An artist in conversation with art history, and in love with the Source of all Beauty.


All Hallows' Eve Shrine Template!

Some of my readers have asked me to draw a template for the All Hallow's Eve martyred saint shrines I created last year.  I quickly put this together while the baby was napping.  You'll still need to trace around the outside of your own box since cereal boxes vary between brands, but these are the essentials:

Please make sure to use LED electric tea light candles and not real ones, and have a Happy Halloween, Catholic style!



After transferring my drawing to the panel, I used burnt umber to define the values. Next will come the metal leaf and colors.


Transfer Drawing

I managed to cobble together a mock-up drawing and transfer it to my panel board which I had already painted a neutral color.

Here I'm nearly done tracing it with a blue ball-point pen so I can tell which parts of the drawing I've already gone over.

I used white Saral brand transfer paper between the drawing and the panel board. I don't know what it's made of, but it doesn't make the surface dirty with hard to cover-up graphite (which I learned the hard way last time).

It's a little hard to see with the glare but here's the finished drawing. Next I'll do the under-painting with burnt umber to establish the light and dark values.


The Woman Clothed with the Sun

I'm continuing to post my figure study drawings for my work-in-progress based on Revelation chapter 12. What does the Woman clothed with the Sun represent?  From the Douay-Rheims commentary:

"[1] A woman: The church of God. It may also, by allusion, be applied to our blessed Lady. The church is clothed with the sun, that is, with Christ: she hath the moon, that is, the changeable things of the world, under her feet: and the twelve stars with which she is crowned, are the twelve apostles: she is in labour and pain, whilst she brings forth her children, and Christ in them, in the midst of afflictions and persecutions."

Thankfully I have access to a baby (my son, A), and a pregnant friend who patiently allowed me to put a sheet and a tablecloth around her for a photo.  This isn't a likeness, but a good compromise between realism and the stylized woman and child from the Douce Apocalypse.  I'm convinced the artist dressed a model in robes and observed the fabric folds carefully in the same way:


Angel Study #3

This is the third angel in the piece.  I didn't give him a shield because he'll be in the background.

A bit of self-critique:  This is an example of why not to draw from photographs if you don't have's difficult to get the proportions right when you're fighting against the lens distortion.  This angel is little stocky with a long arm. On the plus side, I'm getting better at handling the drapery, working from large forms down to smaller forms and letting the folds assist the sense of movement.  I managed to get a good contrapasto (weight on one leg) pose out of the model which makes the drawing just the right amount of dynamic.


Angel Study #2

I'll have 3 angels total in the piece I'm currently working on.  There are many different styles of angels in all the Apocalypse manuscripts I've looked at, but I continue to like the look of the angel from the Annunciation in the Westminster Psalter with his Classical tunic and toga combined with what appears to be a Byzantine influenced way of modeling the figure and drapery:

Here's my second figure study. I haven't decided whether this one or the previous will be St. Michael standing at the front of the angel cluster:


Angel Study #1

I had some very kind assistants agree to pose for reference photos that I could use to base my figures on for my latest painting.  They won't bear a real likeness to the people I photographed...mostly I need help knowing what lots of folded and draped fabric looks like. You can't draw or paint anyone from the Bible without a lot of drapery, and I can always tell when drapery looks faked.

Here's my first angel study:


Researching and Sketching

I've been scouring the internet for medieval manuscripts of the subject matter I'm going to paint for the Apocalypse Prize.  My first painting will be of the Woman Clothed with the Sun from Revelation chapter 12.  I want to include the battle between St. Michael and the Dragon as well.  Here are a few manuscripts that inspired me:

St. Michael and his angels battling the Dragon by Pacino de Buonaguida, Florence, 1340 A.D.

The Cloisters Apocalypse, Normandy, 1330 A.D.

The Woman Clothed with the Sun, Cloisters Apocalypse, Normandy, 1330 A.D.

The Woman Clothed with the Sun, MS Paris 403, France, 1250 A.D.

Next, the way I begin to sketch out the layout involves dividing up the plane using the armature of the rectangle.  Basically, connecting the midpoint of each side with the opposite corner gives you a framework for building a harmonious composition based on proportional intervals. See how I've use the intersections to determine where the image divides into thirds and quarters?

