23 February 2013

The Fiercest Calm

30" x 36", oil on canvas, 2013

The painting's title is lifted from a line in the song Concertina by Tori Amos:

A chill that bends*
I swear you're the fiercest calm I've been in

but the content is inspired by my own experience with fierce calmness and is probably my most metaphorical and personal painting.

Here is a somewhat relevant blog post by Krista dealing with The Dark Night of the Soul.

I'm using the same photo reference of Kim here that I used for Without List 2, but this time it's used better, and not just because it's bigger and I've now got a better likeness of Kim; all of the additional elements make this a stronger painting.

Interesting aside: while putting together a music playlist to play as lobby music before and after screening Apocalypse Now at The Regent Theatre as part of the monthly Classics series that I program, I discovered I quite liked The Rolling Stones (after many years of being casually indifferent to their music) and obsessively played 3 CDs worth of their greatest hits exclusively during the painting of this picture. You'd think I'd have been listening to Concertina or at least a playlist of Tori Amos songs (which I have and I do), but this caught me off guard as well.

*I'm using this line as the title for an upcoming painting which, like this one here, is part of my Tournament of Shadows series.

20 February 2013

The Volley 9 Series (part 2)

above painting: private collection

above painting: private collection

above painting: private collection

each: 11" x 15", watercolour, 1999-2000

The final group of my Volley 9 series (described in more detail in Part 1) based on photos taken by my friend Stephen Fenech.

My favourite one here is the first one of the mother and child, but I quite like the one with the boy holding the lamb.

19 February 2013

The Volley 9 Series (part 1)

above painting: private collection

each: 11" x 15", watercolour, 1999

My friend Stephen Fenech is an enthusiastic traveller (as of October 2012 he's been to 159 countries) and an excellent photographer, so –many years ago– I asked him if I could make paintings based on some of his photos. He agreed and I chose nine* of them. I imagine if I asked to paint some more –even now– he'd be okay with that.

That last one of the Indian woman holding her baby is my favourite.

*I don't remember why I chose only nine photos as reference since he had hundreds of gorgeous images to choose from...but the title "Volley 9" refers to Steve's passion for playing volleyball.

12 February 2013

Anvil Monument

22" x 22", watercolour, 1999, private collection

Some time in the late spring or early summer of 1999 I got a call from a man identifying himself as "Rob Reiner" saying he was interested in having me do some artwork for his band's upcoming CD. It turned out it wasn't the "Rob" Reiner I was familiar with, but, in fact, "Robb" Reiner from the Toronto-based heavy metal band Anvil and the upcoming CD was their greatest hits package Anthology of Anvil. Now, I'm into all kinds of music –especially rock and pop– and have a knowledge or awareness of many bands whose music I don't personally own, even some obscure ones...but I had no idea who these guys were.

I can't remember how he said he found me or why he thought my art would suit a metal band's CD (this was when I was still only painting in watercolours), but I agreed to do the project (having done Squirm's Cold CD the year before) and met with them in their nearby practice studio in Scarborough (seriously: it was like a ten-minute drive from my house). During the very informal and brief time I spent with them discussing the cover concept, they seemed friendly and nice. I don't remember what was decided during that meeting, but one thing was certain: there had to be an anvil on the cover. They even let me borrow their mascot (an actual anvil) so I could take some reference photos and begin some sketches.


The idea here was to illustrate a gigantic anvil monument dedicated to the band in an equally gigantic fancy park. Note the reflecting pool in the bottom right sketch.

On columns?

Okay, I don't get this, either; I was clearly still brainstorming.

The CD back.

The idea here is that the track listing of the CD would be listed as "engravings" on the base of the monument (you can see the "plaque" in the final painting).


A different composition of a father taking his son to the monument and reading to him the list of songs (perhaps indicating his favourite one?). I included Canadian flags to help indicate this was a Canadian band. 

Materials test.

I wanted to see here what the monument would look like in stone and in bronze.

Base Deco.

That summer I was also working on designs for the poster (etc.) for Markham Youth Theatre's production of City of Angels, and a lot of my research into Art Deco spilled over into this project. I think this was a bit too much for the boys, so I simplified the designs for the final painting.

More Deco.

Simplified Art Deco designs plus some refinement of the monument grounds.


Even more refinement of the grounds with some Deco motifs on the base.


