Tatiana and Olga 2010

Tatiana and Olga  2010

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crimea 1914

The Tsar and the Small Pair 1914 I'm working away on my current major Romanov painting of the Tsar and Alexis in 1916 on the Dnieper River, but I did this smaller Romanov painting for fun concurrently.

At 16 x 18 it's very small for one of my Romanov paintings.. It's almost more landscape than portait! It's interesting because we don't see their faces, they become shapes like the sea and land around them. One has to make the portait of a known stance,with the body , rather than a face.

I've always loved this photo of the Tsar and his younger daughters, Maria and Anastasia, during one of their cruises in the Crimea in 1914 , just  before WW1.

                    The Tsar  is pointing something out to the girls

                                                      Of course there is a video!  .

  It has a number of water colours as well as the painting. The music is "The Kite Song " by Patty Griffin

My current painting is giving me the usual fits. I've spent 6 weeks on Alexis head and torso! ...but I'll get it and I believe no one will be disappointed when its finished ...though Lord knows when that will be!  The paintings have their own time tables and I have learned to just go for the ride


But since the last  post   there's been a Brontë interverntion!.

For over 3 years, my art has been Romanov related. Now the Brontës want in on the fun....specially , Charlotte Brontë and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls.

People don't seem to know the author of " Jane Eyre"  was married. It was a  very happy, but tragically short marriage because she died of an infectious disease only 8 months after the wedding.

Arthur Bell Nicholls however lived another 50 years. He never got over the loss of Charlotte, indeed he died with her name on his lips.

We have a staggering amount  of Brontës items today and it is thanks to Mr. Nicholls for  keeping them .It was said he viewed these items as being simply personal  mementos...but I believe Charlotte loved that fame  blindness he had. Most  of us are like putty before it.  And if we now have these Brontë  manuscripts , art work and even clothing for all time, I don't think we can  begrudge Arthur Bell Nicholls the first 50 years.

Their love story   has as many twists , turns and high emotion as any Brontë novel. It's always been one of my favorite from Brontë history.  Mr. Nicholls is just getting  his due in the last few years, but I've always loved how he adored Charlotte and could not  help but allow all of Haworth see how in love he was.

It very likely only that level of emotion would have won a Brontë! They wouldn't notice anything less!    


So a portait pair of Charlotte Brontë and her husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, is in the pipe line

It will be a real challenge to produce a portrait of Charlotte  because I will base it on a drawing. But if I heeded problems, I would not have started Romanov painting! My lack of training keeps me from knowing how tough it will be...and once I'm in it, I painting like mad for shore and somehow get there

More Romanov art ahead of course! After the Tsar and Alexis, I will be painting Alexandra and so the family will be complete....but at my rate, it will be awhile!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Anastasia Nikolaevna, 1917 : The Swan

After 8 and a half months, my painting of Anastasia Nikolaevna is finished! It's based on a photograph taken in the park of Alexander Palace during the summer of 1917....and so Anastasia and her family are in captivity

This is a fascinating photo. Somehow this young woman best known for being an impish child , makes a golf hat a crown and a tree stump into a throne. Usually I'm not greatly interested in the family's royal heritage. But here, Anastasia shows me what it's all about. Whether by breeding or training or both , she has an innate dignity that has been brought sharply into focus by her circumstances. The world has turned upside down seemingly over night. She , her family and Russia face an uncertain future. But she's facing it with remarkable self possession for one so young. She has just turned 16....

Well, her body language is so, yet her expression is unsettled. After years of wondering, I believe I know why...she was not quite ready for the photo when it snapped.

I say this because after many years, I finally realized what appears as the Imp's hand, it not all hand. There is a ribbon of skirt above her hand, and with her hidden index finger and thumb, she is yanking at her skirt that is caught on the sharp edges of the tree stump. She was not 100% ready for the snap of the brownie

The mystery of Anastasia "huge" hand.

For years I wondered at the large hand in this photo because of the four girls , I believe the Imp's hands were the smallest. It was only after months of looking and painting, I saw the situation. Finding the gold bracelet was a help, that told me the limits of her wrist. But also looking at the creases on her lap was key . They line up with where her fingers would be as she's pulling on that material .Those creases are there because she's pulling. In the black and white photos, the shirt and hand share a very similar grey and highlight. So the ribbon of skirt became hand in the photo print.

