“Tunisia” – a Dizzy Gillespie portrait

Last week I found a whole collection of Jazz CD’s which I thought had been lost when I moved house.  It was like running into old friends again.  So I’ve been thinking a lot about Jazz heroes in the last week.  This is a portrait I made of the wonderful Dizzy Gillespie…

(Larger version of this image below.)

I called it “Tunisia” because of the wonderful song that he did “A Night in Tunisia”.

Here’s a link to Dizzy playing that song…

My portrait is of him when he was young.  I liked the look he had then because he reminds me of my Dad who had similar glasses as a young man.  I couldn’t find a photo at the angle I wanted so I used several references and tried to capture the look I wanted.  This is one of those reference photos to give you an idea…

 

 

I began with a sketch and then painted with watercolour.  I used several layers to get the strong, dark, vibrant colours I wanted.

 

And this is the final picture…

 

 

His glasses were scary to do as they’re so visable and were crucial to the portrait too.  I sketched then lightly over the paint with pencil and then just went for it.  I’ve found with things like this that if you’re tentative it tends to go wrong anyway.  I reminds very much of when I used to go rock climbing in my youth.  Sometimes there was a big stretch to the next good hold and you have to just full-on go for it and hope your belay partner is going to catch you if you fall.  If you hesitate too much you never even get close.

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Spider Monkey Watercolour

This is a painting of a spider monkey inspired by Joel Sartore’s famous photograph. I did things a bit differently with this painting, especially in the final stages. It began with a wander through a whole host of animal photographs on the web. I saw and loved Joel’s photo series of a juvenile spider monkey who had been orphaned by poachers.

I made a sketch…

Then I laid in some background colour. I wanted this quite light so that I could still pull highlights out of the picture at the end.

Then I begna to paint. Now normally I paint particular areas and try to get them looking exactly how I want but with this picture I let my painting hand wander and paint in a more free way. It meant that I didn’t reserve, as light coloured, the highlights I had wanted but I managed them instead by using some white gouach with my watercolour paints so that the lighter sections could still be added.

At first I felt that the experiement had been a mistake but I grew to like the picture more when I let go of the idea of it being exactly how I wanted it in my head.

Here’s the final painting…

I think he looks a bit like some of my students when they run out of apple pie at lunchtime!

Angel Fish, Autism, Lies and Imagination

 

First the Angel Fish

This week I played around again with painting effects.  This time I used a watercolour base with pencils on top for detail.

I began with a simple light sketch…

 

 

Then I drew heavier lines to push my subject forward and emphasise the shape…

 

Next I began a watercolour background.  I used a wet in wet technique to drop various colours onto wet paper.  It was tricky to get things exactly how I wanted and I had to use my hairdryer to get the paint to dry in the state I liked without it pooling.  Here’s a picture…

 

Unfortunately the camera wont pick up the shades of blue I used.  I had some parts in cerulean blue with a little paynes grey to damp it down slightly and other parts in ultramarine but the camera on my phone doesn’t seem to pick up the ultramarine, I wonder if it is weak at picking up reds?  Or if it was running some kind of filter to normalise photos taken in a room with warm artificial light?  Anyway, after seeing this I think I’m going to take future photos with my Canon camera.

Next I painted in the weed…

 

 

Then finally I painted some base colour for my fish and put some wet on dry lines around the edges of my weed to give it some more definition.  After that I used coloured pencils (I think I used my Aquarelles for this one) to add the pattern details to the fish.

 

Here’s the final picture…

 

 

I have very mixed feelings about this one.  I really like the colour harmony in the painting and the general design.  My favourite part is the wet in wet background.  However I have massive issues with the fish looking like no fish alive on earth really looks.  I was going for an abstract pattern effect on her but it really bothers me when things don’t look like they really are.  It feels like a lie to me.

I love other paintings of this type, with patterns and unreal colours, which is why I tried to do one myself.  But I used a real angel fish photo as a reference, from my 30 gallon angel fish tank, and so my painting feels like a lie.

 

Autism, lies and imagination

One of the biggest issues I face with autism is the way I view lies.  For as long as I can remember (which is back to 3 or 4 years old) I have struggled with lies.

In the beginning I didn’t know that such a thing existed.  I always said exactly what I thought, which got me into endless trouble,  and I thought other people did the same so I never understood why I was ‘rude’ or ‘tactless’.  When people said things that weren’t true I thought that they had remembered something wrong or were a bit stupid and didn’t know the truth.

