Most of my inspiration for my painting “Sirin” came from my general love of Russian Fairytales and Medieval painting. I spent a lot of time looking at 3 books I have on Russian Lacquer Miniatures. The art is usually on a black background with strong red and orange colors, with some lovely blue and green accents. This one in particular was very inspiring- “Sleeping Beauty.”
But I also used a few Pinterest pictures for reference and keeping me on track. With children about, I’ve found it easier to have a board rather than my usual pile of books. I still work with books of course, but I’m able to cut down on how high the stack gets by having my board up on the computer. –I made a separate board called, “Sirin.” At the top you have the “Maiden Tsar” from the Russian animated film, “The Magic Pony.” When I was a child, they used to show this movie all the time on KTLA’s Sunday Family Film Festival. In what seemed like a sea of wide eyed blonde princesses, she was a lonely island. Between her brown hair and her long, dark eyes with heavy eyeliner, she hit every mark on my childhood “pretty” target. Everything in this film is gorgeous. Don’t even get me started on the horses! Below, the two Ivan Bilibin pictures, as well as the image between them were helpful in my process of narrowing down my colors. I briefly considered a cream background. You’ll notice the Sirin on the left is holding a flower. She is proably a Gamayun, which were more likely to be shown with arms in addition to wings. I found this picture after I’d made my final sketch, but I still feel quite indebted to it. I gave my Sirin a sunflower to tie her to the Slavic solar god, (Dazbod or Belobog) as well as possible slavic solar symbols embroidered on her headdress.
Unfortunately Slavic mythology is still much of a mystery. A few beliefs which used to be taken for granted, like the Belobog/Chernobog dualism, are now questioned. (You may remember Chernobog from Fantasia’s amazing “Night on Bald mountain”.)
(PS- This is not a Danzig logo)
The Sirin in the center, with the red sun stayed with me, because for many decades I’ve had a reoccurring dream of a world lit by a black sun, black, not red like this picture- a sun that looks like an eclipse. The last time I started having the dream again was when I first got sick in the Fall of 2015. I made a few drawings and took some reference photos, but they’re somewhat sad and make me uncomfortable. It’s still there sometimes, that world lit by a black sun.
Russian headdresses, often called kokoshniks, vary from region to region. I have a little notebook with all the ones I’ve collected so far which I’d love, time permitting to turn into little paintings. Headdresses from the north usually feature freshwater pearls, while those from the south are more likely to have copious amounts of gold embroidery. I chose the more crown-like one on the upper right as my main inspiration. I loved the contrast of the blue ribbon and gold embroidery on the bottom left, which I incorporated, changing the blue to pale green. The totally bonkers beautiful bird woman in “Sadko” makes me want to track that movie down. The colors in the center picture made me change the background from black to a softer grey. The “Last Unicorn” has been on my perma watch list this winter. Amalthea has the best hair in animation, along with Aurora. The bottom center picture is a favorite of mine- midcentury art is the last time we saw art with small, dark eyes on a regular basis. Not soon after this, the adorable Dollybird’s with their saucer eyes began their beauty domination. And finally the amazing iridescence of raven wings. It helped me to be brave and add blue and green to the wings.
I have plans and sketches for more, but next I’d like to finish and paint my wolf girl sketches from November. Then, perhaps I’ll return to the “Land Beyond the Blue Mountains.”
gouache, acrylic, and pencil on 185 lb paper
I love Russian fairytales, folktales, and Slavic mythology. The Russian Sirin is thought to be a descendant of the Greek Sirin. Said to reside near the Garden of Eden, they sang beautiful songs of joy. Some stories tell that only truly happy people could hear the Sirin.
The Sirin often has two similar companions; the Alkonost, who sang sorrowful songs that inspired forgetfulness and oblivion in the listener, and the Gamayun, who sang songs of knowledge. All three birds were considered prophetic.
