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.

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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!

A Mermaid’s Tale

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In an earlier post I mentioned a project I’m working on. It’s a young adult novel and someday I’ll tell you more about it. This time I want to talk about one of the members of my writing critique group. Brenda Winter Hansen has written a lovely YA fantasy novel set in the waters off the coast of Ireland. She and her novel have been accepted to the Whole Novel Workshop, put on by the Highlights foundation. All she needs now is to get there and she has set up a Kickstarter project to achieve her goal. (It’s now on Indiegogo. See the link below.) This artwork was commissioned for the rewards to those who contribute to her project. You can find out about it here, and if the link changes when the project goes live, I’ll update it, so you might need to check back. If all goes according to plan, the project should go live on Wednesday, March 20th. Go look at her project. Right now. I’ll wait for you.

Back? Cool. Remember to check in on Wednesday and donate if you can. And don’t forget to tell your friends.

(Fair warning: what follows is a LONG post.) In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to go through the process of creating the art. Brenda was generous in giving me a free hand and it definitely helped having read the story. That being said, when we chose this sketch to take to finish, we weren’t sure if she was even a character. But she fits the story, so she got the part.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

Perhaps this would be good time to mention that I’ve never painted an underwater scene before. I didn’t even have a clue how to start. Luckily someone posted a Photoshop tutorial on Deviant Art on just this subject. In about a half an hour I had a reasonable underwater background and much better chance of pulling this thing off.

The first wash.

The first wash.

At this point I mixed A LOT of paint. The basic green I used was Terra Verte from Dan Smith Inc. I have some issues with this pigment, but I won’t get into them now. It will be a suitable subject for it’s own post. I also mixed up some very old Windsor Newton Prussian Green, a separate puddle of Indigo (WN) and Terra Verte, and for the top, the ‘under-surface’ of the water, Cerulean Blue (WN) and Permanent Green Light (DS). I wet the paper as evenly as possible and finally started slapping down color. I had, however, forgotten that Cerulean has a tendency to not play well with others and it ‘precipitated’, separating from the green. Actually, it didn’t just separate, it dove into the paper and latched on. Momentary panic set in, followed by vigorous scrubbing, and a bit of swearing. You can still see the where the blue stained the paper in front of her face. The rest of the background went in comparatively easily. I set it aside to dry, and started breathing again.

The first layers of skin get painted.

The first layers of skin get painted.

When I was in art school sometime back in the Jurassic, my watercolor instructor wouldn’t let us use black. We had to mix it. She also gave us a great formula for Caucasian skin tone: Cerulean and Orange. Since she made us mix our blacks, she made us mix our oranges as well. (I don’t think I’ve ever owned a tube of Orange watercolor.) This time I used the aforementioned Cerulean along with Cadmium Red (WN) and New Gamboge (WN). Unfortunately, at this point in my process, I have several pools of paint mixed up and I start getting sloppy. I just dip my brush here and there, add a bit of water or a bit more pigment, keep things moving. As a result, I have no idea exactly what colors were used in the green and blue parts of her skin, the fishy bits. I started with the green, painting over the areas for both green and blue. In the picture below you can see the blue has been added.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

The first layer for her hair is straight Indigo. I think I went back in to the flesh tone a little bit here.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

I gave the school of fish behind her a bit of definition and then went in with colored pencil. I used black on her hair and then started on her edges with the black as well, but it was too flat. I grabbed my trusty Terra Cotta colored pencil, but that was too warm. So I covered the Terra Cotta with the black and successfully avoided a horrible Goldilocks metaphor. It looks as though I added another layer to the background here as well.

The first 'finished' version.

The first ‘finished’ version.

It was a good days work. I took her into the house to my resident color expert.

“That’s a good start,” she said.

“Start?”

“You never use enough contrast,” she said.

Sigh.

Mermaid10

The next day was spent carefully adding layers, deepening shadows, refining linework. I showed her to Brenda that night, and while we all like the art, it still wasn’t ‘there’. The big difference you see here is the result of this being a scan and the others from our Canon point & shoot.

The 'final' final.

The ‘final’ final.

This is where my resident color expert (aka my wife) gets her real due. I knew the piece needed ‘more’. I just lacked the confidence to be as drastic as I needed to be. I’m fussing and fuming over how to proceed and she just points to a glob of paint on my palette.

“What’s that green?” she asks.

“Permanent Green Light. It’s too bright. I can’t use that.”

“Just mix it with this other stuff. It’ll be fine,” she says.

I do the tiniest bit, knowing it’s hopeless. It isn’t. It’s gorgeous. I don’t care if it makes me a wuss. I take my wife’s advice because she knows what the hell she’s talking about. The Permanent Green is very yellow, so it contrasts with all the blue green in the picture, popping the mermaid off the page. With the green in her fishy bits plumped up I move on to the blue and have a bit of fun. I used Lapis Lazuli (DS). It’s the real stuff, not synthetic. The batch I have is a greyish blue and it gives a lovely depth to her blue as well as a slight contrast to the blues around her. Her pink skin needed more warmth too. I didn’t want to use my skin tone mix, that would push her more to the brown side. So I used a thin layer of Garnet (DS), also the real stuff. Her hair got a little more black (mixed, of course), and a few more touches here and there, but after a day of sketching, a day of drawing, and three days of painting, I think she’s done. That may not keep me from fussing with her until she gets sent to the printers, but all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.

And don’t forget what this was for. Check out Brenda’s Kickstarter campaign. Donate if you can. Thanks.

Celtic Mizrach

What do you contribute to a fundraising auction for a progressive Jewish community held at an Indian restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day? How about a Celtic Mizrach. (To quote Dave Barry – I swear I am not making this up.)

Traditionally a mizrach is a piece of art that hangs on the east wall of your house so you know which way to face when saying certain prayers. And while I do know a historical decorative technique that was typically used in Hebrew manuscripts, I’m not Jewish. I’m a Celt. Well, technically an Anglo-Saxon Celt. And yes, I know you can be an Anglo-Saxon Celt and Jewish. But I digress.

Kadima is a pretty eclectic group of people. I figured they could appreciate my cultural-stew-as-art. The woman who bought it is a practicing Catholic from Germany and as far as I know, her Jewish husband is non-observant. My wife’s comment about this whole thing?

“All is well with the world.”

Now on to the geeking out.

The ink I used was just plain Calli brand calligraphy ink, no geek points there. The paint, however is all hand-mixed, natural pigments. Dry powdered pigment that I add gum arabic to and grind with a little, tiny muller. I don’t know the source for all of the pigments, but the indigo and cochineal were made by an acquaintance in Canada and the Naples yellow is from Rublev pigments and is pure lead antimonate. The other colors were gifts and so remain a mystery.

I kept the palette simple because of the intricate design and also time constraints (start to finish was less than a week). The knot-work is Naples yellow, vermillion, and cochineal. The pattern is from the Lindisfarne Gospels, folio 211r; though the colors are my choice. The wiggly bits inside the letters are also derived from the same page. They were done in Naples yellow, viridian mixed with zinc white, and ultramarine mixed with zinc white. I used some of the blue mixture and added it to indigo for the border and it still came out almost black. Lastly, all of the dots are vermillion.