Posts Tagged ‘acrylic painting’

Paintings in the New Year

January 6, 2011

The new year began with two more paintings. These were done in four days: the first on January 1-2, and the second on January 3-4.

So here we go. The first is called The Hungry Hills.

Fairly bizarre, huh? As with stories, I often don’t know how a painting is going to end when I start it. I would even say usually there’s something I discover along the way that gives the picture its real focus. With this one, I set out to paint a fantasy landscape. I knew I wanted it to have caves, stairs, and a central chasm (because I liked those parts of the Balrog painting — see previous post).

The Hungry Hills


The Hungry Hills -- gray daylight shot

As I worked, I wasn’t happy with the painting at all. It had no theme, no central focus, nothing that interested me, and it didn’t even seem to be underground as I’d intended. Then I thought, “Hey! Those caves with their white stalactites look like mouths with teeth!”

The Hungry Hills -- a sunlight shot like the first

In this one, although you still can’t see quite to the bottom of the canvas, you can glimpse the stairway inside the mouth of the very lowest figure.

So then I realized that the cave areas should be faces, and they should have eyes and, in some cases, noses. At that point, I started liking the painting.


The face in the top right corner looks fish-like to me. I’m reminded of Dagon, who appears in the Old Testament as a god of the Philistines, and who may have been a god of the sea. He is also featured in the horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

The cavern beneath him, with the red eyes, looks just plain evil. If the top figure is Dagon, I would name this red-eyed fellow “Malev.”

Did you notice the winding stairway on that tower in the top center?

The top left figure has no eyes. He’s a blind hungry hill. The tree-faced tower next to him is wild-eyed, howling and mad, but probably not as dangerous as most of the other caverns.

The cavern beneath them on the left I call “Bomarzo.” Who or what is the gargoyle-like figure who seems to be gazing down at our heroine? Are his intentions good or ill?

A dark journey through the hills

Would you believe that putting in our heroine was a last-minute inspiration? It seemed to me that the hungry hills were all watching, waiting . . . their attention seemed focused inward on someone journeying among them. Then it hit me — of course! Someone is on that stairway! Someone is alone, and courageous, venturing into these hills on a quest!

I don’t have a name for the deep green one in the abyss, though he’s the one whose gaze told me exactly where our heroine was.

The face with a stairway where his ear should be looks Mayan to me, or maybe like a Kachina doll of the Hopis. He has two stairways in his gullet, climbing in two directions. The figure above him looks very cobra-like. I guess that’s Nagaina (remember Riki-Tiki-Tavi?).

Nag and the Lamia

Over here on the right are Nag and beneath him Lamia. Do you see the face on the wall of the chasm? It’s the only figure with a closed mouth. I think that because of its position, no one can possibly pass into it; no path leads there. So this hungry face has to draw its nourishment from the entire hill country of which it is a part. It’s a bored, resigned, frustrated face.


And our heroine, she who journeys above the hungry gorge . . . this may well be Dragonfly, or someone very much like her. Her coloring is certainly like Dragonfly’s. Maybe this is an illustration for that Dragonfly sequel, the very first manifestation of the yet-unwritten story! Certainly I love the title “The Hungry Hills,” which may be a chapter! The atmosphere of this painting truly captures the spirit of Dragonfly, doesn’t it? She carries the sword in her left hand. Does that mean she’s left-handed, or that she thinks she’ll need the lantern more than the sword? I like the fact that she wears a skirt: the best heroines are courageous, strong, capable, and feminine — just as the best heroes are courageous, strong, capable, and yet sensitive and gentle in their masculinity.

The Hungry Hills

A final thought on this: in the media of the near future, wouldn’t it be interesting to design an on-line storytelling format in which you’d have a picture like this, and you could click on each cave, each section of the image, and you would be ushered to a different story? A collection accessed through a single painting! Something like an Advent calendar, with wonders hidden behind each window waiting to be opened!

Our second painting is simpler: Three Princesses.

It’s a comedic image, a play on “Rapunzel.” Here, the prince is imprisoned by some sorcery in the tower deep in the forest. By the look of the plant life, he’s been in there for years, though he never ages. Three princesses have come to rescue him, but they’re engaged in a heated argument. The prince is unhappy, and the quest is at a standstill.

Three Princesses


Three Princesses

What is the nature of their altercation? Is the prince not quite so charming as they were led to believe? Or is he charming enough, but the three (who pooled their resources and skills to have made it this far) are now realizing that there’s one of him and three of them? Or does the argument concern whose responsibility it was to have brought a rope, or a ladder, or the spell to enter the doorless tower?

the owl

High above the characters’ heads, quite remote from them, perches an owl, who appears at a loss. My theory is that the owl represents wisdom. The meaning is that wisdom is all too often lacking in human endeavor.


I love the color called “country tan,” which I used for the lighter backpack, the blonde girl’s pants, and the middle girl’s moccasins. It goes smoothly onto the canvas and dries with a wonderful soft quality.

Three Princesses

This painting was a lot of fun. I love doing dark forests with no sky visible, but those stones in the tower wall were a pain.

When I was younger, I was embarrassed to draw women that were shaped like women. On these princesses, I pulled out the stops and made them as feminine as my abilities allowed.

If anyone wants to, why not try writing us a very short story to go with either painting? Just a paragraph or two would be enough! What quest brings our heroine into the hungry hills? What are the princesses arguing about, and what will the outcome be?

More Paintings

December 28, 2010

Well, here we go. As Christmas presents for some friends here this year, I decided to get out the brushes and canvases again and attempt to create one-of-a-kind, personalized gifts. (Notice that I didn’t say “great artwork” anywhere in there!) It has been relaxing and therapeutic to paint after the big push to finish The Star Shard on time. (Not that I was particularly tired of writing — but deadlines help, and the swift approach of Christmas with its need for presents was another great motivator.)

I have to apologize in advance for the quality of what you’re about to see. For one thing, these three paintings would be better if an actual artist had painted them. For another, it’s much harder than you might think to get painted images into an electronic format and post them onto a blog! When I asked about professional scanning at a couple different places, there was a lot of inhaling through teeth (which means, “You’re asking something difficult; I really wish you weren’t asking me that”). The pros were worried about shadows created by irregularities in the painted surfaces, etc. The upshot was that it may or may not be possible, but it would certainly involve sending the paintings away to the lab; it would take a long time; and it would be very expensive. [I’d gone into the first place with the merry idea of having them scan the paintings while I waited and then ordering cheap posters for all my friends . . . um, no. Live and learn!]

I tried using my own flatbed scanner — which, of course, is not nearly big enough for the canvases. They are A3 size, and it can only handle A4. But I thought I might scan the paintings a quadrant at a time and have good, digital images of the details. Again, not. For some reason, even when I played with the brightness control and weighted down the scanner lid with a stack of books, the scanned images came out very dim. Hmm.

So I resorted to taking digital photos of the paintings with my camera. Again, Murphy’s Law was strictly enforced. For one thing, it is winter in the northern hemisphere. That means that the sun over Niigata will next show its face in . . . maybe May? If we’re blessed. So I had to use the gray daylight on the edge of my tiny verandah. As I was jockeying into position, icy rainwater dripping off the edge of the roof hit the back of my coat and neatly splashed over the canvas. Grrr! (No damage, since the paintings are protected by nice finishing varnish.) I took gray daylight shots, and then I tried another series indoors by electric lighting. You’ll see a combination of both.

Problem #2: My preference for varnish is high-gloss. Not just “gloss,” but “high-gloss.” It’s beautiful to look at, but a nightmare to photograph. It’s like pointing your camera at a mirror. FLASHHH! That’s why you’ll see these images at all sorts of odd angles. I’m standing on my head with the camera, trying everything I can think of to avoid reflections.

Okay, I think that’s my full battery of excuses. I’m not an artist, I’m not a photographer, I’m poor, I have no patience, I live in a perpetually-cloudy region, and I like high-gloss varnish. May all that serve to predispose you to look kindly and mercifully on these humble paintings!