In line with my New Year’s resolution, I had planned on putting her up for sale, so that she could sing joyful songs to whoever wanted her. I even asked around to figure out a good formula for pricing my work. The “by the hour” doesn’t work for me. My work is too detailed. I ended up going with the “linear inch” model, which multiplied by our minimum wage gave me a fair price, at least fair in my mind. So, 9 + 12 = 21 x $12.00 = $252. But my husband ended up asking me to please not sell her. He’s grown quite attached to her, which is unusual for him. So, she’s staying here.
A photo of the finished painting. Unfortunately neither the scan above nor the photo capture the creaminess of working with gouache, but I still thinks she’s lovely. If you’re not familiar with gouache, it dries to a matte, suede like finish. Not fuzzy, but incredibly soft looking. It’s quite unlike anything in its strange, subdued beauty. Two of my initial sketches (there were two more that may become different paintings later). I wasn’t sure if I wanted to show her feet as well, but I decided to focus on her face, so I went with the sketch on the right. I took a photo for reference and started drawing.
I finished the drawing and transfered it to paper. I use a heavy duty 185 lb Canson paper that’s actually made for acrylics.
I love drawing hands. And here is the finished drawing on acrylic paper, ready for paint. I left out a lot of the details because I knew they would be filled in later by paint. I scanned her in and created a color key. The color key helps me to make sure my colors have some contrast and that I don’t end up with some random color in there which would stick out like a sore thumb. I also created a color map (not shown), which is where I took these colors and rough colored the drawing in photoshop to get an idea of where they would go. In that way I balanced the deep red of her crown with the deep red of her sleeves. After laying in the background color in gouache, I used burnt sienna acrylic to paint the outlines with a tiny brush. Next I did the coloring book colors. This part is always very hard for me because it looks like such a disaster. I felt much better once I had a chance to work on the background. The long process of creating the wings starts. I was inspired by iridescent raven feathers to use green to contrast with the red-orange.Sirins typically have bird bodies, but I wanted it to blur the line between whether she’s wearing a dress or whether those are her feathers growing out of her body.
Hanging out with Van Eyck’s Mary for inspiration. My photo reference is up so I can get the pink on her hands right.
I added gold paint to a few places. And some gold on her sunflower.Fin~
“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!”
As I mentioned before, Elstir is supposedly an Irish version of Esther, which means “star”. I like that she’s my dark star. I finally scanned her in and tried to color correct her so that she’s close to her real colors, at least on my mac. And to wrap this painting up, here is a collection of my Elstir wips that were originally on Instagram~
I finally finished Elstir. She started as a postcard for the Bat World Sanctuary charity. I liked the drawing so much that I really wanted to make it into a painting. I’ll eventually scan her in and add her to my portfolio, but until then I took some photos. The top picture is the closest to her actual color- at least it is on my mac screen. The middle one isn’t too far off, but the third one I had to angle a bit because I wanted to try and photograph the gold paint, which is no easy task. Now I know why some of Klimt’s paintings look marvelous and some look terrible. When I captured the gold, the rest of the picture bleached out, but when I got the rest of the picture, the gold disappeared. Oh well. She’s lovely in person. Well, as lovely as a monster can be, I suppose 🙂
gouache, acrylic, white charcoal, and gold paint
12″ x 16″
I wanted a name that meant “star” and stumbled upon an Irish version of “Esther,” which is “Elstir.” I already had decided that her bat ears would be wrapped like double hennins. She wears a thick medieval style crown with a bat cameo in the center. She has a shear white veil embroidered in gold stars and gold edging. Her eye makeup is actually a very deep blue.
Painting wise, I’m very satisfied with her. She hits that sweet spot that I was trying to express- my love of medieval illuminations, like “Tres Riches Heures,” Russian miniature lacquer box art, Andrew Wyeth’s lovely tempura paintings with their delicate hatching, Van Gogh’s beautiful movement, every Pre-Raphaelite ever, and obviously my beloved Klimt. Klimt with his long necked, long fingered women who are either beautiful or ugly, depending on who you ask.
