All hands on deck!

We had a holiday this past week on the Norfolk Broads.  We were living on board a 4 berth motor cruiser, me, my son and two friends from Church.  It was incredibly relaxing.  I love being on the water, always have.

So, no art this week – just a few holiday photos – back to my elephants next week I hope!

This is the sunset south of Ludham Village.  There was really good fishing here.  I got personal bests for Perch and Roach and my first ever Rudd.  I caught twelve in 90 minutes.  It was an amazing place – utterly beautiful!


Next we have a couple of windmills – there were loads of these!


Here’s a photo of a beautiful sailing boat.  We saw many of these and gave them space and priority on the river.  They’re like silent graceful birds skimming through the water.


Lastly I photographed the reeds at the sides of the broads.  I’m not sure I can explain what I was trying to capture with this photo, but there is a vastness to the skies in that place and a barreness to the vegetation which makes you feel so alive because somehow your soul knows that you’re in the heart of the wild.  It’s an incredibly freeing feeling.


‘The Love of Elephants’ #2 – UnderPainting and Colour Study


I carried on working on my elephant oil painting this week.

Going on from my basic pencil outline on the canvas board from last week…

I added what’s called a ‘tonal ground’ – which just means a middling kind of colour, not dark or light.  I used burnt umber thinned with my solvent thinner Sansodor.  (I would have used raw umber but my set didn’t have any!)

It’s actually more even than this rather poor photo suggests.  Then I gave it a day to dry.

Next I used burnt umber again with just Sansador to sketch in some of the main dark areas of my elephants.

And again I gave it another day to dry.

My next job was to paint in either the underpainting or the first layer of the actual finished picture.  I had to read up on this before deciding which way I would go.

In the end I decided not to try to do what they call the ‘Flemmish Technique’ second time I’ve painted something in oils – it seemed too advanced.  What I wanted was something simple which worked.  I do like the idea of doing an underpainting because it helps me work more freely.  But I didn’t want it to be too much – just a guide to lights, darks and middles.  So instead of that Flemmish thing I just extended my sketch to include some lighter areas.  I used underpainting white (for a shorter drying time) mixed with some yellow ochre to give a light brown / creamy colour and then thinned it just a bit with Sansador.

So here’s my completed underpainting…

This is not the finished product – just a guide for the real work which will go on top.  (You can also see, I also got hold of some raw umber when I bought the underpainting white.  I used this for the shadow under the two animals.)

My next job was to more accurately work out what I want the final painting to look like, so I used my scanned ouline and made a quick and dirty digital painting as a guide for my final colours and tones.  I decided to mostly drop out the blues and purples and just go for set of analogous colours – reds oranges, yellows, and browns.  My thinking is that this will give the scene the peacefulness I’m after.

Here’s my digital colour study…


So now I’ve just got to paint it for real!!!

‘The Love of Elephants’ – an oil painting #1

I have been waiting and waiting to have a try at oil painting again, having only painted one previous oil painting in my life before.

So when I saw saw a set of Winsor and Newton Artist’s Oil Colours which were half price I finally bought some.  Then I spent a long time trying to work out which mediums to use.  Previously I’d been very traditional, painting with turps and linseed oil as my mum had showed me, but I can’t go back to that turps smell again.  So, after some research, and some very kind help from the technical people at Winsor and Newton, I decided to try Liquin for the first time and Sansador which is a low odour solvent.  I had some problems with my pain last week and was generally feeling unwell so I couldn’t get to the shops.  Instead I ordered them online – they should come very soon.

So what to paint?

I knew I wanted to paint an animal (my favourite painting subject) and finally settled on elephants.  I like them because they look really kind of odd in the most lovely way but at the same time they have these beautiful loving relationships between members of their family.

I made some pencil sketches in my sketchbook to begin with…





After doing these I decided to make a final sketch of a mother and her calf for my main painting.  I did this on canvas board, which was quite tricky to draw on with pencil because it’s got so much texture.

