Ancient Greece, Inspiration

A Look at the Ancient Lyre

Golden lyre, rightful joint possession of Apollo and the violet-haired Muses, to which the dance-step listens, the beginning of splendid festivity; and singers obey your notes, whenever, with your quivering strings, you prepare to strike up chorus-leading preludes. You quench even the warlike thunderbolt of everlasting fire. (Pindar, Pythian, Poem 1)


Sappho and Alcaeus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, R.A., O.M. (1836 – 1912)

The lyre is an instrument from Ancient Greece that comes to use from the word λύρα (lura) and means a stringed instrument with a sounding-board formed of the shell of a tortoise”. The lyre is most often associated with Apollo or the Muses as deities of music but according to Greek mythology, it was created by Hermes when he was a child.

“…he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. When be saw it, the luck-bringing son of Zeus laughed and said:

“An omen of great luck for me so soon! I do not slight it. Hail, comrade of the feast, lovely in shape, sounding at the dance! With joy I meet you! Where got you that rich gaud for covering, that spangled shell–a tortoise living in the mountains? But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me. It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors. Living, you shall be a spell against mischievous witchcraft; but if you die, then you shall make sweetest song.”

Thus speaking, he took up the tortoise in both hands and went back into the house carrying his charming toy. Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain-tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once.

He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut. But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvellously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches, even as youths bandy taunts at festivals.” (Homeric Hymn 4 to Hermes (trans. Evelyn-White) 

If you would like to see a modern reconstruction of an ancient lyre, you can have a look at Luthieros. This is a wonderful website all about the research and construction of these instruments.

And just for fun…
Artists, Inspiration

Inspiration: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Self-Portrait by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in the Netherlands in 1936. Even though he was Dutch, he is more renowned for the work he produced with the Royal Academy in London. A contemporary of Lord Leighton and Godward, his realistic paintings often depict scenes from the Ancient Greco-Roman world. He was also famous for being one of the best painters of marble in the world. This earned him the nickname of the “Most Marbellous Painter!”. He is a favourite of mine, not only for his technique, but also because of his knowledge of the classical world. A very detailed bibliography of the artists can be found on the Art Renewal Center’s website – Bibliography of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Self-Portrait by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Self-Portrait by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
A Greek Woman by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1869)
A Greek Woman by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1869)
Sappho and Alcaeus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1881)
Sappho and Alcaeus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1881)

I am particularly fond of this painting of Sappho and Alcaeus. I think this is one of the only representations of her that shows her with her daughter, Cleis.

 The Women of Amphissa by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1887)
The Women of Amphissa by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1887)

In this painting, Alma-Tadema depicts the morning after the arrival of the maenads. According to Plutarch, a group of ecstatic maenads, the female devotees of Dionysus, arrive in town and collapse from exhaustion. These maenads were from another town that was at war with Amphissa. When the women of Amphissa found the other women asleep scattered in the market-place, they worried that they men might molest them. They formed a circle around the maenads and held vigil through late night and morning until their guests woke and safely escorted them out of their territory.

Spring by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1894)
Spring by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1894)

If you happen to be in the UK, Leighton House will be holding an exhibition of Sir Alma-Tadema’s work.

Inspiration, Resources, Review

Ideation Lab by Sterling Hundley – Review



Top Five Podcasts

Top Five Podcasts;

When I lived in Fukui Prefecture I used to drive a lot and got into the habit of listening to a number of podcasts. Now I have less driving but more housework so they help me to get through all of that instead. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy.

Emperors of Rome

Hosted by Dr. Rhiannon Evans and Matt Smith, this podcast on ancient Rome is, hands down, one of the best I have ever listened to. Dr. Evans is a font of knowledge and is always a pleasure to listen to. It’s also especially nice when they take little detours to other topics like Women Poets of Rome.

Done by the same people as the Emperors of Rome podcast, this is another excellent series that focuses on various places and architecture in Rome itself rather than the people.

Trojan War Podcast

Unfortunately, this podcast is now finished, but it has a good twenty episodes and it is one of the funniest retellings of the Trojan War I have ever heard in my life. Just go and listen to it.

