This week’s October Illustration is done in more of a cartoon style. Unlike my sister, who is naturally hilarious, I have quite a weird sense of humour. To me, my jokes seem funny, but it’s quite rare that other folk see what I’m getting at.
So last year around Christmas time I had a go at creating a cartoon with a slightly sideways take on the subject of pollution. I used a fly as my main character in this design because flies are creatures we, as humans, see as dirty, and so they can act as an icon for all kind of corruption including pollution.
In playing around with this theme I first drew a rather odd-looking anthropomorphised fly…
This image didn’t really go anywhere, but was useful to get my brain warmed up to my task. I kept playing around with the idea until I came up with another fly. This time I broke the normal insect biology of head, thorax and abdomen to get a creature that looked a little more cute. Then, to tie the fly image into my theme of pollution, I added an engine, an exhaust and had him smoking a cigarette.
Here’s the idea sketched in pencil…
Next I worked this up into an ink illustration and added a caption…
During October this year I am going to post some ink drawings in a range of different styles. These were done at various stages over the whole of the last year. As I collected these together I was looking for:
a realistic illustration
an illustration focusing on natural patterns
an illustration focusing on more abstract patterns
a graphical illustration
This week, it’s simple realistic illustration. This is a drawing of a labrador dog in a fairly old fashioned realistic illustration style.
Over the last year I made a book for my mum. It had a collection of excerpts from her favourite poems which I then illustrated. This was one of the illustrations I made.
Following on from last week, where I discovered that repurposed cardboard envelopes can make an excellent painting surface for gouache I made a small painting (approx 6.5″ x 6″) of a little Chihuahua puppy and her ball. I called her Cha Cha, because little ones like this have a tendancy to dance and skip around when they are happy!
The cardboard performed beautifully as a painting surface and worked better than any other surface I have tried with gouache, including the expensive Arches Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper.
As usual I began with a sketch…
Then I laid down some basic background colour…
After that I began to paint in earnest…
Here is my finished painting…
I also really love the way this surface has a beautiful texture when painted on. Here’s a close up…
NB: Apologies – I’m not very well at the moment, so I may take some time to get back to you. All of the posts for the next few weeks were completed in the summer holidays and scheduled so I’m just going to let them run. (It’s not Covid and the doctors have a good handle on it but it might take a while to get better.)
Art materials can be expensive. Sometimes this expense is really worth it. For me, good quality paint brushes and good quality paint are worth the extra money – control and water holding is better with good brushes and paints are more densley pigmented and less fugitive with good paints. However, it’s always great to find some art resources that can be found for free.
This summer I spent some time experimenting with this. It began when I was watching Star Trek Voyager and felt like doodling. I grabbed a cardboard Amazon envelope and my palette which had a range of paints left over from a picture I had worked on the day before. Then I just began to play with it. I was really happy to find that the gouache paint went on to this surface beautifully and, because the surface was a mid range tone rather than dark or light, it was really super to work with tonally.
This was my first adventure into envelope painting…
The next day I tried the same thing with an insurance envelope. This was a thin, low quality paper and it really showed. The paper couldn’t take any water without becoming wrinkled and discoloured making it hard to work on…
So I decided to only do this with cardboard. I grabbed some old envelopes and used my trimmer to make some small postcard sized canvases. Here’s my current pile…
This time I found the painting was even better because I had only reused parts of the card which were clear of printing and belimishes. It really was a fabulous surface to work on – and totally free!
Here’s a close up of my third foray into reusing envelopes for painting…
…and my forth…
I then went on to make a fully painted, small sized painting of a tiny chihuahua on the same reused card the next day. (More of that in next week’s post!)
Another new learning for me this summer has been that my kitty cat doesn’t care if the water I am using for painting is green, or blue or pink, she will still drink out of it! This is despite her having a cat fountain and two fresh bowls of water in different places! So I did a bit more recycling and reusing. I tipped away the last bit of coffee from a jar, cleaned it out and now I use this for painting. It still holds about a pint of water, but I can screw the lid on if I get up from the table so she can’t get to it. I’m using my trusty old pint glass to hold brushes now instead.
She looks so cute and fluffy but she can be quite a pickle!
I began with a basic sketch of a landscape which you might find in the north of England…
Normally I would just dive into inking this but I wanted to take some time to think about the textural effects I would use. So I looked at the landscape and picked out eight different areas where a texture might work well. Then I experimented with the textures for each of these areas.
I found that I needed more space for some of these areas, so I went onto another page…
Once I’d decided on the marks I would use to represent each texture I began to ink my drawing.
