Signs of the Zodiac: Taurus

Art shows can be dangerous!

For an artist, walking from booth to booth, taking in all the different applications of media and expressions of imagery, can instill an overpowering need to take what you have seen and create something of your own.

It’s even worse if you take the time to talk with the artists who are there displaying their goods.

They start ‘talking the talk’ and before you know it you’ve got a little buzz going.

It’s the dreaded “artistic contact high.”

A little thing we call “Inspiration”.

And once it sets in, you only have two options.  You can buckle down and deal with the itching and the fever and the feelings that you might just crawl out of your own skin, if given half a chance.  Or you can throw all that energy into creating your own works of art.

In extreme cases, the infected might be driven to display of all new art of their own, exposing others to possible infection.

I have been one such victim.

My latest relapse began last year, when I threw caution to the wind and attended the Main Street Arts Festival in downtown Fort Worth.  This had once been a yearly ritual of mine, but I’d missed the past several years do to conflicting work schedules, and then of course, the pandemic.

As always, there was a lot of amazing work on display, plenty of stuff to get the ol’ itch working.  But there was one artist in particular, who had created huge sculptural wall art using layers of cut and etched wood, glued like rough puzzle-pieces onto layered plywood panels.  These started my wheels spinning.  His pieces felt tribal, bordering on abstract, and were very engrossing, in both design and construction.

Suddenly, I wanted to throw everything else aside and start building my own series of wall art panels.  Mine would be less abstract than what I had seen at the show and more colorful – really taking advantage of the pop of color against a black background.  Maybe landscapes…, or something figural…,

Within a day or so I found myself thinking about Tarot cards.  Fully under the influence of the fever, I started to draw up a grand plan wherein I would reproduce the 22 cards of the Major Arcana as rectangular wooden panels of roughly one-and-a-half by three feet each.

I was deep into sketching designs for the 1st card when the fever broke.

Or at least, it abated a little.

Of course I couldn’t very well just put everything else aside.  Rather, I’d have to reorganize my schedule to accommodate these larger projects, along with my regular workload.

And…, the full suit of Major Arcana Tarot cards was perhaps a bit too ambitious for my first outing of this nature.

I needed something a tad more manageable.

Oh, I still wanted something with lots of symbolic opportunity, but the subjects needed to be more accessible to a wider audience, and the concepts easier to portray in this medium.

And so it was that the Signs of the Zodiac presented themselves to me as the perfect place to begin.

The Stars Align at Last.

Calming breaths taken and sanity (somewhat) restored, I began working out the logistics of how I wanted to approach the Zodiac.

Building off of the preliminary work I’d already done on the Tarot, I quickly decided that each sign would be roughly centered within a black rectangle, albeit reduced in scale from what I had previously planned.

I also wanted the figures to break the bounds of the framed space here and there, to really play up the dimensional quality of these pieces.  Each would be build up from that blank black base, and all the elements would hopefully appear to float in space.

Somewhat at random, I selected Taurus as my starting point and began working out the shape of the bull, that would be dynamic while creating interesting opportunities to use negative space to my advantage.

Usually, I try to hide how I put things together, but part of the beauty of this particular style of construction, as least for me, is that you can clearly see how the boards are layered one atop another to achieve the final effect.  There’s a rough hewn quality to the underlying panels that works in counterpoint with the graceful lines of the outward shapes.  It’s all about the layers, both seen and unseen!

The design of the bull that I eventually settled upon had this wonderful curve from the back, up the neck and along the underside of the jaw, which I decided to fill with a nice circular shape that I would transform into the planet Venus – the ruling planet of the sign.

In rendering the planets, I chose to attempt a more accurate and less stylistic depiction, in contrast to my very stylistic approach to the Zodiac figures themselves.  The Zodiac is a system ideas and beliefs set upon a mathematical framework – it’s all very conceptual.  But the planets are real solid things that are visible in the real world, and I wanted to depict them as such.

Centering the planet within the rectangular field gave me a nice axis right up the middle of the design, leading me to the empty area between the bulls horns.  This, I reasoned, was the perfect position for the alchemical symbol which is commonly used to signify Taurus.  And with that element in place, the whole thing was really starting to look like a tarot card again.

Once I had all the pieces cut and painted, I went back and carved texture into the surfaces.  This had the effect of exposing the underlying layers of paint and in some cases the wood itself.

In the case of the Bull, I chose to etch this texture in a way that looked like the skin of the beast was being stretched over flexing muscles – really adding to the tension and energy in the piece.

Finally I added a frame, which brings the whole thing together into a singular visual space, but still allows the tips of the bulls horns to breach that limited space, even if only slightly.  The final effect has the great Celestial Bull leaping out of a two dimensional space and into the physical world.

Having completed Taurus, and learned a great many lessons along the way, it was time to venture across the heavens and explore the other Signs in this ongoing series.

In a future post I’ll describe my progress along the rest of the Zodiac.  I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

If you are interested in Taurus, or any of my ‘Signs of the Zodiac’ series, please visit my Etsy shop here. 

Here, I am translating the shapes from my preliminary sketches into loosely interlocking wooden panels, and then laying them out to confirm placement. The mountains above the Bull would not survive beyond this step, as I felt they cluttered up the silhouette of the Bull.
This close up image of Taurus shows how I’ve carved into the surface of both the Bull and the mountains, exposing the underlying layers of paint (on the Bull) and the wood (in the mountains).
Taurus the Bull. The first in my Signs of the Zodiac series.