History of Westeros (Game of Thrones)

While I’m not exactly a rabid fan of Game of Thrones, I have read the books and I do enjoy chatting with my friends about various plot arcs and conspiracy theories. This podcast separates episodes into non-spoiler and spoiler so you can choose just how much you want to learn.

Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe

Something of an outlier compared to the rest of the podcasts I listen to, I enjoy this one for keeping abreast of current science news and also keeping myself educated in various scientific fields. I also like astronomy… a lot. And quarks. All the quarks. Especially quantum quarks…



Pencils, Sketches

Sketchtember 2016

Sketchtember 2016;

For this year’s Sketchtember Challenge I decided to focus on working from screencaps of some of my favorite movies and TV shows. I’m such an ancient history geek.

Vorenus Praying from HBO Rome
Vorenus Praying from HBO Rome
Olympia and a young Alexander from Alexander
Vorenus and Niobe from HBO Rome
Caesar and Tiberius from Spartacus
Atia with her slaves from HBO Rome
Pencils, Sketches, Watercolour

Junebugs 2016

Junebugs 2016;

A collection of the bugs and other creepy crawlies I did for the #junebug art challenge.

Junebug 01 2016 by Bronwen MacDonald

Junebug 03 2016 by Bronwen MacDonald

2016-06-10-junebug-4-web 2016-06-18-junebug-6-web


INKtober 2015 – Week 1

INKtober 2015 – Week 1;

INKtober is well underway. This is my first year attempting the challenge and it’s been a good deal of fun. It’s definitely a bigger time investment than the sketching challenge I did last month but that’s good. It’s helping me to carve out more art time in the day and on a more regular basis. Here are the ink drawings for the first week.

Day 1: Irisa from Defiance
Day 1: Irisa from Defiance
Day 2: Claire and General Riesan from Dominion
Day 2: Claire and General Riesan from Dominion
Day 3: Gaia from Spartacus
Day 3: Gaia from Spartacus
Day 4: Maenad No 3 Postcard
Day 4: Maenad No 3 Postcard



Inking, Pencils, Sketches

21 Day Sketching Challenge 2015

Earlier in the year I jumped on the chance to get a special rate for a lifetime membership to It is a video based art tutorial community that offers a number of video tutorials, challenges and has a private community forum for sharing work. While the videos tend towards digital, game and animation work there are a couple of solid foundation course for beginners and a few more interesting ones one gesture drawing and environmental design that I’d like to take when I have the time.

During the past month the community had a 21-Day Sketch Challenge on the go. The requirements were simple: draw for 21 days to have your name thrown into a hat for a chance to win a NOMAD art satchel. Hell yes. Please and thank you. I’ve eyed this satchel since their Kickstarter got off the ground so the opportunity to win one really helped me commit to the full 21 days. We’re waiting for the contest to finish at the end of the month but I’ll keep you updated.

Until then, here is all 21 days of sketches collected for you.
2015-09-01 PK Sketch Day 12015-09-05 PK Sketch 02 web 2015-09-06 PK Sketch Day 3web 2015-09-07 PK Sketch Day 4web 2015-09-08 PK Sketch Day 5web 2015-09-09 PK Sketch Day 6web 2015-09-10 PK Sketch Day 7web 2015-09-11 PK Sketch Day 8web 2015-09-12 PK Sketch Day 9web 2015-09-13 PK Sketch Day 10web 2015-09-14 PK Sketch Day 11web 2015-09-15 PK Sketch Day 12web 2015-09-16 PK Sketch Day 13web 2015-09-17 PK Sketch Day 14web 2015-09-18 PK Sketch Day 15web 2015-09-19 PK Sketch Day 16web 2015-09-20 PK Sketch Day 17web 2015-09-21 PK Sketch Day 18web 2015-09-22 PK Sketch Day 19web 2015-09-23 PK Sketch Day 20web 2015-09-24 PK Sketch Day 21web
Next up? INKtober and Month of Fear. Going to be a busy busy kitten during October.

Oils, Pencils, Uncategorized, Watercolour

Roman Isis – WIP

Roman Isis – WIP;

aka Adventures with New Techniques. 

