The Green Man – oil on canvas 50 x 60 cm
I like to work in various styles, sometimes I want to closely observe a subject from life and at other times I’ll using all kinds of photographic references to give me the visual information I need to proceed with the picture. Some of my subjects may appear at first glance mundane whilst others are in the realm of the imagination.
The Green Man represents the spirit of nature and rebirth. He represents the renewal and freedom felt by living beings when spring arrives. He’s mischievous and we find him associated with Jack in the Green, John Barleycorn, Robin Goodfellow and Puck. The Green Knight from Arthurian legend and Robin Hood also share aspects of the Green Man’s nature. So does Father Christmas, originally intended to represent the tree spirits his robes were always green. The Jack in the Green is part of the May Day parade and relates to customs practiced by the Celts and Druids. The Green Man is often seen in those discrete carvings called misericords that decorated many Christian churches and cathedrals built in medieval times. It seems that the builders and craftsmen had no problem mixing Christian faith with the old ways.
I came to paint this picture in a roundabout way. At first I was going to paint myself a Green Man t-shirt using fabric paint. However fabric paint is very different to painting with oils. Fabric paint is very stiff as it cannot be thinned so it is slow to work in and once it is on it can’t be washed out. This means that a strong sense of the final design is needed from the word go. Despite fabric paint being almost the opposite of oil paint in its application similar realistic effects can be produced. Quite a few of my t-shirts designs can be viewed on Facebook and I’ll quite likely do some blogs on fabric painting in the future.
So in order to make a t-shirt I would need to make a picture first using oils. One can take several approaches when it comes to composing a picture. Sometimes sketches are made and the entire picture is planned out in advance. I rarely work in this way. Most of my paintings are put together on the canvas. I draw with thin paint until I have a good idea of the composition. I can always wipe oil paint off and redraw something if I choose. The medium I use stays fresh all day so I can alter and develop the section of the picture I am working on throughout the day. If I decide to repaint a part of the picture that has dried then I will need to paint that area back to the ground colour.
A painting like this is put together from many sources. I’ve used photographs that I have taken myself, images from books and from the internet. Putting together the source material is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to digital technology I just plug my camera into my computer upload the images I wish to use and doctor using programs such as Photoshop or Affinity. I can put images into reverse if need be. I can create my own enlargements and print off onto A4 paper.
My Green Man is made of oak leaves. I looked at botanical drawings in order to construct the head. As human heads are more or less symmetrical I’ve used an arrangement of leaves that is similar on each side. Once the head was established I started to paint in more leaves using some photographs I had taken. Then I began to think of adding insects. I love painting butterflies so they were the first to go in followed by a ladybird and some bees. I then put a nightingale into the top right corner to represent the birdsong that one associate with the woods. When using photographic images it’s important to use an image that will work with the eye level of the picture. So you appear to be looking down at the leaves and insects in the lower half of the picture and up at what is in the upper part of the painting. If possible I like to make use of the space that is outside of the picture. This is a tricky thing to do because it involves creating a sufficient illusion of reality amongst the foliage so that the butterflies appear to float in space.