"What a Lot of Things You Use 'Good Morning' For!"

So here’s Gandalf talking with Bilbo at the beginning of The Hobbit. (I’m clearly not in any danger of being commissioned to do a Tolkien calendar anytime soon!) Sorry about the framing — because of the odd angle, I had to crop like mad, so you can’t see to the edges of the canvas. [This is precisely why Marquee Movies will tell you: always go with letterbox format in your movie rentals and purchases — never settle for the “pan-and-scan,” full-screen versions. Unfortunately, these are pan-and-scan versions of my paintings.]

I do like the expressions on the faces of these two. And the Shire looks sort of inviting. (It looks MUCH more so on the actual canvas, where the colors are brighter and everything looks 40% prettier.)

I like Bilbo’s fat stomach! The influence of the Peter Jackson films is quite evident in the hairstyle, huh? For that teacup, I used a color called “English Lace,” and I didn’t even have to mix it. I like the moss effect on the stone porch-thing. See my signature there in the corner? I always do it in gold, an “F” and a “D” together.

This was the outdoor shot, with a big glare on the canvas. (I took several, and believe it or not, this was the best. Sigh!) No, I don’t think that’s the Party Tree in the background. It’s just a tree. I like the purplish stuff in the hedgerow, and I hope that on your computer it looks better than it does on mine. It’s nice in the original, as is the sunlight on the grassy slopes.

The Eternal Now

This is a picture of me and my two closest friends on this side of the Pacific. (Can you tell which one is me?) It represents both Heaven and those “moments of Heaven” we experience at times in this life.

This is by electric lighting. Of course in Heaven it will be midsummer all the time (heh, heh — Mr. Snowflake is away, so I can say anything I want!) — but maybe the cherry trees in Heaven bloom in the midsummer. The sakura blossoms themselves were easy to paint: I used a large, soft brush like the tuft on a lion’s tail, and when I had the paint mixed to the precise color I wanted (white with the tiniest touch of crimson), I just puffed the brush all over, above every trunk I’d painstakingly drawn first. I like how the most distant trees seem almost a mist. (Those trunks took forever!)

What’s “Heavenly” about this image is that there aren’t crowds of people. There’s the picnic, and then just trees, trees, and trees, as far as the eye can see — and friendly blue hills in the distance. There are no responsibilities. There is only a picnic, and close friends, and good books, and a baseball and ball gloves, and time that does not pass: the Eternal Now. A golden moment unending.

This picture allows you to see the two bicycles in the foreground. The thing about cherry trees is that they bloom for a very short time. It’s like about a week at the most — and if there’s rain or wind during that time, the petals can fall prematurely. For the sakura to look beautiful, a blue sky is required. So in most places, people are very fortunate if they have one or two good viewing days during cherry blossom season. That is a large part of their allure, I suppose. Like a human life, they are here for one shining moment, and then they are gone. A breath. A day and a night, and then Eternity.

The peak of the blooming is called mankai, when every blossom is open, and the boughs look positively heavy with flowers, and every tree is poised in that one breathless instant before the pink rain of falling petals begins. If you get a blue sky on the day of mankai, you have received a wonderful gift. For this painting, I chose the moment when the first few petals are falling — the threshold between the perfect beauty of mankai and the perfect beauty of the pink rain.

The Eternal Now

And now we return to Middle-earth:

The Bridge of Khazad-dum

The classic confrontation between Gandalf and the Balrog is a favorite of artists. But I have yet to see a rendition of this scene that doesn’t ignore Tolkien’s description that the Balrog’s limbs have the coiling property of serpents. Have you seen anyone else tackle that? I’ve attempted to show that here, and I think my design is plausible.

Flame of Udun

The Balrog should be a combination of shadow and flame. See my little orcs streaming down the stairways in the background?

The Balrog

You can pretty much tell that what I love the most about this scene is Moria itself. Moria is the place in Middle-earth that I’d most like to visit. I mean Khazad-dum in its heyday, of course, before it was full of orcs. The folk of Durin! The great city of Dwarrowdelf! (Is it an accident that there’s only one letter difference between “Durin” and “Durbin”?)