Tam Lin by Wylie Beckert
Tam Lin by Wylie Beckert

It all began a few months ago when I stumbled across this painting of Tam Lin. I’ve always had something of a soft spot for that particular tale, and the painting was so striking that I just had to track down the artist who turned out to be Wylie Beckert. I have to admit that I became a little obsessed with her work and spent hours pouring over her YouTube videos, studying her updates on Facebook etc. On her website she has a number of pages that detail the way she works – generally a solid underdrawing, watercolour & acrylic ink underpainting and then oil glazes over the top.

I decided to give this a try on a smaller scale with a postcard. I sketched out a drawing of a Romanized Isis, based off a statue found in the Villa Adriana and now housed in the Capitoline Museum.

Roman Isis WIP Sketching by Bronwen MacDonald
Roman Isis WIP Sketching

Once I had the rendered sketch done, I sealed it with three thin layers of half matte medium and half water mixture. I used a simple spritz bottle for this. I was worried that it wouldn’t get completely coverage of the image but after three rounds everything was well sealed. After that I went ahead and used watercolour paints to work out my basic colours. Unfortunately I forgot to get a photo of that stage. Sorry! I’ll do my best to remember for next time. When the watercolours were dry, I worked in the highlights with a white pencil then sealed everything with another three layers of medium.

Then came the fun part! Oils are a medium that I have never really gotten along with. I have never liked impasto look and the last time I tried to thin my paints I used too much turpentine. This ended up with Van Dyke Brown drips across my entire painting one day when I pushed too hard. I very much wanted to put a knife through the canvas at that point and toss all my oils straight into the trash. Thankfully I didn’t. This time I remembered to use the oil to thin the paints and gosh, what a difference. Everything was so smooth and went onto the paper in beautifully transparent layers.

Roman Isis WIP First Oils by Bronwen MacDonald
Roman Isis WIP First Oils

I left it to dry and came back to it after a week to put in the last glazes. It’s not a great photo because I took it with my iPad, but as soon as the original dries properly I’ll put up a better scan of it.

Roman Isis by Bronwen MacDonald
Roman Isis

All in all, I am incredibly pleased with how this little piece turned out. This technique is definitely something that I am going to keep working with in the future so hopefully we can look forward to bigger and better oil paintings. If you have any questions feel free to ask away.


Online Art Courses

After hearing about Rebecca Guay’s SmART School, I got rather excited about the idea of studying online. As it stands, most of the classes on SmART School are unavailable to me because EST afternoon is midnight Japan Time, and EST evenings is usually work day mornings over here. So, I went digging to see if I could find anything else that might work out until I can make other arrangements with my job and visa here. I figured that other artists might want to know what I managed to rustle up, so here you go. (But SmART School… one day… *fangirl sigh*)

Have any of you attended these schools? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Disclaimer: I haven’t attended any of these courses, and I’m not saying anything about their value etc. This is also not a conclusive list of online courses; only those that were of interest to me.


Creatures of Amalthea

Instructors: Terryl Whitlatch

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: Documentation and videos

Costs: Free!!

Feedback: No

Courses: Foundation, Drawing, Coloring


Lamp Post Guild

Instructors: Justin Gerard, Chris Koelle & Cory Godbey

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: Video, documents, quizzes, assignments

Costs: $99 per course

Feedback: Only from other students

Courses: The Craft of Illustration, Graphic Storytelling, The Art of Personal Work



Instructors: Patrick Devonas (ARC Living Master) & Dorien Iten

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: 1-on-1 Video Skype Sessions, alternating instructors (1 hour duration)

Costs: 1 Session €120 / 2 Sessions €220 / 3 Sessions €300

Feedback: Yes

Courses: Completely personalized to student.

New Masters Academy

New Masters Academy

Instructors: Glenn Vilppu, Steve Huston, Ed Fraughton, Juliette Aristides, Eric Michael Wilson, Danny Galieote, Sheldon Borenstein, Erik Olson, Kamille Corey & Joe Weatherly.

