When The Moon Is Full, Step-By-Step

This post contains artistic depictions of the female nude form. If that bothers you, look no further…


…When The Moon Is Full… Acrylic on canvas, 24×36

I’ve been doing some witchy, occultish stuff lately, as you may know. My newest acrylic painting is a witchy depiction, inspired by a piece of Wiccan/Witchcraft liturgy called the Charge Of The Goddess. The first lines of the charge read:

Whenever ye have need of me, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, then shall ye assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who is Queen of all witches. There shall ye assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets; to these will I teach things that are yet unknown.

I found a great reference photo on DA, from a photographer who goes by RealKilroy:


Photo by Robert Ponomarev, aka RealKilroy.

I like the way the figure has an expression of bliss, and the way her hands are raised into the air, a stance witches actually assume during a full moon ritual. I also like the way her ribs show because she is outstretched.

…When The Moon Is Full

Acrylic on canvas, 24×36

Colors used: violet, dioxazine purple, titanium white, windsor violet, payne’s gray, vermillion hue, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, crimson

Brushes:  large filburt, 10 filburt, 8 filburt, small edger.

I began by painting an entire canvas with dioxazine purple and violet, both from the “cheap” student grade acrylics available at Michael’s. These paints are great for bigger areas, as they have pretty good coverage, and you don’t feel like you’re ‘wasting’ expensive paints (though if you read this blog, you know my stance on the complaint of ‘wasting’ materials). I then outlined my figure for spacial reference, knowing I would paint the moon over part of the outline:


Note my t-square standing next to the canvas: I measured the center of the canvas (ground) to be sure the figure and the moon were centered.

My next step was to paint the moon. I mixed titanium white and violet to get a lavender: I then used violet to suggest the features of the moon’s surface, painting it wet-on-wet, meaning I painted in the violet directly into the wet lavender paint of the moon shape. I recommend using a medium for doing this: I used Liquitex glazing medium here, to make sure the moon shape remained wet as I mixed in the violet.


I knew I wanted to have figures dancing behind the main figure. While waiting for the moon to dry, I sketched out dancers. I was immediately unhappy with the result, and I covered these figures up as I worked the painting, and decided to paint more of the primary figure before returning to these background figures.


Here is the first pass at the skin tones. I used a mix of vermillion hue and titanium white, leaving large sections of the purple background showing through. I would also use just a tiny bit of windsor violet for shading, but later I ended up covering most of that with dioxazine purple.


And while I had the dioxazine purple out, I covered up those figures in the background. That’s a great thing about acrylic paints: they are very opaque, and it’s easy to cover mistakes or areas that aren’t working (you can still see a faint hint of one figure).

You can see here that I used both vermillion hue and crimson to block out more of the shading. I wanted the figure to seem to rise out of the purples in the background, and to blend into the background in places. Also note the hands: as the piece developed, I would return to the hands and fix them up a bit.

The facial features were giving me some trouble at this point. In the reference photo there is a lot of light on the model’s face, and it’s hard to make out much delineation and shading. I would spend a good deal of time working on that…


Above, I painted over the nose to get the shape a bit better. As you can see, I also began shading the face a bit more. I had to ‘fake’ a lot of the shading, but knowledge of the human face and form really helps in doing that. If you are a self taught artist, even if you do styles like Pop Surrealism, Anime or Manga, it’s really worth studying muscle and bone structure to get a sense of where things lie under the skin. This helps a lot with features and shading. There are tons of good books, and Youtube videos on drawing and painting facial features, skeletons and muscle structure. An exercise my class did in art school was to find photos of the human body in motion, such as pix of athletes, and draw in the underlying bones and muscle to get a sense of how these move when the body moves. It’s a good exercise.


So the nose is fixed, and I’ve worked some more on shading the face and developing the hair. I used burnt and raw umber for the underpainting of the hair, then burnt sienna, crimson, and vermillion hue for light tones. There is also titanium white, payne’s gray and dioxazine purple in the mix. When painting hair, try to see the main shapes made by hair groupings. Hair should look light, and have movement. In this piece I used filburt and edger brushes, but sometimes I’ll use a fan brush to get the hair textures.

You can see that I resumed the atmospherics. This time I started by painting in some standing stones, using a photo of Calanais in the Outer Hebrides Islands as reference. In the next step I would use some photos of dancers to paint in the dancing group behind the main figure, keeping them very gestural, and using primarily the violets and purples of the background.


As I mentioned, I was not happy with her hands. As I painted the shading on her hands and arms, it began to look like she had too many fingers. So I painted over the parts I didn’t like with titanium white. Then I would mix violet and titanium white to get the lavender I used for the moon, and repaint those portions of the moon in.

Here is the finished piece, as seen above:


I put the group of dancing figures in the background, overlapping some to give a sense of depth. I also repainted the breast and nipple on the viewer’s left. The nipple was not sitting right. In the reference photo the nipples are a little bit uneven, as real nipples are when someone raises their hands above their head. But it did not ‘read’ right in the painting, so I changed it. I also worked for quite a while on the shading of the belly and hips. I shaded the face up until the very end of the process.

Being an artist means self-editing. You need to know when a piece is ‘done.’ If you are too much of a perfectionist (which I’m not: sometimes I wish I was a little more of a perfectionist) you might work a piece so much that you overwork it. You must also develop a sense of when a piece needs just a little more. It’s a very thin line, and only experience and practice can hone this skill.

Sometimes it helps to begin a piece with a clear vision of what you want the finished piece to look like. Then you can tell if the piece matches your vision. But many times art means happy surprises. Your piece might look different from your vision, but in a good way. This is the only way to develop as an artist. Sometimes I begin a piece with a very clear idea of the outcome I want: other times I begin with the sketch, and let the painting take me where it decides to go. Neither is wrong or right. Both are good ways to stretch your abilities.

So I decided this piece was ‘done’ when I could look at it and be happy with it. I might have shaded the face and belly even more. I might also have developed the dancing figures a bit more. But I also might have overworked the piece that way. You are the only person who can decide if you are happy with a piece (unless it’s a commission. But even then the piece should bear your style, and only you can determine if it does).

As always, thanks for looking at this. Please ‘like’ and comment.


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