The Eternity Dragon

I made an ink drawing this week of a dragon.

In western literature dragons are mostly symbols of evil and destruction who have to be killed or vanquished for life to go on.

However in many eastern cultures they are seen as strong, beautiful, natural and lucky and often associated with water. In Vietnam dragons are seen as bringing life sustaining rain and are therefore symbols of life and prosperity. In Japanese stories dragons are the Spirits or Kami of rivers and lakes and seas as well as being associated with rain. In China the dragon is a very powerful symbol of energy, wisdom and good fortune.

Because of these positive connections I chose to draw an eastern dragon, rather than a western one. I think the only western dragons I really like are those from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quintet. It’s been a while since I read this series but my overarching feeling about the dragons in her world is that they represent wildness. I really like that!

I began by playing around with curves and loops trying to find a pleasing way to draw this animal…

Then when I found a design I liked I began playing with it to see how I wanted to form it into a dragon…

Once I had the idea in my head I began to draw it…

At this point I realised that the basic structure I had chosen had two interesting relationships to symbols.

  • The first was that the main shape was that of the infinity sign used in mathematics, but also used frequently to represent autistic people.
  • The second was that the head appeared to be moving towards eating the tail, which is another symbol for infinity or eternity.

So I carried on working on the form, laying out ideas with pencil and then inking them as soon as I was sure they would be permanent, like this…

This is how my final ink drawing came out…

Next I used my watercolour paints to add tone to the drawing. Then I added a shadow to lift it out of the page a little and it was finished.

Here’s the finished art…

“The Eternity Dragon”

I do enjoy the symbolism in the picture. The association with autism brings it home for me as does the association with the Le Guin’s wild dragons. (That is, if I’ve remembered and interpreted this correctly and not mixed it up with another story!) The eastern links to water are also lovely too given how much I love being on the water in boats.

In terms of the art itself in a more technical sense. I’m fairly happy with the overall drawing but not quite sure about putting a shadow on it. I do like the way the shadow lifts the dragon out of the page, but sometimes I think keeping it simpler is better. Here is the drawing before I added the shadow…

I like the simplicity of this, but the shadow gives it more of a 3D effect and draws my eye more.

What do you think?

Dan Droid and Autism – A Digital Art Design

This week I worked on a simple greyscale digital art design of an android. I called him Dan because if you say Dan Droid it sounds close to Android (which I thought was funny) and also he reminds me of Asimov’s Daneel Olivaw who was my favourite robot as a child. (I think I also rather unconsciously modelled his human looks on a Euphonium player I knew at school called Daniel.)

I began with a simple sketch. One of the things I’ve been working on recently is how to better use my drawing tablet to get nice tapered lines. I really tried to work on that here. It meant drawing faster and having more faith in my hands to do the right thing without the constant supervision of my brain. Here’s the sketch…

Next I planned out a basic elecronic look for the part of his face which is showing his internal structure. I looked at reference for the muscles and bones of the face for this so that I could mimic real human anatomical structures with electronic equivalents. So the group’s of wires you can see, for instance, model muscle groups in the face.)

After that I added my darkest shadows. I really do love the way solid blacks look in comic art. At this point I gave him black hair to balance the image tonally, even though my Euphonium friend had blond hair.

Then I added 2 levels of greyscale tone using a cell-shading approach.

Finally to finish off the image I surrounded him with a background reminicent of electronic circuit diagrams. I though he looked really great amongst all of that.

So here is the final image…

Reviewing the art

Looking at this drawing, I like the way he’s walking across the frame but turning to look the viewer in the eye. I think it engages the viewer a bit more and also reveals his inner nature. I also like the simple cell-shading style although that’s really just a matter of personal taste.

If I wanted to add more I think I would render the background into 3D and make some parts of it look like matte metal and some parts look like chrome. I could then drop a shadow behind him onto the background to really make him stand out.

Reflections on Androids and Autism

In terms of the meaning of the art, I personally think people draw their own meanings from things like this. For me, this is all about what it feels like when I suddenly make a mistake and reveal my autistic nature. It’s very much like I have suddenly turned my head and now they can see what I really am. The electronic background he seems to carry with him is like the label of autism which other people then see.

There are some folks who think autistic people shouldn’t be compared to robots, but personally I think it’s a good metaphor. In order to do the normal social things that neurotypical people find automatic I have to set up a whole raft of decision-making flowcharts in my head, remember them in detail and follow them. This feels like having to build and maintain external circuitry to my regular self in order to hold simple conversations. The huge extra work of managing this circuitry is one of the things that makes socialising so draining.

For a long while I have felt ashamed of being this way, sort of deficient. However now, through counselling, I am beginning to believe that being my own self might be OK (with the same caveat as everyone else in the world, which is that a person acts decently).

I follow Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax on this one. She says. .

It’s not my place to tell ‘em what to believe, if they act decent.’

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!    🙂

 

 

 

 

The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

The wolf

I have been re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book “Women Who Run with the Wolves” recently and listening to some of her audio stories. It’s been a really good learning experience in terms of life and art. In honour of this I decided to try to paint a wolf. Again I tried to paint it in a way which could have been printed with a set of woodblocks, using flat washes of colour and simple gradients.

I began with a sketch…

Then covered my whites with masking fluid and ran a variegated wash over it very lightly.

Then I began laying down the flat washes, colour by colour just as a printer might.

This is my final painting…

I wasn’t sure how to imitate the line work of Ukiyo-e prints. Here I just left it with the pencil showing but I think a slightly darker tone would be better. That said I don’t think black would work so well, it might make it look like a cartoon. I might try getting some really thin 0.3 or 0.2 dark sepia pens which could give me the kind of tone I’m after.

A small difficulty I had with this picture is that the paper was marked with oil, probably just from handling, (it was from an older batch) so in places the paint was absorbed more giving darker tones in what was supposed to be a very flat wash. I could handle this by using gouache paint but watercolour looks more similar to the inks in the original Ukiyo-e prints. My other option is to buy some cotton rich paper which has better absorption qualities and then make sure I only use clean untouched sheets for this kind of work. I’ve never worked with a good cotton paper before so that might be fun to try.

Here’s the book which inspired this painting…

The Wild Self, Autism and the Kinship of Stories

I think I have a strong tendency to be too “tame”, to follow rules without thinking and do as I’m told. I think this comes from being Autistic, and having a systems view of the world. I just find out how things work and then follow the pattern, just like a good AI robot. I am really happy being told what to do and then getting on with it. The difficulty I come up against is that this approach only works well when the systems are effective and no-one is giving false or inaccurate information. I find it really difficult when I’ve done what I’ve been told is the right thing to do only to find that I’ve been lied to or accidentally mislead or when I’ve misunderstood. When this happens people rarely allow me to explain and often I can’t because one of the unwritten rules of social functioning is that you mustn’t expose other people’s wrong doing or mistakes. So I get blamed for things which are not my fault really often.

This book, “Women who run with the wolves”, gives me some really good guidance about all of this. It teaches me how to know when to question something and how to go about it in a natural and intelligent way using the archetype of the wild woman. Best of all Estes uses traditional stories from all over the world to teach this wisdom.

Now I have always had a strong kinship with stories. I expect this just comes from being lucky enough to have parents who read to me and encouraged books when I was young. I also had a younger sister who was, and is, a stronger person than me in so many ways. She used to demand that I made up a story for her after we were put to bed. I found sleep very difficult as a child so I was mostly happy to do this although I sometimes tried to refuse (my teddy Rusty was then threatened and she usually got a short and rather unsatisfactory story from me that night). Even nowadays, at work, I still make up stories on the spot for the children, often putting them into the tale or letting them choose various facts in the story. So stories have always been a language I understand. (In fact I often wonder if stories are not a primary programming language for human beings.) Anyway, I think this is why Ms. Estes’ book is so helpful for me. She uses stories to help people.

She also distinguishes between being tame, being feral and being truly wild. Being tame is how I tend to function, following rules and letting others tell me what to do. Being feral is kind of what happens when people are too tame for too long – it’s an inappropriate explosion of the wild nature which isn’t balanced or particularly helpful. It happens when people “go off the rails”. The real wild nature is different. Although it can be savage at times, it is only like that when necessary. Mostly it is balanced, wise and centred, doing whatever is needed for the person and those around them at the time. What I like best is that it gives me a way of managing things which doesn’t leave me so open to difficulties.

I will have to practice this to get it right but I think it will be worth it.

October Ink – Ice, Music and Intimacy

This is the last but one post for the whole Inktober thing. At first I quite enjoyed drawing everyday but as things got busier at school and my health became more problematic it got harder and I had to slow down. I also felt that the discipline of drawing based on a word was good and irritating at the same time. It was good because my imagination and creativity had to follow as yet untrodden paths which helped me come up with some pictures I would not otherwise have drawn. It was irritating because art is one of my deepest pleasures and to follow some arbitrary words wasn’t always where my heart wanted to go. I think the best thing to have come out of it from my point of view was a chance to really work hard in one medium – pen and ink. The worst thing was the self-imposed pressure to get stuff done, especially as I was finishing all of this off in the October half term holiday so I didn’t have to work on it at all during the most demanding half term of the school year.