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: Video

Costs: $20 ~ $40 / month (various billing plans available)

Feedback: Yes (Instructor Q & A)

Courses: Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Composition, Anatomy & 3D content


Instructors: Anthony Jones, Kalen Chock, Dan McGowan

Self-Paced: No

Delivery: Video Lessons & Live Online Classes

Costs: $500 / 1 month basic mentorship OR $1000 / 2 month premium mentorship

Feedback: Yes

Courses: Character Design, Environment Design, 3D Environment Design, Intellectual Property Development


Instructors: Alex Woo, Andrew Hou, Bobby Chiu, Daniel Arriaga, Dice Tsutsumi, Jason Seiler, Louis Gonzales, Nathan Fowkes, Robert Kondo, Sam Nielson, Stephen Silver, Terryl Whitlatch & Thomas Fluharty

Self-Paced: Yes & No

Delivery: Video

Costs: $12 / month subscription for non-feedback OR roughly $1000 / course

Feedback: Yes & No

Courses: Gesture Drawing, Painting Creatures, Environment Design, Fundamentals of Lighting


SmART School

Instructors: Anita Kunz, Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood, Scott Fischer, Dan DosSantos, Greg Manchess, Rebecca Leveille-Guay, Marc Scheff & Teresa N Fischer

Self-Paced: No

Delivery: Online Classes

Costs: $975 ~ $2500 / course

Feedback: Yes

Courses: Full Mentorship Classes, Boot Camp Basics 101, Beginning Illustration 102, Intro to Oil Painting


Society of Visual Storytelling

Instructors: Will Terry, Jake Parker, Lee White, Therese Larsson, Brandon Jeffords, Guy Francis, Ty Carter, Jose Cua & Jim Madsen

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: Video & PDF workbooks with assignments

Costs: Individual courses vary OR subscription for all access ($14 / month or $120 / year)

Feedback: No, unless access to live classes is purchased additionally.

Courses: Painting Fur and Hair, Drawing Comics, Painting Color & Light, Mastering Perspective, Creative Composition etc.

wattsWatts Atelier Online

Instructors: Jeffrey Watts (ARC Living Master), Eric Gist, Ben Young, Lucas Graciano, Meadow Gist, Robert Watts & Jim Hahn

Self-Paced: Yes

Delivery: Videos

Costs: $100 ~ $700 / month depending on level of involvement 

Feedback: Only from $300 / month upwards

Courses: Drawing, Painting and Master Classes

Inking, Work In Progress

Eternal Regret – Inking

Eternal Regret (WIP Inks) by Bronwen MacDonald 2015
Eternal Regret (WIP Inks) by Bronwen MacDonald 2015
Eternal Regret (WIP Inks) by Bronwen MacDonald 2015


Last week I finished reworking the composition of my vampire piece. Thanks to the feedback from my mentor, Angela Sasser, I was able to fix several problems. The first of which was how boxy the top and bottom laurel wreath panels made it feel. By changing them for the scroll and upper garlands, I was able to move up the patterned medallion and give the entire composition room to breathe. I added the phrase aeternum paenitentia, which is Latin for ‘eternal penance’ or in our case, ‘eternal regret’.

After trying to do colour roughs with colour pencil I eventually bit the bullet and bought a replacement for my Wacom tablet stylus. It’s been a little while since I played with digital and I don’t want to come to rely on it, but it is definitely handy for situations like this where I want to compare multiple versions in colour.

Once I have the colour roughs down, it will be time to finally start on the original with watercolours. Hopefully it should be done in the next week or two!

Reference Photos

Bonsai from Mikuni

I found myself looking over some photos that my mother took when my parents were over here in Japan in April and May. My father has always been a bonsai fan, and one of the earliest exposures I had of Japan was from a bonsai book that we had at home. I think that I might try and work of few of these into my drawings and painting, but for now they are just too cool not to share.

IMG_8196 IMG_8197 IMG_8201 IMG_8204 IMG_8208 IMG_8213 IMG_8198 IMG_8199

Pencils, Work In Progress

Eternal Regret – Sketch and Process

Eternal Regret by Bronwen MacDonald
Eternal Regret

I grew up with role-playing games. Many of my high school and university years were whiled away at a friend’s house rolling dice, eating Cheetos and, most importantly, telling stories. I don’t regret it one bit. When I move to Japan I spent some time playing computer RPGs but it never quite fills in the gap that interacting with others leaves behind. After a bit of searching I discovered MUs. These are text-based games that you write, in real-time, with other players. Thing of it like the proto-types of Second Life and World of Warcraft without the graphics. It was on one of these games that I met my best friend, and this painting is for her birthday.