Once I saw it was not just her hand , I painted a small line of skirt above ( indeed one can see some skirt above her right sleeve as well ...this is discovered ribbon but a continuance of that) ....and now we see Anastasia Nikolaevna's hand as it was .

What teenager would not be unhappy if the camera snapped before they were ready? Well at least this is how it now seems to me.

The Swan

The name of my painting is "the Swan" and the thought behind it is: Anastasia reached at least the beginning of her physical maturity before she and her family were murdered a year later in the summer of 1918. She was no longer a child, yet that is how history sees her. I aimed to change that a bit.

I see a remarkable young woman here: on the threshold and full of adult potential. One is keenly aware of what was lost when she, and we ,were robbed of her natural life. But I did want to say that over the course of the painting I gained a clear sense of Anastasia's shyness. Yes, Anastasia Nikolaevna, shy. At least as she emerges from childhood to being a young woman. Shyness can be also hidden in outlandish pranks , roughhousing and cutting mimicry.

Anastasia Nikolaevna had many nicknames, "The Imp" , being the most famous. I would add another: "Quicksilver". She was constantly on the move and darting about. In many family photos, someone is holding on to The Imp to keep her put. But in this photo the young woman has composed herself. Here , in a lighting flash, we are given a glimpse of what was and what could have been. At times my emotions welled up and it made painting difficult

Close up of The Imp

It was most likely Anastasia's sister, Marie, who took this photograph. Marie was a keen photographer as they all were. But Marie learned how to develop film and print photos as well. No easy matter at that time . In our digital age, very shortly people will forget the mental and even physical intensity film developing and photo printing required .

Now we press buttons, but back then there was chemicals, timing , working in the dark...on and on. The down side of Marie's interest for us today is there are more photos of the others in captivity than of her.

Anastasia and her grandmother, Princess Alice

Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova was the great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Her grandmother, was Princess Alice, the Queen's second daughter. I found a photo of Princess Alice that goes nicely with the photo I used for Imp's painting

The painting took 8 1/2 months. But far from being bored, I constantly discovered new things in the photo though out that time. I posted earlier about discovering a gold bracelet on her hand ... I just discussed her hand, and since posting my video of the painting on You Tube, I discovered her hat had a triangle of bow at the back of her head. I had missed it completely ..it's shares the tone of the trees...but looking at other photos of her hat, I realized it could be there, then I could see it.

These details swim up or pop out...but it's rare week when one doesn't come forward . Let me just say it's a great thrill seeing a detail that has been overlooked for nearly a century . Invariably they add to the picture....every hidden detail is a gem that suddenly flashes and then one sees it . I know my eyes get a big as Marie's " saucers " at that moment.

I could start it over tomorrow and still find it fascinating....true of every painting really

While I was never bored, I salute and thank those who kept asking after the painting all this time ! I believe I answered these inquiries with the same sentence for months, "I'm finally getting that skirt " It was nice people kept asking! lol One never knows how long a painting will take., each has its own requirements While thankfully her face came though steadily, the skirt was a real challenge of months duration. The hat was very difficult as well. I was painting both til the end , and in the hat's case, beyond!

I take photos of the process to try and understand how I'm able to paint the family as I do... but it's still unexplainable to me, besides "something" happenings in the studio as brush meets canvas and I'm smart enough to see it and keep it It's difficult to state the blessing I feel, as a Romanov enthusiast, to be able to somehow express my emotions in the creation of paintings of this caliber...perhaps only other Romanov fans can understand. It's a dream come true.

Just before I finished the painting , I saw photos of Children's Island at Alexander Palace Park, taken by fellow Romanov enthusiast,and Alexander Palace Forum member, lynn. She took the photo just a few weeks ago and so very likely around the same time of the years as the 1917 photo itself . lynn posted them on Alexander Palace Forum and has kindly allowed me to post one here.

Children's Island

Unless you see a photo, it's hard to believe just how green the grass and blue the sky is there.... almost surreal . So this was hugely helpful as I was about to finish...it certainly informed the colours . Thank you, lynn! Today we know the family from black and white photographs, but they lived in a very technicolour world . Adding that colour back is one of the joys of this work

Anastasia Nikolaevna : the swan 1917, is now installed in my Romanov gallery. She is a commanding presence. What is remarkable is scale wise, she would fit right in to her sister's earlier painting. Now OTMA is complete .