I think I was about 12 when I realised that people told lies sometimes.  A girl at school had written on the desk and then the teacher caught her and she said that the writing was already there and she was just looking at it, but I saw her write it!  I knew she wasn’t stupid and she had just been doing it so she couldn’t have forgotten.  It was horrible to realise that people could deliberately say things that weren’t true.

To me lies make me feel sick, they feel like that famous painting ‘The Scream’ by Munch

It’s like reality gets all bent and twisted by lies.  I really really hate that.  Although I am capable of telling lies now as an adult, I very rarely do because it feels so awful.  When I don’t like people to know the truth I just don’t say anything – that’s my lying.  They call it lying by omission.

I also get the opposite effect from my view of lies if I fail to draw my perpective correctly in a drawing.  The picture looks all skewed and, consequently, feels like a lie even though it’s really just a bad rendering of perspective on my part.

So how, as an artist, do I make interpretive paintings?

I saw a great video about watercolour painting on YouTube by a lady called Cathy Johnson.

Here it is…

Rather than paint exactly what’s there she does something she calls ‘suggesting’ what is there.  It has a beautiful, loose and lively effect which I totally love but I can’t do it with the place, or a photo of the place, in front of me because it feels like lying.

So how can I use imagination and suggestion to make my paintings less realistic and more real?

I think the only way is to sketch how things are on location or from a photo and then leave the location or put away the photo while I paint the sketch.  Then instead of painting the truth of my eyes maybe I could try painting the truth of my heart.  So the picture would still be true but it would not refect the reality of the place photographically, it would reflect it emotionally?

 

Dogbane Leaf Beetle – Gouache Painting

The colours of some invertibrates are amazing.  My painting subject for this week was a Dogbane Leaf Beetle which has beautiful irridenscent colours.  I decided to try painting without any blending – just pure sections of colour.  I’ve done this before with gouache work and it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

E.g. Canyonlands in Gouache

I began with a sketch and then filled in my base colours…

 

Then I added details until I was happy with it.  Here’s the finished painting…

 

 

Looking at this in terms of reviewing my work I think the beetle does look kind of shiny and the colours work well together.  However I think it would have been better if I’d put the light coloured leaf on top of the dark coloured leaf so that the beetle would stand out more clearly.  Also, the varigated effect on the leaf directly under the beetle draws the eye away from the subject so I would change this next time by keeping the varigation but using colours which have the same brightness (in other words, colours which, if changed to greys, would look the same).  This would very gently punch the beetle to the front of the picture.

Spider in Watercolour

 

I have had an acute fear of spiders for as long as I can remember.  I really love all types of creatures in the world, but spiders have always just freaked me out at level below my conscious mind.  It’s like an involuntary reaction which I can’t stop.

 

I’ve only been bitten by a spider once and it was in adulthood long after I’d already developed the phobia.  It was a false widow bite (I found the spider that did it when it fell out of my trouser leg and got it identified.)  At first it was just two little bite marks which stung like a bee sting.  Then my leg swelled a little around the bite, making a swollen patch about 10cm across, like a huge nettle sting.  At that point I took some antihistamine and over the next day or so it all calmed down and went back to normal.

 

In the last few weeks, to try to reduce this phobia, I’ve been looking at Spider videos on You-Tube.  The fear hasn’t gone away but I am now more aware of which kinds of spider bother me.  It’s really only the black or dark brown ones which are medium to large, like the giant house spiders and false widows, tube web spiders and whatever other medium to large black or dark brown little eight-legged nightmares come into people’s houses.

What I did find from watching these videos is that I don’t mind  tarantulas that much and I really like jumping spiders.  So much so that I found one on my car while it was parked in the staff carpark at school the other day and was able to catch it and look at it before it jumped off to go about it’s business!

So I decided to draw a jumping spider.  I began with a sketch which I did in bed one evening.  (I draw most of my sketches in bed.  I need to go to bed early every evening because of the pain I have.  Once there though, I find keeping busy the best way to manage the pain until the pain meds kick in, hence the drawing.  Apart from the eagle and the siphonophore most of the drawing’s I’ve published have been done in bed.)

 

 

Next I added a basic wash to give my spider some base colour.