Since I make a lot of mistakes and erasures and I didn't want to lose my composition lines I decided to draw the rest on layers of tracing paper.  Here are the major divisions of the piece in terms of space...heaven, sky, earth, hell:

Next, the Woman, who simultaneously represents the prophecy from Genesis 3:15, The Blessed Virgin Mary giving Birth to Our Lord, and The Church giving life to the Christian soul:

Finally the angels and the seven-headed dragon:  The dragon pulls 1/3 of the stars from the heavens. Also, tucked into the upper left corner, the temple opened and the ark of the covenant revealed (From the last verse of Revelation 11) which I spotted in some of the manuscripts.  I'm thinking the dragon is a bit large, so I'll scale him down a little in the final piece.

 The next stage will be to take some photo references using models, work up some detailed sketches of the figures, and draw the layout to scale to be transferred onto the actual work surface.  Then I'll get to actually paint it!


A.R. Danziger on Pinterest

Hello Readers,

If you have a Pinterest account, you can follow my new "Apocalypse Manuscripts" board. I only have a few pins so far, but I will add more as I do more research for the pieces I plan to paint for the Apocalypse Prize art contest this year.

Since it's always so long between completed works, I thought this might be one more way I can let people in on my work process which might help other artists in the same boat.  The "I'm trying desperately to understand Medieval art and there are so few resources available" boat.

You can find it here, or in the widget I just added to my blog sidebar:


The Rending of Christendom

Sorry for the long absence! I've been very busy working on a few projects that I couldn't show on my blog just yet. I can finally show you one of them now. I designed the front and back cover for this book:

The Rending of Christendom: Readings and Questions by Phillip Campbell
My friend Phillip Campbell, a history teacher for Homeschool Connections, has created an excellent high-school level course on the Reformation/Counter-Reformation era based on primary source documents. The book is designed to follow the online course, but it can certainly stand alone as it's own curriculum.

The main book "The Rending of Christendom" has study questions after each reading, and there is a separate answer key available. There is currently a 15% off sale if you buy both together:

I'm about halfway through, and I think the selection of readings provides a very broad and thorough understanding of the key players and events without being overwhelming. I took a church history elective class at my secular university, and I have to say that reading actual primary sources like these acted as an antidote to my high school history textbooks and marked the beginning of my conversion process from Protestantism to Catholicism. If I know you in real life, I'd be happy to show you my copy.

I don't profit at all from sales of this book, I just think it's a really great idea and worth promoting.


Apocalypse Prize 2015

I've been asked by the director of the Apocalypse Prize contest to post this announcement:

There will be a new competition this year, with a December 31st deadline.

The 2013 contest was a wonderful learning experience. This is an excellent way for artists of all ages to develop a good working understanding of medieval art and how to use its conventions fluently in their own work. Along the way, they will learn to analyze the subject matter analogically and create their own piece by researching and sketching examples from medieval manuscripts.

Sign up here:


FilosofĂ­a Friday

The Four Cardinal Virtues - Dirc van Delft, Walters Manuscript W.171, 1400 A.D.

"What is the good for man? It must be the ultimate end or object of human life: something that is in itself completely satisfying. Happiness fits this description. But what is happiness? If we consider what the function of man is, we find that happiness is a virtuous activity of the soul."

-Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics


All Hallows' Eve Shrines

This is my first year as a homeowner, and with Halloween approaching I began to wonder what I would do for decorations. In light of this interesting article by Fr. Grunow about the Catholic roots of Halloween and why Americans came to think of it as a pagan holiday, I decided to try to use this opportunity to reengage the culture and maybe even evangelize my neighbors.

The crazy idea I came up with was to make little shrines to honor a few saints who died as martyrs for their faith in Christ. That way we can remember death, but in a way that points to the Kingdom of God and not the occult. I also hope people are drawn to some of the beautiful and unusual imagery. I made a banner wishing everyone a "Happy All Hallows' Eve" and will leave a basket of free holy cards outside the door. We have really good candy to hand out too!

empty cereal boxes
paper (for template)
x-acto knife
black poster board
print-outs of saints
flameless LED tea lights

I had three different sizes of cereal boxes, so I drew a gothic arch doorway that would fit nicely on the smallest box and traced it onto every box, and cut each opening with the x-acto. Then using the proportions of the largest box, I drew a gothic facade and traced it onto the black poster board three times. Then I traced the doorway onto each facade. I also traced the sides and tops of each box. Once all of the poster board pieces were cut out, I glued them to the cereal boxes, taking care to line up the opening in the front of the box with the opening in the facade.

