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Part 3: Pause, Particulars, Push

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This painting was nearly three years in the making. But that doesn’t mean it is the ONLY painting I created in that period. I always have two or more paintings underway at any given time. I’m not a person who gets bored easily, but working exclusively on the same painting for too long can become monotonous and tedious. Eventually, you want nothing more to do with it.

Working on a painting that you’ve lost interest in will lead to poor quality work and outright mistakes, which could effectively ruin it. The last thing you want is to screw up something you’ve invested hundreds of hours in. So you take a break, and move onto something else. Because of this painting’s size and irregular dimensions, it was very difficult and time-consuming to work on. Needless to say, I took quite a few breaks.

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At this point, the painting is approximately 60% complete. The remaining elements are the border, the script, the columns and small details like the candles. Doesn’t sound like much, but that border? Tremendous amount of work.

The first thing I tackled was the background script. Two different scripture verses, pertinent to the painting’s overall message (which will be explained in Part 4):

Matthew 12:30

Revelation 1:17

I love paintings with black backgrounds. There is a problem with working on black, though. The graphite paper I use to transfer my image design isn’t visible on the black paint. So this begs the question, Do I want to free-hand all that script? Or can I MacGyver another way to transfer it? So check out my very simple solution.

January 16, 2012

After securing my template in the correct position, I used a soft-leaded graphite pencil (6B – a softer lead is quicker to apply and leaves a darker, more transferable material than a harder lead such as 2B) to leave a layer of graphite on the back of the paper. Then, I simply traced the lettering as usual, leaving a now-visible imprint on my canvas. Why did the graphite pencil leave a mark when the graphite paper didn’t? The graphite paper has a waxy coating: there is very little graphite in the product at all. You can run your hand over a tracing made with graphite paper and it won’t smudge. But run your hand over a tracing made with a graphite pencil, and you’ll have a mess to clean up.

Which brings me to a word of caution. If you use this method of transfer, just be aware that the pencil will not only smudge if you touch it, it can potentially mix with the paint you put on top of it, muddying the colour a little. This shouldn’t pose too much of a problem though, especially if you are planning on two coats of paint.

With the script traced onto the canvas, next step was paint.

I repeated the same process for the second verse above the horses.

Next up was tackling that border.

Because the border slips in behind the columns, I painted it first, beginning with the two hues of green and the black centre strip, followed by the crisscrossing green, beige and blue stylized leaves in the middle. Followed by … those medallions. The most difficult thing for an artist with an unsteady hand is to paint something right at the edge of the canvas. The precious stones, the filigree, the writing – not exactly what I would call ‘fun’. But hey, work can’t always be fun.

Now, I’m not a big “experimenter”, but for this piece, I was determined to have gold leafing. Note to any aspiring artists, or anyone wanting to try their hand at gold leaf: Do NOT buy your leafing and sizing from an art store that doesn’t know what “sizing” is and has to order your supplies online.

Before I tried it myself, I watched dozens of videos demonstrating various gold leafing techniques. Two facts were unchanging – the sizing turns sticky, and the gold leaf is ridiculously fragile. My gold leaf? Couldn’t even tear it. I had to use scissors to cut pieces off. The sizing barely got tacky enough for the leafing to stick.

And when it was dry and I tried to brush off the excess (keeping in mind, the videos all showed using gentle, circular motions with a large, dry brush to remove the extra), the overlapping leaf wouldn’t tear (again, had to cut it with a very sharp knife, which was difficult as I didn’t want to ruin the finished paint underneath), but wherever it was stuck down with the sizing, bits of it kept flaking off, leaving little bare patches. Beyond frustrating. BUT, stubborn as I am, I wanted gold leafed medallions. So after much fretting and a little finagling, a second application of gold leafing left me with an acceptable result.

The final element of the border, was the writing. There’s a lot of it, so let me reference it for you.

To the right of each medallion, in the upper dark green stripe, are the 12 Tribes of Israel. — Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. Each of the 12 Tribes is assigned a specific stone in the Breastplate (Exodus 28:17). I showed you my reference chart in Part 1, illustrating what the stone is, its colour, its order (in the breastplate), and its corresponding tribe. The medallions hold the breastplate stones.

In the lower light green stripes (of the TOP border), are found the Seven Spirits of God (Revelation 2:1) — Grace, Truth, Knowledge and the Fear of the Lord, Wisdom and Understanding, Judgement, Council and Power and Fire.