So these pictures were of a shell…

…a Cornet…

And the pattern of frost you can sometimes see on car windscreens in the early morning as you go off to work…

I really enjoyed drawing the ice although I couldn’t get close to the perfection of the actual frost you can sometimes see. Nature is a grand master when it comes to painting. I also really enjoyed drawing the Cornet.

At a teenager I played the Cornet and Trumpet in various brass bands, wind bands and orchestras as well as a Trad Jazz band. It was a privilege to play those parts as I often got the tune or main theme. It was a bit scary too though because you can’t hide a mistake if you’re playing a trumpet or cornet. The thing I liked most about that was becoming fully part of one another as we all played together.

There is a closeness in playing with a group of other musicians which is very intimate. Like other forms of intimacy it seems to bind together those who take part in it. You get to feel a sense of the inside of another person when you play music together. It’s like you can feel their heart singing inside the music right next to your own. Autism frequently makes me feel adrift from other people and they sometimes seem like little black boxes where all I can know is their input and output patterns, but with music I can see where otherwise I am blind. It’s a real joy.

October Ink – Aliens, Autism and Christmas

 

Feeling Alien at Christmas

My subject for this week is Alien.  I’m quite fond of aliens.  Being autistic, I end up feeling like an alien from time to time just from being so different.  I think I feel this quite a lot in the run up to Christmas.  Everyone else seems to be enjoying it and looking forward to it but I dread the whole thing.

I feel loads of anxiety about finding presents which my family and friends will like and about giving presents of the right kind to the right people.  It always seems like an impossible task and unless someone tells me something they want I am really at a loss as to how to go about it.  Then there are all the parties and events going on at work and at home.  I really really dislike parties so I don’t go to any except the class party at school (which is part of my work and is fairly well organised and controlled).  Then there’s the Pantomime.  Every year our whole school  goes to the pantomime.  It’s really difficult – too loud, with audience participation.  I’d rather poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.  Luckily this year, thanks to an excellent head teacher, I’ve been able to be the member of staff who stays on the school site for children who, for one reason or another, are not able to, or dont’ want to go.  That is brilliant!

I think I would like Christmas more if people didn’t give presents and made less fuss about the whole thing.  Once we hit November all the shops start filling up with Christmas stuff – trying to sell us all sorts of rubbish to give to someone else.  Then there’s all the decorations making everything look even more busy, not to mention the demented Christmas music – it literally does my head in.

By the time this post goes out (I’m writing it in October half term) we will have finished our class Christmas Performance at work.  Of it all, I don’t mind this part of the holiday season; the children learn so much from working together, and having a goal, and being brave in front of an audience.  They grow up immensely through this one activity.  It’s beautiful to watch that happen and help it along.

 

Giger’s Aliens

As well as seeing the alienness inside my psyche I have also been fascinated by Giger’s Alien designs for years.  I think the fascination comes from them being both beautiful and somehow repellant at the same time.  So this week I decided to draw my own tribute to Giger.

It began as a landscape head portrait but the drawing seemed to want to extend itself into a full body.  Luckily I was using the first page of a two page spread so I could extend the picture if I didn’t mind the crease showing through the image.  I began in pencil and then inked it with a very narrow pen (0.2).  Then I added some stronger 0.8 lines to pick out the large forms within the body.  This came out as a reasonable outline drawing…

 

Then I began filling in the details and shading.  Rather than trying to ink a pencil drawing I tried to use my pens to draw directly, just as I would with a pencil.  I also added the alien’s right hand because having it hidden seemed odd.  Because the image is twice as big as the others I’ve done in my sketchbook, it took quite a while to do this but I was pleased with how it turned out…

 

October Ink 3 & 4 – Dinosaurs, Cyborgs and Autism

 

My prompts for these 2 drawings were Dinosaur and Computer.  The dinosaur drawing was pretty straight-forward but the computer one revealed more about my autism than I am entirely comfortable with.

I always loved Dinosaurs, from when I was tiny.  So drawing one was a real treat.  I went for the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex.  90% of this was done with my Pigma Microns but I did add a little grey shading with my water brush pen just to give the shadows a bit more depth.  Here’s the final drawing…

 

 

 

My next topic was “Computer”.  At first I thought about an abstract drawing based on printed circuit boards but it didn’t really excite me.  My next thought was of robots, which everyone knows, are as cool as dinosaurs.  But then I began thinking about AI and cyber augmentation of the human body and Greg Egan’s ideas of digital copies of human brains so I spent most of my day metaphorically down that amazing rabbit hole and didn’t get any drawing done.  (If anyone’s interested in Greg Egan‘s ideas about digitising human consciousness, then I would highly recommend his book Permutation City.  It’s one of my favourite books of all time.)

 

 

In the end I made a quick sketch of a half-human half-robot person.  It’s how I feel about myself really.  The cyborg is crying because people keep punishing him when he’s only doing exactly what they programmed him to do in the first place.  He is in a no-win situation.  This is exactly what it feels like to have autism from my point of view.

 

October Ink Drawings – Days 1 and 2

I’m doing my own version of Inktober this year. I decided to make up my own prompts because the official ones seemed quite confusing to my autistic brain. They were adjectives rather than nouns. I prefer nouns. So here’s my list of prompts…

Because I have a chronic pain condition I decided to let the challenge continue for as long as I need but I will, eventually, make a drawing for each day in Ocotober.

So my first 2 were River and Bird. Here are the ink drawings…

The river one made me feel really calm while I drew it, despite the fact that it was drawn in those few spare minutes before school and at lunchtime while I was at work. I think the experience I have of fishing and boating on rivers and lakes brings calmness into the picture.

Being next to a body of water has always been like going home for me. When I was a child it was Toddbrook, the small stream near where I lived. As a teenager it was the gravel pit lakes where I sailed dinghies twice a week come hell or high water. Now it’s a mixture of the Norfolk Broads and all the lakes and rivers I fish regularly.

I used my Pigma Micron pens for most of this drawing.

And then added some greyscale using a Pentel water brush pen filled with a mixture of ink and water. This is what my water brush pen looks like…

My next ink drawing was of a Raven…

As I was driving to work this week BBC Radio 4 reviewed a book about the Ravens in the Tower of London. It really caught my heart and led to this picture. The book is called “The Ravenmaster” and it’s by Christopher Skaife. It’s all about his relationships with the Tower Ravens.

I don’t know if this is an autistic thing or just a general human thing but I find communication with animals much easier than with people. Dogs would be top of my list but most animals I find easier to deal with than people. So I was very interested.

I also remember an experience in a town centre where I met the scruffiest crow in the world. He was fabulous. His feathers were a mess, he hopped on only one leg and he metaphorically fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. But he was smart and bright and interested in everything. I saw him watching me eat my slice of bread pudding. As I walked past he kind of begged, hopping comically next to me as I walked along. So I stopped and gave him a little. Not too much obviously because it was bread pudding which is pure gold on my scale of brilliant foods. Then he began to beg in earnest. He bobbed his head, hopped from side to side and generally made a huge fuss which I think indicated that he liked bread pudding as much as me. So I gave up, sat down and shared it with him.

Next week, Dinosaurs and Computers… 🙂

Ink Dreams and October Fun

October Fun

I’ve been thinking about next month and the whole Inktober thing. Now I’d quite like to do a small ink drawing everyday for a month. I think it would be fun. But I had a look at the list of prompts for this year and didn’t relate to most of them. I prefer prompts which are more definite – nouns rather than adjectives. I guess the original list is made up of adjectives to give artists more freedom but I can’t really follow it. It’s just something which makes little sense in my autistic brain. So I decided to make a list for myself.

Here it is…

If anyone wants to use this list – feel free – no rules – no stress – just enjoy doing what you want. I suspect I’ll take more than a month to do it, or skip some when I’m too busy or too tired, but I’m not going to let that stop me having a go.

Ink Dreams

Also this week, I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman Comic series. It’s really excellent! He’s a wonderfully imaginative author. I really love his character “Dream”. Dream is a quiet reflective sort of guy who occasionally seems melancholy in a modern, hipster sort of way and yet at the same time is an immortal with his own realm. The comic artists who worked on this Vertigo series were Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel, and Michael Zulli.

I wanted to have a go at drawing this character.

I began with a basic drawing and played around with his hair colour-wise…

However this version seemed a bit generic and Dream is definitely not generic. So I did a few more sketches…

I think the top one ended up looking more like Professor Snape than Dream!!! But I liked the bottom one. I was especially pleased with the way my Pentel Brush pen was behaving as it ran out of ink. It gave me some lovely textures to use on Dream’s coat.

Then I began a different pose in pencil…

I really liked this look where Dream’s eyes are shadowed. Here’s the same image inked…

This time I used a shading technique where you hatch the shadows but also outline them. I really like the effect it made.