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.


Green Man at Last

Hmmm. I was supposed to post something about the final Green Man art, but things got a bit hectic at the end. There I was, pleasantly painting away, when I got a phone call from a gallery I’ve displayed at before. Turns out they had a big show coming up and wondered if I had anything to submit. Well technically I didn’t because the piece wasn’t done. But I had two weeks before the show was hung. That’s plenty of time. Right?

This was at the end of April and if you look at the progress of the art in the previous post, it wasn’t a lot farther along. In fact it was going to be a push to get the piece ready at all. After it was finished, I had to have it scanned, and then framed. It all came together, but just in time.


Normally I do my own scanning, but this was for reproduction. So I took it to a local shop, the Color Group, and the results were fabulous. Apparently they use an old drum scanner and the optics are amazing. One of the papers the use to make prints is the same as what the art was painted on: Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper. They gave me a color proof on the hot press. Stunning. The framer actually thought it was the original when she saw it.

And now that I have a GOOD scan, and once I figure out a web site I can sell from, there will be prints available. Go ahead and contact me if you’re interested and I can put your name on a list. Then I can send out an announcement when I have all my ducks in a row.

Until then, on to the next thing…

Green Man’s Progress

In the previous post I may have given the impression that I was done with the watercolor on this piece. It’s possible I may have even believed it. This is, however, a new process for me; this mixture of watercolor and gouache. And it is the first of several similar pieces I hope to finish this year. So I am paying a bit more attention to my working process than I normally might.

The preliminary drawings for the Green Man were very detailed. My palette was simple. I even thought I had a good handle on the technique to get it all done. For the most part it has gone according to plan. But once I started to get the dark green into the negative space, my concept fizzled.


What I was going to do was finish the Terre Verte gouache in the negative space, then outline the knot with thinned gouache in a dip pen, probably a mix of Indigo and Prussian Green. I quickly realized this would severely darken the piece and focus too much on the knot rather than the Green Man.

Detail showing the base layer of watercolor (bottom), some shading on top of the base layer (middle), and the knotwork shaded with the negative space filled.

Detail showing the base layer of watercolor (bottom), some shading on top of the base layer (middle), and the knotwork shaded with the negative space filled.

So I started shading the knot, defining the over-under pattern. I’m using tiny dabs of Sap Green, then blending it into the green of the knot. It was a concern of my critique group that I would be lifting up the gouache if I put watercolor next to it (or picking up the watercolor by laying gouache on top). I’m not working very wet, though, and there’s only been one tiny area where the gouache lifted. I dare anybody to find it. I think the effect is going to be much better than had I gone with my first idea. And because I hadn’t finished with the Terre Verte, I have some places where I’ve shaded the knot without the negative space being filled in. You can see an example of this in the detail photo. It will be interesting to see if it looks the same once I fill in the Terre Verte gouache. If it works, I will probably use this technique for later paintings.

My next post should have the final art.

The Green Man

Anyone who has followed this blog for a while (and thank you, oh patient folk) will know that I do Celtic art. I learned the technique years ago and have been playing with it on and off, usually creating small pieces for friends or special occasions, or just my own doodles. Only recently have I started thinking of reproducing my art for sale. Some would say, “It’s bloody well about time!” and I’m sure they are right. The reasons for me not taking this step sooner are personal and probably boring, so let’s skip over them and get to the art.


There have been lots of Celtic art comings and goings in my sketchbook over the past few years. And this piece is actually one of the more recent ones. The image of the Green Man will be familiar to many. There is considerable folklore and history intertwined with this figure. He appears in churches, manuscripts, and has been redrawn innumerable times. If you are unfamiliar with him, do a Google Image search and you’ll see what I mean.


My version has a personal twist. Besides being constructed as an endless knot, he is holly on one side, and oak on the other. The holly and the oak are seen as the two halves of the year. Even though the oak is a symbol of longevity and strength, it goes dormant in the fall and winter, when the holly reigns. You will find this symbology in the legend of the Oak King and the Holly King.

Detail of the knot work. The image area is about 1.875" x 1.5"

Detail of the knot work. The image area is about 1.875″ x 1.5″

After designing the knot (an arduous process) I transferred it to hot press Arches watercolor paper. I then painted the leaves which required me to evenly wet the leaf area, and only the leaf area. It started as a slow, careful procedure until I started laying down paint, then it turned into a mad dash to get it all down before things started to dry out. It’s all a slap-dash blend of Permanent Green Light, Sap Green, Hansa Yellow, and probably some Prussian Green. (I’m not positive what that blue-green blob on my palette is.) The background came next and wasn’t too bad at all. I was able to do it in manageable chunks. The color is Daniel Smith Garnet Genuine. Yum.

My palette, with left over colors from a previous job.

My palette, with left over colors from a previous job.

With the watercolor out of the way, I have started on defining the knot by painting the negative space with gouache. The color I’m using here is Holbein Terre Verte. Things will be further outlined and defined, but I’m not sure with what color yet. Hopefully you’ll get to find out in a couple of days.