Getting physical: Gawain panels and style

Jacksons wooden painting panel framework
Jackson’s wooden painting panel framework

Well, the wooden panels for my Sir Gawain and the Green Knight series came from Jacksons the other day, and very nice they are too. Smooth, well framed and surprisingly light for their size.  I’m now the proud owner of two 12″ square and four 12″ by 16″.


But before I crack on and get smothered in acrylic gesso, I’m painting a related 18″ by 24″ canvas in acrylics as a trial to inform my approach to the main panels. At the moment it’s all still too tight and pernickety – the small study on the left is closer to the feeling I want to get.

Sir Gawain's wildwood journey
Sir Gawain’s wildwood journey
Gawains wildwood journey
Study for Gawain’s wildwood journey

Rubbish photo by the way – I’ll post a better one at some point when I can actually get to see it in daylight.

There’s a long way to go yet. See that cunning fox? Well it won’t be so easy to spot once I’m done with it.

Sir Gawain journey end panel
Sir Gawain journey end panel
Sir Gawain journey start panel
Sir Gawain journey start panel

I have made a start on rough sketches for the two 12″ by 12″ end panels representing the start and end point of Sir Gawain’s journey to the Green Chapel. These will be linked by three or four 12″ by 16″ panels. The intention is that each panel should both work on its own and together as part of a greater whole.

Sir Gawain’s journey is not a comfortable one, and I thought that my painting journey should likewise take me out of my comfort zone. Not into flesh-flensing, tooth and claw battles with wolves and woodwoses you understand; no, I was thinking more stylistically (besides, all that fighting malarkey sounds far too much like hard work!)

I have considered a few options, and the panels would really lend themselves to a stylised narrative aesthetic as seen in paintings by Dee Nickerson and Sarah Birdie Fincham. I really love the work of these excellent artists and find both sublime, but sadly I don’t think I yet have the sensibility to work in a similar manner.

Recently I came across the multi-media work of Lisa Henderson. Her rich landscapes are gorgeous, and I could see a similar treatment working really well with Sir Gawain’s journey.  You can currently see her exhibition ‘Staffordshire Landscapes, a personal view’ at the Shire Hall Gallery in Stafford until 9th March.

Despite these tempting options I continue to be drawn to a heavily  textured expressive approach bordering on the abstract. Kurt Jackson’s work has always been a great inspiration to me – he squeezes so much soul into his sea and landscapes. They’re achingly beautiful, and the style’s far enough out of my comfort zone to make me sweat, so maybe I’ll head down that route, maybe…

Dinosaurs and comic book heroes

Over a year ago now I’d slipped into a bit of a  rut: back from work, an evening of playing Xbox online, bed, work, rinse and repeat. Temporarily fun, but ultimately pointless.

So I determined to reduce the time wasted gaming and re-engage my creative side. I wanted something I could pick up or leave at will. Nothing came to me right away. Then poking around I came across a dinosaur I’d sculpted a year or so previous.

I do love me dinosaurs. Started when I was an enthusiastic, geeky nipper, got worse during my days as an enthusiastic, geeky (and frankly a bit rubbish) biology student and has never left me.

Back in the mid 90’s I made, based and painted this raptor – a 1/5th scale vinyl model kit by Horizon moulded directly from the actual Jurassic Park pre-production models:

Horizon Velociraptor vinyl kit
Horizon Models Velociraptor vinyl kit

Building and air-brushing it was a hoot (the bugger’s about two and a half feet long), but the inaccuracies annoyed me.

So I thought I’d have a bash and made this Allosaurus fragilis from scratch. Purely for my own personal satisfaction, it’s based on respected Paleoartist Greg Paul’s skeletal reconstruction in his book ‘Predatory Dinosaurs of the World’.

Predatory Dinosaurs of the World
Predatory Dinosaurs of the World
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey

It’s quite small, 1/30th scale if I remember right, barely a foot from snout to tail. I used Super Sculpey, a pink plastic ‘clay’ which hardens when baked.

