Praying with pictures…

Art as Prayer

I find that two of the strongest effects of painting and drawing on me as an artist are:

  • that I find myself becoming calm and meditative as I draw or paint.
  • that I find in myself a growing intimacy with, and understanding of, my subject.

Because of this I think that art is sometimes very similar to prayer.

Second Wave in India

In April and May I was really concerned to see how bad the second wave of Covid was for the people of India, particularly after I’d read a story on the BBC News website about a family from Ghaziabad trying to get help for their father, Annop Saxena. (Link to the story.)  Following this family’s hopeless struggle to save their dad was really crushing.

I don’t really pray anymore. The nearest I get to prayer is to hold people in my heart while I think through what I can do to help them.  To be honest it feels the same as prayer used to feel, but has a more practical outcome.   However, because I think in pictures rather than words, drawing and painting are both really helpful here since they help me find a calm meditative state in which to think and they draw me close to the subject I am concerned for.

Digital Study of a Photograph

So I made a study of a Reuter’s picture I came across while reading about the crisis in India.  Here is a link to the original photograph on the Reuters website.  Here is how Reuters describe the story of this photo:

A man is consoled by his relative as he sees the body of his father, who died from complications related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), before his burial at a graveyard in New Delhi, India, April 16, 2021.

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

Meditation, Connection and Trying to Help

So, this study is much less about art and much more about meditation and connection and trying to help.

Here’s the painting process…

And the finished picture once my levels and hue/saturation were adjusted in Photoshop…

I am really glad that things are improving in India now and they are getting on top of it.  I send my warmest wishes and condolances to those who lost family to this horrible disease, in India and anywhere else.

🇮🇳

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.’

Dark Lord of the Sith

This is a digital painting of Ian McDiarmid playing Chancellor Palpatine in Star Wars. Although he’s a villain, he’s still one of my favourite characters, thanks to Ian’s superb acting work. Below are some stills from Star Wars “The Phantom Menace” (Image credit LucasFilm Ltd.)

My main reference for this painting was the top left photo (above).

I began with a drawing.

This was not made to be a proper drawing so much as a map for the painting which is why it looks a little bit funky.

Then I began to paint! At first I just scrubbed in some basic colours and tones to get the feeling for the main structure of his face and clothes.

Removing the map leaves us with this very rough sketch.

Then I began to refine the painting a bit at a time. I really enjoy this process as the details begin to appear. First I cleaned up the beautiful costume he’s wearing and then pulled together my very rough and ready rendering of Ian’s face.

Once I had things basically in the right place I worked on the details of his hair and facial features.

Finally I added a background and gave it some texture and tonal variation. This is the way I’m starting to move away from my autistic need to see each painting subject alone and seperate in a blank field.

My only job then was to pull the image into Photoshop and adjust my values. Here is my final painting.

He’s such a great character!

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from the Prequal Trilogy as Chancellor Palpatine is confronted by the Jedi Masters lead by Mace Windu…

Mace Windu: In the name of the Galactic Senate of the Republic, you are under arrest, Chancellor.
Chancellor Palpatine: Are you threatening me, Master Jedi?
Mace Windu: The Senate will decide your fate.
Chancellor Palpatine: I am the Senate!

(Clip courtersy of qpsizzle’s You Tube Channel / Film Credit Lucasfilm Ltd.)

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.

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…

 

 

 

Art Therapy

Sadly, I had to leave my job for health reasons a few months ago and I have struggled quite a bit with this change. At first my GP helped me and then eventually I managed to arrange some phone counselling to work through it all.

Now I’m not going to go into details about any of the counselling itself here, except to say that it’s been incredibly helpful. What I have found though, with respect to my art, is that it is of real therapeutic benefit.

Firstly, art it is a form of meditation for me a lot of the time, and this has been very helpful. It’s very soothing to draw and paint. It feels a bit like putting a really good hand cream on very chapped hands. Secondly though, it gives me this wonderfully safe space in my head and on the canvas where I can work things out. I don’t know if this kind of thing would work for everyone, some people are more at home with words than visuals, but for me it has been very useful indeed.

This is a drawing I did as I mulled over a question my counsellor left me with at the end of a session…

It was initially done in ink on paper and then toned with Mars Lumograph pencils.

Then I scanned it into my computer and coloured it like this…

I wonder if other artists find art is supportive in this way? Maybe some writers and musicians feel the same way?

Natural Cycles – Mixed Media

 

I’ve been thinking about a new start in life.  Given that I can’t teach anymore due to my medical issues I am looking into the possibility of working as a freelance artist or as a private tutor or perhaps even an art tutor which would be a dream job!!!.  This would be a whole new adventure.  So my plan is to try to get some contract work when I am well enough to work again.

This week’s art was done in early December.  It’s an extension of my thinking on the Tree of Life motif with the additional idea of natural cycles.

I began with some sketches on the back on envelopes which I “helpfully” threw out while tidying up!  So the earliest process image I have is of the main outline done in pencil…

I then went on to ink this outline and use my new learning on texture to fill it in.  Here it is part-way through inking…

 

Once the ink was complete I scanned the image into my PC, tidied up the scanning artifacts I tend to get from my scanner and balanced my levels. (This is the light and dark levels picked up by the scanner and translated to tones in the digital image.)

