Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas!

Have a wonderful Christmas,
and many, many thanks to all of you who have dropped in on my blog during 201o.
See you next year

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

Much as I adore the way Walker Books designed my version of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", I hope one day they will do a larger format version of it.
The pictures are pretty small in the book and you do have to look very closely to see all the detail.
This scene is from Stave Two.
I hope it will work with the slightly feeble snow effect I have added to the blog.
I took a liberty including the street light as they hadn't been invented in 1842 when the book is set. In those days they had flaming torches at street corners which I felt would have looked inappropriately medieval.

"When Scrooge awoke, it was so dark, that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighbouring church struck the four quarters. So he listened for the hour.
To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped. Twelve! It was past two when he went to bed. The clock was wrong. An icicle must have got into the works. Twelve!"

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Nude Life Painting in Six Stages

I remembered to take a photo of my painting of Emma during each of the breaks in our morning session at the RHA yesterday.
The photo quality isn't great, and I apologise for the shaky first image, but I think this series shows very well how I develop one of my life studies.
Yesterday was our Christmas party in the life room, which accounts for the appearance of a half empty wine bottle in the last picture.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From "The Young King" by Oscar Wilde

The recent post I did on Oscar Wilde reminded me of one of my own favourite spreads from that book, in which these two pictures flank the text.
It's a powerful piece of writing by Wilde, with wonderful imagery for the illustrator to explore.

"On and on he went, till he reached the outskirts of the wood, and there he saw an immense multitude of men toiling in the bed of a dried-up river. They swarmed up the crag like ants. They dug deep pits in the ground and went down into them. Some of them cleft the rocks with great axes; others grabbled in the sand. They tore up the cactus by its roots, and trampled on the scarlet blossoms. They hurried about, calling to each other, and no man was idle.

From the darkness of a cavern Death and Avarice watched them, and Death said, 'I am weary; give me a third of them and let me go.'
But Avarice shook her head. 'They are my servants,' she answered.
And Death said to her, 'What hast thou in thy hand?'
I have three grains of corn,' she answered; 'what is that to thee?'
'Give me one of them,' cried Death, 'to plant in my garden; only one of them, and I will go away.'
'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice, and she hid her hand in the fold of her raiment.
And Death laughed, and took a cup, and dipped it into a pool of water, and out of the cup rose Ague. She passed through the great multitude, and a third of them lay dead. A cold mist followed her, and the water-snakes ran by her side.

And when Avarice saw that a third of the multitude was dead she beat her breast and wept. She beat her barren bosom and cried aloud. 'Thou hast slain a third of my servants,' she cried, 'get thee gone. There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron. What is my valley to thee, that thou should'st tarry in it? Get thee gone, and come here no more.

'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn I will not go.'
But Avarice shut her hand, and clenched her teeth. 'I will not give thee anything,' she muttered.
And Death laughed, and took up a black stone, and threw it into the forest, and out of a thicket of wild hemlock came Fever in a robe of flame. She passed through the multitude, and touched them, and each man that she touched died. The grass withered beneath her feet as she walked.

And Avarice shuddered, and put ashes on her head. 'Thou art cruel,' she cried; 'thou art cruel. There is famine in the walled cities of India, and the cisterns of Samarcand have run dry. There is famine in the walled cities of Egypt, and the locusts have come up from the desert. The Nile has not overflowed its banks, and the priests have cursed Isis and Osiris. Get thee gone to those who need thee, and leave me my servants.'
'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn I will not go.'
'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice.

And Death laughed again, and he whistled through his fingers, and a woman came flying through the air. Plague was written upon her forehead, and a crowd of lean vultures wheeled round her. She covered the valley with her wings, and no man was left alive."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reclining Model by a Mirror

A few weeks ago we had a pregnant model posing for us at our life painting session.
Establishing a comfortable pose that she would be able to retain for the day presented a few little problems, but it was certainly worth it in the end.
It would be great if she was able to pose for us again before her baby comes but I think it is unlikely.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Speaking of my studio, here's how it is looking right now.

We've had about ten days of freezing temperatures and the deepest snow I can ever remember in Ireland.
It will pass in a week or so, but the poor Selfish Giant had winter in his garden for years.
Below is my illustration to "The Selfish Giant" from "Oscar Wilde; Stories for Children".
I've been thinking about Oscar a good deal this week as it is one hundred and ten years since he died, and BBC Radio 7 has been broadcasting his letters and short stories. You can get them for about a week at this link.

"The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. “This is a delightful spot,” he said, “we must ask the Hail on a visit.” So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Justifying My Thursdays

In my studio, the painting of Aine in my previous blog entry happens to be sitting just next to a painting of a little girl from my next book “No One But You” by Douglas Wood, which publishes next May.
The juxtaposition of the two got me thinking about the differences and similarities between my work from life (Aine), and my work derived from photo reference (the little girl).

Sometimes I fear that the amount of time I spend in the life room is a bit of an indulgence. Sure it’s good to get away from my studio and to hang out with other artists, but can I really justify spending at least one day every week away from my desk?
On the whole I feel the answer is “yes”. Not only is the life painting hugely enjoyable for me, but I think it is certainly informing and improving my illustration technique too. The comparison of these two pictures proves the point.
My brushwork in the illustration is freer, and more confident and economical than it used to be. In the past I would have had a tendency to paint every hair on the girl’s head and to very clearly delineate every fingernail.
Now I indicate the hand with the more dabby and hopefully more telling brushstrokes that time dictates I must use in the life room.
In very basic terms, I now understand a great deal more about the mixing and application of oil paint than I did when I did the Gulliver paintings four or five years ago.
The illustration is still a good deal tighter than the life painting and that’s fine, but it’s good to feel that after twenty-five years in the business, that the core training I still do may be paying off in a meaningful way.