Refined base design looks good from above, but way too chunky from the side. Plus, another option for showing the plaque on the back of the CD.

Another back variation.


Now, this one I liked quite a bit: the back of the CD would be a blueprint-type design showing the plans for the monument with the song list in the box.

Drafting refined.

Here's an even better arrangement of the "blueprint" elements.

I don't remember how much back and forth there was between me and the band, but, in the end, they liked my ideas and I produced the painting at the top of this blog, which they also liked. I kind of talked them into it by emphasizing how cool the juxtaposition was of a beautiful and delicate watercolour painting gracing the cover a heavy metal band's greatest hits CD. I gave them the painting and they paid me fairly, but I guess their management didn't like it (or they had a change of heart) and went with this cover instead:

Incidentally, back in 2008 I noticed that there was a documentary about these guys called The Story of Anvil which I thought would be interesting to watch when it came on video. I only thought about it again a few days ago when I was deciding my next blog post and finally watched the movie, thinking there was maybe a very tiny chance of seeing my painting in the background of a shot. I was actually quite shocked to see this:

Looks familiar...but...weird.

Here's Robb's commentary during that scene in the documentary:

"That, right there, it's just a monument of an anvil in a park. Look at the size of the people; so I made the scale like, like that's big! Right? You know, like the Egyptians had had; it's like a god, you know, 'the god is there!' Anyways, that's what I was thinkin'."

I'm not looking for anything other than accreditation, and, anyway, it may be a case where we [that is, the band and I] simply came up with the concept of an anvil monument together, and Robb can paint whatever he wants to that effect (and that's totally fine), but Robb's painting is clearly based on mine from 1999*.

Milé Murtanovski, 1999

Robb Reiner (possibly also 1999)

Robb's painting (based on my painting) is featured in a 2013 calendar he's selling on his band's website, and here, his painting (based on my painting, but with a new, dramatic sky –and they fixed the wonky horizon by making the monument appear to be near a body of water on the left), graces another anthology of their music, released in 2011:

I wonder what the back of the CD looks like...

*Over on Robb's Facebook page for his artwork it says his painting's copyright 1999, but I'd done a dozen sketches based on my own reference photos of the borrowed anvil before painting my picture, so, even if we did come up with the idea together, I came up with the images first.

09 February 2013

Between Maybe and Maybe Not

36" x 24", oil on canvas, 2013

Revisiting my photo reference that I'd shot years –in this case, a decade– ago, I selected a few of Aisha that I'd never painted before and felt would perfectly suitable for use in my ongoing Tournament of Shadows series.

I knew from the start I'd be putting her against some kind of graphic background rather than an actual location, so I sketched up a few variations...

Her tattoo is of the alchemical symbol for "crucible."

Skull detail.
Developmental stages:
Darks + outlines.

I usually work from dark to light, I decided to change it up a bit by outlining Aisha with olive green and heading straight for the background colours.


Satisfied with the four blues I next blocked in the shadows on Aisha with olive green.

Detail of head.

Shadows mostly blocked in.

Colours need blending and fixing.

Her head here is a different colour than the rest of her, but I tried correcting that with successive blending and wiping off and repainting and such. Pre-blending the colours have a weird, posterized appearance that make it look like I have no idea what I'm doing.

Nearly done.

03 February 2013

Embroidering the Truth

Embroidering the Truth
30" x 36", oil on canvas, 2013, private collection

Tight pencils before Distillery addition
–note the dangling hair.

Developmental stages:
Blocking in shadows with olive green.

Hair and bricks and brown clouds.

I used brown acrylic to block in the clouds so that the eventual lighter oil colours would have more depth and be a little more interesting.

Using an orange ground creates difficulty for me when gauging colours because of the bright afterimage weirdness when my eyes go from area to area while painting, and also while stepping back, the adjacent orange makes it hard to tell if the painted colours look right.

Hair and bricks and skin and browner clouds.

I added a second coating of brown to the clouds for a richer darkness. The skin is starting to come together here, but I had to wait until it was completely dry before adding white highlights.

All painted with that #4 brush.

That's right: I used this one tiny little brush (not to scale, of course) for this entire painting. I started my next painting, My Advantage Point* (also featuring Ashley), with this brush, but found it was nearing the end of its usefulness for detailed work, so I've moved on to a new #4 for the rest of it. I do keep all my old brushes, so, although it's retired from detail work, it can still be used for various effects, textures, etc.