This week I switched over to using Rotring Rapidograph pens which are lovely to use and reliably produce the same line weight all the time.
I mus admit I thought they were superb. They worked well as soon as I had set them up and never waivered.
I began inking the basic outline…
And then slowly and steadily worked my way through the whole drawing. Working on this picture was a very restful meditative activity. Time flew by as I drew and before long it was finished. Here’s my final drawing…
Following on from last week where I documented the first four stages of my creative process. This week I’m going to look at the second half of that process. In all I have 7 steps I usually take to make a piece of art:
Inspiration and Reference
Assessment and Review
So I’ll be focussing on Creating, Assessment and Review, and Sharing.
I began drawing with pencil and then hard pastel pencils. Once that was done I layered on my pastel pigment. Here are my process photos…
It seemed to go well until I took a step back and really looked at my final picture…
Assessment and review
The final image had the wrong feel to it. So I began to look carefully at what I had done.
Here is my digital plan and my final image side by side…
I think the “Plan” worked because the reddish colour of the background is pushed towards brown which is really just a dark orange yellow and so just looked like a different tone of the same basic colour as the Buddha’s skin. This made it more restful. There was a small amount of blue in his hair which, being an ultramarine blue/ violet, added an accent of complemetary colour to the picture which I liked too.
However in my actual drawing the blue was more prominent and not as violet, and in my background I’d picked up on the red of the paper directly with my pastel colour choices so I had three colours, giving my pastel picture the wrong feel all together. Red, blue and yellow are a triadic colour combination which is a high energy variation of a split complementary colour scheme. This gave it a youthful, playful feel which just didn’t work for my intentions with this image at all.
Back to the Drawing Board
So I literally went back to the drawing board and decided to try again and rework the whole thing with a different colour scheme. However I now had about half the time to get it done!
I felt that using the burgundy paper I already had was really working against my intentions at this stage so I made the decision not to frame the picture under glass but to use a fixative on it instead. I thought I would present it on a backing board in a clear plastic sleeve. That way it would still make a good present and I had time to order some more supplies. I bought some fixative and some creamy grey pastel paper.
I chose this time to use a blue background with cool blue light as that would make it more serene and tie it into the Buddha resting at night. I kept the golden yellows of my Buddha’s skin and the darker blues of his hair.
Here are my process pictures as I remade the image…
And this is the finished picture…
I am much happier with the result this time. 🙂 The portrait answers the question which my heart was asking when I decided to work on this.
Once it was finished I fixed it outside with a professional artist’s fixative using my home made spraying bay…
I made this out of an old vacuum cleaner box. It works really well to hold the picture at a good angle for spraying and doesn’t let the fixative go all over the ground. (I use this for varnishing gouache sometimes too.)
Assessment and Review Take Two!
I am pleased with the warm golden feeling of the Resting Buddha’s skin and the calm night-time feel of the background. I wish I could add the smell of an open wild place, like our local common, and the sound of summer insects to the scene somehow.
The final image which I gave to my friend was slightly more muted in colour due to the fixative, but that added to the gentle restful feeling of the picture. (I pushed the saturation and contrast in the pastels so that it would still look good when the fixative muted everything.)
Here’s the picture after using fixative…
One criticism I have of this piece is that I drew the buddha’s neck muscles for a man sitting up or standing and then turned the image sideways as I found the kind of composition I wanted for my potrait. So the muslces at either side of his neck (sternocleidomastoid muscles if memory serves) are drawn as if they were active in supporting the head. However when he is laying on his side these muscles would most likely be at rest which would change the shape of his neck. If I went back and remade the picture a third time (!) I would find reference for the neck region of a man lying on his side so I could get this right.
It’s only a small detail but I have found that the more small details are correct in a picture, the more the viewer is able to see what I have in my heart as I paint it. It is the viewer who is, in many ways, almost a collaborator in each picture in the end.
Well my friend really liked her picture and I was very happy to have done this for her.
Generally speaking I share my art mostly in person and on WordPress.
On the technical side of sharing art, I use tags on each page so that search engines can index my pages appropriately. This results in about half of my views coming from search engines and half from within WordPress.
I am also careful when sharing my work to keep the resolution of images down to something that displays well on the web but is too low for print as this prevents various automatic image stealing sites from grabbing my images. You’ll often see the suffix “_web” on my filenames as this helps me know when I have reduced the resolution appropriately. I keep all of the finished full-size files with a big suffix “_FULLSIZE” so that I can identify this file easily and make sure not to bin it when I clean up extraneous images stored on my PC. Keeping the resolution down to only what you need also has the effect of making file sizes small which means I don’t run into issues with running out of storage space on my WP plan even after quite a few years.