 

This is the finaly line art…

 

Once that was complete I toned the line art digitally to make a finished grey-scale, mixed-media design which looks like this…

 

 

Update:  Thanks for all your kind wishes with respect to the pain problems I’m having at the moment.  I started the new meds from the pain consultant yesterday.  I’m dealing with side-effects right now, but I expect them to settle down a week or two after the dose is put at the final level the Dr want’s me to take.  (This will take about 6 weeks since the old meds have be reduced slowly and the new ones introduced slowly.)  My pain is still pretty bad, but I am starting to get there.  I’m not allergic to the new medicine and, although there are side-effects, I can tolerate them, all of which is very positive indeed! It’s amazing how different I feel when I have some hope!  I’m also looking at getting carers in a few times a week to help with some of the normal day to day living things I can’t do at the moment.  This will start when my son goes back to Uni.

 

Anyway – I wish you all a very happy new year!!!!

Designing a Motif to Represent Mother Nature 2 of 2

Last week’s art was a watercolour I made from a digital design I came up with based around the motif of the tree of life. Link to last week’s art. The idea was to celebrate my love of nature in art. This week I’m going to go over how I made a detailed digital design of the same subject based on my outline design from last week.

At first I just played around with the design, trying out different effects and seeing what I could do with my basic outline and how I might want to develop it digitally.

Here are a few of the ideas I came up with while I was still exploring what I might do…

1. Seemed to make a nice sillouette which could be used as a tattoo design but wasn’t what I wanted for my final drawing.

2. and 3. were OK but still far too simplistic. It was OK to keep this design simple when I was using watercolour because the whole point was to let the simple colours and shapes speak for themselves. With this drawing though I wanted detail.

With 4. I started to see more of the form of the tree which I liked but it was still too simple. So I decided to change the form of the trunk to make it more interesting. Like this…

And then I began to play around with some texture…

The combination of textural and contour lines inside one textural pattern worked really well. So I went on to use this over the whole tree…

Next I used shading to give more form to the tree. The shading alone looked like this…

When added to my line drawing I completed my project…

At this point my greyscale design was complete but I did spend a little while having some fun with colour after that. Here’s how it went…

I worked in photoshop 6.0 for this. I used a circular gradient across a mask to make the main colour…

…which looked like this (above) once I had balanced the greyscale and the colour approriately. (This was actually quite tricky and took a while to do.) After that I added a background and then a partially opaque white circle over the main design and it was done!

Digital Painting – Chameleon

For the last few years I have asked my son for feedback on my art. Basically I show him the picture and ask him to guess what my subject was. If he can guess it correctly I count it as a good’un. But I want to move further on and deeper into my studies, so I’m going to try setting myself objectives as I draw and paint, more than just the simple realism-based aims I usually work on.

  1. I want to think harder about my use of colour. Specifically for this week’s work I want to try using a classic 90% : 10% ratio of complementary colours (green : red) and I want to avoid over-saturating my work. (Colour is like a drug to me, but I frequently enjoy paintings with more subtle colour, so I want to have a try at painting more like that.)
  2. Secondly I want to be able to paint more confidently. So this week I’m going to use the freedom of being able to digitally jump back a few steps to particularly focus on the work I do after the blocking in. I often find the gap between the image of the finished painting in my mind and my blocked-in beginning to be quite daunting. I know what to do next at that stage; I just find it hard to push through and do it. I think lots of practise will help.
  3. I want to change up my constant attempts at realism for a range of different approaches. I really enjoy the art of a French Painter called Henri Rousseau. He painted a lot of animals and plants in jungle-like scenes and, like me, he was self-taught. So, this week, I’m going to try to paint a chameleon in my version of Rousseau’s style.

Here’s my basic outline of a chameleon. I looked at a reference for the animal itself and made up my foliage completely.

The I added a background so that my colour choices would follow my plan for colour in this picture.

I blocked in some branches and leaves, remembering to use plenty of red in my browns. This is close enough to red to work as a complementary colour.

Next I roughed in my main colours and shadows, trying to give my Chameleon and strong sense of form from the start.

Then I removed the line art. This was the stage of the painting where I generally find things tricky. So I focussed on filling in medium sized forms, values and colours in the same way as I’d just blocked in the whole animal, but working on medium sized shapes, like the stripes and the eye.

Again, as I coloured the edges of the stripes on my chameleon’s side I pushed the raw sienna colour on my reference to more of a burnt sienna, so that there was more red in the colour. I also pushed the cream of the middle area of each of the big stripes to a more pinkish cream. I was hoping that I could metaphorically smuggle in the red via my browns to balance and highlight the green a little.

Next I started working on the details on the face and the bumpy texture of a chameleon’s skin. I tried to hint at the texture, rather than drawing every little round bump. This bit still took a long time to do but my earlier work on texture is now beginning to pay off.

Once that was done I varied the values of my leaves to give the viewer a hint of the play of light around them and painted on some 3D style veins. I wanted the leaves to look regular enough so that they can be recognised by the viewer, but similar in style to Rousseau’s almost animation style painting.

My last job was to import this into photoshop and adjust my settings. I had been working in a dark room with a lit digital screen and this made my whole picture a little too dark. So I adjusted my levels to make the finished digital painting below…

And here (below) is one of my favourite Rousseau paintings The Dream, 1910, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Beautiful, isn’t it?!