In the upper light green stripes (of the BOTTOM border), are listed the Seven Churches (Revelation 2:1) — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

Note: The Seven Spirits are placed so that they match their corresponding Church.

The remaining writing on the painting is scripture verses, pertinent to the painting’s message.

In the TOP border: Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of Decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the Valley of Decision.”

Hebrews 6:4 – “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, to their loss they are crucifying Jesus again.” Note: I modified the end of this verse due to space restrictions. However, the intended meaning has not been lost.

In the BOTTOM border: Revelation 22:12 – “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

Revelation 10:11 – “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”

Revelation 22:8 –  “I, Wendy, am the one who heard and saw these things.” This again, is a modified verse. John wrote the book of Revelation, I created this painting, so I have substituted my name for John’s.

I used a printed template for the Tribe names, Seven Churches and Seven Spirits, but free-handed the rest with a brush.

Finally, we come to the columns. I’m not even going to tell you how many base coats are on those things. Suffice it to say, more than ten, which is A LOT. And do you know how difficult it is to find tape that doesn’t bleed under the edges? Very difficult. I still haven’t found a tape that works well. For this painting I tried Scotch-Blue Painter’s Tape for Delicate Surfaces. While it worked a thousand times better than regular masking tape, there was still a small amount of paint bleed which required some touch-up work.

I wanted marble columns, so I went reference-hunting to find just the right kind of marble. I considered the look of different marbles themselves (ex. veining and colour variations), as well as how their colour would compliment the rest of the piece. I finally settled on this beautiful Spanish orangy-cream-coloured crema valencia marble.

To create the faux finish of marble, I used three colours of paint (a light, medium and dark), a crumpled piece of plastic wrap, and my fingers. When it comes to achieving a particular textured look, the best thing to do is experiment. You never know what materials and techniques will help create the finish you want. And never underestimate what you can do with your bare hands!

One feature I wanted the columns to have was carved lily capitals, designed in the Corinthian inverted bell style. 1 Kings 7:19 – “The capitals on top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies.” This is in reference to the pillars (columns) of Solomon’s temple. Now, while “in the shape of lilies” likely was in reference to the Corinthian style (the inverted bell also resembles a blooming lily), I also love the look of ornate, carved capitals. This is where I reused the lily design I showed you in Part 1. I separated the lily blossoms and incorporated them into the capitals.

At this point, with the columns complete, I still couldn’t decide whether or not adding vines would compliment or detract from the painting. The vines were part of the original design, but I was so pleased with my marble columns, that I was afraid the vines would destroy their beautiful, elegant look. While I wrestled with this decision, I went ahead and painted the seven candles along the bottom border.

The painting looked great when everything was finished, minus the vines.

I wanted to leave it just the way it was. BUT, this painting was designed and created with a specific message in mind. When it comes to creating a painting, you’re always going to have to sacrifice something. And I believe, when choosing between aesthetic and message, message is always more important. SO, even though aesthetically I prefer the bare columns, the vines were necessary to tie the entire piece together.

After choosing a leaf shape and colour I liked, I sketched the vines, transferred them onto the columns and began basing them.

Here you can see the progression of the vines. Left Column: Shows the first two stages of development. Right Column: Shows completed vines.

Some last-minute detailing and touch-up work, a step back to survey the landscape — making absolutely sure there was nothing else I wanted or needed to add — and at last, the painting was finished.

There are hundreds of hours of work in this piece. It certainly didn’t happen overnight. But to finally have a finished product; to be able to look back to when it was just an idea, then how the idea developed and evolved? It was worth every second that I poured into it.

A true artist shares a little piece of his/her soul when they paint. It’s what gives the painting LIFE. You can breathe spirit into the figures, and instill meaning in the most insignificant detail. You can give something that is two-dimensional and inanimate a voice of its own. For anytime someone looks at your painting, the painting will speak to them.

Painting is not just a form of expression. It’s not all about emotional stimulation. A work of art should have substance. It’s not just something pretty to look at, but something that is important and carries a message. It should make you ask questions — and if it’s good art, it will give you the answers to those questions. An artist paints what words cannot describe.

There is a difference between a painter and an artist. A painting either exists, or it lives. Painters paint pictures. Artists paint moments, thoughts and feelings. An artist can cross all boundaries, and bridge the gap between the dimensions.

A true objet d’art isn’t confined to the constructs of our visible reality, it goes above and beyond that which we understand, that which we see, and that which we know. Be creative, be bold, don’t let the world tell you no. Paint what you love, and you’ll love what you paint.

Series concluded in Part 4: Symbolic Representation …