In terms of websites used to share, I’m not on facebook or twitter. I chose WordPress because it seemed more mature as a blogging site than places like Tumbler, and appeared to be more focussed on sharing projects, skills and hobbies rather just general information about a person’s day to day activities which you get on Facebook. I love to both share my work and see other people’s art, thoughts and ideas on WordPress. I value the fact that WordPress is such a supportive, friendly community. I’ve learned a great deal from connecting to other people here and I realy value the friendships I have found here.
I am also going to bite the bullet and start up an Instagram Account. Its really slow going though because Instagram can only be viewed in a portrait orientation which makes it very very difficult to use the physical keyboard on my tablet as I have to read what I’m writing sideways! Good grief! Anyway, I will find a way to get this new account set up at some point.
So that’s it, my full process! I hope it’s been interesting or perhaps useful to someone. 🙂
When lockdown first started I found this wonderful organisation on the internet call Art Prof.
Their mission is…
“to provide equal access to visual arts education on a global scale, removing barriers that exist due to the cost of higher ed & private classes.”
I got in touch with one of the Professors, Prof Lieu, via YouTube comments and she gave me some excellent advice about how to work on references when you have a disability. Since then I have been watching their video’s on YouTube and really using what I have learned. I’ve had no formal art education so finding this organisation was incredibly valuable to me!
One of the important things I learned quite early on was that all of the work you do as an artist in getting ready to create a piece of art is part of the piece. Metaphorically this work is the soil in which your painting is planted.
My Process tends to be:
Inspiration and Reference
Assessment and Review
I have been using this new insight a lot recently and I thought this week and next week I would go through my whole creative process, including all of this preparatory work. This week I’m going to look at all of the preparatory work.
I wanted to make a piece of art for a friend of my family who is also a colleague at work. She is retiring at the end of this academic year. My friend is a Buddhist and we have talked about her practice and she has even “chanted” for me when I’ve been having a hard time. So I thought making a picture of the Buddha would make a good present.
Inspiration and Reference
To make a piece of art I draw on a wide range of resources. Some are personal, like my world view and things which are at the heart of what is important in my life, like my family and the natural world. Some are related to my direct experience of the subject I am working on. So with this piece it was my own experience of practicing Buddhism in the past and how that experience extends into my life now via mindfullness and Quaker Worship. Then there are those paintings and statues all by other artists which I feel a connection with. When I look at reference I’m looking for images which somehow resonate with that as yet unknown something which I want to create. It’s like saying something that really comes from your heart but because it’s visual you don’t need to translate it into words which, for me, always miss the mark somehow. Some people are so skillful with words, but my native language is entirely visual.
Here is a diagram of some of the most important resouces I drew on to make this picture. (In terms of reference I actually looked at approximately 20-30 different buddha representations in detail, but the three recorded here are the three which I found most compelling.)
(Please note the three buddha representations (top and right of the image above) and the picture of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey practicing Soto Zen are not my own photographs.)
I think a lot of this part of the work is just on the edge of consciousness. It’s like I have a feeling I want to convey and I am looking for examples of objects, memories and images which are associated with this feeling in my mind. In this instance the feeling I wanted to share is a kind of wholeness and peacefullness which I’ve found through just being still in silence and being in natural surroundings.
During this part of the work I explored what I can do with these sources of inspiration within certain boundaries. I had a fixed time to do this in – about 2 weeks, which would have been 1 week if I’d decided to send the picture to the framers. It seems like a lot of time but I was back at work by then and having to do a lot of extra work to keep safe during the pandemic so it amounted to a fair amount less than that since I put my work first.
I thought pastels would be a good choice here. Although oils would have given me some lovely creamy smooth gradients I don’t think I could have got the picture properly dry in time, even using Liquin since I would have needed to mix in some titanium white for my bright yellow highlights and it always takes ages to dry. I could have chosen watercolours, or gouache but I thought pastels would be bright and warm.
I had some pastel paper at home, however all of the sheets I had at the time were a red burgundy colour, so I decided to work that into the picture.
I used to wonder if I should try to remove all restrictions and boundaries on my creative process so I could be “free” to create anything. But I now I think I see great value in these limits. They force me to be more creative. It’s very similar in feeling to the way, inside the earth’s crust, the forces of pressure and temperature create metamorphic rock. The restrictions of it’s environment are what make the really beautiful patterns.
