Ardent Shadows

Gothic Fantasy paintings by Jemima Mantle


work in progress

Painting Progress

Sometimes progress comes in massive waves and sometimes in little ripples. This week’s progress shows me balancing out the colour across the entire canvas as discussed in my last post. Although there is not much progress to really look at this week I felt it was important to keep it in the series to illustrate the timeline. It may not look remarkably different but there was a lot of painting hours invested in the colour work. I’ve also started to add shading and shape to the mask in exploration of its form.


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 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

A Grain of Sand – New painting

I have just finished what was the last painting of 2014 but I thought it fitting to save it for the first post of 2015. It has been an important piece for me and the start of a new approach to my work. It was an experimentation of media, a challenge to myself and the first purely still life painting I’ve done in a very long time.

Whilst this was a chance for me to set up a real life composition to paint, I also wanted to create a perfect setting in which to display something which to me is beautiful and pure but something that many people will feel is a controversial. Please stay tuned for later posts where I will discuss the subject matter of this piece in more detail. First and foremost – I wanted to create a piece which showcased the beauty of life, all life, the beginning, the end, the oldest and most pure. Pure and raw nature.

For now, what I want to discuss is the preparation I went through for this piece. I have not put pencil to canvas for many, many years. Mainly because it muddies the pale colours but also because I found that painting outlines directly onto the canvas was a more pleasurable way of working and allowed for greater freedom and expression. For this painting I have also used canvas board – another change for me. I carefully drew the composition accurately and precisely onto the board with a standard pencil and then sealed it with a clear gesso.This seals the graphite and maintains an adhesive surface for the acrylic paints. Whilst this attributes mainly to my reflective learning and so this is not something I think I will do – I can certainly recommend the technique for anyone wanting a precisely drawn design to paint over.

A Grain of Sand
A Grain of Sand – Preparation

I will be sharing progress pictures here and on my social media pages so make sure you follow me for the full piece and related posts. Instagram: and Facebook:

To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour. William Blake.

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:



Black Bryony – Progress 4

Further progress on my latest piece.

Black Bryony Progress 4
Black Bryony Progress 4

Progress photos

Nearing completion now!!

More progress...

The final piece will be revealed this weekend at Custom Carnage – or for more progress pics just keeping watching this page

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