Unfortunately it lurched from disaster to disaster and I’ve pretty much written it off as a test piece.

The base still needs finishing, the detailing’s fuzzy (Super Sculpey is over-soft for detail work), the texturing is crude and clunky and not as extensive as planned due to a burning incident (don’t ask)… and cracks, lots of bloody cracks, keep randomly appearing in the supporting leg! (you can see them on the photo of the base). I may revisit it and give it a paint job one day, but not now.

Anyway finding it inspired me to sculpt again, but I reckoned doing another dinosaur would probably give me more angst than enjoyment. So something else then.

Now I also love Marvel Comics. Honestly, my poor old dad wonders where he went wrong. It perturbs him that his mid-fifties son is still into all sorts of ‘babbies stuff’ as he puts it with little sign of growing up. Anyhoo that’s what I decided to do: sculpt one of the heroes of my seemingly extended yoof. Bring on the clay!

Allosaurus fragilis in Super Sculpey
Allosaurus fragilis base in Super Sculpey


Sir Gawain: panel layout with acrylics

Ah well, not all my ideas work well the first time round. For my main Sir Gawain cycle of paintings I’d always intended to knock up a rough, small-scale test piece to see how the colours might flow through from one panel to the next.

In my mind I see a subtle underlying chromatic progression from Sir Gawain in the red corner (his shield is scarlet) to the Green Knight in the green.  So on a piece of A3 Cryla paper I roughly under-painted in acrylics with Viridian on the left running into Alizarin Crimson on the right. Over these I used diluted Mars Black to create darker bands of tone.

Underpainting for rough Sir Gawain layout in acrylic

 Working with the Viridian as an underlay for Sir Gawain’s side (as a compliment to his scarlet shield and gold apparel), I roughed in three rough bands in colours roughly approximating to the seasons – spring on the left, winter to the right.

Rough acylic colour spread for Sir Gawain painting

On top of these I wanted to super-impose my scale panels but realised I hadn’t made a decision how big they should be.

Now, in the part of my mind that wanders off and gets very excited very quickly I’d always had a vision of a row of enormous panoramic panels, mounded with crusted, heavily textured paint… unfortunately the duller more down to earth bit woke up and chipped in with all sorts of practical reasons why I couldn’t actually do that; spoilsport!

Truth is I haven’t got a huge studio space where I can lay everything out at that scale, let alone work on it.  I was also concerned that it might be so large that I might not actually finish it! And if I did finish it I wouldn’t have enough wall space to display a mammoth work either. You can tell I’ve really thought this through…

So begrudgingly, like a toddler being denied a huge ice-cream, I pouted, shuffled and scuffed my feet and mentally shouted ‘not fair!’ and set about scaling my ambition down to do-able proportions.

I reckon two 12″ by 12″ end panels and three or four (still not decided) central panels 12″ by 16″. As wooden panels have an appropriate resonance I’ll soon be pinging an order to the good folks at Jacksons.

With the size settled, I cut a mask out of stiff white paper to a scale of 4mm to 1inch, like a row of little windows to represent the panels in their final order. This I overlaid onto my rough colour test.   By trying different positions I came up with these:

Rough panel layout mask 1 over acyrlic Sir Gawain painting


Rough panel layout mask 2 over acyrlic Sir Gawain painting



To be honest, a little disappointing and underwhelming. Although the second holds a certain obscure promise I really need to go back to the drawing board.  The tones are too similar and the colours don’t carry the variety I’d like.

I suppose if everything always worked first time we’d never learn anything would we?

