Tag Archives: painting

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: bit.ly/1i1mCIR)


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 🙂