Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Listening to Toccata in C by Widor"

"Listening to Toccata in C by Widor"
Pastel with gold acrylic
16 x 20"

Listen to the song that inspired me here at

The inspiration

My big brother Jeff died last summer.  He had a fast moving cancer and we were all in incredible shock to loose him.  He loved music and devoted much of his life to performance as many of my siblings have done.  At the church service my former brother in law who is an amazing organist, was asked to perform for the funeral. Bob has played for all of our family's weddings and funerals, and I love to listen to him. I used to perform with he and my sister Shelly at various churches in my youth so I was still somewhat familiar with traditional organ music.  Shelly wanted Bob to play this piece by Charles-Marie Widor because it was Jeff's favorite organ piece. The song was actually written for the Catholic church and is still being played today at weddings and Christmas services at the Vatican itself.  It is a song of great celebration and happiness.  It didn't seem entirely appropriate for a funeral unless you knew Jeff and his love for secular music. Bob didn't play it that day, but I decided to come home and listen to it closely with my headphones after the services. I hoped that it might ease my grief a bit.

When I heard this song again after so many years, I was immediately transformed to a blissful place by Widor's heavenly tribute to his church. I saw angels, gilded arches. and an overwhelming sense of joy.  I don't go to church anymore but I decided to draw it.  How could I not?

As my mind wandered during the drawing process as it tends to do, I got to pondering if non- Christian folks would have similar visions while hearing this very famous song.  I decided that every person would feel moved by it regardless of their religion or lack there of. I think that the many atheists in my life would feel joy. My pagan children would feel the light of their own gods.  My Buddhist little brother would be mesmorized. My gay, lesbian and transvestite friends, who are so often loathed and abandoned by most churches, would hopefully feel love and light. We would all be humbled, as Jeff was, by this masterpiece.  Click this link to hear a recording of  the master performing it himself shortly before his death. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqeMJ-UbiZA

This piece gave me an opportunity to express my strong belief that one does not have to be Christian to go to heaven or to have a good moral foundation.  For this reason I included symbols of other religions including other things that people may worship that are not necessarily religious.  I am sure that my belief in the freedom of worship will upset some folks who believe that their religion and moral code is the only true life, but I hope that they at least listen to the song as they study my piece and understand where I am coming from.

The Technique

That being said, I wanted to include a few progress shots.  I have always been a close follower of the work of Cuong Nguyen. https://www.icuong.com/. Instead of using the traditional method of doing a monochromatic under painting using grey or brown tones his pastel under painting is a vibrant green!  It is not a new idea however I have never seen it done in pastel before. Once the value and temperature is established then he glazes over the green with red and orange tones to get a very realistic and translucent flesh tone. I bought a few of his e-books through his web site above and gave it a shot here for the first time.  The traditional proces is best described below.

"Verdaccio is an underpainting technique - and specific paint color - which originates from the Italian fresco painters of the early Renaissance. Created traditionally from a mixture of Mars Black and Yellow Ochre pigments, Verdaccio was used to establish tonal values in fresco painting quickly, creating a soft greenish-gray for the shadows of flesh tones. Architectural details in frescoes were often left in the pure Verdaccio coloring, hence we are able to still see evidence of it today in works such as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescoes."  https://feltmagnet.com/painting/what-is-verdaccio-and-how-to-use-it-in-your-paintings

Ok, below are my works in progress shots.  I got so into the work by the end that I totally forgot include the shots of the final stages, sorry.

Computer rough draft.  My model is my son's girlfriend, Marie.

Initial line drawing using charcoal, white conte on Sennelier La Carte Pastel Mat in dark gray.  

Add warm greens over the highlights and cool greens or grays in the shadows.  Leaving the background for later.

Adding some red and gold tones over the green.
A rough application for the back ground.  Once I had all of the details in the background I used Liquitex gold metallic acrylic paint for the gilding.  See my blog from a few weeks ago to learn more about the gilding.


  1. I am myself a Christian who would like to apologize to you and each of your family members and friends who have been disparaged by churches or other Christians who seem to believe that being Christian entitles one to also be as politically, socially, and culturally right-wing as possible. Not all of us Christians are Republicans.

    Peace and love to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, skin color, etc.

    1. Thank you for saying that. It is all about peace and love for all humans and God's creatures.