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.’

Max and Mouse – A Comic Strip

In the last couple of weeks, while I’ve been resting, I’ve read a couple of excellent books about comics written by a guy called Scott McCloud.

These books are currently used in undergraduate sequential art courses and I can see why! They are brilliant! (Sequential Art is just a posh word for comics, graphic novels and any other combination of words and pictures which carry a narrative.)

I was working my way through the second book “Making Comics” when I saw an exercise Scott put into the notes sections for the first chapter…

McCloud, S. (2006) Making comics. 1st edn. New York: Harper Collins

This looked like wonderful fun! I picked the mini-plot about the dogs…

“Dog eats dog, dog burps, dog figure skates”

I began with 6 boxes…

Then I hashed out a very quick initial version of my comic strip…

Initially I planned for the Figure Skating panel at the end to tie in to the name of the strip and of the two dogs who I called Torvil and Dean after the world class figure skaters of the same names. I still remember their World Figure Skating “Barnum” performance in 1983 where they were scored a perfect 6.0 from the judges of every country. It was just a fabulous dance.

The third section of the dance still brings me out in goosebumps. I think it’s the way their dance perfectly captured the spirit of the music and the hearts of the audience at the same time. The audience begin to clap and you can just feel the joy of the moment reverberating around the stadium.

However, when I showed my mock up to my son, he had no idea who Torvil and Dean are, so the joke fell flat. I knew I was going to have to rework the art anyway so I thought I’d find a way to rework the joke too. I began with the line art…

Once I had my joke and line art finalised I then added some greyscale tones to increase the clarity and give the stip some more visual interest. I did the foreground first…

…and then the background…

Finally I tried to bring my image into Photoshop (PS) to finalise the tones and balance the whole thing out, but PS failed! I use Photoshop 6.0. It’s too expensive for me to use Photoshop Creative Cloud since the payments go on indefinitely and are way too expensive. It feels like catch 22 sometimes because I can’t get a job using PS (despite working with it since 1996 back when it was PS 4.0) unless I am up to date with PS Creative Cloud and I can’t afford PS Creative Cloud until I have a job!

Anyway, after some investigation it turns out that the new update to Windows 10 has permanently taken away my ability to use Photoshop 6.0 – so that software is simply not available to me anymore. It was a real blow. Fortunately though I also have Manga Studio 5.0. I was able to get this updated to Clip Studio Pro (the new version with a name change) and I have been learning how to use this newer software. It’s actually excellent and can do all of the everyday stuff which PS can do, plus the user interface is much much better! So, after a bit of installing and faffing about with the new way of doing things I got my image finalised – phew!

PS: Then I went to put up this post only to find that WordPress have now closed the loophole I was using to use the Classic Editor! So I had another new system to learn! It seems to be the way of things at the moment – a new year, new flowers, new software! I’m just going to go with it. 🙂

Here’s the final comic strip…

Fantasy Harbour – Digital Colouring

This week I’ve been struggling with really bad pain.  So I took a sketch I drew about a year ago and coloured it digitally.

This is the original ink sketch…


Here is how I coloured it…

Some of the things I kept in mind in colouring this picture were:

  • The reflection of the sky in the river is less bright and less saturated than the actual sky.
  • Objects in the background are less saturated and slightly lighter than foreground objects.
  • The sun will tint objects which have direct light slightly yellow.
  • The sailcloth of the boat in the foreground will show some shadows from behind.
  • I also wanted to reduce my colour palette slightly to give the picture a particular feel.  (I avoided reds and only got near to red in my browns and yellows.
  • In terms of planning my colour I worked from background to foreground.  I prefer to do it this way as it works really well for traditional painting as well as in digital colouring.

Here’s the final picture…

The Razor Crest


Over the next three weeks I’m going to be posting some fun digital images that I’ve been playing around with.  This week’s image is a digital painting I made of a spacecraft called “The Razor Crest” from Disney’s Mandalorian series.  I like the shape of this one and the engine configuration reminds quite a lot of the “Serenity” from Joss Weedon’s Firefly series.

