work on my website.

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:

http://witchesofthecraft.com/2012/01/12/the-goddess-morrigan/

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

RavenFinal72

 

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.

RavenDetail4

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.

Running Out of Time

I wanted to do a post-a-day this month to highlight the 30×30 show, but life intervened. Now the show is ending. The last day is Friday, August 1st. If you haven’t seen it yet…well, you know.

Here are a few more images I wanted to share.

The Modern Madonna

The Modern Madonna

The Modern Madonna is hopefully self explanatory. She is taken from the Book of Kells, folio 7v. The baby Jesus has been moved from her lap to an official AAP approved car seat, while Mary texts on her smart-phone and gets a refill in her ubiquitous cup with green logo. My intent here is not to be snarky, but to make an observation. If the Madonna and Child happened today, this is probably what it would look like. This is a well established artistic device. Look at many of the famous biblical paintings and you will see ancient Judeans, Greeks, or Romans dressed in medieval European clothing.

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

Adam and Eve. OK. Maybe I am being a bit snarky here. In this design of my own making, Adam’s hair is being pulled by the serpent, while Eve looks on with resignation. I’m no expert, but I don’t think Eve had too high of an opinion of her man.

Dude? Duuude.

Dude? Duuude.

The Dudes shows a couple of guys derived from illuminated initials in the Book of Kells. They are just for fun, but deserve some closer attention. Their beards contain the words of the title and their clothing is based on Jeff Bridges costumes in ‘The Big Lebowski”. It was my wife’s idea, for which I am, as always, eternally grateful.

These, and all the other pieces in this show will be on my new web-site, coming very soon, as will be select prints available for purchase.

Stay tuned!