Open country

I’ve had some serious issues with my health again this week so rather than doing a proper painting I had a go at digital speed painting. Basically I painted a very quick sketch of some open countryside.

My aim was to complete it in 15 minutes.

I began by splashing in some background colours, making the picture lighter and less saturated for the parts of the landscape which are further away and making it darker and more saturated for parts of the landscape which were near the viewer. Like this…

Then I blended these basic areas and added a range of colours to the foreground. Then I very loosely sketched in the trees and hedgerows in the distance and the fencing and gate in the foreground…

Then I began to tidy the whole thing up – straightening the fencing, and adding highlights and shadows to everything…

Then I added some textures in Autodesk Sketchbook using some brushes I adjusted expecially for the job, copied my painting across to my PC and loaded it into Photoshop. Once in PS I adjusted the levels of the image and ran a filter over the top of the image to give it more edge definition (I used “poster edges” for this). Then used another filter to highlight the textural details of the painting (fresco). Here’s the final image…

I didn’t quite finished the painting in 15 minutes – I took 18 minutes! What can I say – “a swing and a miss”!

Jim – Part 1

I have been working on my portrait of Jim, my father in law, who passed away recently. It one of those pieces of art which is really personally important because it’s a gift for his widow Jane and also a tribute to such a good man. At first I struggled to get started so I made a few sketches digitally to get myself warmed up a bit. This is the best of those…

At first it didn’t really look like himbut once I added some shadows and highlights it began to feel better.

Then, since I had a digital sketch I played around with the colour scheme to find something that felt right. Here are some of the attempts I made at that…

Of the colours above I preferred the royal blue and the red. Overall though I thought that the red brought out the warmth of him as a person, so I decided to go with that.

Once I’d got all of these ideas roaming around in my head I found myself finally ready to get down to drawing.

I began with a very rough sketch where I measured quite carefully his general facial anatomy. It doesn’t look a thing like Jim, but I find it an important step for making a decent portrait…

Once I had that sketched in I used it as a framework for drawing a more careful map of his portrait, ready for the paint. This is as far as I have got at the moment due to being unwell last week. Here is the drawing / map I made to guide me when I paint. It doesn’t yet capture his likeness because there are no strong shadows or highlights, but I am hoping it will turn out well. I will do my best!

I’m not going to rush this painting, so I expect I will post other artwork in between updates of this project.

Here are my main steps so far along with the main photo reference I am using…

Apologies

I’m afraid I’ve been taken into hospital so I’ve not been able to do any art this week. Hopefully my medical problem is something they can easily fix.

Here’s a cartoon I thought was kind of subtly funny…

Meep meep…” 😁

The Eternity Dragon

I made an ink drawing this week of a dragon.

In western literature dragons are mostly symbols of evil and destruction who have to be killed or vanquished for life to go on.

However in many eastern cultures they are seen as strong, beautiful, natural and lucky and often associated with water. In Vietnam dragons are seen as bringing life sustaining rain and are therefore symbols of life and prosperity. In Japanese stories dragons are the Spirits or Kami of rivers and lakes and seas as well as being associated with rain. In China the dragon is a very powerful symbol of energy, wisdom and good fortune.

Because of these positive connections I chose to draw an eastern dragon, rather than a western one. I think the only western dragons I really like are those from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quintet. It’s been a while since I read this series but my overarching feeling about the dragons in her world is that they represent wildness. I really like that!

I began by playing around with curves and loops trying to find a pleasing way to draw this animal…

Then when I found a design I liked I began playing with it to see how I wanted to form it into a dragon…

Once I had the idea in my head I began to draw it…

At this point I realised that the basic structure I had chosen had two interesting relationships to symbols.

  • The first was that the main shape was that of the infinity sign used in mathematics, but also used frequently to represent autistic people.
  • The second was that the head appeared to be moving towards eating the tail, which is another symbol for infinity or eternity.

So I carried on working on the form, laying out ideas with pencil and then inking them as soon as I was sure they would be permanent, like this…

This is how my final ink drawing came out…

Next I used my watercolour paints to add tone to the drawing. Then I added a shadow to lift it out of the page a little and it was finished.

Here’s the finished art…

“The Eternity Dragon”

I do enjoy the symbolism in the picture. The association with autism brings it home for me as does the association with the Le Guin’s wild dragons. (That is, if I’ve remembered and interpreted this correctly and not mixed it up with another story!) The eastern links to water are also lovely too given how much I love being on the water in boats.

In terms of the art itself in a more technical sense. I’m fairly happy with the overall drawing but not quite sure about putting a shadow on it. I do like the way the shadow lifts the dragon out of the page, but sometimes I think keeping it simpler is better. Here is the drawing before I added the shadow…

I like the simplicity of this, but the shadow gives it more of a 3D effect and draws my eye more.

What do you think?

A Poppy card

My mum loves poppies. She even grows large ornamental ones in her garden. So for her birthday I made her a card with a poppy on it. I tried to make the background very loose which is not something I am good at.