Here’s the way I painted it…

I began with some basic shapes and a horizon line.

Then I redrew the spacecraft more carefully and added some details.

Next I got rid of the basic sketch I started with and added some terrain.  The space ship was drawn from a couple of printed references, but the terrain I made up from scratch.

Then I began to paint.  My basic process is to fill in large areas of tone to give some depth to the main shape in my painting.  Then I gradually divide this simple shape into more detailed shapes.  First I put in some basic background tones.

Below I’ve begun work on the spacecraft, just giving it some basic form.

I didn’t put enough darker values into the basic form so I added them here (see below), particularly below the wings.  Although I used a couple of reference images for the ship, I wanted my light to come from a different angle so I had to see the highlights and shadows in my mind’s eye.

Then I added some specular highlights to the engines and windows.  (These are direct reflections of bright light on shiny surfaces.)

My next stage was to bring in some colour.  I wanted to use a restricted colour palette, which is something the cinematographer, Greig Fraser,  seems to do on the Mandalorian show itself.  I went for orange/yellow/brown offset against hints of blue/purple in the metal of the Razor Crest and in the shadows.  This is a fairly basic complementary colour scheme.

My final job with this painting was to pull it into Photoshop and adjust my levels.

I paint digitally on a Galaxy S4 tablet, but I often do this in bed.  I like to listen to a good book while I’m drawing.  It’s really relaxing and is great for diverting my mind away from any pain issues.  However, if I am in bed during the evening my tablet automatically adjusts the screen to darken it and reduce any blue light.  This is really helpful because it stops the light from the device keeping me awake for hours after I have finished.  It does mean though, that my levels are usually way out.  If I was working on a traditional painting this would be a big problem because the whole paniting would need reworking to correct the values in good light.  With a digital painting though it’s not too much of an issue – I just have to make some adjustments at the end and Photoshop can easily handle that.

So here is my final digital painting.



I like the overall setting and the sweet comic feel it has, but if I redid it now I would add more detail to the middle section of the background.  It could do with some rocks and gravel and general marks.  I think I would also try to work in some reflections in the lighter sand the ship is standing on, since then it would read as wet ground which might give the background more interest for the viewer.  The panel took about one and a half hours to complete.

Developing Characters for a Comic Strip

I began thinking of writing a comic strip a couple of years ago when I heard some people in a queue for the post office talking about the funny things children say. My first go at a strip on this subject was the simple one-panel strip above.

However, as I thought about it I wondered if it would be better to develop a set of characters in school and work from there. I could make each character a bit larger than life and really push their characteristics. At first I thought I might call the strip “The Little Plump Teacher.” so I began to design a little teacher around the title…

However, this direction didn’t work out. Firstly, the children were going to be the stars of the strip, not the teacher and secondly, I wanted each child to be very different from every other – with different personalities and different looks. I had been doing some reading on character design and one of the things the pros do when creating a set of characters is to make each individual have a very obvious and individual sillhouette. This gave me the idea to make my school a school for animals!

First I just played around with my ideas on a page of my sketchbook with some thumbnails of possible characters.

Then I made some quick character sketches.

At this point I decided I didn’t like the snail character “Smole”. This was partly because his personality overlapped a bit with my duck character “Duke” and partly because I didn’t like the shape.

So I created a different sixth character, “KittyKat”, a cat.

By this time I was happy with my little class, so I made some more formal character designs digitally. Here they are, ready to delight and amuse. I can’t wait to see what kind of adventures they might have!

An important side-note: Although the children I’ve taught have told me some of the most funny and heart-warming things over the years (enough to fill several books) I’m not going draw on any of that in order to protect their privacy and maintain my GDPR obligations. These characters are not based on any children I have ever worked with and the stories in the strip won’t include anything that has ever happened in a school I’ve taught at.

Peacock – a simple digital painting


This week’s art began as a doodle of a peacock on some copy paper…



I scanned the sketch and pulled it into Autodesk Sketchbook. Then I reset the drawing colour to a light blue so that I could redraw over it digitally…



I find this kind of drawing very relaxing and did most of this while watching some the excellent new(ish) series of Star Trek Discovery (which is awesome!!!)

