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.

Intention

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.

Exploring

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…

Preparing

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.

Abstract Sunset – Pastel

 

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!)

 

Pastel Drawing – A Quickening Ray

I worked on a Pastel drawing today.  It was a sketch for a painting I want to do in acrylic paint at some time in the future.  It’s based on a scene in a prison I saw on the TV and a song we sing at church.  The relevant verse says:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

This picture was the result – as well as I can render it.

I began with a sketch:

sketch_web

Then I began to use the pastels.  This time though, I decided to treat the pastels like paint rather than like a big fat pencil.  I think this approach worked better.  Lines are too thick with pastels but planes and blocks of colour are do-able.

Here’s the beginning of the figure in the picture:

beginning_WEB

And here’s the final result:

A Quickening Ray_FIN_WEB

The light didn’t come out as I had hoped – I find actual light rays very difficult to draw but the feeling of the picture is right.  I think it’ll need a bit more work before I paint it.

Soft Pastels – Tree of Life

After some more messing about with pastels I wanted to have a go at drawing a proper picture. One of the ways I love to relax in the summer is to sit under a big tree with a good book.  So I took this image as my starting point for this picture.  I also like being at the top of hills. As a child in the summer holidays I used to go hill walking in North Wales (and sometimes in the Lake District and the Peak District).  We used to stay on a farm in Snowdonia, quite high up in the hills and go walking from there. Here are some photo’s of the region generally from the World of Travel Website Snowdonia Snowdonia-National-Park (Please note these beautiful pictures are not my own photos.) When I was there it rained from time to time and was nearly always cloudy but it was beautiful nevertheless and I loved the quiet, the sound and smell of sheep and the crunching sound of my walking boots on the rocky, gravelly surface of the tracks we hiked along.  The higher we got the quieter and simpler the world became until it was just ground and cloud with the sound of the sheep from further down in the valley and the wind in the background.  I love places like that – I feel like I can breathe and be myself and I don’t have to fight and work really hard to try to fit in.  So I wanted my picture was going to include a hill too. But then as I looked at the brighly coloured soft pastels I had I realised that I wanted this image to be really brightly coloured and that didn’t fit very well with the dark browns and yellows and greens of Snowdonia.  It was then that I thought of making it more like a fantasy world, or a world from legend, or from the deep past. I still kept the hill and the tree ideas but changed how they would look. So this is what I came up with: treeoflife_WEBThe final picture ended up very different from my favourite oak tree which I sit under when I’m out with my dog and different from the Welsh hills but, for me at least, I still feel that sense of space and calm I get from those two places. I called it the tree of life because it feels like heaven.