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 (, 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.


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 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.


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.

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!

Andy, John, and the Doctor

I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is  a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.

Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.

It's Much Bigger On The Inside

It’s Much Bigger On The Inside

St. John

St. John

Ode to Andy

Ode to Andy

So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.

The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.

St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.

Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?

What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

Have You Seen This Man?

The last two of my i-knot series a couple sharing i-pod and a hipster. The couple I saw walking down the street one day, holding hands and sharing their ear buds. I think it was all the more sweet because they were kind of grunge-y and hard-core looking, sharing  this moment in public. It doesn’t matter if they were listening to acid or emo, it was still cute.

i-knot: Terminally Hip

i-knot: Terminally Hip

i-knot: Version 2.0

i-knot: Version 2.0







The hipster is the man in question. I had originally drawn him more generically with a much more structured knot. In the redraw I realized he was leaning against a wall with one foot propped up and I saw him as ‘the hipster’.

In a recent Seattle Times article someone wrote of hip young men with “ironic mustaches”. What does that mean? Is that like John Waters?  I don’t know. I drew my hipster with no mustache at all, just the beard, his curly hair tousled over his forehead, and heavy horn-rimmed glasses. He’s wearing a sweater with the sleeves pulled up, tight purple jeans, and green Chuck Taylors.

So I ask again, have you seen this man? I know I have, or a variation thereof. And I want to make clear that I’m not dissing hipsters, but lampooning a stereotype. Maybe I’ll do the Aging-Ponytailed-Beerbellied-Hippie-Artist next. Er…that would be me.

It all comes back to creating images that are easily, if not instantly, recognizable in a pop-culture context. Giving the viewer a frame of reference, a chunk of solid ground to stand on while looking at this art. Why? Because the technique I use is not a common one and I want my viewers to have something they can relate to. There were many people at the gallery opening who were totally unfamiliar with Celtic art, but they knew a flying monkey when they saw one.


I’ve always loved how the scribes of the old insular manuscripts would contort humans and animals into almost unrecognizable shapes, all to fit into a particular space, a la the artwork in my previous post. I also wanted to keep playing with the ‘i-knot’ theme. This formed a clear link (at least in my mind) to the i-pod ads beginning around 2005. Bright, changing colors with a figure in almost silhouette, and the i-pod and earbuds in white, all moving to music. These three pieces were directly inspired by those ads.

i-knot: Air Guitar

i-knot: Air Guitar

i-knot: Hop

i-knot: Hop

i-knot: Bellydance

i-knot: Bellydance


But here’s the funny thing: I don’t remember actually seeing the ads. I know I must have at some point as they are so ingrained in my memory. Around the time these ads came out, our TV died and we never replaced it. My son remembers seeing the ads on billboards and they have perhaps reached the status of an iconic image. Do a Google search for ‘i-pod advertisement’ and you will see other artists versions ranging from Darth Vader to Homer Simpson. Such is the power of popular culture.

Was there an equivalent in 800 AD? I’ll look into that question in a later post. In the meantime, dance like no one is watching.

I’m having a hard time getting the scan for i-knot: bellydance to look good on the blog. It should be a lot more magenta. It also sold opening night. Last time I checked, the other two were still available.

How It All Started

Sometime in mid-May I was doodling in my sketchbook, trying to come up with some ideas for the  30×30 challenge and I drew this girl drawing on her tablet and listening to her i-pod. It got me to thinking about “i-culture”, the seeming need to be plugged in to technology, constantly in contact with the internet. It’s a very different paradigm than the one I grew up with. There are aspects of it I embrace. There are parts I think are detrimental to society. But my way of working is not entirely relevant to the modern world. I must adapt to the new technologies and the modes of thought that go along with them.

i-knot: Student Edition

i-knot: Student Edition


The key word for me here is ‘adapt’. To adapt is not necessarily to conform. I will continue to paint with watercolor on paper, even grind my own pigments, but I will also continue to expand my working knowledge of Photoshop as a valuable artist’s tool and social media that can help bring my work to a broader audience. I am a dinosaur that chooses to grow fur. But I digress.

I called this series ‘i-knot’ for what I hope are obvious reasons. I don’t mind poking fun at institutions or fads (or nearly anything else) but I also want to see the good wherever I can. Even in what I’m poking fun at. So my character, while all tangled up in her technology, still has a smile on her lips and is creating art on her tablet.

It’s not my way of doing things, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.