Here’s the doodle redrawn digitally.  You can see that I used two different line weights.  To keep a track of this while I’m working I draw a little sample of each line weight I’m using and then write the size next to it.  This means I can make changes at the correct weight without having to guess…



Next I added some fanciful swirls to his lovely tail…



Finally I added some colour and then colour balanced and finalised the image in Photoshop…




A School Comic Strip Preview


This is a quick, preview of a comic strip I’ve been developing.  It’s set in a fictional school where all of the children and staff are animals. (All of the characters are completely fictional too.)  In a later post I will go over the process I went through to develop the idea and the characters. This is just a taster.

Here is the rough sketch…

Once I had my rough layout I redrew it all digitally…

Then finally I added tones and textures…


Playing around with styles

This week I’ve been quite unwell and struggling with really bad pain. I’m handling it all by resting, talking with my GP and trying to keep my mind off the pain and on other things while I wait for an appointment at a London pain clinic (UCLH). It’s quite hard to keep my mind clear of the pain at the moment though because the pain is bad enough to shut down my thinking a lot of the time. It feels like wading through very thick treacle when I try to concentrate. Audiobooks are good and my little handheld switch video game player helps too because it provides an outlet for my mind to be active without impacting my body. Art has been really difficult though. The only thing I’m able to do is short figure drawing sketches and some arty playing about on my android tablet to add to backgrounds to the sketches.

So, here are a few of the 5 minute sketches I’ve been doing…

I’ve been taking some tips and ideas from the simple exercises in this brilliant book on life drawing by Bridget Woods. (I love this book)…

Of the four sketches I did here, the one I found most interesting as an exercise, was the one on the bottom left. It is drawn entirely with curves (which was fairly easy with a curvy woman as my subject). I was amazed at how simple it was to get the lovely curvy feeling of her body down on paper using only one type of line.

Then I photographed these sketches and pulled them into my tablet for some colouring. I wanted to try out different styles and approaches. It was great because each sketch only took 5 minutes, I wasn’t worried about messing anything up which gave me a lot more freedom to really experiment with things.

The first sketch felt like it had fairly precise, careful lines. I remember as I drew this particular girl I fell into this absorbed but relaxed state. It was beautiful – almost like the drawing was drawing itself. Consequently when I came to add colour and tone to the sketch I painted her with sections of flat colour and then made the background by overlapping blocks of pastel colours in simple triangles and quadrilaterals. Then, remembering the lessons I learned from the Art Prof team on YouTube, I made some changes to the way I framed the portrait to give it a kick of the alternative.

Here it is…

The second sketch I chose to colour was really tiny. This made the lines look rough but natural looking. So I followed that theme and put my dancer into a naturalistic rough pastel world…

The aspect of this one I like most is actually the rough dark green border which I drew by hand.

Then I went on to my favourite of the sketches – the one drawn only with curved lines. I coloured the main shape of my figure one colour and then gave the background another colour. Then every other bit of shading and colouring (apart from her hair) was done with circles. This was such good fun.

Here’s the final result…

While none of these are proper art projects, they work well as little thumbnails which can, perhaps, point me to fuller, more complete pieces, later on. I did enjoy an enormous sense of freedom and creativity working on something I knew wasn’t going to become a finished piece later on.

Monster Fish

I’ve really been missing fishing in the last year. So I had a little bit of imaginary fun this week drawing a monster fish.

I based this creation on a real monster fish I saw caught on YouTube. Here’s a still from the video…

The fish is a big old Lingcod. If you fancy watching a family doing some great fishing here is a link to the video from The Fishing Doctors Adventures channel.

I took the basic fish shape with that huge head from the Lingcod and then played around with it, adding spikes onto his back and an angler fish type lure onto his head. Here are some process photos…

After I got to this stage I finished it off digitally playing with the highlights and shadows and adding a castshadow…

If I ever pulled this one out of the river I think I’d be a bit shocked, even if I were spinning for pike and perch! I think I’ll call him Jerry.