Deeper into Art – The Whole Creative Process Part 1 of 2

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:

  1. Intention
  2. Inspiration and Reference
  3. Exploring
  4. Preparing
  5. Creating
  6. Assessment and Review
  7. Sharing

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.

Metamorphic Rock -from Wikimedia Commons

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.

Texture and the Little Yellow Space Bus

The Space Bus

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!)

(Image Rights to Viacom and Screenrant.)


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:

  1. I need to remember to take the time to look really carefully at textured surfaces when I want to include them in a drawing.
  2. 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.
  3. Finally, I need to give the textured parts of any artwork the time they need to be drawn well.

Rendering Clouds and Rhinos

(N.B. I create and schedule all my posts ahead of time in the school holidays and then just make minor adjustments before they are posted by the WP system. Unfortunately I am quite unwell at the moment and waiting to see if I need surgery so I can’t do this right now. Instead, I’ve decided to just let the system publish my posts automatically without the extra editing I usually do just before they go out. I apologise for any errors and for any problems I have getting back to people who comment while this is going on.)

My Quirky Friend

This week I played around a lot more with gouache. When I first tried this medium, a year or so ago, I found it quite tricky but I don’t think it’s actually difficult, it’s just quirky and idiosyncratic. Once you get to know it, it reveals it’s fun side. I guess it’s a bit like having a quirky friend. They might seem a bit odd at times but once you know them you see how lovely they really are. I really love friends like that!

The Joy of Totoro

So I began this week looking again at how different painters render clouds. I should really have gone straight for Monet’s The Seine at Argenteuil but I’ve recently been re-watching a lot of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films and I was really caught by the background artwork in My Neighbour Totoro. I wasn’t really doing a serious study but just sketching in my regular sketchbook. I was just full up with the joy and beauty of the film itself. This is what that sketching turned into…

I didn’t really get the cloud colours right, or the shapes for that matter but it was so much fun playing with the paint and re-experiencing the joy of the film through sketching! I worked from back to front in the picture so I could put the next layer I was working on over the edge of the previous layer.

Rhino Studies

Later on in the week I began thinking about Rhino’s and how they’re heading towards extinction. They’re magnificent, strong animals but can be unpredictable and cantankerous. Although I wouldn’t want to go down to the pub with a rhino, I kind of admire their fierce “sod-you” attitude. So I painted a couple.

I began with this one…

Which looked like this painted…

I liked the deep colours. Gouache gives a painter such a range of strong colours it’s tempting to use really saturated hues all the time just because you can. On reflection I thought my rendering here made the skin look more like that of a hippo, sort of rounded and slimy, especially up near the ears. So I had another go and this time I went for more realistic colours so I could concentrate on more subtle shades and hues.

Here’s the sketch…

I used an under-painting on this to get my eyes around the main darks and lights…

Then I went for the final picture…

I was using this study to practice rendering 3D shapes with paint and to learn to use more muted colours and shades. I am happy with some of it and would like to work on other bits a bit more next time. I like the shape just behind and under the animal’s eye, where the face has a concave look because of the bone structure. I was also pleased with the hints here and there in the shadows of the range of violet and blue shadows I was using in addition to the shaded local colour. On the other hand I’m not that keen on the ears or the bottom of the front horn. Neither of these parts of the image scan as well as I had hoped.

Learning Curves (Caution: maths fun ahead)

I’ve been painting for most of my adult life now. I wonder if I will always have things I would like to change next time in the work I produce? I’m aiming to get each picture just how it is in my mind, but they’re always a bit different. Wanting to paint a perfect picture feels a bit like trying to approach the speed of light. It’s fairly easy to make progress when you’re a beginner but the better you get the more energy it takes to improve. It’s like the graph of 1/x. As x goes up, y gets closer and closer to zero but never gets there, like this…

In fact I think with art it’s more like this brilliant graph of a curvilinear asymptote…

How cool is that!

I really hope the learning never stops, I love the ride on this mad slope.

The Shape of Light on Water #4

This week I was looking at how water splashes.  I began by looking through about 50 different splash photographs to find what kind of water splash I wanted and to get a feel for the way water bends and focuses light.  Then I used a combination of the best five or six and adapted them into my final original design.

Here’s the start of the drawing.  I made an overall light sketch of the general areas and then completed most of the tones in each section before moving on…



Here’s the final pencil drawing…


I used my graphgear 1000 for most of it and filled in the greyer tones with another 2B mechanical pencil.

Graphgear 1000

As it goes I feel pleased with how it looks although my son couldn’t see it as a splash until I told him what it was so I’m clearly not quite there yet.  I do think it’s an improvement on last week’s effort though.

The more I look at the finished pencils the more it cries out to be painted.  Do I dare mess with it further?

Well yes!!!  If you can’t follow your heart in painting then where can you?!  I know it might be “hit by anti-aircraft guns” again but I’m going to give it a go anyway.


Days 25 and 26 – a dinosaur egg

I wanted to make a simple picture of a dinosaur breaking free from an egg.  Here’s the ink sketch…


Now what I’d really like to do is to colour it with copic markers.  I think that way of colouring would work brilliantly for this subject.  But copics are just ridiculously expensive  – I just can’t ever imagine having the kind of money that would allow me to spend that much on a set of markers.  They must be making a killing from selling those things.    So, I have to find another way.

I tried to colour the picture with gouache…


It was OK but it’ll take some good hard practice to get it looking good.

I also had a go at colouring really quickly using digital tools in Manga Studio.  I was cooking dinner at the time and only had a five minute window before I had to get back into the kitchen.  Here’s the result of that escapade…


It’s kind of rough but it turned out much nearer to what I’d originally wanted than the gouche.  I think because I was only investing 5 minutes into this job I was kind of free to just slap on the colour and not worry about it.  Perhaps I will try to do that with gouach?


Owlets and Shadows – Part 2 of 2

Here is me second little owlet painting (A6) where I’m using the advice on how to paint shadows from my painting tutorial book.

I realised when I painted my first owlet (last Friday’s post) what adding a complementary colour is doing to my shadows – it’s reducing the strength of the colour and making it more grey.  I really understood this when I looked for that effect in real life.  Here is a picture of some curtains:


I can see in this how as the colour gets put into more shadow it gets darker but it also looses strength (the colour washes out of it and it looks more grey).  Looking at the shadows in the material above they are going more grey and right down to a greyish brownish black.  If chroma didn’t reduce when light was lower then the dark sections of these curtains would be a very rich strong dark brown.

Thinking about this it makes sense.  In our eyes we have two types of light sensing cells – rods – which are very sensitive but only pick up greyscale images – and cones – which pick up colour.  Now our cones are less sensitive than our rods so as something gets darker they pick up less colour because they are functioning less well.  This must be why this effect happens with shadows.  It all makes sense.


So I made a quick (10 minute) painting of a couple of owlets:


Owlet2_FINFor the shadows here I used a darker brown and then added a little blue (of the same dark shade) to drop down the strength of the colour.  I think it works OK.

Because it’s taken me ages to really understand this shadow colour method, I’m going to do a few more little paintings over the next few days to really make sure I keep hold of this new understanding I’ve got.

PS:  It’s been really interesting over the last week or so while I’ve been struggling with this shadow colour issue to see from both the perspective of a teacher (which I am) and from the perpective of a student who’s simply not understanding (which I also was).  I found I had to use the teacher part of myself to help the stuck-student part of myself.  First I just kept getting myself to try again until I realised that it really wasn’t working.  Then I found out and removed the obstacle I had to learning which was that I was still too interested in how the gouache works to focus on the problem.  And then by isolating the actual part I found difficult, I finally understood it.  Now I’m just going to push that understanding in with some practice.  🙂  It’s been a really interesting journey.

Lesson 1 – 3D Shading

I’ve started following an oil painting course, although I’m using gouache paints for my medium rather than actual oil paints as I’m able to manage those with my health being as it is.  The course is “The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted” by Kathleen Lochen Staiger

The first lesson is about shading three-dimensional objects.  I did some experimenting yesterday to look in deatil at the reflected light that appears on the darker side of objects.  I found that the situation in the real world with this light is much more complex than the theory, but that the theory works in general lighting conditions we see quite regularly.

So today I’m going to paint three 3D objects using the theory.

The idea is to paint the following for each object:

  • highlights
  • light areas,
  • mid-tone areas,
  • core areas (these are the darkest darks)
  • reflected light areas where surrounding surfaces reflect light into otherwise darker areas.

So I decided to paint a sphere, a hollow cylinder and a cube.

Here’s how it went:








And here is my final labelled exercise sheet:



In the book you are asked to draw these shapes and shade them in in pencil.  The drawings also include drawing the surface the shape is sitting on and the cast shadow.  However, I wanted to practice doing this in paint and I know that the author of this book has a  section on how to colour cast shadows later on, so I’m going to do that bit when I come to it.

I did find while shading each obejct that I had a tendency to sit there and keep working on it until it was perfectly graded and smooth between the different light areas.  However because this was an exercise I curbed this tendency and did enough to give the illusion of the shape without perfecting it.  This saved me some time and, I find now, looking at the less than perfect gradations of colour which I painted that I am inspired to get it better in my next painting.  The wonderful power of errors to teach!

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.

Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner – BOOK TRIAL #4

Today I’m looking at the last of the books I’m reviewing as ways to improve my painting.  It’s a book on Oil Painting:

“Oil Painting for the Serious Beginner” by Steve Allrich



This is a proper teaching book!  🙂   It’s quite wordy but no less effective for that.  Mr Allrich’s style is quite formal rather than chatty but what he’s actually teaching is easy to understand and really really interesting.  Along with the text are lots of pictures showing different stages in painting which do clearly illustrate the points being made.  More than just useful though, many of these pictures are beautiful to look at too which I find really inspiring.  The book really does provide a complete course for beginners to oil paint.  In fact, from what I’ve read so far, although the book is written specifically for training an oil painter, there is a lot in it which is good advice for any kind of painter.

Working with this book is great.  I get the feeling that the author is walking me through everything I need to know to be a decent oil painter.  He goes into siginificant detail too explaining exactly how to work with teh paint on the brush and not get things mixed and muddied.  At the end of the book are a series of demonstrations which you can try to make use of all you have learned.

I think the only negative thing I would say about the book is that, there aren’t exercises all the way through to demonstrate the teaching points the author makes.  That said, it would be easy to work on a num ber of pictures alongside reading the book, trying out the things the author is teaching.

I will definitiely be using this book in the future when I get enough courage to try oil paints again.

My first try at oil paint was while I was at university.  It’s a crucifiction scene and I drew too many ribs!  Well, you live and learn…    🙂