The Next Move

“Enjoy the Silence” is providing the soundtrack to this blog entry.  Not the original, but the positively venomous version by Anberlin.  It adds a dynamic counterpoint to the measured threat implied (hopefully) by the scene.

This painting has had a long gestation.  The concept first presented itself to me, while I was paging through my copy of Time-Life’s “Great Photographers”.  This is the same book that provided the germ for “New Haven”, “Adrift”, and “Passage”. At about the same time as the first boat painting, I started preparatory sketches for “The Next Move”.

You’ve already seen a couple of these studies in digital form.  In the finished piece, the wolf and falcon are joined by a an enigmatic woman, for whom they seem to act as sentries… or advisors:

It was when I came across a black and white photograph of her that the idea for this piece came to me.  Her gaze was so steely, so calculating, yet the photo gave no hint as to cause of this look.  My imagination went to work, concocting a scene that could capitalize on the woman’s magnetism (she is, after all, the famous turn-of-the-century Parisian actress, Sarah Bernhardt).  I also wanted to situate her within the fantasy world established by previous watercolors, “The Child Bride” and “The Rabbit King”.

After about a hundred sketches of all or part of the scene, I finally committed the outlines to the watercolor paper.  Next, the main areas of color were blocked in.  I tackled the main contours of the dress next.  That seemed to pose the greatest challenge, so I wanted to be sure I’d be able to pull it off before getting too far into anything else.  The purplish spot on which the lady’s hand is resting didn’t quite come off the way I’d hoped, and I ended painting over it with a crimson wash to try to cover up some of the mistake.  The fortunate accident of that move was a satin-like effect.

The crinkly dark ruffles were the hardest part.  I botched them almost immediately, and knew it.  This weighed me down for weeks to come; my displeasure with that part spread to the whole painting and made me lose confidence.

The picture remained in roughly this state for a long time, while I mustered up the courage and materials to pull out a victory.


There were a couple of convenient excuses to avoid this work for a while.  First, I was starting to create a lot of digital drawings at home rather than going to the studio.  Secondly, I needed a good source image to complete the details of the animals.  In other words, I needed to either bring my painting home, or my laptop to the studio.  This little added layer of complexity was plenty to derail the proceedings.

Until this week.

A few tentative stabs led to two final two sessions that brought the piece together.  Work was methodical and deliberate, building up deeper and deeper shadows, adding layers of detail, and defining edges more and more specifically.

One of the keys ended up being something as small as the shadow on the near side of the lady’s nose.  I had been talking to a studio-mate and recounted something I had noticed at a recent exhibit of Rembrandt’s work.  The darkest shadow in his portraits was invariably the one on the side of the nose.  My memory thus jogged, I applied this trick here and it worked.

The final details were the lace-lines on her dress.  These were not that tough.  They’re just loose interpretations of the texture, not especially beholden to the exactness of the actual garment.

Whew!  It’s such a relief and an accomplishment to have been able to chalk this one up in the “win” column, even if it doesn’t *quite* live up to the epic span of its creation.  Now, it’s time to plan The Next Move.

This entry was published on November 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm. It’s filed under Animals, Figures, Watercolors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

13 thoughts on “The Next Move

  1. This is really beautiful, Gabriel, with lots of detail, color, and depth. Plus it tells a complex story. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the woman’s steely look comes from the discomfort of wearing a corset! I’m just say’n….

  2. I like it Gabriel. I like the colours and the textures this time. They have their eyes on something, that’s for sure…! You can tell that a lot of work has gone into this painting. Good to see the wolf and the falcon again too! Oh, and one other thing that stands out to me in this one, is the choker the lady is wearing.

    • I’m pleased to hear you liked the choker. In the photo that inspired the piece, she’s wearing a bunch of loose-fitting pearl necklaces. This seems more appropriate.

      As for the textures, some of them are intentional: like the lace and the fur. Some are ‘happy accidents’ like the canvas of the backdrop.

  3. Gabriel, glad to see a return of the watercolors.
    I know you like feedback so here’s mine.

    From your pass work I know you don’t have a problem with the human figure, what stops my eye is the dress. For me, and this is just my opinion, I would have liked it if it wasn’t harmonious (in color) with the background. Instead of this reddish tint, possibly even a very light blue hue to really set the figure apart.

    the animals are just killer, love them. Again, for me I would have liked it if things didn’t blend in so much. The wolf would really be more powerful with darker darks and lighter lights.

    This is picky, but the painting is so good it doesn’t matter, the lady’s breast don’t seem to fill the contours of the dress.

    Ok that’s me being picky, once again, nice job.


    • You have my deepest gratitude for sharing your perspective. I get so “close” to the work, it’s hard to see it objectively by the end. I was actually worried that the figures would not feel integrated with the rest of the painting. This caused me to use colors (especially for the shadows) that echoed, or blended with the background. I think I overdid it though.

      If I was to do this one again, I’d take your advice and probably just neutralized the background color a little. As for the bosoms… I’m just guilty of not giving them the attention they deserved!

  4. I thonk this one is stunning. I have been waiting to see this one finished. I think your thought process on on where her arm rest, to the posistion of the wolf makes this stunning.

    • I’m glad you like it. I didn’t mention in the main post, but you’re right that one of the hardest parts early on was figuring out how to get her arm to “rest” correctly on the wolf… since there is no wolf in the original photo. The heights had to work out just right.

    • Thank you, John… I think. Would you care to expound? Was it the length of my prose that prompted the awed response, the amount of time I admitted putting into the piece, or something about the actual painting itself? 😉

      • I love how you used broad strokes to create the detailed effect. The intricacy shines when you enlarge the image. I love that you showed the color bleeding and luminosity on the wolf and the to the left half of the lady.

        Also that I like this style of painting.

      • Thank you for the details. It’s gratifying that you picked up on the color bleeding and light ‘effects’ on the lady and the worf. *Most* (not all) of that was deliberate!

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