Elephants, Kittens and Art that I Love

I have a folder on my PC where I save links to work by other artists which I find inspirational, beautiful, or special in some indefinable way. Sometimes I look through these files (I have hundreds) for inspiration and more often for the pure joy of looking at the art that I love. When I save a link I put the artist’s name and web address (if it’s available) in a file too so I can look up more of their work. I also love going to local galleries and festivals where art is displayed. A lot of this art is really above my level in terms of me being able to paint something similar but I still have a go sometimes when an image particularly captivates me. It surprises me that the art I make turns out so different from the inspirational work I’m studying.  Anyway, here are two small watercolours I painted in my sketchbook while studying another artist’s work…

The original for this elephant portrait unfortunately came from Pinterest which very frequently doesn’t carry information about the artist who painted any given picture.

The original I was looking at is with this painting is the author of this YouTube Painting Video.

In both cases the art I was studying was significantly looser than the pictures I’ve made. I do find loose painting difficult to do but very beautiful to look at.

‘The Love of Elephants’ #2 – UnderPainting and Colour Study


I carried on working on my elephant oil painting this week.

Going on from my basic pencil outline on the canvas board from last week…

I added what’s called a ‘tonal ground’ – which just means a middling kind of colour, not dark or light.  I used burnt umber thinned with my solvent thinner Sansodor.  (I would have used raw umber but my set didn’t have any!)

It’s actually more even than this rather poor photo suggests.  Then I gave it a day to dry.

Next I used burnt umber again with just Sansador to sketch in some of the main dark areas of my elephants.

And again I gave it another day to dry.

My next job was to paint in either the underpainting or the first layer of the actual finished picture.  I had to read up on this before deciding which way I would go.

In the end I decided not to try to do what they call the ‘Flemmish Technique’ second time I’ve painted something in oils – it seemed too advanced.  What I wanted was something simple which worked.  I do like the idea of doing an underpainting because it helps me work more freely.  But I didn’t want it to be too much – just a guide to lights, darks and middles.  So instead of that Flemmish thing I just extended my sketch to include some lighter areas.  I used underpainting white (for a shorter drying time) mixed with some yellow ochre to give a light brown / creamy colour and then thinned it just a bit with Sansador.

So here’s my completed underpainting…

This is not the finished product – just a guide for the real work which will go on top.  (You can also see, I also got hold of some raw umber when I bought the underpainting white.  I used this for the shadow under the two animals.)

My next job was to more accurately work out what I want the final painting to look like, so I used my scanned ouline and made a quick and dirty digital painting as a guide for my final colours and tones.  I decided to mostly drop out the blues and purples and just go for set of analogous colours – reds oranges, yellows, and browns.  My thinking is that this will give the scene the peacefulness I’m after.

Here’s my digital colour study…


So now I’ve just got to paint it for real!!!

‘The Love of Elephants’ – an oil painting #1

I have been waiting and waiting to have a try at oil painting again, having only painted one previous oil painting in my life before.

So when I saw saw a set of Winsor and Newton Artist’s Oil Colours which were half price I finally bought some.  Then I spent a long time trying to work out which mediums to use.  Previously I’d been very traditional, painting with turps and linseed oil as my mum had showed me, but I can’t go back to that turps smell again.  So, after some research, and some very kind help from the technical people at Winsor and Newton, I decided to try Liquin for the first time and Sansador which is a low odour solvent.  I had some problems with my pain last week and was generally feeling unwell so I couldn’t get to the shops.  Instead I ordered them online – they should come very soon.

So what to paint?

I knew I wanted to paint an animal (my favourite painting subject) and finally settled on elephants.  I like them because they look really kind of odd in the most lovely way but at the same time they have these beautiful loving relationships between members of their family.

I made some pencil sketches in my sketchbook to begin with…





After doing these I decided to make a final sketch of a mother and her calf for my main painting.  I did this on canvas board, which was quite tricky to draw on with pencil because it’s got so much texture.

I didn’t put any shading or detail in – just enough to show my paintbrush where to go.  Here’s the final outline sketch:




Now I think I’m going to paint the elephants in purple/blue greys and soft browns but I needed a background colour and I needed to sort out my colour palette generally.  I want the final picture to have a calm restful complete feeling so I’m going to keep the colours restricted to two groups – yellow/browns and possibly grey/blue/purple (in the shadows) although this will be very muted,

Here’s a digital sketch of the colour ideas I’m working on at the moment…



My plan will be to make the greys in the above colour sketch just a little more blue/purple to show the coolness in the shade of these big animals and to complement the yellow orange of the savannah.

This is as far as I’ve got this week.  I’m still feeling a bit under the weather so I didn’t make a start but I’m quite excited to give this a go.

My health wasn’t helped by a big thunder storm last night.  I quite enjoy storms generally but my geriatric miniature schnauzer kept us both awake half the night with a new trick.  She would jump off my bed when the lightning flashed against the curtains and then jumped back on in terror when the thunder roared.  It was too hot for her to sleep really close to me which usually calms her down and, when she wasn’t jumping on and off, she kept panting and shaking from fear in the storm.  In the end I think we both got to sleep at about 3am when I put my hand over her front paws so she knew I was there but I didn’t make her too warm.  She is a silly sausage!



Charcoal Animals

I really enjoyed making charcoal drawings from the charcoal I got from the burnt chair.  After working on some portraits of people  (see yesterday’s blog) I did some animal pictures:

Elephant_FINI have always loved elephants and I really enjoyed the way the charcoal spread out easily and made lovely shapes with a smooth change in density of the pigment.  Looking back more critically I can see that

  1. The offside tusk should stick out more for proper perpective.
  2. I also think I would darken the dark areas a little more to give the image a better tonal range (which I think just means having really dark areas to really light areas and all of those inbetween.)
  3. I would also change the amount of the elephant which I drew to include the whole of the trunk as I think this would make a better picture.

This is a picture of a bird of prey which I drew for a friend (and gave to her).  My friend is really into bird watching and showed me a buzzard which lived in the woods near out houses.  I can’t remember which species this bird is.

Eagle_FINI like this picture, but looking back I would look more closely at my reference to check I had good propertions for the birds head and body.  In this drawing it looks to me like the head is a little big but since I can’t find the reference image I used I can’t tell for sure.

Finally I drew a picture of a frog:

Frog_FINThe only thing I would change here is to look more carefully at the frog’s mouth – it just looks a bit too smiley!

Watercolour Elephant

Today was a good day.

  • Firstly my wonderful son is feeling better and will probably go back to school tomorrow or the next day!  🙂
  • Secondly, for the first time I’ve painted a watercolour which looks something llike the image I had in my mind.  I feel happy!

It began when I decided to paint an animal using a pure watercolour technique.  Last night I watched this brilliant, brilliant video of a real watercolour artist doing a painting of an elephant.  The video I watched was this one:

I thought it was absolutely fabulous!

Elephants are such graceful, sensitive animals  I couldn’t resist having a try at painting one, especially having watched Fiona Clarke make such a fantastic job of a similar picture.  I have loads of animal books at home (typical biology teacher!), everything from a collection of ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ books to invertibrate textbooks so I found a photo that I was happy to use as a basic reference.

ele_referencephotoSome of the trunk of the  elephant I wanted ot paint is covered by her calf but, with other reference photos to look at too, I thought I could fill in the missing part.  I made a quick sketch while I got dinner cooked (spicy chicken wings, boiled potatoes in a herb sauce and corn, carotts and brocolli).

ele_sketchThen after dinner (and the ironing – groan) I was able to paint it.  I worked from light to dark and from big to small as lots of people seem to recommend on the internet and it turned out well.  Two things really helped – (1) I worked on one a small area at a time so I could play with the paint a little and use the water to make it go where I want without it drying out too quickly and (2) I took it slowly letting the paint dry out between layers.

So this is how it turned out:

elephant_FIN_WEBIt’s not as exciting as some of the wonderful work I looked at last week but I am happy with it.   😀

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