 

 

Then, with a small brush I began to add detail first as patches of colour here and there and then later in the form of tiny little hairs.

 

 

As I worked from front to back on the legs I used weaker colours and shades so that the spider would have some depth.  Here’s the final image…

I think I’ll call him ‘Spike’.

Portuguese Man-of-War Watercolour Painting

 

The Portuguese Man-of-War is an intersting creature.  As well as being a really unusual and interesting shape, and highly venomous, it’s also not a single multicellular organism according to the biology books I’ve been reading – it’s actually a colony of polyps, known as a siphonophore.  The ployps live together and each do specialised functions just like individual cells in a multicellular organism but it is a colony not a single creature.  It kind of bridges the gap between multicellular organisms and single-celled organisms.  How cool is that?

I began with a pencil sketch, then went on to an ink drawing and then added colour with W&N watercolours.

 

Here’s the final painting.

Octopus

 

This week I had fun painting an octopus.  I also took photos at various stages as I worked on the piece.

I began with the basic shapes.

Then I worked this into an outline drawing.

Next I added some details.

Then I pencilled in some shading.

The next day I began to add watercolour washes.

 

Then I worked on the details colour-wise.  I chose not to paint this little guy with realistic colours but to use blues against oranges and purples against yellows.

Finally I completed the painting, adding the final details and shadows.

 

Octopuses have always fascinated me.  I love the way they move and hunt and hide.  They are supposed to have strong reasoning intelligence.  I really enjoy keeping fish but I would love to make a habitat for a small octopus.  It would have to be really large and would involve developing a salt water reef.  That seems pretty hard and very expensive so that dream will have to wait for another time.  They are beautiful though.

 

 

The Eagle, the Endoscopy and the Exit

The day I made this drawing of an eagle’s head I had had an endoscopy. The doctor gave me some strong sedation before the procedure, which was very effective. Afterwards I went home to my parents house and relaxed while waiting for my son to come home from college and for the sedation to wear off. As I waited I did a few sketches and some inking. I was very relaxed. One of the sketches was this eagle

The following weekend I found some time to paint him…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been finding more time and energy to paint as I’ve left (exited) my church.

I found going there increasingly stressful. Playing the piano was part of it but more than that I had trouble managing my relationships and being together with so many people at once. I found I was beginning to dread it. There was too much noise and it was too busy and I was expected to have too much communication with people for my autistic mind to manage. Every time I got things wrong I became more stressed about interacting. It was like a finger puzzle, the harder I tried to make things right the worse things got until I couldn’t do it anymore.

Initially I was going to have a temporary break but I kept getting nightmares about going back so now I have decided to make this change permanent. The relief is incredible. I feel like I can breath again. I am also very sad though, because there were so many really good people there and I miss them. I guess with the autism it was always going to be a difficult place for me. The fact is I can’t manage it.

Zebra – in ink and watercolour

 

This week I drew and painted a zebra.  Again I used a lot of photographic references for the final design.

This is my method.

  • I began by laying out the animal’s shape in a basic form.  Generally when I start to sketch I use single lines for the limbs and polygons for the body and head shapes.  While playing around with this I also take relative measurements using my pencil to get the proportions correct.
  • Once I’ve got the basic shapes and distances down lightly I begin to draw more accurate forms using the polygons as a map to keep my picture accurate.
  • Then I do a bit of a clean up of the polygon and leg lines and any rough areas of my drawing with an eraser and make any adjustments I need.
  • Next I begin to ink the drawing.  I found it useful this time to ink some basic parts of the animal with the finest ink pen I have, a 0.05 Micron.  Then I started to ink the stripes with a thicker pen.  This was SO therapeutic!

  • The hardest thing about the stripes was trying to use them to help define the 3D shape of the zebra’s flanks.  Once I had that done as well as I could, I finished off the ink drawing.

  • Next I began adding watercolour paint.  Zebra that I have seen on film in the wild seem to always have a dusty look to their lower legs and under their bellies so I wanted to bring that colour into the picture.  I also wanted some background terrain colour and some greys to help define shapes and also on the zebra’s nose where he has a greyer colour.
  • I built this up in stages and then it was finished.

Here’s the final painting…

 

 

In terms of using ink and watercolour I think this is the most effective animal I’ve ever tried with this combination of media.  The ink lends itself so beautifully to the zebra’s colouring and just a small amount of additional colour really seems to work.