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Project Commentaries: With the Just We Shall Dwell by Elspeth Young

By
With the Just We Shall Dwell was painted by the artist in the studios at Ben Haven.

Dimensions (unframed width x height)
24 in. x 30 in.

Support
Panel

Milestones
Research commences - February 2016
Painting commences - November 2018
Painting completed - June 2020

Methodology
This section presents only one or two items that may be of interest to professional artists, amateurs, and others interested in the work of the Studios.

These excerpts from Elspeth's Painting Diary during the creation of this painting provide a glimpse of the nature of this project:

October 11, 2018
I should be recording what it was like to finish my portrait of the Savior, painting my brother Ashton from life and allowing the spirit and majesty of the opportunity to testify visually of the Messiah, to dictate the pace of the project (which concluded September 28th).  Or I should be noting my joys and travails in pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and egg tempera beginning my first children's illustration project.

But having just gotten off the phone with Frances Orton, a direct descendant of Hyrum and Mary Smith, I'm dizzy with what she told me about lilacs and the Smith family.  So here goes:

The lilac was a favorite family flower of Joseph Smith senior and Lucy, and by extension their children.  During the expulsion from Kirtland the family carried cuttings with them and planted them along their way.  Because of cruel persecutions prohibiting the use of headstones, lilacs were also planted to mark the graves of beloved family members.  The Nauvoo Cemetery is, therefore, filled with light purple and some white varieties.  Jerusha's favorite lilac shrub became Mary Fielding's first cutting from which she began her lilac legacy.  It is believed that the thriving shrub at the This Is he Place state park has its origins from this first cutting, since it was transplanted from Mary's home in Nauvoo.


February 23, 2019
I live, breathe, eat, and sometimes even dream, the Smith family.  I began Hyrum and Mary in the autumn of last year and have been using scraps of paint during the evenings over the last three weeks to build up a moody, green under-hue gradient (now in its third layer) upon which the subject will emerge.

Dad recently counseled me to seek Smith research from pure waters.  I am to get to pure water whenever I find myself in a sinkhole (see Personal Journal, January 25th 2019).  Last week when I found my research sinking my heart somewhat, I looked about for renewing perspectives.  Ever since then, Dallin Oaks and Russell Ballard have been wells of pure water, raising me to higher ground again and again.  Almost daily, I study the Psalms (Mary Fielding's favorite book of scripture); the Doctrine and Covenants sections to and about Hyrum; Lucy Mack's narrative; and a Conference talk, centering around The Smiths, by President Ballard or President Oaks.  Their testimonies and perceptions raised me to ennobling heights and my brush stands ready to paint the depth of grateful emotion I feel.  I believe what these seers say as readily and keenly as I do the sweet, irreplaceable witness of Joseph the farm boy and Brother Joseph the Seer.


March 13, 2019
I spent Monday and Tuesday using chalky, two- to three-day-old paint to sketch-in the facial planes of Hyrum and Mary using mid-tone hues.  I counted in excess of 130 color-fractal-plane changes per face.

March 15, 2019
As I've been carefully painting the exquisite way in which my two models for Mary and Hyrum clasped hands (which will create the focal point for the painting, and whose choreography was in the main Ben and Kensey's creation, I might add) I have been giving much thought to the hands of Hyrum and Mary: hands which were the first to thrust-in the sickle, literally, to clear the ground for the Kirtland temple; hands which consoled, comforted, and cheered; hands which paid tithes, tilled earth; built the Kingdom of God on earth.  My thoughts, I believe, have helped me paint firmly, so that the technique might communicate resolve.

March 29, 2019
I have been breathlessly painting nonstop to establish the costume silhouettes of Mary and Hyrum, and, after many days and hours, an underpainting has emerged ready for the countless hours of detail work, scumble layers, and glazing to come.

