The Green Man

The Green Man - oil on canvas - 50 x 60 cm - 2018

The Green Man represents the spirit of nature and rebirth. It pre-dates Christianity and exists in many cultures all around the world. In my picture I’m concerned with the European tradition. The Green Man is associated with Jack in the Green, John Barleycorn, Robin Goodfellow and Puck. The Green Knight from Arthurian legend and Robin Hood share aspects of the Green Man’s nature. So does Father Christmas, originally a representative of a tree spirit his robes were always green. The Jack in the Green is part of the May Day parade and relates to customs practiced by the Celts and the Druids. The Green Man is often seen amongst the carvings in many Christian churches and cathedrals built in medieval times. It seems that the builders and craftsmen had no problem mixing Christian faith with the old ways.

A painting like this is put together from many sources. I’ve used photographs that I have taken myself, images from books and from the internet. Putting together the source material is much easier than it used to be. Thanks to digital technology I can easily upload the images I wish to use and doctor them in Photoshop. I can put images into reverse if need be. I can create my own enlargements and print off onto A4 paper. When I was painting my Orpheus playing to the Animals picture, back in 1995, I had to use books to find my source material. I remember buying wild life books cheaply in second hand bookshops. These days if I want to look at pictures of butterflies I can look on the internet and many such images appear.

My Green Man is made of oak leaves. I looked at botanical drawings in order to construct the head. As human heads are more or less symmetrical I’ve used an arrangement of leaves that is similar on each side. Once the head was established I started to paint in more leaves using some photographs I had taken. Then I began to think of adding insects. I love painting butterflies so they were the first to go in followed by a ladybird and a stag beetle. Finally I put a nightingale into the top right corner to represent the birdsong that I associate with woodlands. When using photographic images it’s important to use an image that will work within the eye level of the picture. So you appear to be looking down at leaves and insects in the lower half of the picture and up at what is in the upper part of the painting. If possible I like to make use of the space that is outside of the picture, this is tricky to do it involves creating a sufficient illusion of reality amongst the foliage so that the butterflies appear to float in space.

I've painted several T shirts based on my Green Man design. I'll be discussing fabric painting technique in a future blog.