The Making of “Mortui Spinus Tristis”

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“Mortui Spinus Tristis”. Oil on canvas. 8 x 10. Artist, Suzanne Lago Arthur. 2015.

I thought it would be fun to show some process shots of one of my most recent paintings. I found this sweet little goldfinch one day after she flew into my window. Once I got over the sadness of the whole thing, which took about 30 seconds, I ran into the house to get a freezer bag because I knew she would be the subject of a painting one day. Fast forward about a year, I found myself recently in search of a still life subject to paint under artificial light because it had been raining day after day and the light was horrible for the projects I currently had up on my easel.

So I pulled Franken Goldfinch out of the deep freezer and began placing her on objects in my studio. From a previous experience with a Franken Rooster, I know that frozen birds tend to thaw out really quickly under hot artificial light. So my strategy was to paint the bird alla prima (in one session) which took about two hours from start to finish. This includes redrawing the initial under drawing a couple of times until I had the composition just right to line up with the golden ratio.

The next day I began working on the plate. The following day I finished the Blue Willow design. I did the painting in about 8 hours spread out over a couple of days which I was able to accomplish because I put my covered palette, my painting and my subject back in the freezer in between sessions. I simplified the Blue Willow pattern considerably as I was only interested in getting the “feel” of it. However in future attempts at blue & white pottery, I know I will want to approach the design more abstractly.

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Process shots showing the set up and painting in a couple of stages.

The title of this painting means “The death of the Goldfinch” in Latin. Spinus Tristis is the Latin name for the American Goldfinch. Coincidentally, “Tristis” means sorrowful in Latin. It adds to the significance of the painting which for me is an homage to a delicate and beautiful life.

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