Ardent Shadows

Gothic Fantasy paintings by Jemima Mantle


gothic art

Sense of Self: Faith

So here it is! Started nearly three months ago after my Granddad passed away, ‘Sense of Self: Faith’ is dedicated to him. A long awaited piece that showcases everything I love, and a follow up piece to my original birdcage corset painting ‘Sense of Self’. It will have it’s first outting at the Alternative & Burlesque Fair on 5th June, Birmingham so be sure to come and check it out in person. It’s soooo good up close!! Even if I do say so myself!

Portfolio Diversity

Ardent Shadows
Ardent Shadows

Last Saturday I had the best show I’ve had in ages at the Alternative and Burlesque Fair in Birmingham. I firstly need to say a massive thank you to the the A&B team because it was hands down the most professional and well organised event I’ve worked at. I’m looking forward to their next event in June – which is why I’m now spending some time reflecting on my sales.

It was lovely to have a big space to fill on Saturday. It gave me the opportunity to display several large canvases alongside smaller originals of all shapes and sizes and whole plethora of prints. After four years of painting for Ardent Shadows I have certainly built up a diverse selection of work. I have often pondered whether to gain popularity and to progress as a professional artists, I should narrow my portfolio and limit aspects of my work. When I look at my contemporaries it certainly appears that artists with a very specific subject matters or techniques are those rising to fame. To have a specific and limited style is something I’ve always admired in other artists.

Hanging by a Thread
Hanging by a Thread

It’s with this in mind that I began to look over the prints and pieces that sold, and the pieces that got the most attention, but I can’t see a pattern or a theme emerging for this particular show. At some shows I can sell multiples of the same prints or prints of pieces which are

similar in subject or at least the style or medium. Across the years I have been taking my work to shows, the self titled piece ‘Ardent Shadows’ has remained one of my most popular pieces and I remember Tattoo Tea Party in 2013 was dominated by ‘Hanging by a Thread’. But at the weekend I sold pieces painted in inks, acrylics and biro studies. Paintings that were sweet and light sold alongside the darker and more oppressive pieces. If diversity of portfolio is really a bad thing shouldn’t it have hindered my sales instead of amplifying them?

I have several ideas for new pieces, all in various stages of development, and for now I’m certainly not going to be limiting myself. Perhaps portfolio diversity is something that every artist starts out with, but the success of just one aspect of their work demands the artist to concentrate on that particular style or subject. I definitely think that diversity within an art project in its youth is no bad thing. I will however continue to envy those who have already made the choices which lead to a focused portfolio, but for now I still feel the benefits of a currently diverse portfolio.

Finished Painting: A Grain of Sand

Other than a few more slight alterations and a few little adjustments, here is the finished image of A Grain of Sand. This has been the biggest challenge I’ve taken on in a very long time. It’s my unceasing passion and to be honest, blind determination that has seen me through to the final stages. I can’t say I loved every moment but I have truly learned a lot and developed my technique over the countless hours. I’m very proud of this piece and look forward to taking a high quality photo (without bounce) for prints and a new thing for me – getting it framed up (this is on canvas board).

Pretty much, very nearly, so close… sort of finished! I tend to spend a couple of weeks after finishing a piece weighing up how it balances, the overall composition and whether any of the colours need a little adjustment. So far I haven’t made these changes but I think I’ve identified a few minor things to make it absolutely perfect.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my creative process in this piece. I love to talk art so if anyone wants to discuss anything raised in my blog please feel free to get in touch.

Prints will be coming up in the next few weeks. To see the world in a grain of sand…

A Grain of Sand
A Grain of Sand

Technique Close Up

This painting has offered me a great opportunity to compare one area of it, halfway through completion and then with the final result. I usually aim to finish a section in one sitting so it’s unusual for me to step back and look at what’s happening halfway through. As you can see, in the first photo I have laid down unblended colours which indicate the final values and describe the darkest and lightest parts of the subject. I have begun to give the subject form.

