Watercolour Postcards – Earth and Air

As I said yesterday, a little while ago I bought some postcards made of watercolour paper which you can paint on.  Below are the second two in a four card series depicting Fire, Water, Earth and Air.  Here are Earth and Air:


This picks up the earth which makes up the rolling hills of Dartmoor.  It’s more stylized than the other designs.  I might do this one again at some point.

Next – Air


I painted a butterfly to hint at air – since it’s a  flying creature, but also used blue swirl shapes to give substance to what is otherwise an invisible element.

As a painting surface the postcards were great – much better than I thought they might be.  They didn’t even need stretching for this level of painting, although if I was going to do more than one wash I might stretch them.

Postcard Art – Fire and Water

Before my holiday I bought some postcards made of watercolour paper which you can paint on.  I decided to try to make a little series of four – fire, water, eart and air.  The idea was to make four simple pictures and colour them brightly.

Here are the first two:

fire_fin_webAbove is fire – in a kind of Krakatoa sort of way.   🙂

I feel quite pleased with how it turned out.  While it’s not exactly fine art, it ended up how I imagined it to begin with.

Next – water…

The line work on this turned out how I wanted but I’m not entirely convinced about the colours.  Tomorrow I’m going to try ‘earth’ and ‘air’.

PS:  It occurs to me that little watercolour manga postcards might be a cool idea.  (Not as ‘cool’ as in what teenagers say is cool because that never does it for me anyway, even when I can understand it – but ‘cool’ as in the Eleventh Doctor from Dr Who….

“See the bowtie?  

I wear it and I don’t care.

That’s why it’s cool.”

The Hummingbird

This is the second line and wash picture I made before going away on holiday.  My idea was to paint a Hummingbird.

Here is the original sketch:


And here I’m beginning to paint – always a scary moment!   🙂

hummingbird_beginingtopaintI decided about halfway through that I wanted to paint a background for this animal so I quickly sketched out my idea to see if it would work:

hummingbirdbackgroundsketchThen I painted the whole thing and added some my ink afterwards to really pick out the bird from the background:


With this painting I used standard watercolours rather than the pencils and I definitely prefer them – although that could just be a measure of my lack of ability to use the pencils well.

The Fish and the Moon – Part 2 – Drawing and Painting the Final Design

So once I had my idea clearly in my mind I started to sketch it out carefully onto watercolour paper.  I began with a border.

It may not seem very important but I find that it really helps me get my arrangement right if I have this drawn in.

borderThen I drew out my design in pencil:

finaldesigndrawingThen inked it:


inkeddrawingdoneThen I left the ink to dry before beinging to paint.  As an experiment I decided to use watercolour pencils for the painting.  This is something I later came to regret….

Here is the start of the painting:

beginning to colour

And below is what it looked like once I’d finished.  I must admit that I kind of got carried away with exploring the watercolour pencil colours and ended up making some bad colour and tone choices.  I like the way the sea turned out but all of the rest of it I really don’t like.  On top of that, the block colour in the background does’t really work very well.  I wanted a smooth transition between dark to light blue on the sky as you go inwards to the centre of the picture, and when that didn’t work I just went for plain block colour, but it still looks kind of patchy.

There are advantages of using watercolour pencils in that they offer great control of where the colour is going to be but for me this is outweighed by the difficulty there is in getting a smooth plain wash over larger areas and the limits to colour mixing which you can do.  That said, I suspect that these problems are typical of someone who’s not used this medium before.

fish and the moon_fin_webAnyway, because I quite like the drawing I thought I’d have another go, this time using plain watercolour with a little white pen over the top to add some interest.  (I had intended to use black ink to highlight things but, after using the white pen I thought it was fine as it was.)  Knowing when to stop with a painting is a difficult skill for me.  🙂

So here is how it turned out the second time around:

fish and sun _FIN_WEBI think using a limited colour palette like this helped a lot to sort out the mess I made of it first time around.  I’ve always had a thing about orange and blue together – they form my favourite opposite colour combination.  This is the first time I’ve used a white paint pen – it was great fun but I’d like to get one which is gentler on the paper or perhaps do the same thing with some white gouche paint, a 00 brush  and a steady hand.  I also decided to rename the picture to ‘The Fish and the Sun’.

