Ardent Shadows

Gothic Fantasy paintings by Jemima Mantle



Wanderer: An Evaluation

So I’m excited to have another try with my oil paints and this week I’m  planning to choose an episode of ‘The Joy of Painting’ to give me more guidance in some of the weaker areas of my first attempt. However, before I can start aiming for improvement I need to first identify where my technique is weakest.

Firstly I have to say that painting in this wet-on-wet technique is considerably harder than I thought it would be. It’s also harder than expected to imagine a whole world of landscape. I usually work in the realm of imagination so I didn’t feel too daunted by this but facing a blank canvas with no real plan was definitely a challenge when exploring landscape. It did bring its own aspects of fun however as I had no idea I was going to put a stream in the painting until I got near the bottom of the canvas and inspiration hit. I think where I need more of a plan is in the mid ground. Background and foreground feel the most simple to develop a basic plan.

Regarding the individual tools and techniques in Bob Ross’ style, I have to say I struggled most with use of the palette knife. This is the tool which is most foreign to me and I have absolutely no experience with using one. My work usually has a very smooth finish with virtually no discernible texture. The idea of allowing the paint to go on thickly and unevenly still feels quite uncomfortable.

The other struggle I had was toward the end of the painting where I wanted to add more definition in little bushes and plants in the foreground. I found it very difficult to get the variety of shapes and colours that Bob Ross creates. On reflection I think perhaps I should have thinned the paint slightly to make it stick to the thick paint already applied in these areas. I felt that by the end of the painting I had lost a lot of the tonal contrast and the foreground was not cooperating. In the end I put this down to experience but couldn’t resist adding the little white wisps before calling it finished. I just wanted to put a little bit of more of myself into this; after all my aim here is to learn the technique, not to start copying Bob Ross paintings.

The last of the problems I encountered did not become truly apparent until the day after. I had applied the liquid clear undercoat much too thickly. I have a few areas where the paint had run a little after I’d finished to working on the canvas. Upon reflection I can see now where it hampered me during the painting. I had originally wanted to create a sky that was slightly less blended and still had shapes and suggestions of clouds. The canvas was too slick for the technique I was trying and so I blended the sky more to compensate. Next time I try this technique for the sky I will also put less white on my brush as I think this will also help to restrict how much the shapes blend together.

All in all I feel very encouraged by this first attempt and can’t wait to have another try. I will be trying to follow an actual Bob Ross tutorial (more or less) and will also be trying to push myself to explore the palette knife and that’s where I’m most uncomfortable.

Don’t forget to follow my blog or YouTube channel to see how I get on with this oil painting adventure.


My Wolf for ‘Wolves in Wolves’

As regular visitors of my blog will know, I now have more time to dedicate to my art and I thought a great way to kick off this new start would be to get involved with a community art project. I came across the ‘Wolves in Wolves’ project in Wolverhampton and submitted a design which was successfully selected. I have now been working on my wolf for a couple of weeks and have been adding progress photos documenting this journey. Up until now however I have not shared the design I’m working toward, so without further ado here’s my design for the project:

Wolves in Wolves

Those of you who are familiar with my work will not be surprised that my design is based around trees and wildlife but what you won’t be aware of is that it is also heavily inspired by some of my favourites things about Wolverhampton, including feeding the squirrels in West Park. I find these animals so endearing and just full of character. I knew instantly that my design had to feature some of these furry critters, after all, this project is also public art so I  wanted it to appeal to a young audience. During my childhood in Wolverhampton I not only loved West Park but also adventuring down the Valley Railway, a beautiful nature reserve which even meets with some of the canals. It has always been a tranquil place where you can immerse yourself in the beautiful scenery.

The other influence on my design is my Mindfulness Mondays project. Those of you who were following the project last year will recognise the black and white linear drawing style and understand why I’ve chosen to free paint my Wolf instead of stenciling or drafting out my design. You can catch up on the project here, , but here’s one of my favourite highlights: (

We have fantastic green spaces in Wolverhampton and I’m really hoping my design will inspire people walking the Wolves trail to venture out into these places and discover the natural beauty that our wildlife offers. With the nod to my Mindfulness Mondays project I’m also hoping to inspire budding artists to get out their pens and pencils and enjoy the sense of relaxation and joy that art can offer.

The Wolf trail will be kicking off at the start of July so make sure you put a trip to Wolverhampton City Center in your diary this Summer!

For more information about the project and watch the continuing progress of my Wolf, sign up to my blog and follow me on Facebook or Instagram.

Under Milkwood

Anyone who’s familiar with Dylan Thomas might be wondering where the connection is to his famous play Under Milkwood but this piece is not intended to be illustrative of the text. I have titled this piece to honour a single moment of discovery which instantly created this image in my head. Last year I saw the introduction of Under Milkwood by Michael Sheen as part of the celebration of the Dylan Thomas centenary. It was spectacular. The sounds and atmosphere created with the gentle rhythm of Sheen’s narration made for the perfect performance. I’m sad to say that it is no longer available to view on YouTube but hopefully the BBC has it squirreled away somewhere and it’s not gone forever.