Sir Gawain’s winter journey

A week on and I’m still feeling my way toward my Sir Gawain and the Green Knight project, but the swirling ideas are starting to condense.  There are many key moments which I could plunder from the tale:  the Christmas feast in Camelot, the arrival of the Green Knight, his challenge, his beheading (all good clean family fun).  Or perhaps Gawain’s trials in Bertilak’s castle; preserving his loyalty and honour when faced by lusty temptation in the persistent and comely form of that lord’s wife (ooer missus…)

But no.  My interest lies in the landscape, without the walls of court and castle.  For inspiration I’ve decided to focus on one of the shorter passages in the poem, Sir Gawain’s winter journey, two months at the year’s end to fulfil his part of the bargain with the Green Knight.  And it’s a miserable journey.  He’s wet, cold, hungry and beset by all manner of beasts: serpents, wolves, wodwoses, bulls, bears and wild boar. It’s an epic;  dark and cold. My imagination runs riot.

pencil study sketch gnarled tree Sir Gawains journey
Pencil study for a gnarled tree
Sir Gawain acrylic painting twisted tree
Experiment in acrylic – dark, cold, twisted tree

Physically I’m thinking along the lines of five, maybe six, panels. The two end pieces, Gawain to the left and the Green Knight to the right, would represent the beginning and end of Sir Gawain’s journey.

pencil sketch Gawain painting panel layout
Rough panel layout for Sir Gawain’s journey

The central panels will be panoramic and largely topographical while hinting at elements from Sir Gawain’s personal trial; the deer, the boar and the fox will all be in there somewhere. I’ll work the panels in acrylics and possibly oil for the later layers. In my mind the treatment will be loose, hinting at rather than completely describing a scene.

Sir Gawain acrylic painting spring tree
Acrylic painting – spring tree

While the journey in the poem is at the years end, there is a temptation to extend the central panels to four, one for each season of the year Sir Gawain has to wait to fulfil his grim promise.  Contrast of the bleakness of winter’s dark with the bright flush of spring appeals and sits very nicely with the poem’s life/death/rebirth undertones.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and an itch I need to scratch

Gawain and the Green Knight Everyman copy 1962
My Everyman copy of the poem from 1962
Sir gawain Simon Armitage translation on Kindle
Simon Armitage’s 2007 translation on Kindle

I’ve been meaning to ‘do something’ based on the medieval English Poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for many years now. (Synopsis on Wikipedia here:


When I worked on a Community environmental project over a decade ago I used to run an annual Sir Gawain art project for primary school children. It was a fine excuse for a bit of storytelling, a smattering of medieval music, and an adventure into the wildwood through the Community Forest to get their creative juices going.

The end project varied from year to year, but included making ‘stained glass’ windows and illuminated manuscripts based around the children’s own creative writing.  It was great fun, and I do miss it. And I always had good intentions to have a crack at bringing my own interpretation to the story…

I’ve had a couple of false starts, but a more determined effort’s needed.  But nailing down exactly what it is I want to do is difficult.

After much thought I decided that whatever I do will be much looser, and be more generally inspired by elements of the poem rather than following my natural inclination which is to treat the story literally and take an illustrative approach.

It is definitely the journey which strikes sparks with me – both the physical trek to the Green Chapel at the year’s end and Gawain’s psychological journey. So, I’ve started exploring a few ideas in pencil and acrylic:

The Green Knight
The Green Knight
The Green knight
The Green Knight
Gawains wildwood journey
Gawain’s wildwood journey
Gawains journey at year end
Gawain’s journey at year’s end

Not sure exactly how I want to proceed yet, but I’m considering a sequence of linked paintings and one or two stand alone pieces.

It also strikes me that it would be a great subject for expanding my Lino print repertoire – currently standing at a massive 2… I can see both characters, Gawain and the Green Knight, being ideal for bookplate style prints in two earthy colours.

More thoughts later  😉

Peeking behind the Cow – a painting in alkyds

Commissions. To be honest, I rarely take commissions. In fact I’ve only ever accepted five I think (can’t rightly remember now, awful memory; combination of lazy brain cells and all that fine sippin’ whisky…) And all have been animal portraits; hmmm, there may be a pattern there…

For me , commissions inevitably bring mixed feelings.  On the one hand there’s an intense buzz – the intellectual and artistic challenge of successfully translating a client’s wishes into tangible and desirable reality. On the other there’s something darker, something a whisper away from mind-numbing, confidence-sapping terror! Boy, do I find it stressful.