April 16, 2019
I have spent seven intense work days on layer three of Hyrum's countenance, using my new Elspeth Hues, a palette of pigments I am developing for my new solvent and benzene-free studio.  There must be 200 new color-plane changes in this pass, and all with a new set of pigments from which to mix the subtle color changes my eye perceives.  I am hoping to capture the resolve, firmness, and poignant feeling of Hyrum's character, through the expression of his face.  Miles to go...

April 25, 2019
I have spent the week on Mary's face and am about one third of the way through this highly detailed phase using my new Elspeth Hues mixed exclusively from the primary colors and white.  I now paint more slowly than before, but the result is finer, more complete in itself, and, Dad tells me, richer.  I find that, when mixing from such a severely limited palette, more concentration and care is required of the artist, at least in my case.  Each little shift in color value, temperature, and hue must be individually created without the shortcut of premixed tube colors.  This results in a more visually unified expression because all hues, tones, and shades are mixed from the same sources, unadulterated by manufactured mixtures or earth tones which were, I hadn't realized, subduing my palette.  My colors, once mixed, still echo the earthy muted harmony of my native surroundings, which I love so dearly (the umbers, siennas, greys, taupes, and muted greens with accents of rust, gold, etc., of the Utah landscape), but they are inherently more vibrant and iridescent.

May 2, 2019
Today I've been on the phone with the Joseph Smith Historic Sites in Nauvoo, and corresponding with Joseph and Emma's fourth great-grandson, Lachland MacKay, apostle in the Community of Christ Church and their historic sites coordinator.  Both were kindly helpful as I sought advice about lilacs.  Lach very kindly strolled around the historic properties for me and took pictures of the shrubs in bloom so that I could study the varieties historically accurate to the Mansion House and adjacent lots.


May 16, 2019
Breathless and exhausted, I write perched in the studio corner just above the fading lilacs whose fragrance has been my muse and companions through the past two weeks of insane painting.  With rare exception, every waking moment, from the small hours, has me focused on The Smiths, until paintbrush poised and eyes straining, the last hints of daylight slip into darkness each night.  I study faces in portraits, extant from Nauvoo, descendants in photographs, clothing artifacts, written and oral tributes, period-accurate films for costume interpretation ideas, and, probably most importantly, my heart, for feelings about Hyrum and dear Mary I hope to echo in every brushstroke.  The entire painting has undergone a complete and extreme makeover and miles to go, but an evocative image begins to emerge from within.

June 3, 2019
My studio is currently scented with the spicy fragrance of the iris blooming immediately beneath my easel window.  Today I worked wet-in-wet for several uninterrupted hours, endeavoring to capture the expression in Hyrum's face, which has hitherto eluded me.  It has been a beautiful and poignant painting day.

June 11, 2019
Work continues well, if tediously.  I'm having excellent success with careful glazing, scumbling, and color building in progressively more saturated layers over early light-hued layers.  The Elspeth Hues are working!

June 18, 2019
Yesterday and today I've been busy, very busy, painting like mad on Mary's paisley shawl, her bouquet of lilacs, and the hands clutching them.  Much scumbling.


December 28, 2019
Janet Meyer called unexpectedly for another drop-by and it turns out Ben and Kenzie are in Utah today only! during a two-day stopover from Prague, so I snatched the opportunity to study my Mary and Hyrum models one more time before trying to finish this painting.  I realized that perhaps my difficulty painting Hyrum's face all along has been that it was too much in shadow on the left side.  So, this time, I lit Ben from the shadow side with excellent success.  I begin again!

February 5, 2020
Today was equal parts glorious and grueling.  Now, using the new images of Ben as inspiration, I began working over the painting anew.  Listening all the while to every audio speech I could find about Mary or Hyrum, I am making the leap from my past painting to the feeling of the Smith family courage I hope and pray to be able to capture.  Miles to go, again, but we're so very much closer.  Today was a wet-in-wet scumble repainting all over my previous painting.  Now, I'll keep working this overlayer from here on in...

