Fairy Fellers Master-stroke Step by Step

A few months ago I was invited to submit work for a show at the Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra California. The show’s theme was Rock n’ Roll. One of the options was to illustrate a song or a lyric. I chose to do The Fairy Feller’s Master-stroke by Queen, which was itself a riff on the great painting by Victorian artist Richard Dadd. While working on the painting I snapped some work in progress shots with my iPad. For this blog post I’ve collected some of them to show you how this piece came together and share some of my thoughts at each stage.


I started by carefully drawing the image on a sheet of 300lb Arches coldpress paper. After that I contoured all of the forms using a brush and carbon black acrylic ink. This piece was intended as a fun take on the theme and while I didn’t want to copy Richard Dadd’s unfinished masterpiece, I did want to reference it. I borrowed the main figure and made him my own with the addition of wings and some other accoutrements. There are other references to Dadd’s work such as the daisies and the nuts.


I began painting with Liquitex acrylic ink, which has a particular vividness all its own. It handles somewhat like watercolour and blends well. I found that some of my watercolour technique was not usable with these inks but I really wanted to use just the inks, so I persisted. Why did I start here? I am left handed and this was the most comfortable place rest my brush. I decided at the outset that I would not approach this like a painting, by developing the whole surface. Instead I used the technique that I normally use for my ink drawings, fully developing one area before moving on.


At this stage I moved up because I wanted to paint the bird. I needed something “real” to set up the weirder subject matter. It also established a scale in an image where scale is otherwise almost impossible to determine. I remember feeling really good about the paint on the paper at this point and started working in some darker values. I wasn’t initially sure about the green gown but I knew it would take its proper place in the composition as I went along.


And then downward. With the side developing nicely I knew I had to work along the bottom to establish the foreground plane. It was around this point that I decided on a strategy of working around the border/ frame.

fairy_feller_5Painting this area was a lot of fun because I got to work on the fungus and introduce some different values. I liked the way the rust of the fungus picked up some of the colour in the fairy wing.


When working on a piece like this with a lot of moving parts I think it is important to create zones of interest. Each area of this composition has something for the viewer to look at. It also gave me the opportunity to work on something different, which is highly motivating; there was always another bit to push me on. Motivation was key on this piece because the timeline for production was very tight. Deadlines! About this time I realized that I needed some red. It was like tasting a soup and knowing it needed salt. Originally the feather was to be a crow feather, but I intuitively realized that it belonged to a cardinal. The red worked nicely against the green tree man.


Now I moved to the upper register. Spatially, the two upper figures are closer than the figures at the side. To stand out, the figures needed to be larger than the others. I emphasized the difference by introducing bolder colours, particularly the blue, which I feared was going to drip down the entire painting as I worked it very quickly.


At this point I was beginning to see the finished piece. I ordered the frame! I wanted to carefully preserve the luminosity in the clearing. It meant that I had to restrain my usual proclivity to go subatomic on the detail.

fairy_feller_9Nearly there.

All images © Richard A. Kirk. Any reuse is strictly prohibited without permission of Richard A. Kirk

And finished. The Fairy Feller’s Master-stroke ready for the framer.

– Richard

4 thoughts on “Fairy Fellers Master-stroke Step by Step

Add yours

  1. The finished pieces are always stunning in detail & imagery, yet to be able to read your method of creating, step-by-step, I am amazed even more.

    I love hearing how artists go about creating. Having no artistic talent of my own (in regards to painting or drawing), I am dumbfounded how you & your peers can make something you see within your minds come to life through your hands and find a place for it to rest upon paper and canvas.

    Always interesting, beautiful & meticulous, your work brings me great joy as I view it. The prints I have of yours never fail to make me shake my head in amazement.


    1. Thanks, that’s kind. I like to think about the making of art as discovery, or maybe even a game. You know when you’re sitting in front of a piece and making all of these little decisions that must compound into something like what you envisioned, of felt might be a more accurate word, it can feel like game play. I’m really glad you liked the piece. Richard.

  2. Thank you very much Mr. Kirk. I’m not an artist but your tactics and strategy make perfect sense to me. At the tender age of 45 I am getting ready to try my untrained hand at drawing and painting recurring dreams, mostly pastoral scenes with few figures. The ideas have motivated me because like your work the content is so original.

    Thanks again, Steve Bell

    1. Congratulations Steven on pursuing art as a way of exploring your dreams. I’ve found the process of art an excellent way of getting at things that are in my subconscious. It’s a way of starting a dialogue with that part of your mind that gives you those nocturnal images. I think you’ll be really glad you did.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: