Monday, October 31, 2011

Keyhole Session: The Sibyl

A Sibyl or some other pagan witch, looming out of the underworld, rests her hand on the shoulder of a nubile shade.

The drawing was done from life at a Keyhole Session in Toronto last June. I made a few interpretive modifications and found I had a chthonic figure from classical antiquity; whether she's a Sibyl or Medea or someone else I leave up to the viewer. Either way, it's suitable for Halloween.

I visited the Cave of the Cumean Sibyl some years ago. Archaeology cannot, of course, uncover the dwelling of a fictional character, but the place is evocative enough without her, and for her.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Another life drawing, this time done with a china marker in ten minutes or so. As so often happens, I decided the carpet was as interesting as the naked body. Or perhaps that the naked body was more interesting with a carpet.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mortal things touch my thoughts.

The Aeneid I.461-62:

En Priamus! Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi,
Sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt.

A ten minute life drawing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

False Outline

A model on the stand, rendered from life using a china marker and watercolours. She looks rather pensive, but that's the usual "concentrating on holding still" expression you see in so many pictures.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bleak Shore

For some years in the early 2000s, Tarragon lived in Halifax. Its rather bleak topography served for several landscape paintings. Or seascapes, as in this oil painting of an unladen container-ship passing the oil refinery on the north shore of Halifax Harbour.

It's one of my favourites of Tarragon's landscapes. The economy of the composition serves to suggest both the vast danger of the natural world, which multiplies beyond our capacity to grasp, and how heavily humanity's hand lies upon it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The wild geese at Loseley

I was sitting at a bench in the grounds of Loseley Manor, a Tudor pile a few minutes from where I was staying in Surrey, when towards me came a herd of foraging geese. They were an irresistible subject.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The wisdom of age

A young art historian.

an architectural doodle

It's fairly obvious that I love medieval architecture. So sometimes I make it up.

Although it should be noted that an imaginary history of this imaginary castle, were it to be written, would have to spend a lot of time on its post-medieval reconstruction: the inclined roofs and flat terraces are hardly possible prior to the baroque era and the form of the garden and its terrace suggests the influence of 18th century English garden design. The castle would probably have achieved its current form by the early 20th century. Perhaps it is now the property of a heritage trust, since it is clearly not important enough to be acquired by the state...

It was drawn with a felt marker on a standard piece of 8.5x11" printing paper. There may be a syllabus on the verso.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

in Arcetri

An imposing dwelling in Arcetri, a suburb in the hills south-east of Florence much bedecked with palatial houses. The name of this particular villa eludes me, although it's across the street from the Villa Fasola.

I saw it while walking south on the via de Santa Margherita a Montici, en route to the church of the same name. It's right about here, in fact:

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

A member of the audience at the 2011 Conference of Canadian Medieval Art Historians.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dolebat enim cum dolentibus et cum gaudentibus gaudebat

In the process of reading the vita of Saint Balthilde of France, I came across the phrase "dolebat enim cum dolentibus et cum gaudentibus gaudebat." In English: "For she mourned with the mournful, and with the joyful she rejoiced."

An elegant sentiment expressed elegantly, I thought. It stuck with me, and recently inspired this picture:

It began as a small ink drawing, and evolved on my laptop to the image you see here.

For those interested, the Vita Balthidis can be found in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores Rerum Merovingicarum, vol.II, p.482-508. The above phrase is on page 497.

The text was originally written in the seventh century, probably shortly after Balthilde's death in 680. She was an interesting character, who began as a slave girl and ended as queen of France. The many enemies she made along the way proved no impediment to achieving sainthood.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Still Life Painting on the iPad

There are, generally speaking, two camps in the matter of still life pictures. The first employs the techniques of high realism to celebrate lush materialism and the pleasure of materials. Such painting are invitations to touch, as in the work of Mary Pratt or pronkstilleven of the Dutch Golden Age. The second group, on the other hand, is not concerned with the illusion of reality, but uses more painterly and modernist techniques to emphasize harmony and composition. Through their minimalism and open display of brushwork, such works often verge on abstraction. An example here is Giorgio Morandi.

This still life belongs firmly in the second camp. Tarragon used the Brushes app to create it on an iPad.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sketchbook Page

Just an old page from a sketchbook, full of random life drawing. A few of the figures are people I knew, others are strangers. I was using a dip pen at the time, which is an awkward way to do quick sketches - you need three hands to hold the pen, book, and jar of ink.
But back in the day everyone had to draw like that, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chiasso Cornino

A tiny alleyway in Florence, just up from the Missoni boutique. Done with pencil and watercolour in a postcard-sized pad.

It is places like this, where the scale is intimate but the architecture so armoured and forbidding, that remind me how lucky we are to live to live in an era that includes Pokemon, the Tour de France, and all the other artifacts of stable state infrastructures.