It’s important to have an understanding of the form as a whole before you start adding detail so that you can weigh up how it is working with the subjects around it but also because this is where your artistic license comes in. Even when painting realism the artist needs to ensure that the placement and flow of the composition is as visually pleasing as possible. You want to make sure that you understand exactly how a composition is working before you commit yourself to the detail.

Finally I also want to quickly discuss something which I have used for the first time in this painting – Acrylic Medium. I have experimented with retarder but have never used it a great deal. Whilst you can use the medium to create similarly thin layers, you can also use it in several other ways. In this painting I used it in my mixes instead of water which gave me smooth fine paints to work with. It prolonged the drying time, although not to the same degree as retarder and so allowed for easier blending. An unexpected benefit was that you can also apply it directly to the canvas in order to create a sort of false blending with the colour underneath. I can see several other possible uses for medium and look forward to exploring it further. I would urge any acrylic artist to invest in some medium to have an experiment and look at whether it could enhance your techniques and preferred way of working.


Continuing painting progress: A Grain of Sand

DSC_0656cThe kitten on the left and the plant far left, have both been filled with largely unblended colours. This is something I don’t usually do however, in the case of the kittens, I simply ran out of time when I was working and this photo has captured a technique I use but seldom acknowledge. I tend to work in this way when I start a new section that is complex. It helps to break down the subject into areas of dark and lights and helps me to start identifying the form of the subject. It was pleasing to see how well the light colours covered the graphite due to the layer of gesso I applied before painting.

Continuing Progress…

I aim to take a photograph at the end of each painting session however… here I missed several opportunities. This picture was a considerable number of painting hours after the last posted picture.

As you can see, it’s really started to take shape now. It’s a shame I missed the photos inbetween as you’d be able to see the colour adjusts I made as I painted each one. I usually premix the main colours in my scheme and preserve them with a little acrylic retarder and seal them thoroughly to keep them fresh. I didn’t do this as I wanted to explore mixing from tube colours every time. I had hoped that  it would add more colour tones and therefore interest to the fine detail and whilst I think it has achieved this, it was very slow going. I found painting these succulents incredibly difficult! Although I’m equally pleased with the tall red ones as I used just a subtle shift in colours to bring one to the foreground. I think it was very successful.

Subjects and interpretations

I named this piece based on the William Blake poem. I include two excerpts below:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to sweet delight
Some are born to endless night.

It’s a result of the human condition – we constantly questions the world around us and come into conflict with issues which challenge our morals, views and ideals. I think artists are probably more self-reflective and naturally questioning of my feelings and thoughts. This is how we grow and develop – something which is key to constantly developing artwork, pushing yourself, growing and improving yourself. This reflective state is where I found myself when I first discovered Bone Kitty Curios, ethically sourced wet specimens. Whilst I found their animals incredibly fascinating I was unsure of whether I could own something like this. I first encountered them at Custom Carnage convention but didn’t purchase anything. By the time I saw them at the next show I had decided that I wanted a little kitten of my own to admire and love. You only have to talk to them to see that these little animals have been treated with such a huge amount of love and respect, and in the end I was delighted to be able to give two of their fetal kittens a new home. My kittens, like all Bone Kitty specimens, died of natural causes and has been lovingly preserved so that we can enjoy the natural beauty of life and the melancholy of death.

Enjoying the natural beauty of the life around us is what A Grain of Sand is all about. I wanted to create a piece which celebrates the beauty of the world around us. My kittens offer a glimpse of pure and innocent beauty but I also feel it tells us something about creation. I have put them next to a quartz crystal as this gorgeous natural creation is one of the oldest beauties we can bring into our own homes. They also bring elements of the mystical and spiritual into this piece. The succulents not only frame the central focus but in themselves represent the diversity of creation.

