I was gathering up stuff for a vending event last month when I noticed my senior project sketchbook under a (now very hefty) basket of prints. I hadn't looked at it in a while and decided to flip though it - and I thought it would make an interesting blog post (which I decided to break down into 4 posts). This was my first official foray into painting goddesses (which I decided to paint for my senior painting project with almost no experience painting people - not the best choice). I was proud of the progress I made working on them in 2008 but I'm even prouder of the ones I'm putting out now (and I can't help but shake my head at my first pathetic attempts...). I was also surprised by how much better the initial sketches looked than the final paintings in some cases.
So these posts will be a mad ramble of about 20 initial sketches, paintings, and revisited subjects in a theme I started on a decade ago and still slog away at today.
Part 1 - Painting III
Though she's not the first page in my sketchbook I'm pretty sure Anesidora is the first attempt I made at painting a person. I remember working on her in Painting III (which I spent the entirety of prepping for my Senior Project in Painting/Painting IV the following semester). I ended up loving the background of the tree but hated how flat she ended up looking. Anesidora is more commonly known as Pandora, but she used to be a goddess of hope (and she had a pithos jar - not a box; apparently that was a mistranslation - thanks Greek Myth and Religion!). The finished painting is dated February 2008. I've thought about touching it up a few times and perhaps someday I will.
I remember having a very hard time photographing it - the light reflecting off the texture (I built up a lot of paint on this painting) made it really hard to capture a good representation of it.
I have since done several versions of Anesidora in 2014 and 2015.
Freya and Brighid
The next page of my sketchbook shows Freya and Brighid. As my sister likes to say, "oof." The background for my painting of Freya came out rather nicely and then I botched it up by trying to paint the figure on the water freehand (I could probably do a much better job now - but at the time I was still gridding my sketches and paintings to help me keep my proportions straight). This one is also dated February 2008 - almost two weeks after Anesidora. I suspect I was working on them both at the same time (I was usually working on several oil paintings at a time).
I ended up revisiting Freya almost immediately the following semester (still 2008) when I switched to watercolor, and then again in 2016 (in the current series) when I read she was associated with the lynx:
I was never happy with how my painting of Brighid came out either; though she came out less awkward and flat looking than Anesidora.
I revisited Brighid in 2010; she was the start of my current version of the series (featured in the picture above).
Gaia was a tough one; I never felt comfortable putting the figure in the finished painting thanks to my previous failures. I wasn't sure I was happy with where I'd put her in the sketch either, but couldn't settle on a better place for her in the composition. My professor discouraged me further. Somewhere around this point he went from loving my work on this project so far to hating it - we'd always had contrary ideas (the pieces I loved, he didn't like; the pieces he loved, I hated - ultimately I think we were interested in different styles of art). I seem to recall things going downhill around my midterm review - going in confident in my progress (again I had never painted people before and was happy with how I was progressing at least) and coming out shocked at his disapproval. Little did I know how rough the trial of this project would be... This piece was finished in March 2008.
A friend's mom kept trying to buy it off me but I refused to give it up. Now that I have more experience (and after revisiting the original sketch) I'm really tempted to touch this one up and finally put the figure in.
There's a kind of struggle there - I have several of these old paintings hanging up around my home and the perfectionist part of me wants to revisit them and make them better (which is partly what fuels the complete redos I end up doing), and part of me appreciates them for being stuck right at the stage I initially made them in. I like seeing this snapshot of my skill and seeing how it fits into my overall development.
This was another tough one. I could never decide how I wanted to work the figure into this one either - to the point where I didn't even include it on my sketch. I always felt this one was unfinished though I dated it April 2008 (probably since I didn't know what to do with it).
After digging out and skimming my artist statement I suspect I left the figures off of both Gaia and Sarasvati thanks to a push from my professor to not paint people (my statement specifically mentions experimenting with "abstract" pieces and abstract art is really not for me). I had, up until my midterm, followed most of his advice. Despite my inexperience with rendering the human form painting goddesses was a subject I was (and am) passionate about and these first few pieces were a struggle to reconcile the forces of nature with the anthropomorphized versions of these higher powers. This is probably when the stress first started to sink in - but I couldn't let go of my attachment to this project. I had wanted to paint goddesses since high school at least (though I didn't think I'd still be this devoted to the project a decade after college) - my first, crude stylings were little anime chibis of them. I relied on faith and hard work to carry me through - as I always had - despite the lack of support and guidance I got after my midterm.
I haven't revisited Sarasvati yet either - though she's long been on my list.
I have always been a fan of Bast (how can you not love a cat goddess?!) I actually loved how this painting came out - though again I am tempted to touch it up with my improved skills. This version of Bast is dated April 2008 and probably my love of working on it is what helped fuel me through the struggle of the next semester. I love how her moon and sun eyes seem to be really looking at you (Bast was associated with both the moon and the sun in ancient Egypt).
Of course I revisited Bast in 2013 (and completed a drawing of her in 2019).
It's kind of crazy that there are over three years between the first and second goddesses in my current series...but then again I've chipped away at them in waves - I got 9 done in 2015 (the most done in one year) but only 1 done in 2016 (the least done in one year). I haven't really let up on the idea of the series in the 9 years I've been working on it; I keep a list with deities I'd like to work on and continue to produce them in the same general style (and have even started a few smaller spinoff series) despite hopping between other projects and creative endeavors.
End of Painting III
There was nothing else for me to do for my senior project. This was all me - not an assignment not just an intellectual or creative exercise but a compulsion, an obsession. I revisited a bookshelf to look something up for a friend in the middle of working on this post and realized I have dozens of books on religion and mythology; I've been researching these subjects for years before I entered college or knew what I wanted to do - with my education, with my career, with my life. It's fascinating on a level of religion, of sociology, of history...how could I abandon it based on some off hand suggestion of someone who wasn't invested in my interests? I grew up in a void and I didn't expect support later in life, so I foundered on without it. At the time, though I was woefully frustrated, I attributed my perseverance to spite. After all that was what had gotten me through high school and other life problems - determining to succeed with what I wanted in the face of being expected to fail. And that frustration certainly spurred me to greater and greater heights - it still upsets me, just to think about it and flip through these old records of this period of my life. It makes me want to double down and make more art. I had felt lost in high school before realizing that I wanted to be an artist - because I'd been talked out of it and brainwashed into not seeing it as an option before I even realized I had a special interest in it. And I raged and trembled through that - breaking out of my comfort zone and throwing myself into a world of uncertainty - determined to major in art before I even got to college. And here I was a senior - living the dream - far from the town I grew up in, making unexpected friends (who I'm still friends with today), and spending all my free time in the art studios. So I reacted to this opposition to my passion project with the will and the drive that had pulled me forward all my life - I steamrolled over it and kept going.