Benjamin Garrison Art Blog
The source of this painting's inspiration was the music of Sibelius. Namely, "The Swan of Tuonela." I had my son Ian (when he was home from college) pose as Lemminkainen, a heroic figure from the Finnish epic poem, "The Kalevala." I added the sword and clothing from my imagination. I used some reference for parts of the painting (the ancient Finnish boat), but most of it was done directly from my imagination. There is no vegetation in the painting since it represents death and crossing over. I prefer painting from imagination over copying photographs. Yes, I could paint more realistically if I used photo reference for everything, but I find that interferes with the poetic vision. (And discussing what is real is a topic for another blog post).
Anyway, I like it better when paintings come from the heart. I'm not criticizing photo realists or anything--it takes a lot of energy to do that. It's just that too many artists (especially amateurs) will copy a photograph almost by rote and when they're done you'll often see that they also copied the mistakes within the photograph. That's because photos aren't a reliable copy of reality. There will be compositional problems in them, the shadows may be too dark or washed out, lens distortion and so forth.
I think photos should only be used as a starting point--a tool or guide to help artists arrive at their destination. A signpost reference should never be the destination in and of itself. But I'm digressing.
The painting (24' x 36') was done in oil using a traditional 'old master' method. That is, a complete sketch transferred onto the canvas. Then a sepia wash. Then the underpainting in black and white to establish values. After the underpainting was completely dry, thin coats of color were added and built up slowly until this end result.
The black swan on the Black River sings a sad song. Lemminkainen was sent to kill the swan, but the swan's song was so beautiful he was unable to do so. A Finnish god later punishes Lemminkainen for this transgression and his body was cut up and thrown into the river. His mother later rescues him and sews his body back together. Life is infused into Lemminkainen again with the help of another god and a magic drop of honey. The famous Finish artist, Gallen Kallela painted that scene and it's quite famous, but very few artists have painted the Swan of Tuonela for some reason.
In Sibelius' music, the swan is represented by the English horn.
I plan on doing more paintings inspired by classical music. --Ben Garrison