Imp in the gallery

Of course Anastasia has her video, in fact she has two. The main one shows Anastasia though out her life then the progress of the full painting. The 2nd video is a short one showing the development of her face over 8 months. I wish to thank my friend, Helen Azar, for her help with the tittles in the main video. It adds so much!

The music of the main video is from two film scores by the wonderful composer, Rachel Portman : " Lake House" and " One Day "

The music of the shorter video is Thomas Newman's wonderful " Green Fried tomato "

Anastasia Nikolaevna,1917 : The Swan

Anastasia Nikolaevna: Her portrait 2012

My next major painting

The Tsar and Alexis on the Dnieper River 1916

Their faces aren't very clear, I will use other photos to help. An exciting aspect of my art work is bringing clarity where we don't have it otherwise. I am itching to start this painting of father and son on the beach at dusk. I'm so fortunate to have friends who know the uniforms and are eager to help me in that regard. In art, military uniforms are like religious vestments...they have to be right!

This time on the river in 1916, could easily be the happiest of young Alexi's life. His health was fairly good and he was with his beloved father in the military atmosphere he adored. The canvas is 36 X48

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17th

July 17th

July 17th is an important day in the Romanov enthusiast's world. Of course July 17, 1918 was the day that Russia's last royal family and four others with them were killed in the cellar of the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg , Russia.

Ipatiev House itself was torn down in 1977. It was an effort to stem the growing tide of pilgrims seeking to pay homage to the royal family. This was same solution that was tried in 1918 when the family itself was killed, and it had the same useless effect. For on the ruins of the Ipatiev House, a cathedral , called " Church on the Blood "was built and people come from across Russia and the world to pay homage now.

In the early morning of July 17th 1918, a truck carrying the remains of the family and thier four companions, left Ipatiev House . Its destination was Ganina Yama, a 9' deep pit in the Four Brothers mine 15 km north of Ekaterinburg . There the 11 bodies were thrown down into the pit. They were not there long, as the pit proved completely inadequate to hide the corpses.

Most of the remains were buried in a mass grave four miles further away, where the truck, simply got stuck in the mud . The remains lay hidden there for 70 years . Two of the victims were burned separated and those remains were found in 2007

Today , after an all night ceremony, tens of thousands walk in procession from the church following the path the truck took that July morning to the mine pit . This procession grows yearly.

These two events, the truck in 1918 and the processions of today, became one in my mind. In a very real way, the people were following that truck and certainly the truck leads the processions.

So I made a drawing to illustrate this vision and also a video.


After 8 and 1/2 months, I have finished my Anastasia 1917 painting, "the Swan". But I got caught up in completing the July 17th drawing and video in time for today and so have not posted about that. However it's just as well. Because I already found two things I had missed in all that time and need to add them!

Her post will be soon!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Art time and regular time

I came to my blog to see just when I posted last and was shocked it was in February....surely it was mid March? But no, it was Feb 22 ...in that  post I said I hoped to finish my Anastasia painting with in two weeks


Art  time is not regular time . Often one will say 10 minutes has passed , only to find it's been an hour.
The clock in my studio is set 15 minutes fast just so I have a chance of being timely for another activity.

Part of the attraction of  doing art is getting lost in Art time. Paradoxically, we are rarely less or more ourselves during it. The everyday cares and even our ideas about ourselves slip away in artists absorption....
It's a type of sleep or dreaming  and time is like wax in the sun during it...quite mutable

So I said two weeks on Feb 22...that was two months ago and I'd still say I'm two weeks from finishing  . But since that time and now  the painting  has gone to another level or several  really ....which seems to happen when a major element is added to a painting ...( in this case it was finalizing her hand and foot.)  And when that happens , then everything else is up for reassessment as well, since it all has to fit together

The Imp's hand and foot are two hugely  important features in this photo and painting. For 7 months I have been trying to create that marvelous line that goes from the Imps face , hand and  foot .

The line

It's almost as important as getting her likeness to me...and it's been a battle...well everything but her face and the landscape as been a battle royal. I began this painting in early Oct . Recently while cleaning out my email sent folder , I ran across a mail sent to a friend where I say " I'm finally getting a grip on that skirt" . When asked , I would continue to say the exact same thing  for the next 4-5 months !

