My Artistic Process & Symbolism: Skyclad Witch Painting


I thought it might be nice to do a break down of how I work through a painting from concept to final product as well as explore the symbolism in a painting. I've already broken down the symbolism in the Grant Morrison piece on the latest episode of Chat-man & Robin, Episode 28

I didn't get photos or video of the process of painting itself. I was feeling a little self conscious about this piece (still am), but I can walk through how I laid the paint & ink down.  


This rough sketch was drawn from a reference photo I took of myself. A few things were changed from the original photo, of course: longer, fuller hair, I evened out the level of the arms, left out my philtrum piercing & tattoos, made the drawing more cut & muscular...

You can see in this sketch I had a crescent moon on my forehead. I hadn't worked out the background imagery yet. Once I did, I swapped the crescent out for a rune 

At this point I laid the horizon line & vanishing point down. I used the lines from my reference photo to find these. Maybe it's cheating, but it took way less time! Once those were in, I drew in the candles working over some roughly sketched in ones. Next came the sacred circle. When I was happy with these things I cleaned up my guides. Then I threw in the trees. Last came the athame, apple, & the moon.

The moon stayed this size all the way through transferring the drawing to watercolor paper (I do this using graphite paper—it's very hard to get up once it's down, so you'll notice a faint small moon inside the final). I felt the moon was too similar in size to the apple & athame, so I made it larger. It helped to add some drama to the piece, too, so it was a good choice.

A candle study so I could better understand them.

A candle study so I could better understand them.

How I worked when laying in the paint is I started with a pale yellow wash over areas I knew would have some of this showing: the candles, ground, sacred circle, the body, moon/sky, areas of the foliage. Then I worked on the candles while I was waiting to take a reference photo of myself to see how the candles' light would create shadows. (I realize as I write this that I didn't include shadows cast the pillar of the candle itself. Shit.) Then came the witch working light to dark skin tones, then details like hair color, lip color, the runes & alchemy symbols. I painted the apple & athame at the same time as the witch. The sky & ground came next. Next to last came the ink was of the trees & background. This actually took a good chunk of time. Finally, fine details on the witch like gouache highlights & painting in the moon with tinted gouache. 


Like the Grant Morrison piece, I'm working in the same structures set up by existing religious (primarily Catholic) artwork. The arms raised by the witch were meant to be a harkening back to the Mother Mary's outstretched hands and also Justice personified. Balance, but also a calling down of the divine & of the feminine Moon. Her right foot is put forward in a symbolic placing of her foot upon the path of the spiritual journey.

Above her hands are an apple an an athame. I chose the athame first. Not only is it a common witch's tool, but I also used it to represent the phallic, the male. I needed another symbol to represent the female & what first came to mind was the apple. The apple is a very loaded symbol highly associated with the female & also with Eve, temptation, and knowledge. I was reading a short while before I chose this as my symbol in a book called Cunninham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in herbology or green/hedge/kitchen witchcraft. 

Some symbols are incorporated. They are symbols primarily of intention. Working top to bottom: on the witch's forehead is the rune beorc/berkanan that represents growth & rebirth. It's meant to represent the beginning of a new way of thinking. On her left cheek is the symbol of Mercury, an alchemical symbol associated with the masculine as well as mental processes & communication. On her right cheek I imagine is the symbol of Venus, associated with the feminine as well as the physical: love & sexuality. Note: everything is line with the witch's left/right. Again, I'm working with balance. The balancing of the spiritual & the divine. On her arms are more alchemical symbols. These ones are or fire (left) & water (right). (Another realization as I look back at this...I accidentally reversed these symbols. They should be swapped to keep with the left/masculine & right/masculine side of the image.) Again, fire equals male, water equals female. On her extended foot is the last symbol, the rune nyd/naudiz that represents need, craving, or a desire. As mentioned above this is in reference to the spiritual journey. 

Three candles to a side are balance again. Also the number six is associated with the artist, responsibility, balance, generosity/humanitarianism & being community-oriented. All wonderful things to call into an act of dedication to witchcraft. Green, present in the witch's hair and the apple is associated with prosperity & fertility—in this case meant metaphorically in relation to her growing powers & budding spirituality. The plug seen in her earlobe is meant to be a moonstone, used for fertility as well as for spiritual growth, protection, & amplifying intuition.