Fleeing Companions

Frodo doesn’t want to leave Gandalf. Sam isn’t about to leave Frodo. Aragorn is trying to get them both out of harm’s way. We see Legolas and Gimli here, and I guess the blond hobbit must be Pippin. (Merry wouldn’t be blond.)

In the actual, I love these colors of the stonework.

Nice chasm, huh? 🙂

And there you have it. Once again: if your computer works anything like mine does, if you click on any painting, you can view a magnified version of it. Click again, and you zoom in further. I haven’t figured out how to “click back out” without shutting down the whole window, though . . .

In the previous post, I introduced a quotation from Tolstoy in War and Peace and invited reactions. Thank you to those who offered your thoughts! Here’s the quote once again, and then my two cents:

“Everything I know, I know because I love.”

To love is to step forth, to reach out, to emerge from one’s isolation. It is to sense and savor the world around us. It is to embrace the joy that comes from places, from objects, from activities, and especially from other people. To love is to take a risk — for only when we love do we have something to lose. When we love we are involved; we are invested. Triumph, awkwardness, anxiety, exultation, fear, anger, joy . . . all these emotions that mark us as human beings — are they not all traceable to our loves?

In the movie The Name of the Rose, Sean Connery’s character William of Baskerville says to his novice, “How simple life would be without love, Adsol — how safe, how tranquil . . . and how dull.”

“Everything I know, I know because I love.”

I think Tolstoy was right.

Pictures at an Exhibition

March 24, 2010

The time has come to reveal my latest avocation. I’ve been messing around with acrylic paints for the past month. There was a time back in my college years when I experimented with visual art — acrylics and oils. I didn’t go very far with it then, but for the past year or so, the urge had been building in me to try it again. I had a great epiphany: if you feel like painting, you don’t have to imitate photos. You don’t have to paint rustic barns, farm ponds, or covered bridges (though you can if you want). So in this month of March, I’ve taken up the brush again and decided to be as weird as I want.

Don’t expect too much from the images you are about to see. Think kindly of them, because I haven’t had any training whatsoever. I simply wanted to try a form of expression that’s different from writing — to exercise parts of the imagination that don’t necessarily get to work in the written word. And anyway, I think it’s good to stretch ourselves and to try new things now and then.

I’ve found painting to be extremely satisfying and relaxing. It’s a challenge of just the right sort. Well, I know you’re already scrolling down to see what I’ve got here and aren’t in the mood just now to wade through any more preliminary rambling. All right, all right! Scroll down, already! I’ll present each image, and then provide some explanatory notes.

The Uncanny City is a nickname some friends and I have for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These first two paintings are intended as a diptych: a

The Uncanny City (I) -- Left

single image spread over two panels. At Pittsburgh, the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. With three rivers and valleys and ravines yawning on every hand, Pittsburgh is, for one thing, a city of bridges: it has 446 of them — more than are in Venice, Italy. The city also has 712 sets of stairs, making up more than 24,000 vertical feet — a greater vertical distance than you’ll find in San Francisco, Portland, and Cincinnati combined! My impressions of Pittsburgh are of steep, wooded mountainsides receding into the mist; ancient, often little-used stairways ascending and descending, often in the most unexpected places; crumbling

The Uncanny City (I) -- Right

 stoneworks — actually old foundations and cellar entrances, I’m told, but reminiscent of portals into subterranean realms. At night, there are winking lights on the towers, on the bridges, on the slopes, and reflected in the water. It’s a city once choked in industrial grime, but now considerably cleaned up for a new era. It’s called a “renaissance city,” reborn from the ashes of fiery forges, and now growing in many new and exciting ways.

My paintings here are meant to reflect the Pittsburgh that I see, like Middle-earth, a place built over the ruins of the past, with half-buried  secrets showing through the leaves: a place of whispers, echoes, moonlight, ghosts, and things uncanny . . . where dark doorways stand open, and stairs might lead anywhere.

The Uncanny City (II) -- Left

The Uncanny City (II) -- Right

Kind of fun, huh? When I was doing the first set of those, I didn’t like them until I put in the stoneworks and stairways floating in the sky. That element is what, for me, laid in the intangible quality of Pittsburgh that I was trying to capture — something like what Neil Gaiman described in Fragile Things as “a room that’s locked but isn’t there.” If you put each pair side-by-side, the left panels line up with the right, continuing the image. It’s a popular thing to do with fantasy book series, for example: to have a picture that extends across all the covers when the books are laid out adjacent to one another — and/or possibly another image that runs across the spines.

Anyway, here’s one I call Shadowland:


The somber figures troop in a weary file through a country of gloom and shadows. Beneath a gap in the clouds is a forest aglow with sunlight. The figures react to it, but trudge past; it is not on their path — they are either unable or unwilling to go there. Do they regard the lighted country with longing, despair, awe, consternation, terror, or a vague uneasiness? I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the walkers’ legs are more canine than human.


I like the colors and composition of this one. Dirigibles, gears, pipes, dials, steam, mysterious strangers in Victorian garb, and a pocket watch — what else is there to say? — Steampunk!


Heh, heh! — But which figure is the self-portrait? Or are they both? Is the picture a kind of mirror? That’s a wall and window dividing it down the center, if you can’t tell. The faun is dancing in the moonlight outside the cottage where the writer listens, watches, and scribbles by the light of a lamp and candles — taking the dictation of the summer night. Let me show you the components of this one up closer:

Self-Portrait (Detail)

Self-Portrait (Detail)

March 2010

No, this one’s not a painting. It’s a picture of me painting at my aunt’s house, where I was visiting in Illinois this month. I’m grateful to my aunt and uncle for sacrificing this room: for a few weeks, they couldn’t really walk through it, with all the painting supplies strewn everywhere.

My Work Table

The House of the Worm (I)

A ripe, autumnal fruit is honeycombed with arches, passages, and stairs: the delvings of the worm, who sits in his easy chair, visible through an upper window as he smokes his pipe. Through another window, a portrait of a worm is visible hanging on a wall. The worm has made this fruit his home. This painting and the variation which follows were inspired in part by William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” Are these pictures purely whimsical, or are they pretty dark in theme? You decide!

The House of the Worm (II)

In some ways I like this refinement better: I wanted the fruit to be more clearly an apple, and this version is less cluttered than the first. Here we have the addition of the ladder, welcome mat, and mailbox, and the worm’s head is visible. But he looks a bit too much like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, which I don’t intend. I like the way the shapes of the arches look very much like crawling worms themselves. I like to nest images one inside (or atop) another, as in this next one:

Cassie's Summer

Cassie is my aunt and uncle’s border collie. She’s not really green — I took some artistic license on that point. Aunt Alice requested a portrait of Cassie, who is my daily walking companion when I visit. (Don’t miss the clouds!) Wouldn’t this make a good Cricket Magazine cover?

Still Life

In this one, the eerie faces emerged first. I knew it was about them, but I didn’t have the context — the juxtaposition that makes for an interesting painting. Just when I thought this picture would be a lost cause, I realized what it needed: lots of ordinary fruit to give the faces their place as sources of disquiet.

Now here are the two that, for the present, are probably my favorites:

The Dawn Engine (I)

It’s probably best if I don’t even attempt to explain. Make of it what you will. Again, I had to paint a second, alternate version:

The Dawn Engine (II)

This second rendition makes me think of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu stories. . . .

And let’s end on a more comforting note:

House of God

I’d like to try something else along these lines when I’ve gotten a little better; it uses a wash technique to simulate light shining through stained glass. The statues along the bottom were painted in shades of gray and blue, then covered with a thin, watery layer of another color once they were dry; I like how the highlights show through. I like the compositional balance of the picture. Yeah, I know that one window looks an awfully lot like a dart board. . . .

So there you have it — my first round of acrylic pictures. I intend to keep working at this, so I’m really curious to know what you like and what you dislike about these.

Of course, I’m not really a painter, so 1.) you won’t hurt my feelings if you hate them, and 2.) I’d better turn back to some writing one of these days.

Until soon!