St Thecla and the Deer
I'm currently working on a new painting called "St Thecla and the Deer", expressly created for a show/event in France called Chimeria, which opens October 6th. Most of the artists invited are visionary or fantastical artists, and the theme is Myth. St Thecla is not a mythical person, she was a real person, but her life story has many magical elements to it, creating a sort of Christian myth.
But then... I got hit with a couple of issues. One was the reality of shipping such a large panel to France. The other was time. The amount of time to complete a large scale painting like this did not match up with my measly painting schedule. So I had to edit my idea down, and Thecla was revised to a square panel of about 24 x 23", in portrait form.
I have to admit, I didn't really do my homework on the composition very well. I normally do several thumbnail sketches, and then a full value sketch before working on the actual painting. Instead, I sort of attacked the panel with conte crayons, drawing directly on the panel, which does work in many cases but since its a new way of doing things for me, I wasn't able to make reliable decisions on the composition.
What resulted was me making a lot of changes mid-stream... which sometimes is fun, but slows everything down considerably.
The first change I had to make was the dress color and the general colors of the piece. The idea of a red dress worked in the full figure version, but not in this case. The use of high chroma -- intense colors -- would be claustrophobic in such a tight, portrait composition. I repainted her dress in gold tones but what I'm going to do is add a blue damask pattern on top of the gold, a sort of floral patterning common in Renaissance dress.
The second change I had to make was Thecla's hands. She kind of looked like she was choking out the deer. So I sanded down that area and added a softer composition.
Finally, the birch trees were too thick, too cool in tone. They looked like prison bars. So I sanded those down and made them warmer and thinner. I will add more branches to them once the paint dries, to give a sort of halo effect around her head.
Most painters understand the idea of the underpainting; you're laying down the building blocks of the painting. I work out a lot of my kinks and I like to build up texture in this state, but the details are not set. I like to glaze; I usually do several layers of glazes on my paintings, building up luminosity. At this state, things are pretty flat and bleh. Details are missing. Highlights are missing. Things don't really come together until way later in the game, which is why I am not very comfortable showing my work at unfinished states.
I know its not the easiest, cleanest way to work, and normally I would not have cut some of the corners I did on this piece due to time constraints. However, I kind of like the nature of the hunt, finding the painting, you know? I'll keep y'all posted on the progress of this piece as I hammer away at it, but I guarantee its going to look quite a bit different the next time I post an update.
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Julie Baroh is a US artist, entrepreneur, and chronic chatterbox.