While I can’t share these feelings with you I can give you a peek of some of the stages behind a commission from 2008.

The Cow in my gallery was for a client who wanted a large piece with presence.  They were very clear on the style and subject, and supplied a photograph from which I made the painting. We agreed on 40″  by 30″.  This made it the largest painting I’d ever tackled by a long chalk- no pressure.

My preference was firmly for alkyds – so many of the advantages of oil with increased drying and stability. I started with a carefully drawn outline in marker pen:

Cow outline drawing
Cow – outline drawing

To enrich the dark blue background and pretty much orange cow I thinly under-painted in reverse – orange under blue, blue under orange:

Cow under painting
Cow under painting

Once dry I roughly blocked in the approximate colours.  I wasn’t too worried about nailing the final tones at this stage:

Cow alkyd painting blocking in
Cow – blocking in

Then it was just a case of gradually working all over the painting to bring everything to a similar density. At this stage I went through those mid-point blues. I just knew it would never work…

Cow painting alkyd building up
Cow – building up

…but I persisted. The tones were built up using successive thin glazes to model the head enlivened with thicker, lighter passages to bring the painting to completion:

Cow painting in alkyds
Cow in alkyds on canvas 40″ by 30″

To my relief my clients were very pleased – bye bye terror, hello buzz and huge sigh of relief 🙂

Welcome to the blog of Ade Turner artist!

So, this is my first ‘official’ art blog post. And I think it’s going to be a bit of a rambler, so bear with me.

It’s been a long road to get here. I don’t mean actually creating this blog, although that continues to be a massive learning cliff, more the personal journey lurking in the background.

From my days as a smallish sproglet right through to my late thirties I was constantly, obsessively creative: painting, drawing, sculpting, wood carving, modelling, silk painting, knitting, sewing – you name it. I worked for around two decades as illustrator, graphic designer and promotions bod for a couple of excellent community countryside projects.  And I guess for a while back there I was a professional drawist.

Then something shifted. Time’s tide rolled in and suddenly, or so it seemed, my lovely mum and dad grew older. As their health declined so my own family’s life slipped into limbo as I took on the role of carer.

My art, while still there, lost much of it’s appeal and for many years I think a gnawing, low level depression numbed me despite the best efforts of my ever-patient, talented and gorgeous wife. I did creative stuff, but rarely with my old level of enthusiasm. Then my world of work changed and generally became a far less certain place.

I found it easier to muck about on my Xbox than to actually get my finger out and create something: get home, turn it on, switch brain off, go to bed.  Momentarily enjoyable, but ultimately pointless with nothing tangible for hours/days of input.

But last year I took the first step to break out of my malaise. I went cold turkey on the Xbox and set about sculpting the Hulk and Spider-man (yes, I like comic books, and yes, you’ll get to see the sculpt later). It felt good. Then a few months ago my dad had to move into permanent residential care. It’s been a difficult and emotional few months, but to my surprise oddly beneficial for both of us.

For my part I have more time to think, and my creative spark’s starting to come back.  I went all digital in August and I joined Twitter and haven’t looked back since. It’s home to a very friendly, talented and  buzzing virtual commune of artists in many fields. I’ve jumped into various community activities like #thedailysketch, #drawingaugust, #printoctober, #portraitnovember, #stilldecember and currently #sketchjanuary – really inspiring, like a virtual college.

Now I want to build on this positive experience and keep the momentum going – hence this blog. And what for the future? It’s very early days, but I hope to be able to offer work for direct sale from here, and beyond that maybe even seek gallery representation.

But that’s for the future, for now I hope you’ll stick around, have a natter and enjoy the journey with me; it’s going to be fun!

Ade  🙂


British Landscape Painter