March 4, 2020
February has seen an extreme makeover of Hyrum's entire costume.  Every inch.  Every.  Often twice.  But I can finally begin to see things working.  His clothes feel tailored, not like an afterthought, and are the texture of the delicate fabrics of their day.  Now begins Mary's extreme makeover.  I spent the morning giving myself a Regency-Romantic Era refresher course in frills and furbelows.  I am doing my utmost to truly recreate the dress of Maudsley's Nauvoo Era portrait of Mary.  Wish me luck.


March 18, 2020
Work on Mary's makeover has been just that: WORK.  My father laughed yesterday and said, "Well Mary is the most clothes-horse subject I've ever seen you paint.  Every time I walk past your easel, she has on a new dress!"

He's right.

I've altered the cut of her gown about five times, but I think we're finally here to stay with an 1836 gown from the Metropolitan Museum, complete with shirred sleeves and a pieced front.  Yikes!  What a lot of grief!  Every tuck and gather and fold means hundreds of brushstrokes in each layer.  And that's even before I paint-in the correct lighting.  But Mary's worth it.  After all, she's never been painted this close-to before, and I'd like to do my best work.

March 25, 2020
If anyone had told me last summer that I would repaint every inch of Mary's costume, I think I would have despaired.  But if I had seen a vision, of what the painting is becoming, while choosing to call the painting complete at an earlier incarnation, I think the despair would be overwhelming.  Now the painting is achieving a realism I wouldn't have hoped for.  It is mostly thanks to Mom saying, while frowning at what I had already painted, "Have you played costume designer as you would wish?"  I hadn't.  And it showed.  Now I am, and that—happily—is showing instead.

April 18, 2020
If I had had any inkling of how harrowing my last week painting Hyrum's face would be, I wouldn't have even started.  But painting wet-in-wet and scumbling into freshly dried or almost dry paint for hour after long hour is finally paying off.  Seventy unique colors were my companions this week.  Yikes!

April 25, 2020
Mom and Dad have been pivotal in my painting of Mary and Hyrum this week.  My parents are always supportive, but particularly so now.  Repainting Hyrum's face these past two weeks has been some of the most emotional and artistically harrowing I have ever known.  And I little expected the need to paint Mary again too!  Matching skin tones is a chemistry project and aesthetic nightmare, and through it all, I need to stay calm, inspired, and hopeful.  Mom and Dad's insights, optimism, and raw courage inspire mine.  Hyrum's countenance is informed by Dad's ardent gaze; Mom's gentleness is painted into Mary, and to crown at all, Mom finally solved the puzzle of what to title the piece.  I still choke when I think of it: With the Just We Shall Dwell.


May 16, 2020
Well it's interesting.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shut everyone in, but also means I go to The MET nearly every oil painting session.  They generously let anyone tune in to one opera per day and as I paint, I listen.  I also imbibe the costumes.  Eugene Onedin helped some weeks ago as I was working on Mary's costume, and today, Lucie de Lammermor was equally inspiring.  Thank you, Metropolitan Opera!

June 1, 2020
I walked into my studio 14 days ago and found a sprig of forget-me-nots tucked into my easel, just below Mary's figure.  The hint from my mother was obvious.  What I didn't know is just how much adding one small sprig of sky-blue blossoms would change the entire face of my painting.  But since then another extreme makeover is taking place, and I'm wondering how I ever tolerated the painting before.  But oh! the challenges of painting two figures in clothing they weren't wearing when I saw them and which I do not have except in bad museum pictures, which were taken on someone's cell phone.  Definitely Portraiture 501.  Funny how one tiny sprig of forget-me-not can point out flaws all over a painting.

June 8, 2020
Several listens to the opera Tosca plus Otello and Thais got me through the rest of the extreme makeover I've been doing of Hyrum and Mary.  I just signed it at 7:01 PM using a smeary mixture of quinacridone red, hansa yellow, raw sienna, and yellow ochre.

Tags: With The Just We Shall Dwell, 2020, Project commentaries

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