I took some progression shots of one of my recent paintings, The Fire Moon Maiden, and I’m happy to get the chance to share them here.  I’ve included a little bit of explanation along with some images, and there’s a quick video when you get to the end here that shows the progression stages of the painting as it takes shape from start to finish.


I tend to start by making abstract marks, and then finding things in the marks – similar to how we see shapes in cloud forms. I’ve posted other articles here on Muddy Colors that explain how I make my abstracts, including last month’s here. Aside from the medium being different in last month’s painting, the process is relatively the same. I use some unconventional tools such as kitchen spatulas and I mainly like to treat that stage as a means to experiment and discover. In that link for last month’s article, there’s more info on the tools I tend to use. The painting in today’s post was done in oil on panel. It’s a small piece at 5×7”. You can get an idea for the size of the painting in the image at the top of this post that shows my hand in the shot.


In this stage, I painted a vague lay-in of the head where I saw a hint of the features of a face in that area. I tend to see faces in everything, and definitely see several here as well as many other different forms and textures. I was drawn to that 3/4 profile face because of how it looked in that placement as if this character were wearing a large crescent moon-shaped headdress. At this point, it was still very open as to where I’d take that costume choice, but I already had a strong notion to keep the moon shape. The face was painted quickly and kept fairly translucent, like taking notes, to serve as a reminder of what I saw there. I also added dark glazes of color on what later become the darks in the fiery background. After that, I put it aside and continued to work on another painting I had on my easel at that time.


The next morning, I scraped it a bit to help it feel more integrated with the environment and allow for some warmth to show back through from the underpainting, and added a little bit of light on the far side of the face. I also added some opaque paint to the upper area in the negative space above the moon shape/headdress and brought some dark from the environment into the area behind the neck/shoulder so that the composition didn’t feel so much like it was cut directly down the middle of the panel.


Here, I’ve added a lot more color, some transparently and some opaquely. At this stage, I’ve started to push the Fire Moon aspect and create more of a full moon instead of the initial crescent shape. I felt like the face seemed a bit stoic, but I did like how the modeling was done here. The cools are variations of grey – a mixture of titanium white and ivory black. Because the painting is predominantly very warm with umbers and reds and yellows, the gray appears cooler, as if I used blue, but no blue was used.


The upper left corner has some glare there (it’s not blue, just a glare from the overhead light). I softened the gaze and the modeling of the face a little bit, and added more details there in the features too. Still, at this point, the entire composition feels like a huge blaze surrounding her, instead of a moon shape with fire-like strokes in the background. I was contemplating how I’d resolve that without losing all of the energy. The painting would need to be a little dry in order to do what I thought would be the best solution, which would be to glaze some darks over the background.

The Finished Painting – The Fire Moon Maiden (oil on panel, 5×7″)

The obvious change made to the painting here is the darkening of the background around the moon shape in order to separate them a bit. I did that by glazing darks over the areas I wanted to push back a bit, and left the colors on the inside of the moon shape as is. I also softened the edge on her far cheek and jawline, and made some small tweaks to shapes like the chin and neck. A small brush stroke of the yellow background color along the edge of the chin, for example, helped to angle that shape back just slightly, and it tapers that edge in just a bit. The changes I made to the face are very small, but do make a difference in the expression.

If you’d like, you can watch a quick video of the progression taking shape from start to finish on YouTube by clicking here: The Fire Moon Maiden video

I hope you enjoyed seeing the progression of this little painting. It was a lot of fun to paint.