I didn’t manage to take any process shots of this painting. I think I had to concentrate so hard to get the background to work that it just went out of my mind! Oops!

Once I’d finished the painting I trimmed it neatly with my rotary trimmer and then mounted it on a card. I actually use doublesided carpet tape to mount heavy paper like this. It works really well.

Here’s a picture of the card…

And here is the final painting…

❤️ Happy Birthday Mum!!!! ❤️

Manatee Mama

This week, while waiting for some more pictures of Jim for the portrait, I made a line and wash painting of a manatee mama and her calf. I love the slow gentle nature of these animals and the beauty of their curvy body shape. I would rather swim with these guys than dolphins any day, although octopuses are still my favourite. I think I would give my right arm to swim with an octopus!

Here are my process photos…

I have a strong preference for scientific styled paintings of animals and plants which usually have plain white backgrounds. However having some kind of background really helps a painting find connection with it’s viewers. This week I tried to make a smaller background by masking off a smaller rectangle around my main subjects and painting in a varigated wash using yellows greens and blues. Peeling off the extra masking was such a joy – like peeling the plastic protector off a new calculator or phone!

I stopped to savour the last bit and ended up photographing it.

Once this was done I painted my manatees. I began with big washes over the grey / brown areas and green areas (where the animals get covered in algae) and then moved on to the details.

Here’s the final painting…

Rudd

Since I’ve not painted for a few weeks I wanted to get back into the swing of it before attempting an important portrait of my son’s Grandad who passed away recently.

I began this painting just messing about with gouache on a watercolour background.  The foliage began life as grass, but soon became the kind of water weed found in freshwater rivers and lakes in the UK.  Then I sprayed it with some fixative (since gouache can be reactivated very easily by water). 

Once it was partially fixed I sketched on a fish like this…

I blocked in the underpainting of the fish roughly, giving it some warm and cooler colours…

Next I partially fixed the painting again with the fixative and then applied a more finished layer.  I also tidied up the my rendering of the weed too…

Finally I added all of my details and highlights and then painted in some weed in front of the fish.

Here is my completed painting…

When making this painting I changed my usual gouache process a little.  I added a spray of fixative between layers.  This partially stabilised the gouache so that the layer beneath wasn’t quite so readily activated by paint on top.  This method worked really brilliantly allowing me all of the freedom of using gouache without the hassle.  I will use this method again I think.

🙂

Up on the Moors

Very sadly, a couple of weeks ago my father in law passed away. He had been ill but we were hoping for another year with him. In many ways it released him from pain and suffering which is good, but I just miss him, a lot.

He was a good, good man and would do anything for his family.

Since this happened I haven’t been able to paint. The creative place where my pictures come from is just silent at the moment. I’ve let this blog just roll through the schedule I had already prepared and uploaded. But now I have run out.

I am planning to paint a portrait of Jim for his wife in oils or acrylics once I’m able. I think oils would be better but they will take so long to dry, so I’m going to try using acrylics in a similar way to painting alla prima with oils and I’m going to use a retarder to give me more time to blend.

Today I had a go at a simple digital painting despite the silence inside. Although I didn’t plan it, it does reflect some of the saddness I feel about losing Jim and seeing his wife Jane so sad at his loss.

Here are some screen shots of how the painting went…

I completed the painting in Photoshop. I adjusted the levels and added a border. Here’s the finished picture…

A Simple Guide to Digital Colour

Using an older ink drawing of an octopus, I’m going to be running through the basics of how to apply digital colour to an image in an easy way for beginners. I’m not including any advanced techniques just the basics of colouring a black and white drawing. It doesn’t matter if this drawing was done traditionally and scanned in or of it was done digitally.

In terms of software applications, I’m using a mixture of Photoshop 6.0 and the Android app Autodesk Sketchbook. However the tools and basic techniques I’ll use here should be available in almost all digital art applications and the names of these tools are fairly consistent across all platforms too.

Below is the image I’m going to add colour to. It’s one of the black and white ink drawings of an octopus I made a month or so ago.

I used a camera to photograph my traditional ink drawing and then loaded it up into the computer. Sometimes I scan a drawing in too. Once I had it uploaded I cropped the drawing and then transferred it to my tablet so I could load it into Autodesk Sketchbook. Below, you can see it loaded up in the Sketchbook program.

Using blending modes to see your line art over the top of your colour

The first issue beginners get when adding colour to a black and white drawing is how to colour the picture without painting over the drawing. To do this we use the layer blending modes which are present in almost all digital art applications.