The Fish and the Moon – Part 1 – Inspiration and Sketching

The first line and wash painting I did is one which uses the swirly, curly sea look which you sometimes see in eastern paintings.  Something like this:

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎)

and like this:

By Hyakka Ryoran

I want to put a giant whale or fish or even perhaps a boat in the middle and colour it with watercolours.

So I began to sketch out lots of ideas.  I could feel what I wanted but couldn’t quite see it clearly in my mind.  Drawing lots of quick rough sketches helps me to play around with ideas and focus them into coherant picture.

So here are my sketches:




sketch4and5 sketch6 sketch7 sketch8 sketch9 sketch10Do this, gradually I found out how I wanted my picture to look.  Each sketch took about a minute.  The final sketch is quite close to what I eventually chose to draw, except that I discarded the seahorse as the sea looks pretty fierce in this picture and, if memory serves, seahorses don’t do well in strong currents.  I chose a fish instead.

So I’ll be drawing out my final design – tomorrow!       🙂

Holidays, Retreat and Autism

I’ve been really lucky this year with holidays.  Our main holiday was a week away with the church in Devon (more of that on subsequent posts as I had a chance to draw and paint while I was there).  We got back on Saturday.  It was brilliant to be away with the church family.  We are such a diverse group of people and yet we are all bound together by a common faith and a lot of love.  What’s more there were a number of other teenagers there so my fabulous son had more interesting company than me available to spend time with, or whatever it is that teenagers do these days – chillax?  🙂

Now we’re home though my son is spending some time with his Dad and I was planning to  get a place at a retreat house deep in the Essex countryside. Pleshey Retreat House

It’s a wonderful place.  Unfortunately I need to take care of some things here at home so I’m going to have to postpone it.  It’s still good to know that it’s there when I can get the time.

One of the big advantages of having an ASD diagnosis (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is that I can take account of my autism and organise things for myself, like a retreat to Pleshey, which help me to deal with it.  The two main issues I have are:

  1. Issues with sensitivities – particualrly noise sensitivity and touch sensitivity although strong light also bothers me.  (In fact for me noise and touch feel like the same thing – that’s why I hate certain noises because they feel like a kind of touch to me and it feels like my personal boundaries are broken.)
  2. Issues with communication with people (I don’t have difficulties with animals – in fact I love being with animals and find them very relaxing.)  I think there are a few main things I find difficult:
  • I don’t understand fast or easily what people are communicating to me because I can’t automatically or naturally ‘get it’.  I have to work at it, processing it more like a computer than a person and it’s difficult.  I used to be much better at this and could go un-noticed except for occasional bad slip-ups.  But since I developed a chronic pain condition it’s become more difficult because some of my brain power is taken up with the pain and there’s not enough left to logically parse communications at the same speed as everyone else anymore.
  • I am completely literal (which causes no end of problems and misunderstandings because, as well as understanding what is told to me literally and to the letter,I also communicate what I want to say literally which often means I have to qualify everything and explain everything in detail which people have told me is irritating and makes me look a bit odd.
  • I can’t tell what people are feeling unless is blindingly obvious, e.g. if someone is crying a lot and saying they are so sad then I know they are sad.  I look for signs to help me guess but there is always the danger of getting it wrong and causing a problem so I sometimes just ask people.
  • I find it hard to make and keep friends or to sort ordinary things out with neighbours.
  • I don’t naturally know the social rules like other people seem to and have to work hard to make sure I don’t break them.

(I also have special interests, anxiety and I feel really uncomfortable if there’s no routine or if I change a routine.)

Hmmm, so, knowing all of this, going to a retreat house where I can quite appropriately choose to be in silence if I want, (although when there are only a few people there I don’t feel the need for that) and where it is very quiet, is the perfect antidote to living in a loud and communication-heavy world for an autistic person.  On top of that because it’s a Christian retreat house it’s like going to stay with extended family and I feel close to what is really important to me.  I will have to try to fit it in later in the year.  There are always memories of our fab holiday on Dartmoor.  It was so beautiful, rugged and wild there – I loved it.

Here are some photo’s.

