The Modern Athena
(24x30", Oil on Stretched Canvas) Price: $ 4500.00
Welcome to my very first major figurative work in over a decade. I fell out of practice in painting people over the years. Animals and still life work took over in 2006 after I decided that the role of becoming a fantasy and science fiction book cover artist...a long coveted career that I'd cherished since childhood...was never going to eventuate. I went through a period of loss and a somewhat depressive time before completely ignoring those beloved genres and diving headlong into more mainstream art. My painting a day project grew from that: very small works of still lifes involving flowers, toys, and such. Eventually I branched out into specific themes that worked for me. My beloved series of robots and nature, BIRDS 'N' BOTS, arose from those experiments and continues to this day, as well as my cosmic whales and rocket doodles. However, through all of those years, and earlier, I never returned to painting the figure, save a the odd small painted sketch of a mermaid or portrait. Fast forward to the last three years. I decided that I wanted start painting figures again...but after being out of practice for so long, it was far easier than it sounds. I engaged our two best models and had a fabulous five hour model shoot with them and costumey type accoutrements and took over 350 photos. Filled with possibility and wonderful results, I somehow couldn't bring myself to engage in the actual inspirational process that would lead to the paintings I envisioned. Fear of failure after so long, lead to a fear of drawing the figure, and ultimately fear of picking up a pencil and just doodling them. New paintings happened, but they weren't the figurative ones I had dreamed of. I had a few other photo sessions with Sarah, our sylph-like ballerina model, whereupon we had fun dressing her in various lux' fabrics and lighting and taking copious photographs for my files. This last session, something clicked in my brain...and my inner muse piped up and said... "Okay, it's time to swallow the fear and get ON with this". Then my muse smacked me upside the head until I had an idea to work with. A simple composition, very simple symbolism, and a firm resolve not to 'overpaint' or 'over finish' the paint. There are levels of realism, and I've tried many of them, but I return to my favourite comfort zone of painterly, serendipitous brush strokes, and unapologetically old school style of 'not quite Impressionism'. And I am happy. As you'll see, it took me a while to augment my basic want to paint the figure of Athena with something storytelling. The 'Little Owl', the Helmet, and the 'shield' are all a part of the Athena canon of accoutrements/symbols. In my modern incarnation of the goddess, she wears a heavy silver cuff on her 'shield arm' that is inscribed with her owl, representing 'wisdom'. Wisdom is a shield in this image as she is about to walk off into an unknown future. In passing she considers her owl perched on a branch that almost looks like a spear behind the helmet. Does she still need the trappings of her past, in the future she's heading for. All of her symbols are represented in the crumbling bass relief portrait of her archaic self etched in stone in the background.
This is the composite final sketch, comprising the separate elements I drew. I put this together with photoshop because the old fear of drawing lead me to believe that I might screw it all up if I tried too hard. Also, it gave me the freedom to dither for an hour or so in getting the positioning of the elements 'just right'.
This is the portrait of Sarah that I drew in my sketchbook that kicked off the inspiration for painting Athena.
This is the main drawing I did to base all of the other elements on. Below, is the Little Owl, aka 'Athena's Owl' and the archaic Grecian helmet.
Below are some progress shots of the painting. I didn't keep them up during the final stages of the painting, unfortunately: too many interruptions and things that needed doing.
Under-painting tint with a few highlights and darks. I don't like doing a full on monochromatic work up base painting. I prefer working with the colours and paint as I go. Burnt Sienna in main background, pale Terre Verte was the thin tint used in the skin areas.
Laying in the base coats of paint in the background with big brushes, one fine brush, and a scrubby fun with a small palette knife. I wanted levels of stone 'texture' in the bass relief sculpture to reflect wear and age and character.
Starting to refine and add some darks into things.
Beginning work on the figure at last...and trying not to run screaming from the easel. Face the fear DOWN. Laid in the dress with big brushes and painterly highlights. It didn't vary much at all in the finished painting. Sculpting with light and shadow on the skin textures.
The face is coming along...although I took an artistic liberty to change the eye, nose, and lips just a little.
The face in early stages...
I was also starting to work on the hair here, as well...
And here, unfortunately is the last work in progress photo that I took. I was just beginning to work on noodling the foliage and block in the helmet and branch that the owl is sitting on. I ended up repainting the figure's hand three times in frustration...because it just wasn't working for me. We went to visit our model, Sarah, for tea one Sunday morning and my husband brought his iPad along. In a fast five minutes, he made me reshoot Sarah's hand in a slightly different pose. I wrapped a sheet of tinfoil around her wrist to represent the 'shield cuff' Athena is wearing...and took the photos. Phew. They made all of the difference. I finally was happy with the position of the fingers, and happily noodled the creation of the shield cuff and its adornment right on the canvas.
The palette used for Athena's skin tones consisted of: Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, and French Ultramarine. Other local colours appearing in the surroundings also reflecting in the skin a bit, include: Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Lemon, Sap Green, Terre Verte, Chromium Oxide, a tiny touch of Alizirin Crimson, and also Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Blue in the figure's dress. Brushes: everything from Angled 1/2 inch Flats, 2 inch Flats and Filberts, to much smaller Size 6 Filberts, and very fine rounds. Big floofy blending brushes were used sparingly, but helped smooth the skin of the figure and softened rough edges on the leaves here and there, and the carving in the background.
It is finished, and I am very proud of the achievement. I feel now that I can move on to other figurative works in the future. If not confidently, then somewhat surer than I have been this past three years that it took me to get to this moment of completion. Thanks for sharing the journey.
Come back soon!