Final Notes (HRK)

I enjoyed experimenting with the limited palette on this piece, and I enjoyed the design. The poem is a good one as well. But I think I would have been happier with a broader palette, enabling me to create a bit more moodiness.

So, it is finished. See the final photos in the ‘pages’ section under finished art.

And join me at the Potomac Celtic Festival to see it for the first public appearance.



Progress report (HrK)

Just to show that this piece is moving along nicely, I have a photo of the recent progress. Note the highlights in the moon rays, bringing some of the brightness of the waves into other parts of the painting.

Nearly finished

Nearly finished


Value and color (HrK)

‘Hall of the Raven King’ is doing well, but I have reached a bit of a snag. Taking a look at the picture in the previous post, you may see it too.

Anyone using color has to remember the basic principles of manipulating value. Working in pencil or pen is a constant education in establishing darks and lights, but moving into color can dull this sense of drama, as color is an easy way to change from one area to another, without changing the value.

‘Value’ is the movement of color through dark and light, and does not refer to the color itself, or to the intensity of a color. Adding white to a color produces a ‘tint’ or lighter version of the original color. In watercolor painting, this can mean adding more water, thus increasing the effect of the white paper on the color. Adding black or the color complimentary to the original will produce the ’shade’ of the original, greying the color.

The value of a color can be seen more readily if you get a black and white picture of a piece you are working on.

My colors were selected on a principle of ’split complimentary’ colors. Permanent green is very close to the standard ‘green’ on a color wheel and the complimentary color to green is red. Quindacrone violet is actually a tertiary ‘red-violet’, close but not exactly complimentary to green. The additional use of red-orange would provide the triad of two split-complimentary colors, existing on both sides of the compliment ‘red’ on the color wheel, to work with green.

But I decided not to use the red-orange, preferring a slightly off-balance feel to the colors.

Unfortunately, at this stage, my values are getting a bit boring, and I may have done the painting a disservice in rejecting the red-orange.

But, really, the values being boring would not be fixed by the addition of another color. It would only make it easier for me, as I could inject some color to make up for the drab values. So, how do you fix a problem with values?

The easiest issue to spot in the photo is the lack of drama between the foreground ‘gatehouse’ tower and the grey background to the white wavecrests. Even the addition of green and purple highlights to the grey stones could not change the fact that the grey stones and the grey water are far too close in value. I like the waves and they are mid-range in the grey of the background, so I need to kick the value of the gatehouse up or down. Changing the color might also help, but the color still has to be over or under the value of the waves.

I’ve decided, due to the brightness of the spiraled wavecrests, to bring the value of the gatehouse down, using black and purple, without white at all to create the stones and mortar. I’ll let you know how it works.

Another value issue seems to be the brightness of the wavecrests, done in very light grey, they appear bright white next to the darker values around them, and nothing else in the painting is that bright. I have to use that value someplace else in the painting, or it will isolate the wavecrests oddly.

I’ll be working in some brighter highlights on the moon rays and the towers to combat that issue. If that doesn’t work, I will have to tone down the wavecrests with a bit of grey. Being that intricate, the attempt would be difficult. I hope I don’t have to do that.



Work in progress (HRK) photo

Basic blocking of color is complete. Some graphite lines are still visible, especially around the outside edge of the moon rays, and on the main tower and roof of the hall. The grey of the tower stones in the front and on the first of the three ‘crooked spires’ on the right is a bit too close in tone to the grey behind the waves, so I need to work up some more changes in order to bring out the towers against the waves.

Look closely at the green, 4-armed spirals in the round moon design, and you’ll still see the graphite lines. The design slid while I was transferring it, and I needed to move the spirals up to keep them within the blocked background color. A bit dizzying to do freehand in bright green on purple-grey, especially when the graphite lines were already there and incorrect.


HRK unfinished picture

HRK unfinished picture


Basic Sketch (HRK) photo

This piece is very detailed, so I put it in on a larger scale. Note the compass points and ruler lines. KJN

Raven King layout

Raven King layout


Transferring (HrK)

The ‘Hall of the Raven King’ is a complex piece, with some rather detailed spiral and knotwork designs. Transferring it has been rather difficult.

I elected to transfer it in two parts.

First, I copied out the basic shapes, dusted the back of the paper with white chalk, and copied out the blocks for color. Next, I painted blocks of color for the background areas. Then, using a wax-free graphite transfer paper, I copied the intricate Celtic designs over the blocks of color.

The graphite transfer paper takes detail well, and doesn’t rub off as fast. The detailed designs will take a while to put together, so I wanted something that wouldn’t disappear immediately. This does mean that the lines will have to be covered, one way or another, before the piece is done.

The lines come out light grey, which does blend in a bit with the dark colors. But it also comes out with a bit of reflection, so the lines are shiny. This makes it much easier to see.

So, at this stage, I have some great background in black, white, grey, and shades of green and purple. Over that, I have my spirals and knots in light, shiny lines.

The drawback is that I must have slipped a bit as I transferred the spirals. So now, I have to redraw some of the lines, which in spirals can be a bit tricky. Especially spirals with four arms.



Blocking in (HrK)

Onward with ‘Hall of the Raven King’…

Today I have completed my goal in blocking the colors for the background. I’ll go over the edges and work up some shading in the blocks next. But now, I taking a break after laying down the larger rough edges of color.

My decision on using Quinacridone violet and Permanent green has led to some interesting results. Some eye-wrenching and some trance-inducing results.

Unfortunately, my camera is unhappy with the dark colors and black gesso, so it is taking me a bit of fussing to get some pictures. I’ll be back with some soon.



Three words (HrK)

‘Hall of the Raven King’ is proceeding apace. I have finished two layers of rabbitskin glue, added the muslin sheeting, and the gesso is drying.

NOTE: Forgot to mention two things about rabbitskin glue. First, do not boil the solution as it loses adhesiveness. Second, do not reheat congealed glue, as it also reduces adhesiveness.

Anyway. Gesso. The undercoat of a piece of artwork is something to consider when planning your colors. Gessos are primarily white, as white does not add anything to the colors of your paints. Even opaque paints can be affected by the undercoat.

I do not use acrylic paints very often, as I like the luminosity of watercolor and I’ve mentioned the list of reasons I like to work with tempera in another post. I find acrylics a bit rubbery and lacking a feeling of light. This may be my lack of experience with acrylics, but I usually avoid using them. In this case, however, I wanted to be able to layout color blocks of background and layer on the detailed Celtic design without having the background and foreground do any blending. Acrylic is very useful for this sort of technique, and I am using ’soft body’ acrylics by Liquitex which will suit my more watercolor style as they are far more fluid than tube acrylics.

I have an extremely detailed layout, primarily a seascape crafted of Celtic design elements. It has a very stylized and ‘old manuscript’ feel to it, especially as I used an old medieval illumination of Jerusalem to help me layout the towers and gates of the Hall.

I decided to challenge myself with a drastically limited color palette, selecting two colors to go with black and white tones. Quinacridone Violet and Permanent Green Dark are my color selections. They fall nearly opposite on the color wheel. Shadows and tones will be provided only with black and white. I am hoping, with these colors, to maintain a feeling of things being ‘bleak’ and ‘unreal’ as I work up the spirals and twisting knots.

To add to this, I have used black gesso as an undercoat, and black as a mixer on the palette. One of the first things you learn in art class is not to use black, but to develop other colors within the painting to provide shadows and darks that are not black but appear so to the eye. Here, I am using black. I want the feeling of gloom that a black mix will provide. The black gesso will affect the colors, which are not completely opaque. I’m thinking of a mix between Patrick Fitzgerald and Edward Gorey. And if you get both of those artistic references, we should talk.

As a whole, the piece should feel a bit unfinished or even shoddy. Worn. Maybe damaged. The board is not squared, and I have allowed edges of the muslin sheeting to show. I kept the gesso thin and I did not build up a smooth surface. The texture of the muslin and glue is rough under my first layers of paint. Black gesso, applied in almost a dry-brush technique, is bringing out the fabric crosshatching and wood grain near the unsanded edges and corners.

‘Bleak, unreal, damaged’ are my words for this piece.



Fixing mistakes (HrK)

Rookie mistake. Too much glue on the board, and it started to set while I was still spreading it around. So I end up with pebbles of glue, much like rubber cement you rolled up and played with in art class.

How do you fix it? In general, most places that tell you how to do this will tell you to avoid putting down too much glue, as it will set and get uneven and pebbly. But what do you do to fix it once you have already done it?

I find that using more glue, heated up quite a bit, will smooth down the lumpy bits. Also, just a cup of very hot water to dip your brush will have the same effect, but will also lift off some of the glue. Applying heat with the brush, whether with just a bit more hot glue or hot water is the trick.

Remember, that in general you aren’t too worried about a cosmetic issue with the glue, as it will be completely covered with gesso. But large lumps can start to cause lumps in the gesso surface.

For this piece, I am worried about cosmetic issues in parts of the glue surface, as it will be visible in the finished piece.



Supporting the Raven King (HrK)

Good Morning;
After a short hiatus to take pictures in Ireland, I’m back online. See my webshots link for some new photos, and bump into me at shows to share travel stories in the Burren.

The silver on DoL is darkening, but I’m still not happy with it. BI is done, so I’m digging in to the next piece, one of my largest. An illustration for ‘Hall of the Raven King’. See the Poetry page for the poem itself.

The first step is to select a support. I have chosen a large, pieced panel of mahogany. It is a good thickness for its size, being just under an inch thick. When I bought it as scrap from a cabinet making company, they planed it smooth for me, but it did not get squared up. For a few years now, I’ve been meaning to do that. But now, I believe I will not. Thus the board is a bit uneven.

One of my thoughts for HrK is to expose parts of my process within the art itself. I want an unfinished feel to the piece, and the raw edge will add to my image. Will it work? Not sure.

As we speak, the board is drying from an application of rabbit skin glue solution. A first layer in the process. The glue will seal the board and protect it from the wet gesso and paint.

After the warping of the BI panel, I expressed the thought that I don’t trust pieced panels, and I still don’t. This one will be carefully prepped, hopefully mitigating the tendency of the pieced boards to curve.

The panel is pieced along the long edge, meaning the pieces are short, and stacked to be vertical on the landscape format I am using. If there is any warp, it will appear much as it did on BI, bowing out into my painting vertically like the face of an upright can. Not my plan for it, I assure you.

The first step is to coat the panel in glue. More than once. I use a standard ratio of the dry grains to water, of one glue measure to seven water measures. This can be easily adjusted to create smaller amounts of glue solution by using a smaller measure. In this case I used a 1/3 cup for the glue grains to 2 and 1/3 of water. It’s a big panel. I usually use a 1/4 measure or a jigger measure obtained from a bartender friend. As long as it can be easily evened up, any measure will do. Just remember one to seven.

Soak the grains overnight, and heat SLOWLY in a double boiler to avoid bubbles. You are looking for a completely clear, golden solution, smelling vaguely of wet dog. It may take just a bit longer than you think, as the final grains seem to take forever to finally go away. This is a basic solution, which can be used for sealing, or mixing with chalk and whiting to make gesso.

Coat everything with warm glue. If you end up with bubbles or gloopy bits that dry quickly, add more warm glue and it should melt it smooth. End grain is difficult to coat, so make sure you get it into the grain.

My second step, though not required, is to soak a piece of raw muslin in glue and apply it to the face of the panel. It gives the gesso more tooth to hold onto. It is more necessary when creating an icon due to the requirement of applying so many coats of gesso. Usually I make sure it fits snugly over the edges of the piece, trimming to keep it clean and tidy. Here, wanting a more unfinished look, I will probably leave some rougher or unraveled edges.

The muslin, in iconography, represents a veil between the painter and the heavenly plane. This is essential for the creation of an icon, as the heavenly light is overwhelming, and can blind the artist if he is not humble enough to shield himself from its glory.

I will coat the whole panel again after applying the muslin. Then, because I do not trust the pieced panel, I will apply glue and screws to long slats of hardwood, affixing them across the back of the panel at a right angle to the pieces. Later I will also use the slats to affix hangers to the piece, as I do not intend to include an additional frame.



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