The Dryad’s Awakening

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about imaginary worlds in literature.  (This was sparked by an excellent post made by a fellow blogger and book lover, Calmgrove, which you can find here.)

The Bronte siblings, I have learned, developed the imaginary “Glasstown”.  C S Lewis made up “Animal-Land” as a boy and then “Narnia” as an adult.  Tolkien brought “Middle-earth” to life and Ursula K LeGuin brought us “Earthsea”.  As a child (and still as an adult) I spent a lot of time reading and finding myself adventuring in many different imaginary lands; I enjoy it enormously.  So I began to wonder what sort of imaginary place I would create, if I could?

I am strongly drawn to two different narrative landscapes.  The first are those where nature-centred stories seem to grow, especially those where every living thing has it’s own being and will, every plant, , every fish, every beetle.  Sometimes even the stone of a mountain might grow it’s own will and sense of being.  These places contain, for me, a mixture of 3 different things.  The first are prehistoric, animistic ideas (including ritual landscapes like long barrows and standing stones).   The second are ideas from the Japanese Shinto Religion, stories of various Kami with rivers being Dragon Lords and volcanoes as Gods of Fire.  The third place I always find my imagination going to is into classical Greek mythology with dryads, centaurs, river nymphs, harpies and giants.

The second landscape revolves around adventures in space; places from science fiction including my favourite galaxy far far away (Star Wars).  So the landscape is actually a galaxy wide region of space with may different planets, environments, people and cultures.  Among these cultures I prefer tales set in the margins, on the borders, where things are difficult and people have very little personal power to change their own fate.  I prefer hard science fiction to space opera, but only in so far as I think the things  a person could make or do in that world needs to have reasonably coherant explainations.  And there would, of course, be a plethora of totally cool spaceships and droves of interesting aliens!

Having all of this turning over in the back of my mind I fell into thinking about the first of these two landscapes and began researching dryads.

This week’s art is a drawing of such a dryad who has slept very late into spring and is awakened by a butterfly.

Here’s my basic outline sketch…

I made my pencil outline quite dark and then worked up the details of the tree also in pencil…

 

Then I began to ink the picture.  First I did the outline with a 0.5 Pigma Micron pen…

 

Then I worked on the inside area with my trusty 0.3 Micron.  (I seem to use this size pen more than any other.)

 

This is my final ink drawing…

I must admit, I absolutely adore doing ink drawings like this.  I know there are so many other techniques and opportunities to make art these days, especially with the advent of digital art, but I love the simplicity and starkness of the black lines on white paper.  Anyway, I decided I wanted to keep the drawing as it was so I scanned it in and did all my colouring digitally…

I added my colour on several layers underneath the ink layer.  When put together, these colour layers make an interesting shape with the ink layer removed.  It’s almost like the shadow or spirit of the drawing.

 

Here is my final image…

Chris at Comic Tropes

This week I am still working exclusively digitally until I am well enough to sit at a table and paint again. I can’t wait to get back to traditional painting. In the same way that I will always prefer a physical printed book in my hand to a digital or audio copy, I much prefer physical paints. I love the feeling of the brush on the paper and the smell of the paint. That said I am learning massive amounts from this period of digital art, mainly because it is so easy to jump back a step, it gives me more freedom to venture further into an idea than I would in a normal painting.

So, for this week’s post I painted a digital comic portrait of Chris from the YouTube Channel Comic Tropes.

I’ve been following his channel for a some time now and I really enjoy his videos. He shares his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for the comic format and really gets down deep into his subject. At the end of some of his shows he displays artwork by his viewers, so long as the work is related to his channel. I want to support him so I thought I would have a go at making a portrait and sending it in.

I began with a digital sketch…

Then I added some titles and centred the image…

My next job was to “flat in” Chris’ portrait – this adds nothing to the final image but will drastically speed up the colouring process. Basically you just make a layer with different parts of the picture in different tones. If you’re working with line art this can be fairly loose as the lines cover the colour joins, but for proper digital painting it needs to be tight with no anti-aliasing…

Next was the fun part. I got to make up a handful of 2 page comic spreads in miniature. I made up parts of random stories from a range of genres to fill each set of two pages. I had crime, fantasy and science fiction. Because some of the pages go behind my subject I was able to duplicate them and and use parts of the book which the viewer can’t see in other places. The next few process shots are of the comic pages being drawn…

(crime)

(science fiction)

(fantasy on the left and more science fiction on the right)

Then I began to colour my background. I was initially wondering vaguely about the broad range of bright colours in comics and unthinkingly added a very wide range of saturated colour. This looked OK-ish while my subjct was still in greyscale like this…

…but after I coloured my subject the colour scheme started to fail…

…and got worse with the titles coloured in…

I didn’t really like it at all. There wasn’t enough division between the foreground and the background, the colour palette was all over the place and the title lettering keyed into nothing at all. It was basically a mess.

So I went back to the drawing board and began my colour process again with a fresh perspective.

First of all I got rid of all of the different colours in the background (what was I thinking?) To guide the viewer’s eye to easily see lots of different comic books I changed each book to a different shade of grey. Then I looked at what colour’s I had Chris wearing. I tried a range of changes but actually the deeper red makes his eyes stand out and suits him. So I took my grey scale background and added a very unsaturated blue with a hint of violet. This hardly reads as colour at all but still has the effect of making my background look cool compared to my warm subject without being distracting. I changed the title colours to a warm deep yellow and red combination which is analogous to Chris’ colour and ties the title of his channel to his portrait nicely. My final step was to airbrush some shadow just around Chris’ figure to push him right to the front.

So, after a strangely satisfying struggle with colour and composition I reached my final image…

This is the one I will send to Chris at Comic Tropes! I hope he likes it and recognises what a great channel he runs.

PS: Thanks for all of your kind wishes w.r.t. my health. Things are, very thankfully, improving without needing to go to hospital which is a big relief! I am still sore and tired, but my temerpature has been down for the longest period yet and my breathing is easier. As my wonderful son says “It’s all good Mum!”

Early morning over the Pacific

 

I have never seen the pacific ocean, but ever since I first watched the Shawshank Redemption, where Andy spoke to Red about going there, I have wondered what it might be like.

I am still quite unwell, although a little better today than yesterday.  Unfortunately I can only paint digitally in bed.  I don’t have the energy for sitting at a table or getting my paints out.  It’s what I can do in bed or nothing.  I do apologise for not using tradition painting media recently.  I will get back to it when I get better.

So this week I watched a video on YouTube about painting the ocean which was really relaxing.  It’s by Kalliopi Lyviaki. Here is a link…

YouTube Link

After watching I started to doodle my own version digitally.  I began with a gradient over the whole image.  Then I used what is called a dodge brush across what will become the top half of the sea.  This is the digital equivalent of dabbing off some colour when working traditionally…

 

 

 

Then in a separate layer I began to paint the general structure of the waves.  This is the bit where Kalliopi’s video was really helpful as I’d not really got to grips with this shape and pattern before.

Here’s a short clip of me drawing this part of the painting…

 

One of the main things I learned here was how to set up my digital brush to do what I needed.  I wanted to be able to have sharp edges and soft edges using the same brush in different ways.  So I set the nib hardness quite high to about 85% but then dropped the opacity right down for lighter pen strokes on the tablet.  That way, if I pushed harder with my pen I could get good edges and if I used the pen softly I could blend my colour.

 

 

Next I went in with a slightly lighter and more saturated ultramarine blue to paint the body of the waves near the front.  Often with waves you can see light through them and I wanted to try to hint at that effect…

 

My next job was to add some highlights.  They look white but I actually used a whole range of coloured tones, gradually getting lighter as I moved towards the horizon.  Because of the gradient underneath the painting, I hoped that this would read as specular reflections which are fairly even in terms of intensity over the whole water area.

 

 

Next I started on some clouds.  The YouTube demo only had the ocean, so I was just letting the painting lead me by this time…

 

 

At this stage I made some decisions about the direction I wanted my picture to go in.  I wanted it to be of a foggy morning at that moment when the sun really starts to burn through the fog and the day brightens.  In preparation for the sun I highlighted my clouds…

 

…and then put in my fog dispelling sun…

 

Next I felt that I wanted a boat on the ocean. I began with a simple sillhouette.  However, rather than putting the boat travelling right but on the left side of the image (which is more traditional and draws the viewer into the scene), I put her travelling left on the left side so she takes the viewer out into the Pacific with her.  I wanted to give the painting a sense of the craft moving slowing away and out of view, leaving the Pacific quiet and empty.

I am continuing to think about the lessons I have learned from the Art Professor YouTube channel which I mentioned a few weeks ago.  I am consciously trying to think and feel with respect to my art and use my thoughts to guide my work so that perhaps I will be able to paint pictures that bring up specific feelings in the viewer.  For this picture I wanted the expansive, quiet ,open feeling you get on a vast empty sea.  Anyway here is the basic sillouette I drew…

 

 

I added sails using the gradient tool.  The whole way through with this painting I was thinking in terms of watercolour and then translating whatever I would do with a paintbrush into a digital technique.  So traditionally for the sails I would wet each sail and then paint on a gradient.  This naturally translated into a formal digital gradient.  I used more red in my colour mix for the boat because I wanted it to read as warmer than the sea but still have the same analogous colour palette.

 

Finally I added a shadow to the water on the viewer side of the boat and some specular highlights on the vessel itself.

 

So here is the final painting.  (You can probably see I also painted in a diffuse, misty reflection of the sun in the water.)

 

 

At school we often ask the children to evaluate their own work by giving themselves two stars and a wish.  The two stars are things they think went well and the wish is something they would like to improve next time.

I would say the painting does give me the feeling I was aiming for in the end and I am pleased that I got deeper into adapting my digital brushes in ways which help me use these tools more effectively. My wish would be that I could add more texture to the boat and clouds so that they too reflect the brush strokes I was using on the water.  Then they might look less graphical and more painterly.

 

Lockdown Reading and Free Bookmarks

A while back I made a some bookmarks for my own use. (I am always in need of these. If I don’t make some I end up using old envelopes and other bits of tat.) During the lockdown I have managed to find even more need for booksmarks than usual.

I often have three or four books/comicbooks on the go at any one time, but I realised that, at the moment, I have 15 books on the go…

Star Wars Heroes and Villains (above) is a set of short stories so I count these four books as one since they are a series. (In fact there are six books in the series as a whole but I finished the previous two ages ago.) I’m doing the same with Autumnlands and Middlewest because they are both collected editions of ongoing comicbook series and it’s still up to 15!

I’m afraid I don’t have process photos for my booksmarks, but I do have a high quality image which you are free to download to help with your lockdown reading needs. All four bookmarks are on one sheet which should print landscape A4. Each bookmark has a slightly wider border on the right hand side to allow for space to cut them apart from one another.

To download click here to go to the full size image, then right click the image and use “save image as”.

(Creative Commons Copyright information for this image is at the bottom of this post. Basically anyone is free to use and copy this image for non commercial purposes.)

Here are the individual bookmarks…

I hope you enjoy them!

PS: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. I am now having some difficulties with my breathing. No need to worry, my Doc thinks it’s a regular chest infection (possibly a complication from a procedure I had done in March) rather than Covid. But if the next round of antibiotics and steroids doesn’t fix it, or if my breathing gets worse, I might have to go into hospital. So I apologise in advance if I don’t respond to comments etc. I think it will all be OK in the end. I just can’t wait to get back to regular traditional drawing and painting!

Copyright Info – Normally I hold all rights reserved on the copyright for all images on this site (unless explicitly stated otherwise when they belong to someone else). I also limit the size of the images I post to reduce the risk of copyright infringement. However I have given the image linked above a Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC 4.0) and uploaded it at full size. Licence details below…

  • CC BY-NC 4.0
  • Creator: Jo Fox
  • File: jofoxfreebookmarks.png
  • Created: 20 Feb 2020

A Digital Deer Skull and some Poetry

 

This week I worked on a digital painting of the skull of a deer.  When I began this painting a while back I was aiming for more of an animation-styled image where there is the illusion of a 3D object behind fairly standard comicbook linework.

The image I had at that point was…

 

When I looked at it again more recently, I decided to try to take the image through to a fully realistic digital painting.

I’ve also had a go at presenting my process via video this week which is a relatively new medium for me.  There’s no voice over since I still have this cough and temperature thing and my voice is too croaky even for jazz!

First up is a general slideshow of the main steps I followed in making this painting.  I’ve done this kind of thing a couple of times previously using GIF format, but this week I had a go making an MP4 video slideshow with captions…

 

 

I also have some video capture from various points when I was doing the actual painting.

The first is from when I was painting the flat colour of the antlers…

 

The second is of me painting my cast shadow…

 

And the last is of me sculpting the shapes using highlights and shadows.  This part took quite a few hours and was the most joyfully relaxing part of the whole piece.  I forgot about being feverish and the asthma problems I was having.  I even forgot about the Covid-19 lockdown. For those hours I was just a painter doing my thing.  Because I couldn’t save as many layers as I wanted, I periodically saved the current working layer down to a general shadow and highlights layer and then started a fresh working layer.  It’s not an ideal way to work as you cannot adjust things as easily once different sections are all in one layer but the Autodesk saves kept failing when my layer count was any higher.  It wasn’t too much of an issue since most of my painting life has been done via traditional media which is also a process where there’s limited ability to remove paint that you’ve added!  So here’s the video.  It’s quite a short excerpt because the application only records when you are actually drawing so it condenses 5 minutes of painting into about a minute.

 

 

(NB: In the last bit of the excerpt above I make these smooth bumps to the bottom right of the section I was working on.  I eventually went back and reworked this area as, although they appeared on one of my references, they weren’t there on any of the others.)

Here is my final realistic digital painting…

 

 

I have a way to go yet in terms of realism but I am happy to see some progress here.  This exercise really helped me get to grips with how to create 3D shapes using light and shadow.  I began to get a feel for it which is a really good feeling  I wonder if it will have a positive impact on my traditional painting?  I think I’ll have a go at a gouache painting when I’m next able to, to see if it has helped at all.

 

I also, this week, reworked a poem I wrote years ago for a writing group I used to belong to.

Disclaimer:  I am not a poet and I’m not really very drawn to poetry (except when feverish it seems).  I am hoping this is not quite as bad a Vogon Poem(1) which is used as a torture method by the Vogons and is supposedly the third worst poetry in the universe.

Read at you own risk!  🙂

 

The Turning Point

Are we all born to die?
Like mayflies, to emerge one day,
Bright and new into the sun,
And then with evening fade and fall,
And float downstream,
Decaying slowly, in the river, as it runs?

Will the world all turn to dust
Leaving quiet darkness
In the wake of shattering light?
And all that danced and pounced and played,
In days of warmth and life,
Be known only then in the silent prayer of stardust in the night?

When all of time is done with ticking,
And all that lives is gone,
When outer darkness ventures inward,
Enfolding all in funeral song,
The lights go out, The suns burn down,
To blackest void, where once they shone.

At last, in death, the mind of God, becomes competely still.
In perfect silence, all lets go, all comes to naught, all rests in nil…

Then slowly, following nature’s urging
The grave becomes a womb
Expectant emptiness is stirring
Something coming, somthing soon.

The Great Mother, following nature’s course,
Then turns again to face the morn.
Though wrapped in grief
She speaks her love,
Across the dark and empty eons,
And from that fragment of a her heart, the universe is born.

by Jo Fox

 

 

[(1) Douglas Adams, 1979, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]

 

 

Lightning Strike – Digital

While working on these posts during February half term, I tried a new digital drawing application called Autodesk Sketchbook. At first I doodled around on it making a doodle drawing of a dream I had. After a little practice I began to get the hsng of it a little more.

I began with a quick little cartoon sketch of a dog who ended up having very big ears. So I called him Big Ears.

Here he is…

Next I wanted to have a go at doing a more tricky multi-layered digital image. Rather than having a clear picture in my mind I just started playing around with the software. Here are the layers in the order painted them. I began with a tree…

Then after a little finishing on the final image via photoshop – here is the completed painting…

The things I enjoy most about this kind of digital art are:

1. That it is so quick to do, and

2. That the textured brushes can make such beautiful effects!

PS: I also made a gif slideshow of the painting process for this image…

An Ant – watercolour pencil

 

This week I did a bit of a challenge.  I painted an ant using a single watercolour pencil.  The idea of this kind of exercise is to try to use the full tonal range of one colour or shade.  I chose black because it’s traditional for ants and has the strongest tonal range.

I began, as usual, with a basic sketch…

 

Then I worked on getting a detailed outline which was fairly accurate to my reference…

 

Then I began painting with my single black watercolour pencil.  I used a water brush to activate the pencil I laid down.  Here’s how it looked when I was a little way into it…

 

After some very pleasurable concentration I finally got it finished.  Here is the finished piece…

 

I have to give some credit for this to my cat, Leia.  She helped me rely less on looking at reference since, in her eyes, the reference photo was more of a cat toy which she felt the need to own…

🙂

 

 

 

A Fantasy Firebug

I was looking through Wikipedia at various invertebrates when I came across the Firebug (Pyrrhocoris apterus). Here is a link to the page. I really liked it’s striking colours and decided to make a sketch…

At first I planned to use the real bug as a basis for a more fanciful “line and wash” painting. I began this by adding the kind of comb like antennae which are usually found on moths. Once that was done I had a go at adding similar patterned protrusions to parts of the creature’s legs but this seemed to unbalance the picture and I worried that they might reduce the striking nature of the colours later on, so I rubbed them out and just kept the moth antennae.

Next I made a simple ink outline drawing…

After that I went over this in detail as if I were making an ink drawing…

My final step was to paint the wings and body with watercolour and then touch up the black once the paint was dry.

Here’s the final image (I added a shadow in photoshop)…

I like the final picture but feel a bit sad that I didn’t find more fantasy changes to make to my insect. Sometimes I just get caught by the weirdness of reality!