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.


Some fun with ink!

I got a bit fed up with studying the head and face.  So, while working on this portrait and head structure stuff I also took some breaks and played around with ink.



Generally I find looking at people’s eyes difficult which made the head structure stuff quite demanding.  It’s probably because of my autism but what I loose in some areas of art I gain in others so I don’t mind. At least I understand what is difficult and why.

As a result I often try to avoid portraits and faces. I can do them from photographs, they just wear me out really quickly.  Here’s a link to a full on front facing portrait I managed recently where I just screwed up my courage and went for it.  (Mud Man Link).  In paintings generally, when I can, I often hide the eyes and if I can’t do that I often have my subjects with their eyes closed or at least not looking at the viewer. e.g.

“Looking away”


“Eyes Closed”


“Eyes Hidden”


Faces in real life are a different matter all together.  When I sketched some friends last week I found myself avoiding drawing their faces until the end and then putting in simplified features so that I didn’t have to look at their faces for more than a glance.  It was so much harder than looking at a photograph that it really shook me.  I guess a photograph is really just tone and colour in certain patterns whereas people sitting there are real, whole and alive.

So with the inks I just had some fun…




I did some doodling…


And then a bit more doodling while thinking about this really enormous prime number (2^74 201 281 -1) which was discovered on 4th January 2018!


Finally I drew a tiny little woodlouse from reference. It was bliss.


Angel Fish, Autism, Lies and Imagination


First the Angel Fish

This week I played around again with painting effects.  This time I used a watercolour base with pencils on top for detail.

I began with a simple light sketch…



Then I drew heavier lines to push my subject forward and emphasise the shape…


Next I began a watercolour background.  I used a wet in wet technique to drop various colours onto wet paper.  It was tricky to get things exactly how I wanted and I had to use my hairdryer to get the paint to dry in the state I liked without it pooling.  Here’s a picture…


Unfortunately the camera wont pick up the shades of blue I used.  I had some parts in cerulean blue with a little paynes grey to damp it down slightly and other parts in ultramarine but the camera on my phone doesn’t seem to pick up the ultramarine, I wonder if it is weak at picking up reds?  Or if it was running some kind of filter to normalise photos taken in a room with warm artificial light?  Anyway, after seeing this I think I’m going to take future photos with my Canon camera.

Next I painted in the weed…



Then finally I painted some base colour for my fish and put some wet on dry lines around the edges of my weed to give it some more definition.  After that I used coloured pencils (I think I used my Aquarelles for this one) to add the pattern details to the fish.


Here’s the final picture…



I have very mixed feelings about this one.  I really like the colour harmony in the painting and the general design.  My favourite part is the wet in wet background.  However I have massive issues with the fish looking like no fish alive on earth really looks.  I was going for an abstract pattern effect on her but it really bothers me when things don’t look like they really are.  It feels like a lie to me.

I love other paintings of this type, with patterns and unreal colours, which is why I tried to do one myself.  But I used a real angel fish photo as a reference, from my 30 gallon angel fish tank, and so my painting feels like a lie.


Autism, lies and imagination

One of the biggest issues I face with autism is the way I view lies.  For as long as I can remember (which is back to 3 or 4 years old) I have struggled with lies.

In the beginning I didn’t know that such a thing existed.  I always said exactly what I thought, which got me into endless trouble,  and I thought other people did the same so I never understood why I was ‘rude’ or ‘tactless’.  When people said things that weren’t true I thought that they had remembered something wrong or were a bit stupid and didn’t know the truth.

I think I was about 12 when I realised that people told lies sometimes.  A girl at school had written on the desk and then the teacher caught her and she said that the writing was already there and she was just looking at it, but I saw her write it!  I knew she wasn’t stupid and she had just been doing it so she couldn’t have forgotten.  It was horrible to realise that people could deliberately say things that weren’t true.

To me lies make me feel sick, they feel like that famous painting ‘The Scream’ by Munch

It’s like reality gets all bent and twisted by lies.  I really really hate that.  Although I am capable of telling lies now as an adult, I very rarely do because it feels so awful.  When I don’t like people to know the truth I just don’t say anything – that’s my lying.  They call it lying by omission.

I also get the opposite effect from my view of lies if I fail to draw my perpective correctly in a drawing.  The picture looks all skewed and, consequently, feels like a lie even though it’s really just a bad rendering of perspective on my part.

So how, as an artist, do I make interpretive paintings?

I saw a great video about watercolour painting on YouTube by a lady called Cathy Johnson.

Here it is…

Rather than paint exactly what’s there she does something she calls ‘suggesting’ what is there.  It has a beautiful, loose and lively effect which I totally love but I can’t do it with the place, or a photo of the place, in front of me because it feels like lying.

So how can I use imagination and suggestion to make my paintings less realistic and more real?

I think the only way is to sketch how things are on location or from a photo and then leave the location or put away the photo while I paint the sketch.  Then instead of painting the truth of my eyes maybe I could try painting the truth of my heart.  So the picture would still be true but it would not refect the reality of the place photographically, it would reflect it emotionally?


The Eagle, the Endoscopy and the Exit

The day I made this drawing of an eagle’s head I had had an endoscopy. The doctor gave me some strong sedation before the procedure, which was very effective. Afterwards I went home to my parents house and relaxed while waiting for my son to come home from college and for the sedation to wear off. As I waited I did a few sketches and some inking. I was very relaxed. One of the sketches was this eagle

The following weekend I found some time to paint him…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been finding more time and energy to paint as I’ve left (exited) my church.

I found going there increasingly stressful. Playing the piano was part of it but more than that I had trouble managing my relationships and being together with so many people at once. I found I was beginning to dread it. There was too much noise and it was too busy and I was expected to have too much communication with people for my autistic mind to manage. Every time I got things wrong I became more stressed about interacting. It was like a finger puzzle, the harder I tried to make things right the worse things got until I couldn’t do it anymore.

Initially I was going to have a temporary break but I kept getting nightmares about going back so now I have decided to make this change permanent. The relief is incredible. I feel like I can breath again. I am also very sad though, because there were so many really good people there and I miss them. I guess with the autism it was always going to be a difficult place for me. The fact is I can’t manage it.