A Woman in a Towel – Grisaille Underpainting (Please be aware this post has some nudity in it)

Hmm, I’m still feeling fairly unwell today, but rather than sit around feeling sad I thought I’d do a little bit of painting but not so much that it tires me out.  I want to try using what I think is called a ‘Grisaille Underpainting’ for a Gouache picture.  I got the idea from this brilliant You-Tube video:


In it the artist, Hajra Meeks, uses three different gouache techniques for painting a leaf.  The one which really stood out for me is the Grisaille one becuase it had more tonal range and looked stronger as an image.

I decided to paint a gouache picture of a woman I’ve previously drawn in charcoal:


Now I remember when I drew this that I was unhappy with the woman’s proportions so I aim to corect that too in this painting.

Because I want to use cream and brown flesh tones I decided to use a bluish colour for my underpainting – a mixture of blue and black.

Here is my sketch:



And here is the finished underpainting:



Tomorrow I’m going to paint over the top and see what that looks like.



Different kinds of monsters

The “Illness Monster”

I’ve only just recovered from being unwell and already I’m feeling unwell again.  It started with running a high temperature last night and having the nightmares I usually associate with being unwell.  As a child I used to always dream of monsters when I was sick (hence the title of this section), but nowadays it’s usually some kind of scenario where I am accused of something I didn’t do and I’m then punished for it.  I never even know what it is I’m supposed to have done.   So today I have  sore throat and a cough, my chest is sore and I have a big fat headache.

I’m beginning to think that this tendency I have to get a lot of minor illnesses really often is perhaps related to my autism.  Because of the autism I feel strong anxiety most of the time when I’m dealing with other people. To me, being autistic feels like being blind but having to pretend that you can see.  Obviously I’m not visually blind – I am socially blind – but there’s no white stick or other visible sign to other people that I have these issues which makes life a bit like walking in a  minefield because I never know when I’m going to make a mis-step.   When things go wrong socially I really get really panicked and upset because I can hardly manage normal social relationships let alone big problems when people get angry with me.  My “go to” response is to withdraw as much as I can and then, when I have to be social, to pretend it’s not happening and carry on.  Sometimes this works but often it just gets worse and worse until I end up really upset.  Getting really upset (having a meltdown) correlates for me perfectly with getting sick 24 to 48 hours later.

I haven’t spoken to my doctor yet about this correlation but the more I think about it the more it seems to fit.  If it is true (I’m thinking of it as a working hypothesis at the moment) then it might give me a way to prevent myself from getting sick so much – if I can manage my stress in better ways.  I want to follow this up but talking about autism in the real world feels embarrassing (here on this blog I feel a bit more free).  It would make a big difference to my life and my ability to work though if I could talk about it to my GP and learn how to get sick less.  She is a really excellent GP so I’m sure she would listen and help – it’s just quite embarassing to talk about.

Gouache Monsters

SO I woke up feeling unwell and then, through the post,  I got some new paints!  What a brilliant way to get cheered up!  These are Gouache Paints which are just like watercolour but they are much more opaque.  Apparently they’re really versatile in that you can paint with them in the same way you might use oils or acrylics, or with a lot more water added, you can paint with them like you would with watercolours.  When I found out about them I had to have a go.

These are the ones I got – they were pretty cheap compared to W&N watercolours.

gouache paint


I began with some fun little monsters (since monsters were on my mind from being unwell).  In these little mini-paintings I was just playing with the paint really – seeing what it could do and how I might be able to use them.  (Each one is on A6 watercolour paper).

Furry Monster


Fishy Monster


Despite feeling quite off-colour I enjoyed working with these paints immediately.  I love the way you can lay down a strong flat colour easily.  This is something I find almost impossible in watercolour.  I also found the way the paint can be blended to be absolutely perfect.  It was amazing and dead easy to do.  For me working in gouache feels completely natural – – it’s almost effortless – I love it!!!

So now I feel both excited about the new paints and very frustrated because I don’t feel well enough to paint much at the moment.  So I’m going to rest and ‘drink lots’ (a family saying my mother-in-law tells anyone in the family who gets sick) and hopefully I’ll feel up to a bit more painting tomorrow or the next day.    🙂



PS:  to any other people with high functioning autism or aspergers out there – do you have any methods you use for reducing stress and coping when you’re about to meltdown?  Also, do you ever find you get sick after having a meltdown?  If you want to I would really appreciate any comments you could write on this.  Thanks!


A simple tree

I wanted to explore using a particular colour as a shadow colour.  I decided to paint a simple tree and use a blue / grey mixture for the shadow.  So I mixed up some green, some grey/ blue and some of the same grey / blue with a little green in.  The green mixture I varied as I painted adding yellow  for highlights and then blue to darken it down.


I began by painting the main body of the tree with a basic green and then adding a lighter yellow/green to the left side and a blue green to the right:


Then I just built it up.  One of the hardest things was knowing when to stop.  The most fun part of the painting though was the trunk and branches.  I especially enjoyed putting in the shadows for this (although my control still wasn’t what I hoped and I had to do some bits several times).

Here’s the finished study.


Masking the Moon

I’ve been working through the paperwork necessary to move home over the last few days so I’ve not been able to concetrate on painting in the same way I normally do.  Today I did an experiment with masking fluid.  I’ve not used it before and I wanted ot see what it’s like so I decided to do a simple seascape of the moon sitting low over the sea.  It’s not so much a painting as an experiment.

I began with some structural lines and developed them into a simple sketch to support my painting:

structural sketch

Then I painted on the masking fluid with an old brush I don’t use for painting anymore.  This was trickier than I expected – the fluid is all gloopy and doesn’t flow properly.

masking fluid painted on

Then came the good bit – doing a colourful wash for the sea and sky:


I tried to make the sky smoother and the sea with more visible horizontal strokes.  Then I had a nice cup of tea while the whole thing dried off.

Once it was dry I rubbed the masking fluid and it came off.  It’s a bit like removing dried PVA glue but not as sticky or as solid.

Then I painted the moon.  I tried to follow the real dark and light pattern on our actual moon but the paint did what it wanted so it wasn’t very accurate.  Here’s the result:



As soon as I’d finished I could see errors in my picture.  I’m going to list those I can remember here:

  1. Colours at the horizon should get less intense not more.
  2. Colour near the horizon should get lighter, not darker.
  3. If I’d have picked up the white highlights in the sea and joined them to painted ripples it could have been much more effective.
  4. If I’d have painted a small boat sillouette near the top right of the moon’s reflection I think it would have turned a boring picture into something a bit more effective.  I think having something out there would kind of draw the viewer into the scene much more.

All of that said I did learn a lot with this one!  🙂

Stillness on the Marshes

Today I had another go at doing a variegated wash.  I wanted the horizon very high in the picture and I knew I wanted a lot of still water so reflections would be important.  I used Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue with a little Ultramarine and some Paynes Grey.

The wash looked like this originally:

variegated wash

But then I added a bit more crimson into the sky and the sky reflection in the water.

Then I used the grey and the prussian blue to paint the land at the horizon and then diluted that colour and used it again for the reflection of the land.  Next I used the same mixture of grey and blue, but much darker and more concentrated to paint a crane and some reeds in the foreground.  Originally I planned to have the reeds just rise from the bottom of the picture but this left the image looking ungrouded so I used another dark mixture of grey and blue to paint some ground in the foreground too.  Finally I painted some round circles around the heron’s feet in a dark blue and added some gouche white to give them the look of small reflections of the sky.

It’s a really simple painting but I think, for me anyway,  it turned out reasonably OK.

first attempt However…  I did notice once I’d finished that although I had painted a  reflection of the distant land I left out a reflection of the crane, apart from the circles.  So I tried to put one in afterwards but I made a bit of a mess of it.

So I painted the whole thing again – trying to lean from my previous mistakes.  This is the new one:

marshes 2 FIN_WEBI’m much happier with the reflections of the crane but a bit less pleased with the water generally.

I’ve called it ‘Stillness on the Marshes’ .  I really wanted the picture to convey that sense of stillness and silence there is on marshes sometimes.  I used a really restricted palette with this painting and concentrated on using different dilutions of essentially the same colour to suggest the features I wanted.  It was really fun to play with the paint like this.  I wonder what could be done with just one colour?  It might be interesting to find out.

Sunset over the Sea

I’ve been unwell for the last few days and haven’t been able to paint.  I’ve found it incredibly frustrating.  I was in bed for a couple of days and ended up dreaming about painting!  Fortunately when I got sick I was over a week ahead with this blog so I’ve been able to avoid missing a day when I would normally post.  I saw a doctor and got some antibiotics about a week ago so I’m beginning to turn the corner now, although I’m still unfeasably tired and feel really rough when I run out of paracetamol.

I have been able to spend some time reading about painting and watching some more you-tube videos.  One that I saw which was really good (although the lady, Lindsay Weirich,  doing it does advertise a photography site which provides royalty-free images a couple of times) was all about painting sunsets.  Her video is here.  This fitted in nicely with the studying I’m doing in my watercolour book which was talking about how to do a good varigated wash.

So I had a go at a ‘Sunset over the Sea’ scene.

I didn’t want to do a boat because boats bob around on the surface and I wanted something solid in my picture where sea and sky change and move and settle.  So in my composition I used a couple of rocks and linked then with the atmosphere with some distant seagulls.  Like Lindsay Weirich, I wanted to use gentle subtle colour in my picture and this meant that my camera struggled to pick up on this – so apologies if these colours are not too visible.)

Here’s my varigated wash:

p1 washI mirrored the colours from the sky into the sea with violet at the top and bottom of the picture, then a pink made from  a watered down red and then a yellow with a little red in it.

As my watercolour training book says I got my paint washes ready before I started so I could work fast.

p0 paints

I wet the paper first and then just went for it.

Once I’d got the wash done I made a mistake and forgot to pull off the paint I needed for the clouds.  So I wet the paper again and then pulled off the paint.  Not as much came off as I wanted but it was still noticeable so I carried on.

p2 washwith cloudsremoved

Then I painted the clouds using paynes grey with some purple in it and then added some more yellow clouds with a tiny bit of red to take the bright edge off.  I painted my rocks in several washes because I wanted them to have some texture despite being quite dark.  I made the nearest rock slightly darker to give the picture a bit of depth and then darkened some of my clouds to balance the tones in the picture a little better.  Then I popped in a couple of gulls in the distance (which was really scary because I could so easily have made a big unrecoverable mess of it) and I was done.

sunset rocks_FIN_WEB

Looking at the final painting, although the colours are deeper than is shown here, they are still too weak for me I think.  This is the first time with the new paints that I’ve been weaker than I wanted colourwise – previously I’ve always been stronger than planned.  So I am pleased about this as I am finally  learning to control the chroma of these new paints. (‘Chroma’ is an artist’s word I learned while reading when I was stuck in bed – it means how intense the colour is – I think!)  The other thing I would change is to push the horizon more strongly and work out how to make some watery marks on the sea part of the picture to distinguish it from the sky a bit more.  Still – I am pleased with the sky – I think its the best I’ve done so far.

Poppies – an experiment

I saw this unusual and fascinating approach to painting flowers in a more abstract way on You Tube.  It’s by Joanne Boon Thomas:


I really wanted to try it. I thought it would give me more practice at working with my new paints and be quite fun too!

I worked on an A3 piece of watercolour paper.  (It doesn’t have a watermark so I just hope I got it the right way around!)  I used my new Winsor and Newton Professional half pans.

This is the first wash.  You wet the flower area and then drop in colour and allow it to mix.  Then, with lots of water and paint still there you let it run down the paper.  I really like the streaks which come when you blow on it so I did that to encourage it to run.

Then you paint in basic stalks and flowerbuds.

P1 - poppies

The once this was dry I painted wet on dry with stronger colour and then softened it with a wet brush into the shapes I wanted.  It turned out much better than I expected and was dead easy to do.  I really really like this technique.  I wonder what else can be painted in this way?…


Watercolour Rose – more playing with colour

Last night I watched a You Tube video where the artist, Birgit O’Connor uses a wet on wet blending technique where she moves the colour around using gravity.  It looks amazing:


I wanted to have a try with my new paints using this technique.  So I found a picture of a rose to use as a basic reference image but I knew that, apart from the shape, I was going to deviate from the reference significantly because I didn’t know what the paint would do.  It was fascinating to watch the paint mixing and moving – I got quite carried away with it and worked on this picture for a couple of hours which is a long time for me.  During that time I forgot to take any process pictures – I was just caught up in the painting itself.

My results were a bit mixed, but this is only the first attempt – I’m sure with practice I can get better.  Anyway here it is:


White Orchid Paintings – more colour fun!

Today I photographed a white orchid I have growing in my kitchen.  It was a Mother’s day present from 2 and half years ago.  The amazing plant is still flowering!


I find the shape and form of these flowers really beautiful.  I also love the way this delicate green shades into the flower in the middle.  There’s also this delicate pink to the edges of some of the outer petals which you can only see in some kinds of light.

I made a painting of the flowers:


…and then went on to make a card for a member of my family who’s having a birthday:

orchid card

I found the orchid to be quite a difficult subject with it’s complicated shape and very gentle colour.  It was really enjoyable to work on though.