I didn’t put any shading or detail in – just enough to show my paintbrush where to go.  Here’s the final outline sketch:




Now I think I’m going to paint the elephants in purple/blue greys and soft browns but I needed a background colour and I needed to sort out my colour palette generally.  I want the final picture to have a calm restful complete feeling so I’m going to keep the colours restricted to two groups – yellow/browns and possibly grey/blue/purple (in the shadows) although this will be very muted,

Here’s a digital sketch of the colour ideas I’m working on at the moment…



My plan will be to make the greys in the above colour sketch just a little more blue/purple to show the coolness in the shade of these big animals and to complement the yellow orange of the savannah.

This is as far as I’ve got this week.  I’m still feeling a bit under the weather so I didn’t make a start but I’m quite excited to give this a go.

My health wasn’t helped by a big thunder storm last night.  I quite enjoy storms generally but my geriatric miniature schnauzer kept us both awake half the night with a new trick.  She would jump off my bed when the lightning flashed against the curtains and then jumped back on in terror when the thunder roared.  It was too hot for her to sleep really close to me which usually calms her down and, when she wasn’t jumping on and off, she kept panting and shaking from fear in the storm.  In the end I think we both got to sleep at about 3am when I put my hand over her front paws so she knew I was there but I didn’t make her too warm.  She is a silly sausage!



Dobro Guitars and Painting the Blues…


This week I’ve been relaxing listening to some fingerstyle and slide guitar blues played on resonator guitars.  I totally love that sound and they’re beautiful instruments to look at too.  So I thought I’d paint one.

It was quite fun because the resonator is beautifully shiny giving me a bit of a challenge painting-wise.

I started with a pencil drawing…

Then I began to paint in gouache…



Here’s the final painting…


Now I just can’t paint one of these beauties without hearing a few of them ‘sing’.  I definitely prefer the wooden body resonator guitars.  I think the tone is just so much warmer.

So here’re some examples of the good stuff…

This is ‘The Swamp Dog Blues’ played on a 1930’s Broman Resonator Guitar.  Unfotunately I don’t know who the musician is on this lovely piece.  He makes the guitar cry.  I think it’s beautiful.



I also totally love this sound (below). This is Mike Dowling playing “Blues in G“.  I love the subtlety and understated character of this one.



Finally, this one’s a bit more country than blues despite the name.  This is Greg Booth Playing Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ on a dobro.  (It’s actually a Scheerhorn L body ’09. The tuning is regular G tuning with the low G dropped to E. EBDGBD)



(Please note, all three of these YouTube videos belong to their respective owners.  They’re just examples of the music that I love the most.)


Flamingos and Change


This week I worked on a small project in my sketchbook again.  It’s the last week of term so I’m pretty tired and still struggling with my health.

I forgot to take any process pictures with this one.  So here’s the final result:

While I was working on this painting I had a big period of time when it looked bad.  I think this is quite common in art.  I had to rework the background from scratch in fact.  I painted my main subject with gouache and then tried to put a watery watercolour background in but it didn’t work so I went for a background which reflected the style of the flamingo in the end.



I am really grateful this year for the coming holidays, since my body’s a bit stressed out and unwell at the moment, but generally speaking I don’t like the summer holidays at all. I find change difficult.  I will be teaching different children next year and I will miss those I worked with this year.  I also find the change from working to holidaying quite stressful too.

I think it’s probably just the autism, my neurology seems to be very sensitive to change.  I feel like a boat afloat without an anchor or an engine when change comes.  I don’t know what I’ll be facing,  I can’t prepare for it and so I have to fight down panic when I think about it.

Comics, like Judge Dredd and Star Wars, Science Fiction and Fantasy like Harry Potter and Asimov’s Foundation series, and going fishing, these things all help.

Here’s an amazing Judge Dredd Megazine Cover by Adam Brown – all rights belong to Rebellion.

They are what is know in ASD terms as ‘special interests’.  Research has shown how an autistic’s interests help support them in times of stress and that’s certainly true for me.  They are like a safe place to go when the world is too much to cope with.


Also, for me, my faith also helps a lot, since for me,  God is always there, always loving and always the same.

Jellyfish Fun


I drew a small quick picture of a jellyfish this week in my sketchbook.