So my restrictions were:
It had to be done in a specific time period and relatively quickly.
It had to use the pastels and paper I currently have, so the background has to be burgundy.
It has to relate to Buddhism.
I would like it to convey a peaceful wholeness. (Strictly speaking this isn’t a restriction, but an objective.)
I began by sketching out a few doodles of the Buddha, looking at his whole body posture, his head and his hands. Of these I liked the head and the hands most. I decided on the head in the end. Although I had a good idea for a hands picture, it didn’t fit with the paper I have and is less obviously buddhist.
So I made some really quick sketches of Buddha heads to try to feel out the kind of head I wanted…
Most of the reference I saw incorporated a very curved round face. I wanted to change that. I decided on making his face look more distinctly male with sharper more angular features. I did quite few of these. The two at the top of this page were far too feminine, but my last two began to get to the feeling I wanted of a strong man completely at peace.
Next I made a bigger drawing combining the best parts of each of my sketches and then toned it to get a value sketch…
After this I wanted to work on my colour choices so I scanned the value sketch into a digital format and worked on it in Autodesk Sketchbook. I set my background to the burgundy of the paper which I was going to use and set up some brushes to mimic pastels. Here’s my basic colour sketch…
I wanted to have dark hair with a bluish tinge to it and I wanted my Buddha to have golden skin.
Then I started playing around with the composition and framing of my subject. I started with a fairly vanilla centred front portrait and then enlarged it to fill the frame. I tried moving it to the side but, although I liked this it’s the same as a famous Getty Image which is framed just like that. Then I turned it on it’s side. This definitely gave me the peacefullness I was looking for. It also kind of shows a Buddhist Landscape – with the head and neck of the Buddha actually “being” the landscape! I really liked this idea and decided to go with it. Here are some of the compositional ideas I had as I played around with it…
My final exploration on this picture looked at textures in the image.
I made the background textured with a mix of darker brownish reds. Then decided that I would love the Buddha’s face to be covered in dappled light – the kind of light you get shining through the leaves of a tree. This worked really well for me since I have a strong internal link between peacefulness and nature, so having dappled light is a way of having the effect of nature on the image implicitly. To do this I brightened the face and then added the dappled light…
There’s a feeling you get when you find what you’re looking for and I got that with this plan for my painting. So I stopped there and began to get together all of the bits and bobs I needed to make the picture…
I got together all of my materials…
… including my “kittycat” helper! (please excuse her having a little yawn!). Then I taped the edges of my paper and I was ready!
Next week I will go through the last 3 stages in my art creation process, Creating, Assessment & Review and Sharing.
I do really love herons! I know they are the bane of many Koi enthusiasts due to their tendency to snack on much loved fish but they do have a certain predatory beauty. This week I drew an ink drawing of a heron and toned it with smudged pencil. I am continuing to work on integrating my textural studies into actual artwork.
Here is my rough pencil sketch…
This shot was taken once I’d refined my pencil work…
This was taken in the middle of inking the drawing…
Here is the completed picture…
Once I had my inks finished I felt I really needed some greyscale tones to help give the viewer the feeling of looking at water. Previously I’ve either done this digitally or with a range of grey brush markers. For this drawing though, I really wanted to add some smooth grey gradients so I decided to mix up my media a little and use pencil for this. Rather than drawing the graphite onto the paper I used the graphite shavings from a mechanical pencil sharpener…
…and rubbed them on with a tissue. I had to practise this technique on some scrap paper a few times but I found I could get a lovely smooth gradient this way. Then I use my putty eraser and a fine mechanical eraser to remove the shading from the places where it went over a line. I am really pleased with how this turned out. I will use this technique again.
Reviewing this particular picture, I can see that my textures are very gradually improving. I would still like to develop more range and finesse with this. I am also quite pleased with the way the water ripples around the heron’s feet read. I think the smooth gradients really help this effect.
I also keep wondering if I should have added some indications of lanscape in the top left corner. It might look good to see a vague sense of a horizon line. Just a few marks to give the viewer an indication. At the time, I refrained from doing so because I liked the striking outline of the heron’s head and I thought putting in some landscape would detract from that. Sometimes drawings seem to ask for a change but I don’t always know exactly how to handle it. In the end I decided to leave it and just sit with the picture as it is. Sometimes, when doing this my unconscious mind seems to keep working ont eh problem in the background and days or even a few weeks later I figure out the answer.