I have painted that skirt untold times...( It's caught, back and front ,  by the sharp edge of the tree stump and this causes complex lines all across it ) however it's always better after a painting secession  and it needs to be said  that while I appear to be painting the same painting of the same photo for 7 months now, it's never the same painting or even the same photo...just yesterday I noticed the Imp was wearing a gold bracelet...how had I missed that? I looked for jewelry! Yesterday the bracelet's  reflection in the sun  finally caught my eye behind the grass stalks.

 The act of painting changes the painting, and one's ever shifting perceptions  change the photo. In order to do justice to both, I am lead deeper and deeper into this photo's moment of time, this young woman's eyes and my unexplained, but deep, empathy for her and her family....this is why I urge some creative work on the Romanov enthusiast , whether it be art or writing ,  because nothing brings one closer to  them that getting lost in ART time. One can certainly say it's a delusion...perhaps, I wouldn't know. However I would say the final painting can also cause one to wonder. The three people who have seen her lately in the studio were struck dumb. It's a powerful experience to see the painting  already ....particularly for those who know what Anastasia  looked like, that's  the real test.

Paint on the canvas is never just paint  on the canvas...it's a language from the heart and mind of the artist.  A  language made visual though their brush strokes into a type of emotional hieroglyphs , often perfectly understandable to the viewer on at least the subconscious level... and this understanding, or feeling surprises our regular time every day self often . One is after creating on canvas a world free from its basic, 2-D  static nature and have it  appear to about to move in the next moment ...One is after a suspension of time.

So I would say I'm two weeks away from posting my Imp...but that could be in Art time or regular time...hard to say .  lol

                                                                 The Imp 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Romanov art on the Web

I really should post on my own art blog where else on the web one can find my Romanov art.

The first place on the web to feature my Romanov art was

The Sword and the Sea. A wonderful blog about Baltic culture and much more.


Thanks Materhorn! Your support means a great deal.


In July I had the privilege to be interviewed by Laura Mabee and was featured on her amazing Romanov site, Frozentears.org This was such an honor! Every Romanov enthusiast knows about Frozentears!

Thank you Laura! You put together such a beautiful page for me too!



Then in Sept 2011, a cultural blog in Russia did a post about my work after I left a link in the comment section of a wonderful post devoted to the family's nursing during WW 1. The photo files are stunning. This is thier post from July 17th


Thanks to my friend Nadine ,a.k.a Voyage of Freedom , for telling me about this amazing blog. You can imagine how thrilling it was they thought enough of my work to feature it.


The blogger's name is Leonsija and that's all I know.

We communicate via Google translation!

As for my current Romanov painting of Anastasia, I hope to post it within two weeks.

A photo of Maria and Anastasia with thier father, the Tsar.


Locations of Site Visitors

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mapping out a Grand Duchess

I'm working away on my current Romanov painting. It's based on a 1917 photograph of Anastasia Nikolaevna taken in the park of the family's palace after the Revolution.

It's the first photo from captivity I have added to my collection of paintings and the first one to contain a large amount of landscape.

Like seemingly all Romanov photos, it has plenty of things I haven't noticed before even though I have known it for many years. For one thing, Anastasia's skirt is caught tight on the sharp edges of the tree stump. This makes for all the lines in the skirt and headaches for me. I'm working on this area right now.

It's fascinating how she makes this tree stump seem a throne. Anastasia is known for her endless pranks and joking, but my, she looks royal here.

Another revelation was how many lace elements are in her blouse. It seems simple at first. However Romanov blouses can be complicated! Another tip about painting historical photos is get all the diffrent copies you can. I have found low resolution ones as helpful, if not more, than the high res ones . All have something to add in the detective work needed.

A visitor to my Romanov gallery recently asked me why the Romanovs. I explained as best I could and they said, " I see, you are interested in portraying human dignity." I was amazed because I had not thought of it in this way, but they were exactly right. How the family handled thier ever worsening captivity is a powerful motivator in my work .

I thought readers might like to see how I map out a photo in order to paint it. I get photo copies and then study the photograph on the computer. I then make notes to use while painting. This is very helpful with a old photo as only close study can reveal the subtle shadings in a black and white photo. One can then bring them out in color in the painting.

Imp's blouse mapped out


My friend , painter Beth Randall, and I have a motto :

"Keep Painting" !