I could ramble on about this piece and why I chose to create it but that’s not the point of the post. Whilst many of you may instinctively pull away from my kittens, I wanted to challenge your preconceived ideas and ask you to consider why we shouldn’t celebrate all aspects of life, for it is beautiful. Dr Gunther von Hagen has already broken down some of the taboo’s of death in his autopsy TV programmes and exhibitions, why shouldn’t we behold the beauty of the creations of this world that have died even if they sadly never took their first breath. To me, it is no different to the ethics of framing a pinned butterfly and hanging it on your wall.

I want to stress that I do not condone the killing of animals for people to preserve, stuff, skin or do anything else purely to appeal to a human desire. No life should be taken for the enjoyment of another. If you are interested in owning your own fetal specimen I cannot stress enough how important it is to check how and where that animal has been sourced. Please do not buy taxidermy or any similar ‘artwork’ from any unknown sources especially eastern countries where the torturous farming and murder of animals for this purpose is still practiced.
I cannot recommend Bone Kitty Curios enough – visit: or

Here’s a photograph of my continuing progress:
Painting Progress
Painting Progress – A Grain of Sand

Research, musings and… the first war on science?

Here’s some of my favourite excerpts just from the very start of this book. I’m not going to lie, I’ve needed to swat up on some terms and related movements to get my teeth into this but so far it’s a very enjoyable read.

I want to start by simply sharing this. In a very simple way I think it explains the movements appeal and why it remains an important influence of many modern art forms. Lowbrow itself is intrinsically linked with surrealism in fact many refer to it as Pop-Surrealism. Either way the inquiring mind is something I feel is shared by all artists that paint fantasy subjects, at least in the wider sense. Although work which ‘beautifies’ has been welcomed back to the fold it is not without a sense of testing what is considered beautiful to many.Occult and Surrealism

The few pages leading up to the next excerpt led to a bit of an awakening in my understanding of the witch trials. Admittedly this is something is for my own interest rather than something which directly affects my artwork but I think this is something that still fascinates a great number of people today. It is well known that the witch hunt was aimed at eradicating what has commonly perceived as evil and unnatural practices by the church. It is also well documented that the modern day devil figure was a later invention which did not exist as one singular, overarching figure in the Bible. The concept of one purely evil ‘devil’ is generally regarded to be something which was embellished and distorted during early years to become a tool in controlling and warning Christians against ‘ungodly’ behaviour. The modern christian Devil was born more out of the need to control those that would question and revolt against their leader’s ideals.

Yet with all this, I had never linked the rise of science with how even the modern Church has felt about scientific discoveries and the challenges it presents to the devout. It seems so clear to me now – the witch hunt was aimed at eliminating those who were alined to the Occult – and Alchemist’s were the scientists of the day. The witch hunts, something that has always felt like a singular moment in history, was actually part of something which has riddled the history books and continues to be a contentious issue today. Were the witch-hunts really the first war against science?

Occult and Surrealism

These musings may not be new ideas to others but it is something that has never occurred to me before. I’m no historian, I’ve never been greatly interested in wars and royal families but there are moments in history which offer vital insight into the world I live in today. Maybe not things that are of great concern to the larger world – but certainly my own little world where I live – lost in a cloud of fantasy and struggling to feel connected to the modern world and ‘current affairs’. Even the words make me shudder.

And as I seem to have got off topic here – back to the book. Although many of us feel we understand the meaning of Occult I found it useful to have key elements defined by the author whose words you’re reading:

Occult and Surrealism

Etsy shop restocked

I have restocked my Etsy shop  – so go and check it out. What are you waiting for? There’s a few reduced items as well as some originals still up for grabs. If you see something in my portfolio that’s not currently available please feel free to get in touch. I’m happy to do custom orders for prints alongside commissioned originals.

I’m also hoping to list some large scale canvases in the upcoming weeks so follow me on wordpress, facebook, twitter or instagram to keep up to date – or you can favourite my shop if you’re an Etsy regular.

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