To do this in Sketchbook I clicked the layer with my line art on it…

Then I clicked the part of the menu which was about blending modes…

This brought up a list of layer blending options. Then I chose “Multiply”, like this…

Once I’d done that any colour I put in the layer below the octopus would show through the line art. I could then colour the drawing without touching the line work…

Masking with flats

The next thing I do for most digital drawings is to create what is called a flat layer. This is where you draw flat colours (just plain 100% colour) onto a new layer of your digital drawing. You can later use these flat colours to quickly select different areas. In a more complex design you might have many different colours and tones of flats to set up so you can colour lots of different parts of your drawing easily and seperately, but in this design I just want to be able to distinguish between the octopus and her background, so I just drew some flat colour over my octopus like this…

If you look at the flat colour I added without the line work showing it looks like this – below. (This was my first pass. You can see how I needed to tidy it up and make it much tighter.)

Once the flat layer was done I pulled it out of the way to the bottom of my set of layers as it was really just a tool to help me quickly select things. It wasn’t ever going to be a layer which would appear in my final image. In many ways it’s exactly the same as an air-brush artist cutting out a masking sheet to allow them to colour one bit of the painting and not another.

Colouring using my flats

Once I’d completed this flat layer I could then easily select my octopus using what is usually called the magic wand tool. This tool will select all of a particular colour range or tonal range on your picture. Here I used just one single flat colour with no variation in it. The magic wand tool finds this really easy to select. So I clicked on my flats layer and clicked on the octopus and the magic wand tool selected the octopus for me.

With the octopus shape selected I could then colour the octopus using the air brush tool without going over the edge of the animal. In this way I could apply a range of colours in a gradient like this really easily…

Colouring using layers

Next I wanted to put in some background. For this I made a new layer below my octopus ink layer, and my octopus colour layer and then painted over it again using the spray paint tool. Because it’s a background and I want my octopus to “pop” off the page I used, on average, a lower saturation and darker tone for this. Our eyes are drawn to things which are more saturated and have more contrast. So making my octopus lighter than her background and more saturated really helped.

I thought this looked a bit dull though, so I used a spotted brush to add some texture to the background as if rolling breakers were crashing above our scene causing foam to appear in the water. I put this these textural marks on a seperate layer…

Once this was done I used the pen tool to draw in some colour for some of the details, like the octopuses eye and the lumps on her mantle. I used another new layer to do this. By keeping my layers seperate I could then alter things later really easily if I wanted to make changes. As it happened on in this picture I later realised that I hadn’t coloured my octopuses suckers. I could then go back and add the sucker colour to this layer with all of the other details on it. Because I kept it seperate if I made a mistake while painting this addition I could easily erase and refine it.

Specular highlights and other “wet” effects

My next job was quite subtle. I wanted to give the viewer the feeling that the octopus was wet. So I added what are called “specular highlights“. These are sharp bright white patches where light is directly reflected off of the octopuses wet body. I’ve put a big one on her mantle and some thinner linear highlights on her arms. You wouldn’t actually see this on an octopus under the water since the reflection happens because of the air-water interface on wet surfaces, but giving my viewers the right impression helps draw them into the illusion of a wet subject.

Then, to encourage the viewer to see the background as water too I also added some circles for bubbles. Now in a natural environment, without a diver present, there aren’t always any bubbles to be seen, but I think they help sell the image so I put them in anyway. Finally I made my correction to the suckers as well to add more interest to the picture.

Final adjustments

My final job was to bring the image into Photoshop (or I could have used another digital art package, like Clip Studio Paint or Affinity Photo) and adjust my colours and levels. I do this in Photoshop because the Photoshop tools for this are much more accurate and effective than the free app Autodesk Sketchbook. Here I wanted to make sure that I’d got some good bright highlights, some nice dark shadows and colours that worked well for the feel I was going for.

Colour modes

If I were going to print the image I would then change the “mode” of the picture from RGB, which I normally work in, to CMYK, which adjusts the picture colours for printing. Since this image is for here on the web, RGB will be perfect, so I didn’t change to CMYK.

If you do want to print a colour image all you have to do is set the image mode to CMYK. Sometimes there are several CMYK options to choose from and which one you use depends on your printer. But any CMYK mode will help your printer print an image with better colour.

What happens when you switch to CMYK mode is that the image’s colour will seem to change a bit. What the computer is doing is showing you how the image will look when you print. If you don’t like the changes it has made then you can adjust the colour hue (red, yellow green blue etc) and the saturation to get the image how you would like it. Don’t be afraid to play around with the colour to see what it can do and what you prefer. Just use the undo button if you don’t like your changes.

(Managing colour is actually a very complex issue which also involves the colour characteristics of your computer monitor as well as your printer. Humans also see colours differently from person to person. I’m not going to go into any detail on this topic here as it’s quite advanced and involves understanding colour spaces and how to manage them. The only concept you need from here is that it helps to use CMYK for printing and RGB for the web.)

Here is my final RGB coloured image…

That’s all for now. I hope this was helpful.

If anyone has a go at using this guide and makes some artwork I would absolutely love to see it! You can always link it in the comments if you decided to have a go. I would also be happy to include a link to your artwork here on this post if you would like to share it like that.

🙂