Things I can’t do, and things I can’t stop doing…

A few weeks ago I started to try to paint my beliefs about faith and love.  I drew some sketches and felt quite excited about it.

Well it turns out that I just can’t do it.  I’m not blocked, artistically or otherwise.  I’ve been sketching other things quite easily.  It’s not that I’ve lost interest in the painting either – I still want to do it.  It’s just that I can’t I think it’s because the subject is really at the very centre of what matters to me.  Any effort I might make feels like it’s nowhere good enough.  The task is simply beyond me.

In the past people used to apprentice to a craft and eventually, if they were good enough, they might become a master craftsman. To be admitted to the guild rank of master they would have to produce a particularly fine piece of work which demonstrated their mastery of their chosen craft.  This was called a ‘masterpiece‘.  I think, for me, the test of being really able to paint one day will be, to be able to paint this picture I have in my heart – my masterpiece.


“In other news”… sadly I was refused permission from my local council to sell my paintings online from my home.  Although I own my place it’s a leasehold and the lease conditions don’t allow it.  In a way it was good to have that question properly answered.  I will continue to paint of course, but it will be, as I’ve been doing so far, strictly for pleasure.  I’ve got a job interview tomorrow so we’ll see how that works out.  It’s at a school I’ve taught at before – a really lovely place – and it’s only for a couple of hours a day which I think I can manage pretty well despite my pain condition.  I think it’s going to be fab if I can get the job.


Finally I want to post a picture.  It’s only a doodle, a bit of fun really.  I was watching Criminal Minds the other day.  I love learning about how and why people behave in certain ways and in this TV show they often talk about that.  While I was watching it I started doodling – I just can’t stop drawing (and also, I don’t like to watch the scary bits).  So, after I scanned it in, here’s what I ended up with…




By the way – my son says when I tell a joke I should have some kind of sign so…“This was a joke!”

(When I tell him something’s a joke in conversation, he replies.. “Very nearly Mum.” and pats me on the back. LOL)

smiling ball


Pastel Drawing – A Quickening Ray

I worked on a Pastel drawing today.  It was a sketch for a painting I want to do in acrylic paint at some time in the future.  It’s based on a scene in a prison I saw on the TV and a song we sing at church.  The relevant verse says:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

This picture was the result – as well as I can render it.

I began with a sketch:


Then I began to use the pastels.  This time though, I decided to treat the pastels like paint rather than like a big fat pencil.  I think this approach worked better.  Lines are too thick with pastels but planes and blocks of colour are do-able.

Here’s the beginning of the figure in the picture:


And here’s the final result:

A Quickening Ray_FIN_WEB

The light didn’t come out as I had hoped – I find actual light rays very difficult to draw but the feeling of the picture is right.  I think it’ll need a bit more work before I paint it.

Holidays, Retreat and Autism

I’ve been really lucky this year with holidays.  Our main holiday was a week away with the church in Devon (more of that on subsequent posts as I had a chance to draw and paint while I was there).  We got back on Saturday.  It was brilliant to be away with the church family.  We are such a diverse group of people and yet we are all bound together by a common faith and a lot of love.  What’s more there were a number of other teenagers there so my fabulous son had more interesting company than me available to spend time with, or whatever it is that teenagers do these days – chillax?  🙂

Now we’re home though my son is spending some time with his Dad and I was planning to  get a place at a retreat house deep in the Essex countryside. Pleshey Retreat House

It’s a wonderful place.  Unfortunately I need to take care of some things here at home so I’m going to have to postpone it.  It’s still good to know that it’s there when I can get the time.

One of the big advantages of having an ASD diagnosis (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is that I can take account of my autism and organise things for myself, like a retreat to Pleshey, which help me to deal with it.  The two main issues I have are:

  1. Issues with sensitivities – particualrly noise sensitivity and touch sensitivity although strong light also bothers me.  (In fact for me noise and touch feel like the same thing – that’s why I hate certain noises because they feel like a kind of touch to me and it feels like my personal boundaries are broken.)
  2. Issues with communication with people (I don’t have difficulties with animals – in fact I love being with animals and find them very relaxing.)  I think there are a few main things I find difficult:
  • I don’t understand fast or easily what people are communicating to me because I can’t automatically or naturally ‘get it’.  I have to work at it, processing it more like a computer than a person and it’s difficult.  I used to be much better at this and could go un-noticed except for occasional bad slip-ups.  But since I developed a chronic pain condition it’s become more difficult because some of my brain power is taken up with the pain and there’s not enough left to logically parse communications at the same speed as everyone else anymore.
  • I am completely literal (which causes no end of problems and misunderstandings because, as well as understanding what is told to me literally and to the letter,I also communicate what I want to say literally which often means I have to qualify everything and explain everything in detail which people have told me is irritating and makes me look a bit odd.
  • I can’t tell what people are feeling unless is blindingly obvious, e.g. if someone is crying a lot and saying they are so sad then I know they are sad.  I look for signs to help me guess but there is always the danger of getting it wrong and causing a problem so I sometimes just ask people.
  • I find it hard to make and keep friends or to sort ordinary things out with neighbours.
  • I don’t naturally know the social rules like other people seem to and have to work hard to make sure I don’t break them.

(I also have special interests, anxiety and I feel really uncomfortable if there’s no routine or if I change a routine.)

Hmmm, so, knowing all of this, going to a retreat house where I can quite appropriately choose to be in silence if I want, (although when there are only a few people there I don’t feel the need for that) and where it is very quiet, is the perfect antidote to living in a loud and communication-heavy world for an autistic person.  On top of that because it’s a Christian retreat house it’s like going to stay with extended family and I feel close to what is really important to me.  I will have to try to fit it in later in the year.  There are always memories of our fab holiday on Dartmoor.  It was so beautiful, rugged and wild there – I loved it.

Here are some photo’s.

These first few were taken from the minibus:

The M5 on the way through the West Country.
Arriving on the moor
Arriving on the moor
Dartmoor Ponies
Dartmoor Ponies
One of the many Tor's on the moor.
One of the many Tor’s on the moor.

And this was taken with my feet on the ground just the other side of the lane from the place we stayed:

View from where we stayed.
View from where we stayed.

Having had a lovely time to wind-down and ‘chillax’ I’m now more than ready to go with my artistic adventures!

Up next are a couple of line and wash pictures.  These were done before I left.  The first is a picture with waves in it, done as patterns rather than like real waves. The second is a hummingbird.  I spent some time in Illinois and Wisconsin many years ago and was fascinated at the time by the hummingbirds which were fed by many local people.  They were so tiny and flew so differently to other birds.

Fox Painting in Acrylics – Getting Started

So, today I made a full-size sketch of the actual image I’m going to use on my painting.  Although when I was planning this I had just a simple coloured background, I decided that I wanted a bit more, so I skecthed in the outside of a cathedral in the background.  I didn’t want anything detailed or fancy so I left off any gargoyles or detailed architecture and just concentrated on the basic shape.  I made my own stained glass pattern across the fox figure and created strong black lines around him with an ink brush.

ActualSizeSketchThen I set up some space to paint (including covering various surfaces with some old sheets to protect them (I can be quite messy at times).

GettingReadyOnce all of this was done I got down to painting in a rough background colour scheme and then, when it was dry, drawing in my main features.

ForegroundDrawnOn My next plan was to make some swirly clouds mixing with the last of the sunlight.  This was harder than I expected because I wasn’t using any retarder with my paint (which slows the drying process down). So, in oder to blend colours I had to work really fast since it’s a warm, dry day here today.  The other thing which was difficult about this was that I didn’t have a clear enough picture of what this would look like in my head so I had to experiment a bit too.

Once I got the sky down (as a first approximation) I blocked in some basic colour for the cathedral walls – using a light cream with a hint of cherry and a light cream with a tiny bit of violet.  Since my paints were all getting low by this stage I decided to stop for the day.  So here is where I am up to:

EndOfStage3What with getting set up and then cleaning up and putting it all away again afterwards, this whole thing took me about 4 hours.  The most difficult thing for me is that I found all of this, much more physically demanding than drawing or inking or anything else and so my pain has become really bad now.  (I have a chronic neuopathic pain condition).  It’s so frustrating because I really love painting.  All I can realy do about it is to take some extra pain relief medication and rest until it lets go.  With other work, when this pain malarky becomes an issue, I just work in shorter time periods but given the amount of set-up and clearing up I need to do, a shorter time period would accomplish very little.  Hmmmm.  I’ll have to have a think about this.

(All Images unless otherwise explicitly stated are © Jo Fox, 2015)