I learned something very, very important from this painting, and that is, that I have to make smaller paintings. Elstir is 12″ x 16″ and she took a long time due to my meticulous painting style. My next paintings and drawings are all 9″ x 12″, like “Roxanne.” I do wish I could paint looser and in a smoother manner, but it doesn’t please me personally. Whenever I’ve painted in a smoother style things start to feel too soft and rubbery. I like all the hard little lines, imperfectly blending when you’re close. They give my eyes something to grab on to. It’s very much like the sensation I have when I watch the sea or a great mass of trees on a hill. I never get tired of looking at all the tiny colors.
I finished “Brooksie.” She’s gouache on 10″ x 10″ canvas. Unfortunately, this painting took me forever to complete despite its small size. I spent all of March with hives because I suddenly developed an allergy to rye bread. So, so weird. I’m not allergic to anything- or at least, I used to not be.
Anyway, I’m pretty happy with the progress from “Zelda.” This is much closer to what I had in my head. Now I wish I’d been bolder and more committed to outlines with “Zelda” but I’m not going back to rework it. I already have the next canvas for a new painting prepped.
As a teen, I discovered Louise Brooks in a book about silent stars and fell in love. She was so mischievous, passionate, and intelligent. I hunted for any of her films in the local video shops, but there weren’t any. I wouldn’t see her most famous movie, “Pandora’s Box” until decades later. If you’d like to know more about Louise, I suggest you read her memoir, “Lulu in Hollywood.” Peter Cowie put together an impressive and beautiful photo book about her, “Louise Brooks: Lulu Forever,” that is incredible. It’s expensive, so it may be a good idea to check the nearest library.
This is the photo by Eugene Robert Richee that inspired my painting.
Work in progress pictures:
Feeling incredibly rejuvenated. Karl is back in pre-school. Finished a large job for a client. And I have personal projects organized and ready to create. Today I put on Grant Morrison talking on Keven Smith’s Fatman on Batman podcast. I loved Morrison’s “Supergods,” which made me feel like I could accomplish anything despite my anxiety. I knew that since I was going to begin painting “Brooksie,” that I would need an extra shove to get me started. Strangely, the detail work on a painting is the least stressful for me. It’s actually very relaxing to take each piece and tap away with my tiny brush. But the initial laydown of color always freaks me out. I start procrastinating. But I knew Morrison’s unique abundance of creativity would inspire and loosen me up- and it did. So much so that I started putting together a muslin of Karl’s shirt while the layers of my paint dried.
And I finally signed up for Instagram. Yes, filters are fun.
“Zelda was very beautiful and was tanned a lovely gold colour and her hair was a beautiful dark gold and she was very friendly. Her hawk’s eyes were clear and calm. I knew everything was all right and was going to turn out well in the end when she leaned forward and said to me, telling me her great secret, ‘Ernest, don’t you think Al Jolson is greater than Jesus?’
Nobody thought anything of it at the time. It was only Zelda’s secret that she shared with me, as a hawk might share something with a man. But hawks do not share.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been working on this and others like it for over 4 years. My early 30s were a time of feeling incredibly uninspired. I had focused on learning 3d which left me no time to express any ideas in the time consuming medium of painting. And my usual medium- india ink and watercolor on watercolor paper just wasn’t cutting it for me. I wanted to both eliminate the india ink outlines I’d been working on to give my watercolors a greater softness and also make the jump to canvas and explore texture. Back in my late teens, when I first started painting large pictures in watercolor, I couldn’t get those really big, smooth flat areas of color that I wanted, so I began stippling the color in and fell in love with it. So artistically, I milled about in my early 30s but all that changed when I got pregnant with Karl. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with ideas- must have been the hormones- and worked toward trying to uncover a cohesive theme. Finally I realized my overriding obsession wasn’t just quirky surrealism, nature, and maladjusted ladies, but our connection to nature and how our world constantly attempts to sever us from it. Not in an eco- “let’s recycle” way, but in pretending that we’re not animals and that our marvelous brains should allow us to overcome our evolution through sheer willpower. It’s a message we’re constantly bombarded with- from the way we eat to who we have sex with- and if we don’t conform it’s regarded as a moral failure. I’ve always been more comfortable with being an animal than fitting in with humanity, so my chimeras make me feel right at home.