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Contemplating the shadows

 I’ve been asked to paint some complicated pictures in my life, but this one without any doubt  has been the most complex of them all.

The brief from the client was a painting that depicted three women who he knew personally, who had all played vastly important parts in his life. But this painting wasn’t a picture of their faces, or even figurative at all, it was to be an image depicting each of their characters and his relationship with each of them. And it was to be painted as a landscape, with no figures in it except for a dragon perhaps, no birds, no animals, no people, no insects, no flowers, no mermaids, no modes of transport. And all the things were to be representational and not surreal, so if there was a tree in it, it should be the size a tree should be and not overly large or small. The scene should also be panoramic, probably standing on a hill and overlooking a valley, and it should be with a fantasy aspect and mythological set in medieval times, in faded colours with a hint of mistiness about it, set in early morning or early evening, in late summer or early autumn. And it should be erotic, but all of it was to be subtle, not obvious in any way.  And there shouldn’t be any one thing in it that was more important than anything else so it should be a general landscape with elements in it, but nothing cluttered, as it depicted the facets of their personalities. So subtle that even the women themselves if they should see it wouldn’t know it was about them. A picture that is as obscure as it is obvious.

And just to make it even more difficult – the client couldn’t picture the image in his head. Er, that doesn’t help, not at all.

Ok,  that was the brief, so let me hear about each woman. Their names were not important, it was their character and his relationship with them that was important.

So in the order that he met them *A* was the woman who got away, he put her on a pedestal, she was a fire sign, she played an enormously important part of his life, and he measured all women afterwards by her standard, he felt she was unattainable no matter what he did. She was always calm, a rock in the middle of a crisis where people can retreat after the storm. She was intuitive, instinctive, outwardly confident, unattainable, talented, passionate and enthusiastic.

*B* was the woman he married, and spent many years with, and although she was talented and spiritual he always felt that she was distant and guarded, single minded, hard on the outside and soft on the inside, could be incredibly vulnerable, closed and protective, and he felt that he was fed up of being her ‘gateway’ when she had problems in her life and wanted to move on. She was the only woman to ever have a second chance with him, because after his relationship with *C* ended, he went back to her.

*C* was very family orientated, loving, protective, very supportive, patient, trusting, very analytical, she could get around problem areas, flirtly, emotional, she cried a lot, grounded, a creative thinker.

Ok, so then, it was time for me to sit back, and think, and think, and think, about this extremely complicated picture, and get the thoughts of this ABSTRACT concept that has to be painted as a REPRESENTATIONAL picture with all the limitations that went with it. Some things started to form in my head, a path, a river, a castle, caves, mountains, walls, gates, fertile plains, moon, sun, fords, tree stumps, bridges, rocks, lone trees, clouds, stones and grass. And from that, I had to say WHY the castle was important and which woman it related to, and WHY the path should twist in certain ways, and WHY the river should be flowing in a certain way and turbulent in places and calm in others. ALL that went into the picture should relate to something that was important.

 It took me a whole week to get that concept together as ideas. Not images, just ideas.

It took me a further two weeks to get it drawn out as an image, I knew I wanted a flowing river for *C* and a castle for *B* and a mountain for *A* but it was how they were put in the image that mattered too. Of course I was speaking to the client about it regularly too, listening to his input, and changing things that he wasn’t happy with since he didn’t like all my ideas, or felt that they should be in a different part of the picture. I liked the idea of a farm with vegetables growing and high hedges around it for *C* but he didn’t like that, so it was changed to a small holding with vines and an orchard with a wall there to protect it instead.

And when the client, and I were happy with it, then, it was a matter of choosing the colours for it, and drawing it out as full size of 24 x 20 inches, and painting it as a watercolour, since the client wanted faded colours rather than strongly defined shades. The shades were to be muted sage greens, gold yellows, fawns, air-force blues, violets, palest pinks, and the dragon to be dull red in colour.

It took me just over a week to actually paint it, even with all the image depicted in a working drawing before me. Time to stand back and admire it, and contact the client to hear what he thinks about this specific and special picture……


The client is happy with it, and it is now finished and ready for me to show you….

There is nothing in it that does not relate to one of the women. NOTHING!

So, let me explain it to you, starting from the left hand side, the tall line of trees leading down to the lake relate to the way the man measures all women against *A*, she is also the outwardly confident and unattainable mountain in the distance, and the fact that she is reflected in the lake, is the way he mirrors all women against her, and there is a swamp at the side of the lake is because he is “stuck or bogged down” in his feelings for her. She is also the stand-alone rock in the middle of a crisis, the retreat to a secluded spot, the unattainable on a pedestal, and also the dragon itself as a passionate instinctive and intuitive fire sign looking down on  the water, and she is also the sunset.  

Contemplating the shadows (2)

 Woman *B* is the track starting at the left hand side ending at the ford at the river (which is *C*) and then restarting again on the other side since she was given a second chance, she is the standing stones showing her spiritual side, the broken down gateway is her, as is the fort on the way up the track showing her as guarded, and the castle itself showing her distant and guarded, hard on the outside and soft on the inside.

Woman *C* is the emotional crying river, showing turbulent times, and also a calmness as she meanders around her problems. She is also the smallholding with the vines and orchard, showing that she is grounded, supportive, patient, a creative thinker and can plan ahead. The  fence, wall and gate show that she is protective and loving.

And the erotic aspects?  Well, there are two sets of breasts in it amongst the rounded hills, and a naked woman lying on her side, the gorge hints at open legs and, you will not be surprised to know that there is actually a fanny in there, if you look carefully……. 🙂

The title of the picture is “Contemplating the shadows” since that is what it relates too, shadows of the past, and of the present.

Difficult? Yeh! Enjoyed it? Yeh you bet I did! As obscure as it obvious!

4 thoughts on “Contemplating the shadows”

  1. I like it a lot and it was very interesting to understand your creative process and the significance of the painting.

  2. Just amazing, Jackie. I’ve been following your blogging as you worked on this, but to see the finished painting and read your explanation of it all … I am so blown away!

    xx Dee

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