Watercolour Butterfly

 

This week I wanted a chance to play with watercolour.  Butterflies are very easy watercolour subjects so I decided to have a go…

I began with a fairly careful sketch.  It was nothing too involved, but I wanted the wings to be balanced and basically accurate to their natural shape.

 

Then I began to paint.  I had my plan for this worked out in my head beforehand and originally intended to photograph each stage.

The plan was…

  • Add wet in wet gradients of cadmium yellow deep (with a touch of cadmium scarlet) across the wings.
  • Paint, wet on dry, with a full strength version of the same colour to add veins and other details.
  • Paint the wing tips, wet on dry, in mix of ivory black and raw umber.
  • Paint wet in wet gradients of the the same colour.
  • Paint the details of the body.

However, I got too absorbed to think about the camera and ended up painting the whole thing.  Apologies for no process pictures.

It was a really enjoyable painting to work on.  Here’s the final picture…

 

It was done on watercolour paper just under A4 size using W&N professional watercolour paints.

As you can see, I decided to add a shadow after completing my plan.  I used a mix of darkish blues which I had left on my palette from another painting session.  I thought it would work OK since blues contrast oranges well.  (They’re my favourite complementary colour pairing.)  One day I’d like to have a go at using an airbrush to lay down a shadow.  It seems like the ideal tool for the job but I’ve never used one before.  Perhaps I’ll get one and give it a go!

PS:  If anyone knows the species of this butterfly I would love to know.  I did use reference and, although I didn’t interpret it exactly, the wing colours are in the right places.

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Kodama and a More Thoughtful View of Nature.

This week I played around with a simple illustration of Kodama (tree Spirits/Gods from Japanese folklore) sitting in the the shade of a small Nasturtium plant (Genus: Tropaeolum). My original intention with this illustration was to add some dotted shading over the top with black pigma micron pens . However, when I tried this out in Photoshop to see if it would work it seemed too dark and definite. While I was playing around thinking what to do next, I ran a photoshop filter over the painting (I was playing with the idea of a new background).  Anyway, the filter made the foreground look just how I wanted it. So I dumped the new background idea, saved the file and printed it off.

Here’s the original painting before any digital changes…

And here’s the finished illustration as I prefer it with the filter on…

 

I have always loved the idea of Kodama since I first came across them in Miyazaki’s beautiful film Princess Mononoke.

Film Poster for Theatrical Release in Japan – from Wikipedia

By personifying the spirit of living things like trees, Japanese folk tales, very gently, seem to point out that all living things are valuable and important as part of the whole. In the past and even today, in Japan the idea of Kodama has protected special trees in various places from removal. Whereas in the UK, local people can write to officials, get the press involved, put up huge banners across trees we would like to keep, but these wishes are ignored in favour of a marginally bigger car park.

As far as I understand it, Kodama are a form of Kami, which are said to be the divinities or sacred essences of many different things like, rivers, mountains, trees and animals. Shinto, which ritualises Kami worship (including the worship of some ancestors), is the indigenous religion of Japan and is still practiced by 80% of Japan’s population although the way Japanese people approach religion is very different from people in the west, being more practical and syncretic and less concerned with membership.

My feeling as I read up on this subject, is that Shinto has given the Japanese people an understanding of, and reverence for, nature that is beautiful. Many of Miyazaki’s films like Princess Mononoke, Naussica of the Valley of the Wind and My Neighbour Totoro resonate with this way of looking at the world. I think I prefer to see the world the same way.

Exploring Shine – Part 2

This week I worked on a small simple greyscale painting of a chrome doorknob. Having read up on various illumination models previously, I now realise how very complex light reflections between objects can be. Since painting from reference was so much more effective than trying to reconstruct reality when painting the human form last week, I decided to paint a simple shiny object just by painting what I see, hoping that the same would be true this time.

I began with a simple outline sketch of all the complex shadows, gradients and specular reflections I could see…

Then I chose a mid-grey and painted all of the areas which seemed to be that colour…

Next I painted all of the darkest darks and then some mid to dark greys. It was only a simple painting but I’m quite pleased with it.

Interestingly it reads better as chrome when the image is smaller. My guess is that this is because my original image was only about 8cm x 12cm so when I make a large scale photo of it all of the imperfections become apparent to the viewer and this gets in the way of the viewer’s brain recognising it as chrome…

I used W&N gouache for most of this with a little lamp black watercolour for some simple gradients.

Anatomical Construction Drawing Vs Anatomical Reference Drawing

For this week’s post I compared two methods of drawing a person, working specifically on male anatomy. The first method was a way of constructing a person by dividing the person into four and building on a basic stick frame. The second method was simply drawing and painting from reference.

The Construction method was based on a brilliant video by a super artist and story teller, Mark Crilley

I’ve followed Mark’s work ever since I read his brilliant Manga Brody’s Ghost. So I thought I’d have a go at using his tutorial to draw a man.

NB: Now at the time I attempted this I’d just hit the Whitsun half term holiday and was really unwell. I’d been in bed for 36 hours with a big fever and massive head, neck and face pain. I was feeling quite sorry for myself.   I still like to draw even when I’m ill, mainly because drawing calms me down and helps me stay OK, but the results were not great.

Anatomical Construction Method

So I began with a basic stick figure construction…

I built on it…

I inked it…(the head is too big here.)

And then, later when I was feeling better, shaded and coloured it. (The shading was done with graphite and the colour was digitally added.)

It was OK, recognisably a man I think, but not what I was hoping for. I do find drawing without any reference VERY difficult.

Next I thought I would compare this to a sketching a male figure from reference.

Anatomical Reference Drawing

I used Michaelangelo‘s iconic Statue of David as my reference. It’s as good an example of male anatomy as I could find. I was also feeling much better by this point thanks to an excellent practice nurse who precribed the antibiotics which I needed. Since I was going to draw this on A3 paper and my reference was A4 I decided to use a grid to help me enlarge my drawing to the right size.

My first job was to mark the outlying edges of my figure, height and width…

Then I used my grid to make a basic sketch…

Once I’d done that I cleaned off my gridlines and worked on the details of the sketch…

Finally I painted it using Winsor and Newton Professional Watercolours. I used a purple (ultramarine, lamp black and Alizarin crimson) with a yellow ochre (yellow ochre pale toned down with a tiny drop of ultramarine to drop the saturation a bit.)

I painted large sections at a time so I could wet a whole area and use the residual dampness in the paper to soften all my edges…

Then I added some wet on dry marks to bring out certain shapes in the knees and face and hands. Finally, I used another purple with more lamp black in it to push the contrast. And here’s the finished piece…

 

 

So, what have I learned?

Well, first of all, while sketching still has a nice calming effect on me when I’m unwell, running a temperature over 38 deg C does affect my ability to draw properly. Secondly, I still struggle with constructing accurate anatomical figures without reference. Lastly, I am stronger and more comfortable at drawing with reference than without it.

Jurassic Line and Wash

This week I made a couple of ink drawings of Jurassic animals – the classic T-Rex in a running pose, and a drawing of Dimetrodon, which was a mammal-like reptile from the clade Synapsida.  I used basic shapes initially to get the general mass of each animal right and then refined each shape towards my reference.  Once I had a basic pencil drawing I switched over to my ink pens to finish the drawings properly.

Here are the two ink drawings…

 

 

Then I had a go at putting a watercolour wash over the top of my ink.  This was really fun to do…

Here are the final pictures…

 

Exploring Shine

This week I had a quick look at painting and drawing shine on objects. Last week’s “Coastal Shiner” painting picked up some shine the simple way, by just drawing exactly what is there. But it got me thinking about the mechanics of shine and reflection and wondering what rules make the patterns of light that I see in glossy objects. The way light reflects from shiny, wet objects is so fascinating but I only know the basics of how any of this works. I can feel the pattern behind the reality of what I see but find it very hard to formalise it into workable rules for painting.

I began with some basic sketches in my sketchbook…

I was playing around with how reflections sometimes show some of the local colour (or in the case of pencil sketches local tone). I found it very hard to get these sketches to read as if the two animals are wet, although the frog’s eye works to some extent.

A deep glossy shine is basically a reflection so it very much depends on the surroundings of the object. In the right light a reflective surface can look absolutely marvellous. But I wanted to know how to simplify this effect we see in nature so as to capture it in a painting in it’s simplest form. I played around with some gouache and watercolour paint on regular copy paper to see if I could find some basic rules. Here’s one of these trials…

It’s more than just the highlights – there are colour reflections between coloured objects and lower light reflections too.

So, my first step was to simplify all of this down to low light reflections and high light reflections and had a go at painting a beautiful little creature called the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).

I painted his body black and then added some grey highlights and some white highlights like this…

It’s not quite there but does read as a little bit shiny (if you squint a bit!)

Then I decided to paint some wet rocks in a stream. I tried to abstract things a little here to see if the basic reflection rules I’d made would go that far…

Again it reads as water but isn’t quite there yet.

I decided that this is something I am going to have to study for a while to really understand.

After reading around I found out that modelling light on objects is called an Illumination Model. In fact there are a number of different models to chose from. The more advanced the model, the more factors are taken into account and the more accurate the surface rendering is when compared to real life. This field of study began with the study of optics during the enlightenment and continues today with the huge advances in computer generated images.

For example a very basic model is called the Lambert Model which was figured out in the 18th Century CE. In this model all surfaces are uniformly matte and reflect light to the viewer according to a simple geometric law (the cosine law). It sounds complicated but really it just means that if an object is illuminated by strong directional light (like light from the sun) then the intensity of the light reflected from it varies with the angle of the object surface to the light. If the surface is perpendicular to the light source then the intensity is maximum. If it’s at an angle it’s less and the steeper the angle the less light gets reflected. This model gives us a basic understanding of illumination but is very far from being accurate.

A more accurate model is the Phong Model, from 1975, which combines three types of lighting effects…

  1. Ambient light – caused by light bouncing around a volume randomly in an atmosphere. This light is low level but the same everywhere. (Interestingly, this lighting is almost completely absent in space which is why spacecraft look very different on earth compared to when they are out of our atmosphere.)
  2. Then there is diffuse lighting which is similar to Lambertian lighting and illuminates an object at each point according to it’s surface angle to the directional light source.
  3. Finally there are specular reflections. These are mirror like reflections of a light source on the surface of an object. In Phong’s model these are white highlights but in more advanced models you can adjust the shininess of an object to get more or less specular reflection from tiny white highlights to a full mirrored surface, like chrome.

Anyway, I’m going to read into this a bit more to try to make an illumination map in my mind for my painting. Only time will tell if this helps at all!

Coastal Shiner in Goauche

 

This week I tried for a more realistic painting style with this beautiful fish called a Coastal Shiner (Notropis petersoni).  We don’t have them in the UK.  They live on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.  Looking at a few detailed photos I could see so much detail with so much light scatter and so many colour changes that painting this realistically was quite daunting at first. 

When something is difficult I have always taught the children at school to break it down into something simpler until you find something you can do.  So I used this method to try to get a hold on the picture I wanted to paint.  First I made a sketch…

 

I got the mouth completely wrong on this drawing – it looks more like a sprat with that upturned mouth.  But rather than erase the error I decided to correct it with the paint as erasing causes changes to the way the paper performs.

Next I really studied the fish,  looking at 5 different reference images.  Then I selected an image with a good range of colour and made a quick colour map like this…

 

(This image was scanned and suffers from my scanner’s inability to see subtle colour.)

Once I’d seen the colour palette of the actual fish I decided on a background which would complement some of the colour and also pull out some of the more subtle shades.  I went with a white background with flecks of purple and yellow in it. I blended the flecks to make a kind of moving water type background with lots of lateral stokes.  Here’s the first layer of the background as it was drying…

 

Next I painted the main darker background colours of the fish and blended them to give a good basic ground to the animal.  I got really involved in the painting at this point and so didn’t get a photo.  At this point I wasn’t thinking anymore, I was just painting.  I find this state very calming and beautiful.  It’s one of the main reasons I keep painting week after week.  I get the same feeling when I’m playing the piano, especially with Jazz.

At the age of 14 I was asked to play trumpet in a 7 piece trad jazz band.  I did and learned an enormous amount from the experience which lasted for about 4 years and took us all over the county and then to places further afield.  I also got hooked on Trad Jazz.  It’s something that has never left me.  Now I play piano, rather than the awful trumpet (the most exposing and tricky instrument in an orchestra in my opinion, because you have to count 158 bars perfectly and then come in on a top G with a cold instrument!)  The stress used to nearly kill me!  Maybe that’s why I prefer Jazz – the trumpet plays a lot more in that set up and the whole thing is more relaxed!  Anyway, I get that same feeling of “just being there” when I play jazz on the piano nowadays.  It’s like I’m taking part but the piece is playing itself.

Once I’d got a basic darker background I began adding bigger, lighter details – not the really tiny stuff yet, or the white reflections of light, but things like the Operculum and head area.  Then finally I dived into the detail.  I found it really hard at first because I couldn’t get it eactly like the reference images I was using but then I remembered last week when I’d painted the forest glade and just used shapes, so I did the same on a smaller, more precise scale.

For me, the jury s still out on this painting.  I’ll have to see how I feel about it in a few days time to see if I like it or not.

Here’s the final image…

 

Post Script:  Once all of this was done I then had another small adventure.  I am really enjoying watercolour and gouache and I think I’m going to stick with these mediums for the time being.  However I want to work out how to best protect gouache paintings particularly.  The reading I’ve done suggests that there are two options.  Most people like to protect these paintings by framing them under glass.  This is pretty effective.  But the other option is to use an archival varnish on them and make them glossy!  Now this sounds lovely to me.  I love shiny things!  So I thought I’d have a go at this with this painting and the previous one I made of the Forest Glade.

Here are the results…

This is the Forest Glade painting after varnishing with 3 coats of Golden’s Gloss Archival Varnish (which has UV Light protection).  The difference is very very slight but I really like it.  To give you an idea of the shine here’s is a picture angled towards the window to show the maximum shine…

 

I love it that the shine accents where the paint has built up to a slightly impasto level!

And here is the Coastal Shiner with the varnish…

 

Again the difference is subtle but I like it!  (The difference is bigger on this picture as it needs a day or so to fully dry – it get’s clearer and lighter when it is completely dry.)

And here’s the shine!

 

 

 

Woodland Glade – Using Oil Painting Techniques with Gouache

This week I wanted to create a painting in Gouache but using some basic oil painting techniques. The main technique I focussed on was Blocking In. This is a way of painting which I’ve not really tried very seriously before. Basically you paint the overall big shapes and basic colours, then you refine them with more complex shapes until your picture appears. Stopping the refinement before it gets realistic leaves you with a painterly styled picture, which is what I wanted to achhieve.

Because Gouache can be overpainted in the same way as oils and blended in a similar way to oils (but less easily) it seems like a good candidate to create an oil styled picture without the bother of waiting weeks between layers for the oils to dry and going through the messy clean up process after each painting session. (You can use Liquin as an oil medium to speed up the drying process but it still takes quite some time for some colours and hues to dry.) With gouache and a hairdryer I can get things dry in a couple of minutes and my brushes and palette can be cleaned under the tap very quickly.

So I first chose a subject. I had a loose ink sketch of a forest glade lying about which I thought might lend itself to this kind of painting approach. Here’s the sketch…

I made an outline drawing of this sketch at the right size for my gouache experiment…

Then I began to have some fun with the blocking in. First I chose basic colours for each part of the painting…

It was great because I didn’t have to be too careful with my painting strokes or get anything right first time. This gave me the freedom to make different shadow colour choices than I normally would. I went with violets in the main but pushed one rock in the far foreground towards a pinkish colour to bring some heat into the picture at that point. Then I began to refine my shapes by adding more shadows…

This was lovely to do as I could see my brush defining each shape. I had loads of fun with this.

My next job was to start tidying it all up. This was enjoyable in a different, more meditative way, as I tried to get lovely flat blocks of colour. I began at the back of the painting and worked forward. I refined my edges as I did this. I also had to work out a way to show the water in the pond for what it is. I had a go at this by painting a very basic interpretation of the sky and trees merging into a darker colour near the front as the viewer begins to see more of the colour of the water and not the reflections. Then I painted in my reflection colours of the rocks. This was the most difficult part of the painting. They had to be the same basic colours but darker and less saturated. Once I’d got everything clean and toned to the colours I wanted I was finished. Here is my finished painting…

I am quite pleased with the painterly effects and the colour choices, although I think I would like to make the colours more subtle next time. I could use the same basic colour interpretation of the scene but with each colour pushed towards grey a little more. This is a bit of battle for me as I seem to get totally enchanted with the effect of strong, saturated colours whenever I sit down to paint.

I also quite like the way there is very little blending in the painting except in the water. I found it quite hard to render the water. Although the contrast between the blended water area and the rest does give the painting an interesting effect, I think the surface looks more akin to kitchen foil than a pond.

The other main thing I would change is my set up for photographing paintings as I often lose details when the differences between colours are smaller. For instance, in the back of this painting there is the indication of foliage shapes behind the main scene which adds to the feeling of a small clearing in the middle of a wood. They are obvious when I look at the actual picture with my eyes but the camera doesn’t pick them up. I’m avoiding scanned images too because my scanner can’t see blue very well at all, especially as it goes towards cyan.

At university when I was doing my PGCE (standard UK teaching qualification), they showed us the proper way to photograph media. It was a flat table with a flash light at each corner and a camera suspended over the top. Now I paint at my living room table so this kind of thing is not going to be possible but I could set up a proper Digital SLR with a couple of flashes somewhere in my home. My Dad is a really good photographer and has his Licentiateship from the Royal Photographic Society so I expect he will know how to get better results. It’s something I’m going to work on.

Animation Style Fun with Gouache

 

This week I played around with some animation style art using pure gouache in my sketchbook.

I work pretty hard at school each day so when I come home I have a nice routine to follow to sort myself, and my son, out for the evening.  Although I can break this routine, being on the Spectrum, I am much more comfortable if I follow it.  First I get a cup of tea and drink it while I go through the post for the day and sort out any issues that arise from that post, along with any other things I need to do in terms of general housekeeping.  Then I check and water my plants.  I grow a lot of plants from seed and have a hydroponic spinach set up in the kitchen which produces about two harvests for two people each week.  Then, I either meditate or read.  At five o’clock I start cooking tea for me and my son.  I usually serve it between 17:45 and 18:15.  Once that’s done and we’ve had pudding I get ready for bed and feed and check the fish.  By this stage my pain is quite bad so bed is the best place for me to relax during the evening.  While in bed I usually read or watch DVD’s and I sometimes paint.

So this particular artistic adventure began when I watched the last episode of the long running animation series Avatar the Last Airbender on DVD.  One of the best things about being a teacher is that I have a perfect excuse for watching what is essentially kids TV.  “Oh yes, it keeps me in touch with the children,”  – and has nothing to do with the fact that I really enjoy animation for it’s own sake!  My favourite character from this series is Appa, an Air Bison who can fly.  I was thinking about the series and wishing the live action film had been better when I began to sketch Appa.  Like all animated characters he’s dead easy to draw because his shape is very basic.  Then I decided to get my gouache paints out and give my sketch a little paint job.

Here’s the finished painting…

 

The next evening I embarked on watching a complete run through of the Star Wars The Clone Wars animated series which lasts for six seasons!  After a few episodes I stopped for the evening (if I watch too much Clone Wars I can’t sleep.)  Then I mooched about on the internet looking at Star Wars stuff for a while.  Somewhere I saw a picture of a Dark Lord of the Sith wandering about on what I guess might have been the ancient planet of Korriban (not Morriban – what an awful retcon that really is!)  Although I went on with my wanderings this picture stuck in my mind and the next day I tried to find it again but couldn’t.  So I had a go at sketching it…

 

Then, as with Appa, I grabbed my gouache paints and made it into a little painting in my sketchbook…

 

While no-one could call this high-art it was, for me, very enjoyable art!    🙂