Autism and Trying to Paint Freely

This week I worked on trying to paint more freely with watercolours.

I have a mild form of autism.  While this is good in some ways, in that I can focus really deeply and have some cool interests and I always try to obey the law exactly, it can also be difficult too, sometimes for the same reasons!  When I’m really focussed on something I really hate to put things down unfisnished and I’m not great at listening when I’m really concentrating.  I have to have a rule with myself about my interests so I don’t go on about them continuously and become boring for others.  But the thing that’s difficult in terms of painting is, oddly, this desire to follow the rules exactly all the time.

The trouble is, with painting, following the rules translates into that childhood thing of not colouring over the lines.  Now that’s great if I’m going for a realistic or comic style look, but there’s more to art than that.  I really love looking at art which is more impressionistic and expressive where the colour doesn’t always stay within the lines.  Some of this type of art is incredibly beautiful.  But I find it almost impossible to do.  So, with some help and encouragment from Ink Flamingos and Alli Farkas , I had a go…

My first attempt was to draw a green woodpecker…

When  I began painting him I spilled the paint all over, but then immediately dabbed it up with a tissue.  Below is the best I could do to have the paint go over the lines.  I really hated it.  It made me feel like swearing.

Then I put on some blues for a background…

Again the paint was moving about and I felt quite distressed and ended up dabbing a lot of this up with some paper towel.

Then I got quite annoyed with the painting and tried to tighten it up ‘properly’.  I ended up just making a bad realistic style painting where I attempted to correct the errors…

You can see in this picture that, rather than have the movement of the ink over the lines as a part of the beauty of the picture, I corrected it and reworked it to try to get rid of it.  It doesn’t work at all.

I felt really fed up with this and I very nearly gave up on the whole adventure at this stage but then I decided to have one more try.  This time I thought I would paint the back ground very free and wild first and then paint a more standard watercolour figure over it, using limited areas of wet on wet to control the paint.

I also thought carefully about the colours I was using.  I used a deep cadmium yellow for the background with a pthalo blue over the top.  The pthalo blue is a nice transparent blue with a bit of a green tinge to it naturally.  So I thought that in the places where the yellow paint sat behind the blue it would go green and might add some more to the painting.

Again to try to make it loose, I began with a gesture drawing of a woman doing that dangling thing on some cloth which you sometimes see in a circus act…

Once I had the gesture I filled out her anatomy and gave her crazy hair…


Then I painted the background.  This was SO hard – it felt like I was deliberately spoiling the picture…

(I couldn’t help but remove the yellow that went onto the body area with a tissue.) Then I went back to painting more carefully to finish…

I know it’s really only an expressive background with a figure which maybe has some expression because she was drawn from a gesture, but it’s better than I’ve done before.  I think I might try some biological styled drawings with more expressive backgrounds like this next.


PS:  Sorry this post was late going out – I was unwell Thursday night, yesterday and this morning.  Getting better now I think!  😀


14 thoughts on “Autism and Trying to Paint Freely

  1. Good Question! I guess it’s down to how I experience art. Thinking of the visual arts, some images seem interesting to me and some pretty, but the images which really drive me are those which seem to reach inside me and talk to my deepest self, metaphorically my heart perhaps. For me a picture of a woman dangling on a piece of cloth seems generic and superficial and doesn’t speak to my deeper self. While the ‘Love’s Sacrifice’ picture comes right from that deeper place. What I think is really great about art is that what I think of as fluff and ‘less valid’ might be what someone else finds much more valid for them and visa versa. For you perhaps the Jesus picture might be just a variation on a theme which is just ‘meh’, but for me it’s the heart and soul.
    Thanks for an interesting question.


  2. I always find it interesting how people see what they see in art. Thanks for your comments. 🙂
    For me things are kind of around the other way. The Jesus picture is all heart – there’s no head involved for me there at all. Also it’s not copied from anywhere or a variation of anything. I made the pose up on a digital manequin after first ‘seeing’ it in a dream. (It’s also not finished yet.)

    The woodpecker is all head and I really dislike it strongly. It was an experiment which didn’t turn out well.

    The picture of the circus woman began with a bunch of reference photos from which I drew the gesture. It used a lot more thinking and planning than I usually put into paintings even though the paint itself is quite simple in the end. I think it’s OK but it just feels more like fluff than art to me.
    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!


  3. This (circus girl) is a much more ‘artistic’ piece than the Loves Sacrifice which is cerebral in that it requires a mental understanding to ‘get it’. The Jesus can be technically proficient but it will never be anything more,in terms of art, to a non-believer, than just another variation of work that was far bigger and more dramatic 500 years ago. The woodpecker and the Jesus look like you are trying to copy a photograph and then add meaning but the circus girl looks like you let the artist out of your soul! I say Gordon the soul to the medium forget the brain, it just makes stuff look wooden!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, as always for your encouragement and advice – it’s very much appreciated! I think the thing you said about how loose painting is not for everyone does help. I suspect it will never be a strength but I feel it’s good to try, especially with things I’m not too good at. Thanks again !


  5. Jo, I love how you explain what you are trying to acheive, and then how you think you ended up doing. It is with these posts that I and others can encourage you and give tips that could be handy.
    Look, loose painting is not for everyone. Sometimes I find that difficult, but then I can paint outside the lines without trying. LOL like a 4 year old. Sometimes I deliberately dont put lines, so I feel freer to just paint whatever I wish. If you want to try masking fluid on the body areas… where you ont wish paint to spill onto, then you will feel freer to let the paint go where it wants to.
    I hope this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Progress! You are not the only one who never colored outside the lines 🙂 As a child I could never understand how the neighborhood kids would just carelessly do that! Not for me such blatant violation of the “rules”!!!

    The version of the woodpecker where the sky was added is quite lovely, soft and delicate. The beautiful thing about transparent watercolors is that you can keep adding those transparent layers without losing everything underneath. All kinds of interesting patterns can emerge, uncontrollably, but that’s what makes it fun if you can just adjust your thinking temporarily into a serendipitous frame of mind. A puddle here, a puddle there, oh–they blend around the edges–oh, wait a minute, let’s see what the paint wants to do next…transfer your power to the paint and let it take over for a few sessions. After all, you can always yell at the paint afterwards for taking so many liberties with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks. I know what you mean about the ‘analog’ route. Whenever I make some digital art in the back of my mind it still exists as 1’s and 0′, but a real painting on real paper, well that has a genuineness to it. It’s why I collect real comic books and not the digital ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice work Jo, loved them both. You’re being hard on yourself, I think. nice to see you going the ‘analog’ route rather than digital.

    Liked by 1 person

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