the flying fish

Here the miraculous fish swings from what will be a hook and loop in Tobias’ curled fingers, just as he swings like a circus aerialist from the archangel Raphael’s hand. I keep putting off starting work on the fish (don’t know why) and the landscape beneath, presently a dark patch bisected with a curving flash of red oxide, has yet to evolve into the planned steep conifer-clad  hillside with a waterfall plunging through it. However that must wait for now. The basilica is one of the few substantial areas of red oxide under-colour still remaining in the composition, and that’s where I plan to start painting tomorrow.

spot the difference

At first glance today’s image (above) may look identical to yesterday’s (scroll down to compare) though many small changes have brought the figure of Tobias to a more satisfactory conclusion. Look closely and you’ll see that tonal adjustments today have helped the definition of the figure against the background. The boy’s back has been broadened along the bow-like curve under his right arm. The neck has been repainted, the blue light on it replaced with a warmer colour. The hair too has been slightly re-worked. There is also a new, irradiated patch defining the left edge of the open jacket. Small changes and perhaps not obvious without careful examination, but I can breathe more easily in front of the painting having made them.


Tobias begins to take shape and find his place in the composition. At last the panel appears as far more finished surface than red oxide ground, and I’ve stopped breaking into a cold sweat every time I walk into the studio. Still a little more work to be done on Tobias’ hair and forehead, but he’s getting there. Damian Walford Davis’ poem, written as the painting has been developing, unexpectedly made reference to the boy’s ‘sun-bleached hair’, and so I changed his colouring to keep step with the text. (An improvement as it turned out.) And talking of developments and improvements, the poem came with a title that has defaulted to the painting. I’d long known that it wasn’t to be ‘Tobias and the Angel’, but I hadn’t come up with a better solution. Damian’s is perfect. But I shall save that revelation for the hopefully-not-too-far-off-day when I can show the finished painting here on the Artlog.

from chiaroscuro to colour

As the painting of Tobias and the Angel (working title only) moves foward, I occasionally look to the earlier image I made in black and white. When I was working on that I wasn’t thinking very much about how or even whether it would eventually translate into colour, as I saw it as being a work in its own right. So it’s interesting at this stage of the current work to compare images of how things were and how they are now.

feathers and footwear

I might equally have called this post Shoes and Songbirds or Lace-ups and Leaves. However I couldn’t find sufficient alliteration to hit the three new ingredients of shoes, wings (or rather a ‘new bit’ of wing) and and blackbirds (it’s late, I’m bone-weary and my brain isn’t working well) though I just know that visitors here will entertain me with alternatives that I missed. Go on, get creative. (-;

still stitching

Work such as this is time-consuming… probably more so than it looks. There are so many tones involved and since those slender leaves need the slimmest brushes to produce them, the tide of foliage across the surface of the painting creeps at a snail-like pace. There are blackbirds too to be included, and those will start going in tomorrow.

This dense patterning isn’t intended to draw too much attention to itself in the composition. In some respects I want it to go almost unnoticed, the idea being that it’s there to reward anyone lingering over the composition and taking the time to step close to it. But even though that’s the effect I’m aiming for, it needs a meticulous execution or the ‘busyness’ could at best unbalance the painting, or worse, overturn it. So the result is that fronds get painted in and back out again rather endlessly as I try to find the perfect balance. Sometimes I dream that the mice will come and finish the leaves for me at night after I’m done at the easel, as they come to finish embroidering the mayor’s wedding waistcoat in Beatrix Potters The Tailor of Gloucester. Alas all the Ty Isaf field mice seem to do is remove our shoelaces in the boot-room and then weave them into winter nests inside our wellingtons! My walking boots these days are laced with garden twine!

wings of the archangel

Back to wings again today, and the task of suggesting colour, iridescence and texture. Water-flow, pinions, ruffles, scales and constellations of stars are a few of the ideas worked into these. Paint has been brushed, smeared, sanded back and scratched through with engraving needles. It’s a slow process but I’m getting there.

the belt of apollo

My friend Philippa Robbins, herself a painter, has e-mailed me apropos of archangel Raphael:

‘I love his luscious, red beard and that there’s no wondering if that’s a shadow or not; it’s obviously not in this painting – the red, pubic hair.

A most lovely angel.’
Of course she’s  right about the ‘shadow’, as anyone over the past week who has clicked on the image of Raphael to magnify it will have spotted. Therein lies a previously unmentioned and quite interesting fact. No-one has, until now, broached with me the matter of those slivers of darkness that so frequently appear at the low-slung belt-lines of my angels and saints, perhaps because they have been ambiguous. No possibility of that with this red-haired Raphael. No point in denial. It’s not a shadow.
Today I planned on painting wings, but in fact ended up working on trousers and feet. Sometimes I think I have no control over this painting at all, and that it’s just setting its own agenda and pace. The last time this happened so startlingly was on Green George, that wayward warrior who suddenly turned into a green man without so much as a by-your-leave.

done dog

A frustrating day, with many things interrupting my time at the easel. But Jacket was was present throughout as his likeness materialised, and he even agreed to model his harness for me, though he clearly thought it odd that he was required to wear it in the studio. The dog’s head will be better defined in the composition when I adjust the background. Back to wings tomorrow.