The Green Man – work in progress
7 years ago Posted in: Blog 1

GM 7

Earlier this year I decided to take a break from oil painting. I’d been meaning to do some more fabric painting so I thought I’d paint a few T-Shirts to wear during the summer. Technically painting with fabric paint is very different to using oils. The 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. I use 5 colours of liquid paint, black, white, red, yellow and blue. I find that I can mix the colours I need from this small palette. I paint using sable and hog brushes as the paint dries very fast it has to be applied quickly. I also have 3 fabric pens in white, black and grey. Despite fabric paint being almost the opposite of oil paint in its application similar realistic effects can be produced. However painting T-Shirts started to become a serious distraction from painting pictures. Some of those in the photograph took a couple of days to paint.


I’ve always liked the image of the Green Man so I decided to use this motif on a T-Shirt. But as I have said, once on fabric paint cannot be rubbed out so I needed to make a design and that’s how I came to paint this picture.

The Green Man represents the spirit of nature and rebirth. It pre-dates Christianity and exists in many cultures all around the world. In my picture I’m concerned with the European tradition. The Green Man is associated with Jack in the Green, John Barleycorn, Robin Goodfellow and Puck. The Green Knight from Arthurian legend and Robin Hood share aspects of the Green Man’s nature. So does Father Christmas, originally a representative of a tree spirit 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 discrete carvings in 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. Some of these carvings such as those in Durham Cathedral depict the Green Man as a demon or a victim of torture. One recollects the fate of the suicides in Dante’s inferno, condemned to remain static as trees for all eternity in a wood inhabited by harpies. Although the connection between the Green Man and the hen pecked trees in Dante’s Inferno may be slight there is something genuinely sinister in the behaviour of the ancient Celts, apparently they stuffed leaves into the mouths of their enemies after they had been decapitated. Or so I have read, however for me the Green Man personifies the hidden spirit or soul of nature.

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 them in Photoshop. I can put images into reverse if need be. I can create my own enlargements and print off onto A4 paper. When I was painting my Orpheus playing to the Animals picture I had to use books to find my source material. I remember buying wild life books cheaply in second hand bookshops. These days if I want to look at pictures of say, butterflies I look on the internet and many such images appear.

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 I 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 leaves and insects in the lower half of the picture and up at what is in the upper part of the painting.

As the picture has developed it has become necessary to take parts of it back to ground colour. I’m using a pink-grey ground for this picture. I can’t just paint over something because the colours won’t look right and that’s why I have to return to the ground colour.

If possible I like to make use of the space that is outside of the picture. This is tricky to do it involves creating a sufficient illusion of reality amongst the foliage so that the butterflies appear to float in space.

When I resume work on this picture tomorrow I will be working on the leaf patterns and considering whether or not I should introduce some more insects. I may bring in some snails, caterpillars, a spider perhaps, maybe a stag beetle. However although I love detail I don’t want to overdo it. I’m probably half way through this picture and the end result is still a mystery and that’s why I like painting.

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One Response

  1. A pleasant blog mate. The shirts are fabulous. I should imagine at a music festival or somesuch they’d go down a storm