Experimenting with Layered Drawing and "The Sleepers in the Earth"

“The Sleepers in the Earth- Red Beetle” 12x12x1.5 Graphite, gouache, colored pencil and acrylic on paper mounted to a cradled panel.

I’ve been doing several pieces lately that explore the idea of layered drawings. These have all been experiments in using different materials and techniques with the aim of creating a piece that has multiple “applications” of drawing and I’m sure there will be more to come. “The Sleepers in the Earth- Red Beetle” is one of my latest pieces in this experimental series. Actually I’m tossing a few ideas and themes into the mix, such as my attempt at combining beetles with portraiture, and the use of brighter color. I think that last one might be coming from too many hours spent listening to the tie dye soaked music of the psychedelic era with its complimentary trippy artwork, maybe the former too, but I digress.

This is my finished graphite drawing, done on paper that had previously been toned and mounted to a cradled support. It had a deep sienna color, perfect for an idea I never got around to but which wouldn’t work for me now, so I recoated it with a mix of acrylic glazes before the drawing began. I’ve worked out a pretty good way of applying the acrylic so that the surface doesn’t get too slick, always a danger if you are repeatedly painting glaze after glaze. I used a piece of tracing paper overlaid on the artwork to draw a quick beetle sketch atop the subject so I had a good idea of how the two would interact.

And now the layering action begins. This shot is after a pass or two of acrylic glaze and then a few applications of torn pieces of the same sheet of tracing paper I used to sketch the beetle placement layout on. I used some additional strips of that same paper with beetle drawing on them to build more of the layering effect I was after. The sides of the portrait drawing are fading off into the background, what I was shooting for. The tricky part is deciding how far to bury the drawing. Too many layers and it’s lost forever.

More and more layers of acrylic glaze and then it was time to draw the beetle in place. The beetle drawing has all the same detail as the portrait drawing did. The portrait drawing is becoming obscured but as the second drawing is executed over the first the dark streak down the central part of the face, nose and mouth, is suggesting a figure and I accentuate the shape by playing dark off of light value. The lower third of the drawing, or maybe painting at this point, has all kinds of interesting shapes emerging. I decided I want to give them some delineation and refine the shapes to suggest figures and or animals, the “sleepers” of the title.

Now I begin to amp up the color with more intensity. I decided the portrait would work better with an overall cool color and wanted to simplify the shadows of the face and keep the values in a narrow range. This is where the psychedelic vibe come on. I’m also working with graphic shapes and strokes, looser versions of the elements that make up the initial drawing. This picture shot with a raking light gives a good indication of the texture I create that allow dry media like graphite and colored pencil to work well.

The figure is simplified and some of the initial portrait drawing’s passages are highlighted with color. The cad red light really pops off the painting especially against the pthalo blue and green in the background. A majority of the initial drawing becomes obliterated with all of the subsequent layers of paint and pencil but original pencil lines show through here and there most notably in the cheeks an around the eyes. Easier to see in the actual piece than in a photo.

I had a great time tweaking the sleeping figures, picking up shapes of bones and skulls. And if you look closely you’ll see I’ve indicated vertebrae depending from under the chin of the subject as well. The title of this piece is inspired by a line from Emily Bronte’s novel, “Wuthering Heights” by way of the Genesis album, “Wind and Wuthering”. From Wikipedia:

"Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers..." and "...In That Quiet Earth" are two linked instrumental tracks. The titles refer to the last paragraph of the novel which inspired the album's title - "Wuthering Heights", by Emily Brontë:

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

“The Sleepers in the Earth- Red Beetle” Sold.