It’s of a pair of our characters, Octavia (mine) and Corina (hers). Octavia the  young wife of an exiled Roman senator and Corina is her personal slave. They are both the same age and Corina was bought for Octavia on her thirteenth birthday. Breaking down under the stress and shame of her husband being caught with the Emperor Augustus’ daughter and then exiled, Octavia eventually attempts to slit her wrists. Corina attempts to save her and runs to the Temple of Vesta for help. A Vestal Virgin arrives just as Octavia’s beginning to slip away. She can’t save her, but instead she turns Octavia into a vampire.

This image is what happens after Octavia awakens after her transformation. She realizes what she has become and in a wave of hunger and longing she decides to do the same to her slave. After all, that way they can be together for all eternity. Corina, however, is less impressed with having to serve her Mistress forever. The story then revolves around the next two thousand years as the pair try to come to terms with what they are and who they are to each other.


I knew that I wanted the image to be framed, much like my inked Diana drawing that I did earlier last year. I wanted to evoke the feeling of containment in the Second Style Roman wall paintings.

Fresco from the Villa of the Farnesina, Rome.
Fresco from the Villa of the Farnesina, Rome.

I found a stock image from DeviantArt that was just perfect and then also scanned some design elements like the column tops and the rose pattern from an old book that I picked up in a used book store in Tokyo this past April. Working in Photoshop I patched all the bits together into a composition that I liked, checking out the overall balance with a golden mean template.

composition with golden mean
Working out the composition

Once I had that all worked out, I started on the sketch itself. This isn’t the final piece, just the basic drawing to work out the line-art, shadows and composition etc for the watercolour painting that this will become. Once I had the sketch done I sent to over to fantasy artist, Angela Sasser, for a red-line critique. She did a private video of her critique for me, drawing over my digital image and showing me how to improve on the composition, anatomy and over-all finesse of the piece. The stuff that she came up with completely blew me away. So, now it’s back to the drawing (well, Photoshop) board again to rework the composition. Hopefully you’ll like how it turns out the second time around.

Inspiration, Reference Photos

Awara Iris Festival

Every year my city holds an iris festival up near Lake Kitagata. There are over 150 different varieties on display in the iris garden, many of them for sale to casual gardeners and visitors alike. This year I decided that I’d try and grab a few photos to use at references at some point or another. Enjoy.

P.S. These are not public domain but if you want to use some for a painting just drop me a note and ask. I don’t bite.

2015-06-14 10.47.24 2015-06-14 10.47.36



My Inspirations

I was going to write this response to Julia Harrison’s post on her art inspirations in the comments but I realized that it was going to be way too long. So I decided to make a post of my own exploring my influences and inspirations.


Inking, Portfolio

Ghost Samurai

Ghost Samurai by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Ghost Samurai by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Ghost Samurai by Bronwen MacDonald (2015) [Pencils by Ikan Art]

Title: Ghost Samurai

Medium: Ink on paper

Size: A4 (unframed)

For Sale: Yes (note that original has pale blue pencil sketch under the ink work)

Prints: No

Coloured Pencil

The Making of ‘Torso Study’

2015-04-08 Torso Cleaned Large

I recently finished this torso study and sent it off to a special friend of mine. Here is how I went about working on it


Bargue Plates, Sketches

Copy-work – Bargue Plate I, 3

I suppose that in many ways I am rather old-fashioned. I love doing copy-work, whether that is writing out Latin or doing cast study copies. This curriculum developed by Charles Bargue are a series of plates that were designed for students to copy. The intention is to prepare both the eye and hand for working on drawing plaster casts / sculptures in situ and then moving on to working with live models.  (more…)


Apollo Belvedere

Apollo Belvedere by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Apollo Belvedere by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Apollo Belvedere by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)


Title: Apollo Belvedere

Medium: Graphite pencil on paper

Size: 31 × 21.8 cm (unframed)

For Sale: Yes

Prints: No

Inking, Portfolio

Ksenia Anske

Ksenia Anske by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Ksenia Anske by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)
Ksenia Anske by Bronwen MacDonald (2015)

Title: Ksenia Anske

Medium: Ink on paper

Size: 29.7 × 21.0 cm (unframed)

For Sale: Yes

Prints: No

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