This week’s October Illustration is done in more of a cartoon style. Unlike my sister, who is naturally hilarious, I have quite a weird sense of humour. To me, my jokes seem funny, but it’s quite rare that other folk see what I’m getting at.
So last year around Christmas time I had a go at creating a cartoon with a slightly sideways take on the subject of pollution. I used a fly as my main character in this design because flies are creatures we, as humans, see as dirty, and so they can act as an icon for all kind of corruption including pollution.
In playing around with this theme I first drew a rather odd-looking anthropomorphised fly…
This image didn’t really go anywhere, but was useful to get my brain warmed up to my task. I kept playing around with the idea until I came up with another fly. This time I broke the normal insect biology of head, thorax and abdomen to get a creature that looked a little more cute. Then, to tie the fly image into my theme of pollution, I added an engine, an exhaust and had him smoking a cigarette.
Here’s the idea sketched in pencil…
Next I worked this up into an ink illustration and added a caption…
During October this year I am going to post some ink drawings in a range of different styles. These were done at various stages over the whole of the last year. As I collected these together I was looking for:
a realistic illustration
an illustration focusing on natural patterns
an illustration focusing on more abstract patterns
a graphical illustration
This week, it’s simple realistic illustration. This is a drawing of a labrador dog in a fairly old fashioned realistic illustration style.
Over the last year I made a book for my mum. It had a collection of excerpts from her favourite poems which I then illustrated. This was one of the illustrations I made.
I began with a basic sketch of a landscape which you might find in the north of England…
Normally I would just dive into inking this but I wanted to take some time to think about the textural effects I would use. So I looked at the landscape and picked out eight different areas where a texture might work well. Then I experimented with the textures for each of these areas.
I found that I needed more space for some of these areas, so I went onto another page…
Once I’d decided on the marks I would use to represent each texture I began to ink my drawing.
This week I switched over to using Rotring Rapidograph pens which are lovely to use and reliably produce the same line weight all the time.
I mus admit I thought they were superb. They worked well as soon as I had set them up and never waivered.
I began inking the basic outline…
And then slowly and steadily worked my way through the whole drawing. Working on this picture was a very restful meditative activity. Time flew by as I drew and before long it was finished. Here’s my final drawing…
When lockdown first started I found this wonderful organisation on the internet call Art Prof.
Their mission is…
“to provide equal access to visual arts education on a global scale, removing barriers that exist due to the cost of higher ed & private classes.”
I got in touch with one of the Professors, Prof Lieu, via YouTube comments and she gave me some excellent advice about how to work on references when you have a disability. Since then I have been watching their video’s on YouTube and really using what I have learned. I’ve had no formal art education so finding this organisation was incredibly valuable to me!
One of the important things I learned quite early on was that all of the work you do as an artist in getting ready to create a piece of art is part of the piece. Metaphorically this work is the soil in which your painting is planted.
My Process tends to be:
Inspiration and Reference
Assessment and Review
I have been using this new insight a lot recently and I thought this week and next week I would go through my whole creative process, including all of this preparatory work. This week I’m going to look at all of the preparatory work.
I wanted to make a piece of art for a friend of my family who is also a colleague at work. She is retiring at the end of this academic year. My friend is a Buddhist and we have talked about her practice and she has even “chanted” for me when I’ve been having a hard time. So I thought making a picture of the Buddha would make a good present.
Inspiration and Reference
To make a piece of art I draw on a wide range of resources. Some are personal, like my world view and things which are at the heart of what is important in my life, like my family and the natural world. Some are related to my direct experience of the subject I am working on. So with this piece it was my own experience of practicing Buddhism in the past and how that experience extends into my life now via mindfullness and Quaker Worship. Then there are those paintings and statues all by other artists which I feel a connection with. When I look at reference I’m looking for images which somehow resonate with that as yet unknown something which I want to create. It’s like saying something that really comes from your heart but because it’s visual you don’t need to translate it into words which, for me, always miss the mark somehow. Some people are so skillful with words, but my native language is entirely visual.
Here is a diagram of some of the most important resouces I drew on to make this picture. (In terms of reference I actually looked at approximately 20-30 different buddha representations in detail, but the three recorded here are the three which I found most compelling.)
(Please note the three buddha representations (top and right of the image above) and the picture of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey practicing Soto Zen are not my own photographs.)
I think a lot of this part of the work is just on the edge of consciousness. It’s like I have a feeling I want to convey and I am looking for examples of objects, memories and images which are associated with this feeling in my mind. In this instance the feeling I wanted to share is a kind of wholeness and peacefullness which I’ve found through just being still in silence and being in natural surroundings.
During this part of the work I explored what I can do with these sources of inspiration within certain boundaries. I had a fixed time to do this in – about 2 weeks, which would have been 1 week if I’d decided to send the picture to the framers. It seems like a lot of time but I was back at work by then and having to do a lot of extra work to keep safe during the pandemic so it amounted to a fair amount less than that since I put my work first.
I thought pastels would be a good choice here. Although oils would have given me some lovely creamy smooth gradients I don’t think I could have got the picture properly dry in time, even using Liquin since I would have needed to mix in some titanium white for my bright yellow highlights and it always takes ages to dry. I could have chosen watercolours, or gouache but I thought pastels would be bright and warm.
I had some pastel paper at home, however all of the sheets I had at the time were a red burgundy colour, so I decided to work that into the picture.
I used to wonder if I should try to remove all restrictions and boundaries on my creative process so I could be “free” to create anything. But I now I think I see great value in these limits. They force me to be more creative. It’s very similar in feeling to the way, inside the earth’s crust, the forces of pressure and temperature create metamorphic rock. The restrictions of it’s environment are what make the really beautiful patterns.
So my restrictions were:
It had to be done in a specific time period and relatively quickly.
It had to use the pastels and paper I currently have, so the background has to be burgundy.
It has to relate to Buddhism.
I would like it to convey a peaceful wholeness. (Strictly speaking this isn’t a restriction, but an objective.)
I began by sketching out a few doodles of the Buddha, looking at his whole body posture, his head and his hands. Of these I liked the head and the hands most. I decided on the head in the end. Although I had a good idea for a hands picture, it didn’t fit with the paper I have and is less obviously buddhist.
So I made some really quick sketches of Buddha heads to try to feel out the kind of head I wanted…
Most of the reference I saw incorporated a very curved round face. I wanted to change that. I decided on making his face look more distinctly male with sharper more angular features. I did quite few of these. The two at the top of this page were far too feminine, but my last two began to get to the feeling I wanted of a strong man completely at peace.
Next I made a bigger drawing combining the best parts of each of my sketches and then toned it to get a value sketch…
After this I wanted to work on my colour choices so I scanned the value sketch into a digital format and worked on it in Autodesk Sketchbook. I set my background to the burgundy of the paper which I was going to use and set up some brushes to mimic pastels. Here’s my basic colour sketch…
I wanted to have dark hair with a bluish tinge to it and I wanted my Buddha to have golden skin.
Then I started playing around with the composition and framing of my subject. I started with a fairly vanilla centred front portrait and then enlarged it to fill the frame. I tried moving it to the side but, although I liked this it’s the same as a famous Getty Image which is framed just like that. Then I turned it on it’s side. This definitely gave me the peacefullness I was looking for. It also kind of shows a Buddhist Landscape – with the head and neck of the Buddha actually “being” the landscape! I really liked this idea and decided to go with it. Here are some of the compositional ideas I had as I played around with it…
My final exploration on this picture looked at textures in the image.
I made the background textured with a mix of darker brownish reds. Then decided that I would love the Buddha’s face to be covered in dappled light – the kind of light you get shining through the leaves of a tree. This worked really well for me since I have a strong internal link between peacefulness and nature, so having dappled light is a way of having the effect of nature on the image implicitly. To do this I brightened the face and then added the dappled light…
There’s a feeling you get when you find what you’re looking for and I got that with this plan for my painting. So I stopped there and began to get together all of the bits and bobs I needed to make the picture…
I got together all of my materials…
… including my “kittycat” helper! (please excuse her having a little yawn!). Then I taped the edges of my paper and I was ready!
Next week I will go through the last 3 stages in my art creation process, Creating, Assessment & Review and Sharing.
I do really love herons! I know they are the bane of many Koi enthusiasts due to their tendency to snack on much loved fish but they do have a certain predatory beauty. This week I drew an ink drawing of a heron and toned it with smudged pencil. I am continuing to work on integrating my textural studies into actual artwork.
Here is my rough pencil sketch…
This shot was taken once I’d refined my pencil work…
This was taken in the middle of inking the drawing…
Here is the completed picture…
Once I had my inks finished I felt I really needed some greyscale tones to help give the viewer the feeling of looking at water. Previously I’ve either done this digitally or with a range of grey brush markers. For this drawing though, I really wanted to add some smooth grey gradients so I decided to mix up my media a little and use pencil for this. Rather than drawing the graphite onto the paper I used the graphite shavings from a mechanical pencil sharpener…
…and rubbed them on with a tissue. I had to practise this technique on some scrap paper a few times but I found I could get a lovely smooth gradient this way. Then I use my putty eraser and a fine mechanical eraser to remove the shading from the places where it went over a line. I am really pleased with how this turned out. I will use this technique again.
Reviewing this particular picture, I can see that my textures are very gradually improving. I would still like to develop more range and finesse with this. I am also quite pleased with the way the water ripples around the heron’s feet read. I think the smooth gradients really help this effect.
I also keep wondering if I should have added some indications of lanscape in the top left corner. It might look good to see a vague sense of a horizon line. Just a few marks to give the viewer an indication. At the time, I refrained from doing so because I liked the striking outline of the heron’s head and I thought putting in some landscape would detract from that. Sometimes drawings seem to ask for a change but I don’t always know exactly how to handle it. In the end I decided to leave it and just sit with the picture as it is. Sometimes, when doing this my unconscious mind seems to keep working ont eh problem in the background and days or even a few weeks later I figure out the answer.
This week’s art is a traditional ink drawing of some trainers and a digitally coloured version of the same drawing. I have been working quite a bit on these two areas recently, ink drawing and digital colouring. My aim is to improve my skill in both.
Ink drawing aims
With the ink drawing I particularly want to be able to emulate artists like Olivia Kemp. Here is a link to her Instagram where you can have a look at her art: Link to Olivia’s Work. I think her textures are amazing!
Now, some of what makes her art wonderful is the huge attention to detail, which means working on a bigger canvas and taking more time to draw. My ink drawings take about an hour to do and then half an hour to colour if I’m doing it digitally. So I think planning and drawing a bigger, more longterm, ink drawing would be a good step forward. The second thing Olivia seems to do is to take care with each line. I do think before I draw, especially when working traditionally, but I don’t take such care of each mark I make, so I could work on that too. However, the most impactful thing Olivia does, that I’m only beginning to work on, is to use varied textures for different materials and objects in each scene. Until recently I only used hatching and cross hatching and sometimes little dots, which is very limiting. On top of that I don’t really like the look of my cross hatching. So these are all things I’m going to work on going forwards.
In this picture I concentrated on making the canvas parts of these shoes look like canvas and, more than that, look like canvas that had been stretched to someone’s feet. I used hatching, but in a very controlled way so that I could show the viewer how the pressure from the laces molds the shoe to the wearer’s foot. I also experimented with using cross hatching in a very broad way to indicate the pattern of threads in the laces.
Digital colour aims
With digital colouring I’ve been studying colour theory some more and trying out different techniques and approaches. In today’s art I felt, for the first time, that I was able to really use some of this new learning in a way that felt natural and normal. It’s like the difference between struggling to play a difficult scale on the piano (which I’ve been metaphorically doing for a while now in my colour work) and being able to naturally use that scale without thinking in a piece of music.
Here are my process images…
With shading and some halftone ink added – this is my finished traditional ink drawing…
I also scanned this drawing in before I added the half tone ink so I could colour it digitally which turned out like this…
I made some subtle changes to the way I colour here, adding a range of hues for the violet canvas colour, from a darker, low saturation navy blue to a mid saturation magenta added in the centre of the violet colour where warm light would be hitting the shoe. I also changed the colour of my shadows. They still read as grey, but are actually a dark airforce blue. You can’t easily see the difference just looking at this picture alone, but just using greys left the image looking dull compared.
So the final question is, which picture is best? Well, I don’t know. I love the purity and simplicity of ink on paper, but I like the freedom and possibilities of digital art.
I would be really interested to know what do you think?
This week’s illustration was drawn traditionally with pencils and ink and then toned digitally. My two main aims in doing this were to work on my textures and practise some one point-perspective.
I began with some basic shapes…
Then I added more shapes and general “dodads”…
Once I had all of the basics sketched in I began to use ink. First I outlined my pencils in pen and then cleaned off the pencil with a putty eraser…
Next I began to really flesh out the shapes with ink…
And this is my final ink drawing…
Once that was complete, I scanned my ink drawing into the computer and toned the image digitally in Photoshop. I decided to do this because the background in space is nearly always a darker tone and I would run low on ink trying to darken my whole page like that. SO I used the computer to add tone.
Here is the final illustration…
The problem is I made zero progress with my textures! The picture hangs together OK but so many of the surfaces look the same. In fact it still only has four different textures!
On realising this I decided to do a couple of exercises on texture. I really need to get this into my head somehow!
Texture Exercise 1
First I drew 35 quick squares and then tried to fill each of them with a different texture. I gave myself 30 seconds for each one.
Here are the results…
I panicked a bit about the timeso couple here and there are very similar but at least I began to find ways to make more interesting textural marks.
Texture Exercise 2
Next I chose 6 real world textures and made an attempt to draw them in a more detailed way. Here they are…
They took a surprising amount of time to draw (although I was watching Star Trek Voyager at the same time! It was the set of episodes where they travel through Borg space and first meet 7 of 9. Captain Janeway was her usual gorgeous self so I was more than a little distracted!)
Evaluating this exercise, I think these drawings show a good range of texture and, to my eye, they read reasonably well. I think more practice would be good for me, but I will do that as I incorporate more texture into my art.
I’ve learned three things about texture from doing this:
I need to remember to take the time to look really carefully at textured surfaces when I want to include them in a drawing.
Once I’ve looked carefully I also need to work out a way to represent that texture so that it reads accurately for the viewer. This can take some exploration.
Finally, I need to give the textured parts of any artwork the time they need to be drawn well.
This week I played around some more with pastels. My main aim was just to get the feel of the medium. I quite enjoyed making the poppy picture I drew a few weeks ago and I found that it helped me to loosen up a little in my art.
I began with a very quick sketch using some hard pastel pencils…
Once I had my main elements placed I began to scrub in some basic background colour. I worked this over the whole picture almost like an underpainting. I’m working from dark to light so I made this layer is with slightly darker tones.
One of the things which surprises me with pastels is the intensity of the colour! Once I had the pastels applied I rubbed the pigments into the paper…
After this I did a few more layers in the same sort of way, building up the colours and mixing my pigments to get the colours I wanted. This is something I find tricky with coloured pencils and pastels; mixing colours on the paper. I am beginning to see how to make it work.
Once I was satisfied with my background I began working on my foreground – the abstracted tree. I used the hard pastel pencils and the soft pastels for this. Surprisingly the soft pastels were more effective.
Here is my final image…
Looking at my final picture, I like the colour gradients in the sky and ground. But the overall balance doesn’t feel exactly right. It’s one of those times where you know that you need something but don’t yet know what that something is. I will have to sit with it for a while and see if I can figure it out.
PS: It’s now the next day and I can see what’s wrong! The tree is leaning out of the picture and looks very unbalanced.
Looking at the correction I wanted to make, I can’t do it using traditional methods so I’m going to see what I can do digitally.
I used copy of my photo in Autodesk Sketchbook and had a little play with it to what was possible…
I used the same technique I used when I digitally made a Star Wars blaster from a photo of a real gun (here). I basically selected parts of the painting copied them and then used them to make changes.
Here’s the final picture…
It looks more balanced now! 🙂 (I think it would have been quicker though to re-draw the pastels!)