Whale Song

I thought we’d have a break from octopuses this week with a watercolour painting of a beautiful humpback whale swimming with a diver.

I used Arches hot-pressed watercolour paper this time. It’s odd but, although I really find Arches paper great to use for watercolour because it takes a wash so beautifully, I keep avoiding using it because it’s so expensive. I just feel I have to save it. Then when I do use it, I feel a sense of pressure not to waste it which isn’t overly helpful. I think this is quite a common thing though. I’m going to deal with it by just using the paper until it feels more normal.

So, I began my whale painting with a pencil sketch…

Next I did the big washes – starting from the background and working forwards…

After that I worked on the details – the diver, the whale’s eye and other features and I worked on bringing the whale shape to life with some shadows. I also added a little more pencil in places to give a little more definition to some parts of the painting.

Once the painting was finished I photographed it and then corrected the levels in Photoshop. Here’s the finished painting…

I had a “whale” of a time with this one! LOL


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

Following on from last week where I documented the first four stages of my creative process. This week I’m going to look at the second half of that process. In all I have 7 steps I usually take to make a piece of art:

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

So I’ll be focussing on Creating, Assessment and Review, and Sharing.


I began drawing with pencil and then hard pastel pencils. Once that was done I layered on my pastel pigment. Here are my process photos…

It seemed to go well until I took a step back and really looked at my final picture…

Assessment and review

The final image had the wrong feel to it. So I began to look carefully at what I had done.

Here is my digital plan and my final image side by side…

I think the “Plan” worked because the reddish colour of the background is pushed towards brown which is really just a dark orange yellow and so just looked like a different tone of the same basic colour as the Buddha’s skin. This made it more restful. There was a small amount of blue in his hair which, being an ultramarine blue/ violet, added an accent of complemetary colour to the picture which I liked too.

However in my actual drawing the blue was more prominent and not as violet, and in my background I’d picked up on the red of the paper directly with my pastel colour choices so I had three colours, giving my pastel picture the wrong feel all together. Red, blue and yellow are a triadic colour combination which is a high energy variation of a split complementary colour scheme. This gave it a youthful, playful feel which just didn’t work for my intentions with this image at all.

Back to the Drawing Board

So I literally went back to the drawing board and decided to try again and rework the whole thing with a different colour scheme.  However I now had about half the time to get it done!

I felt that using the burgundy paper I already had was really working against my intentions at this stage so I made the decision not to frame the picture under glass but to use a fixative on it instead.  I thought I would present it on a backing board in a clear plastic sleeve. That way it would still make a good present and I had time to order some more supplies. I bought some fixative and some creamy grey pastel paper.

I chose this time to use a blue background with cool blue light as that would make it more serene and tie it into the Buddha resting at night. I kept the golden yellows of my Buddha’s skin and the darker blues of his hair.

Here are my process pictures as I remade the image…

And this is the finished picture…

I am much happier with the result this time. 🙂 The portrait answers the question which my heart was asking when I decided to work on this.

Once it was finished I fixed it outside with a professional artist’s fixative using my home made spraying bay…

I made this out of an old vacuum cleaner box. It works really well to hold the picture at a good angle for spraying and doesn’t let the fixative go all over the ground. (I use this for varnishing gouache sometimes too.)

Assessment and Review Take Two!

I am pleased with the warm golden feeling of the Resting Buddha’s skin and the calm night-time feel of the background. I wish I could add the smell of an open wild place, like our local common, and the sound of summer insects to the scene somehow.

The final image which I gave to my friend was slightly more muted in colour due to the fixative, but that added to the gentle restful feeling of the picture.  (I pushed the saturation and contrast in the pastels so that it would still look good when the fixative muted everything.)

Here’s the picture after using fixative…

One criticism I have of this piece is that I drew the buddha’s neck muscles for a man sitting up or standing and then turned the image sideways as I found the kind of composition I wanted for my potrait. So the muslces at either side of his neck (sternocleidomastoid muscles if memory serves) are drawn as if they were active in supporting the head. However when he is laying on his side these muscles would most likely be at rest which would change the shape of his neck. If I went back and remade the picture a third time (!) I would find reference for the neck region of a man lying on his side so I could get this right.

It’s only a small detail but I have found that the more small details are correct in a picture, the more the viewer is able to see what I have in my heart as I paint it. It is the viewer who is, in many ways, almost a collaborator in each picture in the end.


Well my friend really liked her picture and I was very happy to have done this for her.

Generally speaking I share my art mostly in person and on WordPress.

On the technical side of sharing art, I use tags on each page so that search engines can index my pages appropriately. This results in about half of my views coming from search engines and half from within WordPress.

I am also careful when sharing my work to keep the resolution of images down to something that displays well on the web but is too low for print as this prevents various automatic image stealing sites from grabbing my images. You’ll often see the suffix “_web” on my filenames as this helps me know when I have reduced the resolution appropriately. I keep all of the finished full-size files with a big suffix “_FULLSIZE” so that I can identify this file easily and make sure not to bin it when I clean up extraneous images stored on my PC. Keeping the resolution down to only what you need also has the effect of making file sizes small which means I don’t run into issues with running out of storage space on my WP plan even after quite a few years.

In terms of websites used to share, I’m not on facebook or twitter. I chose WordPress because it seemed more mature as a blogging site than places like Tumbler, and appeared to be more focussed on sharing projects, skills and hobbies rather just general information about a person’s day to day activities which you get on Facebook. I love to both share my work and see other people’s art, thoughts and ideas on WordPress. I value the fact that WordPress is such a supportive, friendly community. I’ve learned a great deal from connecting to other people here and I realy value the friendships I have found here.

I am also going to bite the bullet and start up an Instagram Account. Its really slow going though because Instagram can only be viewed in a portrait orientation which makes it very very difficult to use the physical keyboard on my tablet as I have to read what I’m writing sideways! Good grief! Anyway, I will find a way to get this new account set up at some point.

So that’s it, my full process! I hope it’s been interesting or perhaps useful to someone. 🙂

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.