Paint to Power – A Tour Through History By James Griffin

Altering Commander: The Sissay Project by James Griffin


Hey all,

Something different today.  I’ve spent the last two weeks painting for a commission of the seven wonders of the ancient world on seven iconic lands that are particularly good for Commander.  This is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever been asked to paint, and without any question one of the most challenging.  It’s taking 15-20 hours per card, so I’ve only done three of them so far, but I thought I’d share my progress.  Here’s the thing though, that’s just three cards to look at, so lets find something out about the subject matter.

The Great Pyramid of Geza.

The Great Pyramid is called that because it is an absolutely huge pile of ‘bricks’, which are in themselves gargants of the stone masonry world.  There’s a reason it’s the only one of the seven ancient wonders of the world still standing, its so unbelievably big that simply demolishing the thing should one want to, is too difficult.  I suppose that the other reason that no one has done so just yet is all the real estate surrounding it.  There’s a lot of sand.   Chances are, it was built using a lot of man power, and that is meant in the most literal sense, they likely used many many slaves and workmen to construct the thing.  No wonder they never actually finished it.  The card took me about twenty hours, but the actual pyramid took twenty years to complete, which is quite something for a tomb.  Still, it was a nice pad, with rooms for the big cheese, and smaller sattelite rooms for his wife(s) friend(s) neighbour(s) and facebook friend(s).

My favourite thing about the pyramid might be the fact that the ratio of the base and height is near as makes no difference pi.  That’s awesome!  I tried to match it in my card.  I wanted to give the pyramids a sense of context and a sense of timelessness, so this slightly stylised picture, complete with heat haze and turban is the result. Check it out:

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

This one is like the opposite of the pyramid of Geza.  It’s the anti-pyramid. The pyramid definitely exists.  You can go there and check it out barring fire, flood or civil unrest (well flood is unlikely, and to be honest, there isn’t much to catch fire), and the hanging gardens may or may not have existed.

They may have been built by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon (Iraq) for his piece of crumpet.  Maybe however, it was built in Ninevah by someone else entirely, but scholars disagree.  There were probably gardens in both of the places, and the hanging gardents have been described by a few people, albeit in some cases rather theatrically.  From these descriptions, we know that it includes some sort of water feature, which it says was run by a big ol’ screw that moved the water the middle of what was likely quite a high structure, with many layers like the terraces, so it could flow back down, watering as it went.  We know as well that it involved some sort of technology at the bottom to protect the garden against water, like the ancient equivalent of large concrete blocks, which kept some water out, but allowed water in to drain away.  Clever.

I have tried to get those two things across in my painting.  I had to go at such theatrical with the bottom bit, surrounding the thing by water, but it makes the point.  Also, mine shows a structure with many layers, which is a common feature of descriptions.  One of the things that took the longest to do, was getting the intricate stonework to look like… well… intricate stonework.


The Lighthouse at Alexandria.

The Lighthouse at Alexandria was exactly what it says on the tin, a way of stopping sailors wrecking on the rocks near Alexandria.  It was a really tall building, probably about 140 metres, and its height was one of the things that cause it to be described as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  It seems like in order to become a wonder of the ancient world, what you need to be is as tall as possible in your category.  The ancients were impressed by tallness.   The Pyramid at Giza was one of the most tall buildings in the world for many years (thousands of them actually).  The lighthouse then help this record for a while as well, and thus… it was considered wonderful.  It probably had a large square base, like castle ramparts, and is not like one of the lighthouses we have in Britain.  From there is a large structure, in sort of a three stage construction, causing it to tower above everything around.  Want to know how I know what this one looked like?  Well more clever people than me built a replica, which lives in china, check it out:

Awesome.  The thing that gets me with the lighthouse is that it must have been so toasty warm at the top.  It’s not like they have massive halogen bulbs in order to power it, so a big old fire will be in the order of the day.  That seems fine during the summer, when you can sing campfire songs and toast marshmallows (that’s a lot of marshmallows), but imagine doing so at night in a storm.  I wanted to get those two elements in, the night, and the fire.  For this piece then, I set it to a clear night, because I didn’t want the weather getting in the way of all the detail I was able to put on the tower, and they made sure the starlight was reflected off the sea.  In contrast with this white light, the fire coming from the lighthouse and from the torches carried by people on the edge of the structure was a warm yellowy colour.  This is the wonder with which I am most pleased so far.  And I hope you like it.

So, that concludes our tour around the first three wonders of the ancient world.  I know this is a bit of a different article and I hadn’t spoken very much about magic or whatever, but what I hope you got from this is the creative process that goes into translating something from reality or description to picture.   There are no two ways about it, these are some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to paint, and as I look forward to the other four, I can’t help but wonder how I’m even going to begin the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus or the Statue of Zeus.  Still, that’s what makes it a challenge right?

Until next time,




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