Here’s my sketch…

(22 minutes)

And here’s my painting…

(Which took about 25 minutes.)

I made a bit of a big mistake in that I didn’t use any reference.  I should have done but my pain was bad, so I drew the sketch in bed and didn’t get around to looking up reference.   I think it really shows too.  Ho hum – you live and learn.

Originally I used a deep yellow and purple colour mix but I think it looked better when I added reds and blues to it which is what you see here.

Love’s Sacrifice – Completed

This week I completed the bigger project I’ve been working on for a few weeks –  ‘Love’s Sacrifice’.


This painting meant quite a lot to me.  I think that might be why it took me so long to complete.

I know that most people nowadays don’t follow the same faith as me and that makes it difficult to talk about these things because, although it is the truth most central to my life, I have no wish to push it onto folk who don’t want it.  I feel quite strongly that faith is only real when it is freely chosen and not forced.

For me the Christian faith is simply about walking in the way of love everyday as far as I am able.  My experience of love is that when you really love another person you put them before yourself, you want what is best for them and you are willing to give of yourself for their well-being.  That’s what this picture means to me.  It’s about the cost of love and the power of love, when given, to make others whole.

Apologies to those who are not religious or who follow another religion, I’m not so good at talking about these things.  I hope I haven’t offended anyone.






My inspiration came from sunny Utah this week.  I watched ‘127 Hours’  again.  It’s  a film about a guy called Aron Ralston who went canyoneering without telling anyone where he was going or when he would be back.  He was really experienced in the outdoors but got caught out  when a large boulder shifted and trapped his arm leaving him completely stuck.

Official poster of Danny Boyle’s film ‘127 Hours’

After watching the film I was struck by the beauty of the canyonlands.  The nearest we have to this kind of thing is the Cheddar Gorge in England and because of the rain the land is very green and lush, quite unlike Utah’s harsh orange beauty.  So I looked through a lot of photos of the canyons and the mesas and decided to make a picture of them.



Watercolour under-painting…


Nearly finished – just working on the final touches…


Final colour with Winsor Newton Gouache…


I used a similar style to last time (England in the Summer) where I avoided blending and just used shapes to convey the surface of the landscape.  I like the clarity and solidity of each field of colour and because I really like that, it really helps me avoid painting every detail and instead look for the general shapes which is something I find really hard.


England in the Summer


Earlier this week I decided to have a go at painting with a less realistic look.  I decided not to allow myself to use a small brush and to make a more, what I call, ‘blobby’ painting.  My plan was to throw on some darker lower layers and then add more detail in layers and go lighter in tone as I got more detailed.  I used gouache, although oils would have been lovely for this.

Rather than painting on location I used an old photograph of a place near where I used to live.  It’s looking out from what is know locally as ‘The Bluebell Wood’ onto a local farm.

Here’s the photo…

Once I’d got the main shapes and structures down I stopped looking at the reference to avoid the temptation to make it too accurate and too close to the original.  It turned out to be a fun and easy way to paint!


I also had planned to finish my other painting but I got sick in the middle of the week.  I’m on antibiotics again.  I don’t know why I keep getting unwell so often.  My best guess is that one of two things really kicks it off.  Either I don’t get enough sleep because of the chronic pain and my immune system get’s weak because of that, or I get badly stressed about something (very frequently because of my autism) and that weakens my system too.

I have previously asked my doctor for help and advice with this and he said I need to have a ‘healthy lifestyle’.  I told him I eat a good diet, I keep my body clean, I try to get as much rest as I need, I don’t drink or smoke or take any illegal drugs.  He said I should exercise more.  This is hard because I need crutches to walk more than 10-20 metres and sometimes I end up in tears just trying to get to where my car is parked.  So I asked him how I could do that given the mobility problems I have and he just shrugged his shoulders.  I thought that was really unhelpful.

So I decided to try to manage this better on my own since he’s clearly not going to help at all.  I’m finding ways to better manage stress and allowing myself more sleep time when I miss sleep because of pain.  I’m also pushing my consumption of fruit and vegetables and topping up vitamin c.  Hopefully things will get better.  I feel so rubbish again now.