I printed out pictures of St. Lucy, St. Peter, and St. Denis on 8.5" x 11" paper, trimmed the sides to fit, and glued them inside each box. Do this before you glue poster board over the top of the box! I also printed out their names, glued them to scroll shapes cut out of heavy white paper, and glued a name scroll onto each shrine.

It's also important to take breaks to smile at and/or nurse the cute baby on the floor near your work area.

Once you have the shrines assembled, they might look something like this:

I plan to make a few more next year since this was a last-minute idea.

My kids are pretty excited about them. J calls them "little churches." They just had their All Saints Day party at our homeschool co-op.  S wanted to dress up as St. Barbara. I couldn't get her to hold both her tower and her holy card straight at the same time, so here are two pictures:
J went as St. Patrick, but he wouldn't wear his miter once we were home. He likes to dress up as a priest almost every day, so this isn't even really a costume for him ;)


Crucifix Craft

Children need beauty as much as any adult. In fact, when we pay attention to providing an aesthetically pleasing environment for children, it fosters the growth of their creativity and visual/conceptual skills. But here's a research paper so you don't have to take my word for it:

Perhaps more importantly, if children learn to love beauty, they will love what is true and good.

With that in mind, when we moved into our new house, I realized that we lacked crucifixes for our children's room. It's strangely difficult to find a nice looking crucifix these days, and if I did manage to find one, I didn't want a blessed and expensive object to wind up broken or on the floor despite my 2-year-old's best intentions.  So I thought, maybe I could make one that he could handle:

I found an unfinished wood hanging cross and a small unfinished wood plaque at Michaels. I sawed the slightly curved end off the bottom of the cross using a miter box and a handsaw. Then I screwed them together (I drilled a pilot hole first), and painted them brown (Daniel Smith brand Burnt Umber). Next I found a suitably beautiful looking piece of art on the web and resized it to fit on the cross. This is from St. Dominic Adoring the Crucifixion by Fra Angelico (left). I printed it on digital photo paper using my plain old inkjet printer, cut out the corpus and the INRI sign and glued them to the cross. I finished the whole thing with 2 coats of acrylic matte medium for a little protection. Now my son J uses it on his "altar" (Ikea dresser) to play Mass. I'll write a post about that another time.
My 4-year-old daughter, S, wanted one too of course. I found this little 4" x 3" wooden standing cross at Hobby Lobby. It has a small inset perfect for gluing art into!

 I decided to go with an Italo-Byzantine style crucifix this time. Cimabue painted this one to hang in the Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence.  I asked S paint the entire cross Ultramarine Blue. Cimabue's famous pupil, Giotto, was very fond of that color. Like the first project, I re-sized and printed the artwork on digital photo paper, cut it out and let S help me glue it into the inset. Then I painted the edges with gold craft paint (it looks a little better in real life) and finished it all with 2 coats of acrylic matte medium. This sits on her dresser along with a hand-embroidered picture of the Holy Family that her aunt brought her from Egypt.
If you would like to make these without the work of finding and re-sizing Wikipedia images, you can download a free template here:


Apocalypse Prize Entries

The winners of the Apocalypse Prize art contest have been announced. Congratulations, Joseph Moats!

Here is the complete gallery of entries:

...and the highlights of everyone's work. I'm honored to be considered a Fellow of the Apocalypse Prize.

Here are the 3 paintings that I entered:

The Adoration of the 24 Elders (Acrylic and metal leaf on panel board, 24" x 24")

The Adoration of the 24 Elders (Detail)
The Harlot Riding the Beast (Acrylic on panel board, 12" x 12")

The Marriage of the Lamb (Acrylic and metal leaf on panel board, 12" x 12")

I already loved medieval illuminated manuscripts, especially in the Gothic style, so I jumped at the opportunity to really research them in-depth to learn how to create works of art in continuity with the conventions of traditional Western iconography. During my research I unexpectedly fell in love with some Romanesque era manuscripts and they started influencing my work. I was also surprised to find how much the depiction of Christ in Majesty from the Westminster Psalter has in common with Byzantine Icons of Our Lord, and how even the most stylized drapery seemed to correspond to real-life observations of how fabric folds would fall on a form.