These first few were taken from the minibus:

The M5 on the way through the West Country.
Arriving on the moor
Arriving on the moor
Dartmoor Ponies
Dartmoor Ponies
One of the many Tor's on the moor.
One of the many Tor’s on the moor.

And this was taken with my feet on the ground just the other side of the lane from the place we stayed:

View from where we stayed.
View from where we stayed.

Having had a lovely time to wind-down and ‘chillax’ I’m now more than ready to go with my artistic adventures!

Up next are a couple of line and wash pictures.  These were done before I left.  The first is a picture with waves in it, done as patterns rather than like real waves. The second is a hummingbird.  I spent some time in Illinois and Wisconsin many years ago and was fascinated at the time by the hummingbirds which were fed by many local people.  They were so tiny and flew so differently to other birds.

My very first go at animation…

A year or so ago I had a little go at animation.  It was really just a proof of concept rather than anything longer or more serious.  I actually foudn it a lot of fun.  I made it really simply by setting up my Canon camera on a tripod and then using simple stop motion on two of my son’s old toys.  It’s just a bit of fun really:

PS: the music is not by me but is a traditional tune called ‘Dueling Banjos’.

PPS:  MuddyFox was my screen name at the time.

Aquascaping #2

Today I’m going to look at the third and fourth aquarium I set up.  As before, my aim here was firstly to set up as near perfect a place for my fish to live as I could but also to make the tank a living work of art.

The third tank was the biggest.  It was a 126 litre Angel Fish aquarium:

126angeltank_bigAs well as the angels:

golden angelI also had Lemon Tetras, Corydorus julii, a Ruby Shark and some Amano shrimp:

126lemon126julii126rubyshark126shrimpI also had a pair of bristlenose catfish but never managed to photograph them!

My last tank was based in this brilliant book:

37book‘The Ecology of the Planted Aquarium’ by Diana Walstad.  It was a fantastic book which not only shows you how to balance plants and fish in a completely natural way but explains all the water chemistry behind it.  It was a 37 lire ecological aquarium.

55ecostableIt has gravel on the top and John Innes No 3 underneith that to give the plants a proper growing environment without resorting to expensive artificially made aquatic substrates.  In here I put a variety of fish.  First I used it for a growing on some Kribesis I had bred in a temporary tank.  Then I grew on some female bettas (fighting fish). Then I put a small school of baby rummy nosed tetras in there with a male siamese fighter and a bristlenosed cat.  (Fish I grew on went to my local store to be sold.)

It was my favourite tank and I have a similar set up now.  I like it because instead of tweaking the environment this tank is based around being completely natural.

Aquascaping #1

These are photos of some of my aquariums.   (I currently have just one but there was a time (when I was a bit fitter) when I ran 4 tanks in various places in my home.)  I think the thing I really loved about fishkeeping is the task of setting up a perfect environment for my fish and making it into a beautiful calm aquascape too.  It’s like painting with life.  My favourite aquarist is Takashi Amano who is world renouned for making the most beautiful natural aquariums.  Here’s a link to some of his work: Takashi Amano

Today I’m going to look at the first two I set up:

The first is a 20 litre tank.  This was my first fish tank.  I kept in it a Siamese Fighting Fish and two pygmy corys.

small tank

Here’s a slightly closer look:

small tank insideAnd here’s a close up of the Fighter ‘Anthony’ (my son named him).

bettaclearAnd here’s a close up of a pygmy cory.  These are different from regualr corydorus species because they are mid water feeders.  They’re amazing – they kind of hover in the middle of the tank.  That said they will also pick up food from the gravel too.

pigmycoryMy second tank was a 68 litre Amano style tank with added CO2 (don’t worry it’s not bad for the fish – it’s only on in the daytime and all the CO2 is taken up straight away by the plants who replace it with O2 making the tank highly oxygenated.  Fish and plants flourish.  I built the CO2 system and daylight lighting rig myself.

This is how the tank looked when first set up:

initialset up of 68 litre jungle tankBut it soon grew very strongly.  In here I put Tiger Barbs and Corydorus.  They were beautiful:

68tiger2Here is the same tank after a short period of growth:

68tank2The plants produced oxygen so strongly in this tank that they would form oxygen bubbles on the leaves.  This was taken in this tank: