Final notes (Ps)

The Pookah worked up very fast. Watercolor does occasionally impress me with it’s ability to dry before I’m ready. The lines are almost exactly what I would have wanted if I had been more clear with myself at the beginning of the painting. A bit of fussing here and there would not improve anything, I’m sure.

The colors in the background of the central panel are still not quite what I want. I think I wanted them darker. The Pookah himself is a bit leggier than I wanted. And not quite so dark as I was envisioning. But I like it. And it is time to STOP.

The Pookah will require a frame, as will ‘Behind the Sun’ if I get it finished. Therefore, these two pieces have to be done about two weeks ahead of the show on the 13 and 14 of June. ‘Hall of the Raven King’ will not be framed, so I’m saving the last bit of work on it for the two weeks prior to the show.

I’m pleased with the way this one has come out. None of my fiddling with the camera has produced a good reproduction of the reds and oranges, as is par for the course. The depths of watercolors rarely come out in photos anyway, so I hope you get to see it in person. Check the ‘pages’ section for the ‘Final Photographs’ of this and other project pieces.



Eyes tired, head spinning (Ps)

working on the border and central panel

working on the border and central panel

Central panel colors coming together

Central panel colors coming together

Well, the colors are coming together. But I don’t know if I’ll try this combination again for a while.

The intense autumn palette is working well. Rich oranges and reds, a touch of Q-violet, bordered with a nice olive green, and the reds just pop right off the paper. I’m working up an overlay of India ink spirals on the border, which is the eye-wrenching part. It looks great when it is done. But I may need a cool cloth over my eyes. No caffeine for me on this one, thanks.

The central panel is also clipping along nicely with some cooler colors, washes of blues and some Q-violet to tie into the reds in the border. I’ll be done with it soon.

I initially intended the moon to have some 3-d elements in it, but the flat yellow, picking up a bit of unintended green tint from the surrounding color harmonics, works well with the heavier detail in the running pookah.

The central panel has become cool and smooth, in contrast to the brilliant motion on the border. I like it.



Three words and a photo (Ps)

As I have been working on the actual sketch of the Pookah, my ideas on what the final picture should look like have gotten more concrete.

A heavy border of spiral work, dense with detail, and shining with intense autumn colors. So one word for this piece will be “intense” and another would be “detailed”.

What other word will I focus on? I’m not necessarily focused on movement, as the Pookah is somewhat frozen in time, and the spirals I’ve chosen are less flowing than some designs. It has the feeling of a snapshot of a second in time. Everything stops moving so I can catch it in a painting. Perhaps “potential” is the word I want, a feeling that everything keeps moving as soon as I’m done. I want a feeling of ’stop’ then, when the painting is done, it can continue.

I also want a feeling much like A. Rackham’s black and white illustrations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Detailed, but not necessarily realistic.

So, we’ll go with “potential”, “detailed” and “intense”.

Below is a photo of the final design for the border of spirals for the Pookah.

A Pookah Encountered - border detail

A Pookah Encountered - border detail


Lighting up (Ps)

The work progresses on other pieces, but today is the day to work with the Pookah.

I have worked up an intricate border of spirals for this piece. I wasn’t sure how detailed I was going to be, as I didn’t have a clear view of this piece yet.

I’ve finally decided to work the Pookah in a crisper and darker fashion than originally intended. Rather than work with loose and light glazes of colors to create a more mystical look, I’ve decided to work with ink and crowquill nibs to render some rich details and spirals. Especially in the border.

I’ll add watercolors in oranges, reds and golds, and work in some highlights of gouche in copper to bring up my feeling of autumn. The central image of the Pookah will be a bit less stylized than the border, but maintaining a clarity of detail.

The first step is to transfer the design, laid out on a masonite board, to a heavy sheet of cold press 140 lb. watercolor paper. I usually use D’Arches blocks because I have a very limited storage space for paper, and I have three cats who get into things. Blocks store upright without warping any papers.

I would usually use hot press paper, to get in my details, but in this case, I wanted the cold press texture to come out in the central design.

I don’t own a light table, and wouldn’t have much room to install one big enough for most of my watercolors, so I use a vertical surface. After tracing the design from the board, I tape it to the large window next to my easel, and then tape the watercolor paper over it. It works well for large pieces, though it can cause some stress in the lower back if you work at it too long.

I use an H or 2H to lightly trace the design. Any harder and the pencil will dig into the paper and lines will bleed with paint. Any softer and the lines are too dark and smear too easily. I don’t always follow the lines exactly, so I don’t want them dark or deep enough to alter the flow of ink or paint.

After lightly tracing the lines, I will soak the paper lightly and tack it to my board with staples or tape. I may lose some lines in the soaking, but they are more of a suggestion, anyway. I’ll have enough to work with.



Drafting the Pookah (Ps)

The Pookah is a piece that I hadn’t planned to share quite yet, but I have actually been working on it all along.

I started this piece wholly from scratch in October, writing the poem and drafting an idea all at once. No old sketches or old poems to start with. I decided to start exposing the early stages of working on it after I realized that ‘Daughter of Lir’ would be taking a longer time to prepare. So, this piece will be including more of the sketching phase.

Again, unlike the other three pieces I have covered so far, this one is new. The other pieces have been waiting for a chance to be painted, and this one is jumping at the chance.

The layout was originally a practice piece. It is an accurate, proportional rendering of a layout from the early medieval manuscript, the St. Gall Gospels, page 208. Originally it was the background, complete with the halo, for the portrait of St. John. I had wanted to use it to create an upright piece, a study of Celtic spirals with a sunburst in the space defined by the halo, but when I tipped it sideways, the image of the running Pookah against the moon began to take shape.

Proportional rendering of old manuscript pages is something I do to understand the feel and rhythm of the older art. It involves a study of the ‘Golden Mean’ or ‘Golden Section’ which is a proportion recognized actively in ancient Greece and Rome. It is an underlying principle of design in the natural world, which can be manipulated to bring a sense of ‘oh, that just looks right’ to a number of artistic skills. More on the details later.

In manuscript painting, it is used to describe the difference between the height of an illustration and its width. The proper proportion looks ‘right’ and anything else seems slightly narrow, or oddly squared. From the initial outside proportion, inner measurements are developed, including borders and major portions of the illustration, such as large halos, thrones and the direction of hands.

Because the outside dimensions are developed as proportional to one another, rather than measured and copied as inches or millimeters, the design can be created in any size. Inner measurements are dictated by the initial outside dimensions, so everything is easily cut down to small sketches or expanded to huge murals. Manuscript books were different sizes, dependent on the size of the skins available and on the usage of the final book. Small pocket books and large altar manuscripts followed general proportional guidelines, and in some cases the designs themselves were obviously copied from single sources.

The borders on this piece are heavy, and in the original portrait they are filled with decorative knots. I am emphasizing spirals in this border, using the later ‘classic’ style of tight spirals with multiple turns, rather than the older, openwork spirals of the La Tene style.

I measured out the small parts of the border and tucked the measurements into a sketch pad, so that I can experiment with the spaces, working up a variety of spiral panels. The use of small panels to create larger compositions is a traditional method used from the earliest ‘classic’ examples of design in stone, metal and bone patterns. Earlier La Tene designs use this ‘building block’ method sometimes, but not as often, as the S-curve designs usually sweep over the entire decorated surface without dividing it into pieces. Space is often defined in the earlier style through the change in design, rather than the use of borders or divisional lines.

Because only the forepart of the Pookah is clearly defined against the brighter moon, I experimented with sketches of running horses until I found a shape that suited my purposes. The hind legs and tail will primarily be defined by the shadowy dark on dark of the body against a night sky, so I found a configuration that kept the hindquarters and tail simple, while giving me some dynamic movement in the forelegs.

More to come, with some photos of sketches.



A Pookah Encountered on the Spiral Path

A Pookah Encountered on the Spiral Path
… From ‘Travels on the Spiral Path’

He came upon me quickly.
Moving black against the lesser black of night.

Fat spattered in the pan
and crackled in the fire
as potatoes began to cook.
Sparks flew.

I poured whiskey into a bowl
but he did not turn aside.

Dry grass whispered
Dry leaves danced as he passed me by
Caught and suspended between
The earth and sky.


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