Here’s a few key excerpts which so strongly suck in my mind from the introduction:

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.

Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep.

Listen. It is night moving in the streets.

Dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Again I’m not sure anyone would feel the link here to the painting I’ve created but it is so strong and clear in my mind. I find this text so hugely emotive that for me it’s connection is undeniable.

There is also an interesting additional feature to this painting which I will be sharing in a later post so please sign up to my mailing list or follow me on social media to read Under Milkwood Part II. See if you can spot what the hidden magic of this piece might

* I’m thoroughly delighted to say that I’ve found the video elsewhere so here’s the link:

Enjoy x

Painting Inspiration – The Bees Made Honey

It’s weird for me to hit a subject that’s almost trending but I feel that for whatever reason, bees are rather popular at the moment. I’ve signed plenty of petitions in the last year regarding the ban of particular pesticides, but this was not my inspiration for the piece. Neither was it the fact that my husband’s got a rather beautiful honey bee tattoo, done by Matt Youl in Birmingham (Instagram @theyoul). It’s certainly a bug rising through the ranks in the tattoo world. A year ago it was beetles with wings outstretched and moths adorning knees and ankles, but the bee is definitely an alternative gaining in popularity. Perhaps with all things considered it could be argued that bees were in the back of my mind before inspiration struck.

I was working, as I always do, with music in the background and found that I was particularly enjoying an Earth album ( I’d recently discovered. I think in part maybe I was drawn toward the album because of the artwork; something which despite the popular doctrine of ‘not judging a book by it’s cover’, I always allow to influence me. So that’s where I was, head in my work, letting Earth’s spellbinding drones wash over me, when I found myself entirely focused upon the music and starting to feel my creativity awakening. I looked up the song title and found that I was on the track entitled ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull’ from the album with the same name. I found the title so evocative that I immediately found myself exploring concepts around lions, or rather lionesses, not as skulls but as beautiful women hard as bone and powerful as a lion. My original concept drawings were very much along these lines; a powerful female character with bees swarming out of her mouth and honey dripping from her fingers. I really wanted to capture those words – the bees made honey in the lion’s skull.

Eventually as I moved through roughs and my ideas developed I realised that I wanted to focus on the mouth and use the hands to frame this, providing further places for the bees to crawl and creep. All the time the words going around in my head like a mission statement.

It’s unusual for me to be able to pin point the exact time when an idea was born but in this case I can say with all certainty that this piece would not exist without Earth’s fantastic album and it’s stirring title. I have named my piece to honour that moment of inspiration.

If you haven’t already taken a look, you can now view the short video for the painting of ‘The Bees Made Honey’ on YouTube, featuring the beginning of the 8 minute track by Earth. Follow this link ( or click on the image below.

Painting Video - The Bees Made Honey
Painting Video – The Bees Made Honey

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

Exciting research ahead!

So I randomly stumbled upon this book which I am really excited about. I’m always interested in developing my approach to ‘creation’. I’m hoping this will reveal a few things about the way I work and why I’m drawn to the things I love but also – I just want to discover what the link is. Can’t wait to get started! ‘Surrealism and the Occult’ by Nadia Choucha.

The inspiration behind Black Bryony

I get asked a lot about my inspiration and where it comes from, so although the creation of a new piece is as natural and ephemeral as breathing, I thought it might be interesting to explain a little about this piece.

Following on from ‘Sense of Self’ I’ve known I wanted to do a neck corset for a while and the uncomfortable feeling of a nightmare was also something I was keen to portray. I felt that insects in the neck corset would create this emotion in the audience. An uncomfortable, uneasy feeling that there’s something creeping and crawling inside you. The exact insects to use was a much more difficult thing to decide. I originally wanted to use insects from the UK but eventually I had to change my mind and search globally for bigger and more varied insects. It was important to get bugs that were not too attractive for risk of ruining the emotive response I was looking to invoke in the audience.

Using the plant, Black Bryony, came about very differently. I was stopped in the car, parked next to a hedgerow in the countryside. From the window I noticed a beautiful plant that was winding it’s way through the hedgerow, creating beautiful shapes as it searched for places to cling to. I wanted to find out what the plant was but it took a lot of searching to find it. A waxy, heart-shaped leaved climber was the only thing I had to search for. Eventually I found Black Bryony and through my research found that it’s named after the black poisonous roots. It was instantly a keeper and something I knew was perfect for Ardent Shadows due to my interest in poisonous plants.

The colour scheme came about naturally after the concept had come together – black bryony and insects in a neck corset. I knew it was going to be largely green due to the subject and as I like to work with limited colour schemes depicting the flesh in blue tones seemed a natural choice. An accent in the complementary colour range is always a favourite of mine. I can’t explain why I chose do the hands and lips in this colour – that’s one of those little mysteries of the creative process. It just felt right.

Here are a few photos that illustrate my journey:



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