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.


This week I painted a pair of orcas, a mother and her calf.

Here is my initial drawing design which I did on cartridge paper.  Initially I was going to make this a pen and ink drawing but I decided to paint it at the last minute….


Once I was happy with my drawing I masked out the white bits of the whales and went off to visit family for the afternoon while the masking fluid dried…

However, when I got back, and looked at the drawing carefully, I saw this…

They are scratches from my little kitty-cat, Leia.  I shouldn’t have been surprised really.  Despite being free to sit anywhere, she chooses to sit in various choice spots like…

…on my black work trousers, or…

…on the book I’m currently reading…

… in front of my PC monitor…


…and, more recently, on the clothes airer.  I think it is her life’s mission to cover everything of mine in little white kitten hairs!


Anyway, I decided to go ahead with the painting despite her best efforts.

I began by doing a couple of quick thumbnail sketches to give myself some idea of my colours.

I knew I wanted a restricted palette but wasn’t sure what colour scheme to use.  I decided on a variation of the left thumbnail.

First I put on some basic watercolour washes in Payne’s Grey and French Ultramarine.  I added some yellow for the sunshine and merged this in…


Next I used a similar blue mixture but with more Payne’s Grey and less ultramarine to put in the idea of some rocky land.  I painted the sun in Winsor Yellow with some Cadmium Yellow Deep and added a few reflections.


Finally I began to work on the more specific details and finished the painting…


I quite like the finished picture but it lacks precision.  I also think I could have managed my watercolour gradients better and more evenly.  I think I might have another go at this one sometime using proper watercolour paper and taking more time and care with the execution of each wash.

Ten Minute Video Observation Practice #6


This is the last week of video observation practice.  My 10 minute practice drawings seemed to follow a war theme this week although it wasn’t intentional.  It began when I watched a documentary on the Vietnam War which was horrific in places and difficult to watch.  Then I  got into looking at clips of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.  Finally I ended up, where I nearly always end up, with Star Wars!

Here’s the picture I sketched from the documentary…


Here’s a sketch of Royal Marines deploying in a RIB from an RN ship…


And here’s a Star Wars rebel fighter pilot going into hyperspace!




Gold and Blue Macaw – Watercolour


This week I painted a Gold and Blue Macaw.  They are really beautiful birds and often have the most loving and friendly personalities.

I began with a sketch…


Then I added some masking fluid to the face area…


Next I laid down some basic light coloured washes.  I aimed their tone to be the brightest of all of the tones in each area.  That way I could layer other washes on top and gradually pick up my mid-range and dark areas…


Once this was done I got down to rendering each surface with progressively darker washes and then adding details (my favourite part of any painting!)

Here’s the final picture…


I quite like his yellow under feathers and head, but if I were going to do this again I would work on my portrayal of his left wing.  It just doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped in my mind’s eye.



Meru, mountains and mobility


So last night I was kicking back watching a film on Netflix.  It’s called ‘Meru’ and is about a legendary Himalayan climb on a mountain who’s top is called ‘The Shark’s Fin’



As a young adult, and right through my twenties, I loved walking and climbing in the mountains.  I did some walking in the Alps with family when I was 16 and then some tougher climbing routes in Scotland, North Wales and the Breacon Beacons through my twenties with friends.  From the very beginning I just adored the simplicity of the thing.

Anyway at 31 I got injured internally while giving birth to my son.  It was a neurological injury and consequentially took years and many operations to figure out.  Then in my early 40’s I developed a infection which lasted months and gave rise to post infective fibromyalgia.  When I had the pelvic problems alone my walking was restricted and I could no longer climb.  Once the chronic pain thing happened I began struggling to walk even short distances.

I don’t really miss the climbing nowadays at all – it seems to be too much like hard work(!)  but I still have a lot of sympathy for folk who feel driven to get themselves up these tremendous peaks.  I was drawn to it by the sensation of climbing itself, the burning of your muscles, the percussive kicking into the ice and the wild isolation, all of which gave me a sense of euphoria.  What I do miss now though is walking, the joy of just gambolling about wherever you want.

So this week I painted a picture of a place I visited in the Alps when I was 16.  It’s a valley called Val d’Anniviers in Switzerland.  (One of my God-Parents was Swiss and lived just outside Geneva with her English husband. I’ve known them all my life.  We have holiday’d with them, over there, a few times and they’ve holiday’d over here with us.  Very sadly we lost them suddenly in a plane crash in 2011 while they were on holiday in Botswanna.)  That holiday in Val d’Anniviers with both our families is my strongest memory of them.  I can’t think of the Alps without thinking of them.  So this is for them and their surviving daughters who were mine and my sister’s friends growing up.

Here’s the Swiss Tourist Board picture from that valley which I used as a reference (NB: Not my own photography.)


Many tourist type pictures are heavily doctored to make the places look pristine.  But this valley really is exactly like that photo.  It’s like walking through a real wonderland.  What the photo doesn’t show is the freshness of the air up there and the sound of the local cattle and goats with bells around their necks.  It’s was a real priviledge to have a go at painting this place.

I sketched out the main forms first (and changed them a bit to give me the feel and shape I wanted)…

Then I made a detailed ink drawing…

After that I played around in Photoshop for a while trying out different colour combinations.  My favourite two were these…


I couldn’t decided between them so I painted my final colours as a mix of the two.  I painted on different watercolour paper this week as I had some real issues with the paper last week.  It seemed to pay off as I had no further problems.

Here’s the final painting…

In loving memory of Nadine and Stuart. xxx

A Shin Hanga Heron

I had another go at trying to create a Shin Hanga styled painting this week.  It taught me a lot about how I need to find the vision of a piece of art before I start to paint.
As before I began with a quick sketch in my sketchbook and then planned how I would paint it.  I chose only one reference for the shape of the heron, but used six for the colours.  I worked out what colour I needed where and then made a plan to get that to happen.  Here’s my plan…
Then I started painting.  I began with a variegated wash in paynes grey and ultramarine with a little cerulean blue added towards to the top half of the paper…
Then I painted it according to my plan.
Here’s the final painting…
I’m not overly keen on this painting.  I think what is wrong is that I didn’t quite have a fully formed vision for the painting before I painted it.  I went straight into the ‘how’ questions before I was really clear on what exactly I wanted in my final picture.  I also made assumptions about the colours and didn’t think out the perspective I wanted with the shapes I have in the water.   In the Shin Hanga tradition an awful lot of thought is put into colour and tonal choices as well as careful work on perspective and reflections.  So if I want to make Shin Hanga styled watercolours I need to put in the same work, I need to find the vision for the piece and see it in my mind and heart before I start the technical side of the venture in actually painting the picture.  So that’s what I’m going to do next time.

BB8 – watercolour and digital effects


This week I painted a favourite of mine – BB8 – the little spherical droid from the sequal triology in Star Wars.

I began with a sketch…

Then I laid in my basic colours.  After trying a watercolour light grey background I decided to go for a rich blue.  I mixed my watercolours with white gouach to give them opacity and smoothness.  Next I began working on the shadows and dirt marks on the droid.

Here’s the finished painting…


It was fun and I got quite close to the reference image of BB8 I was using.  However it seemed flat and lacking in life.  To try to push the image a bit I decided to play with various digital effects to see what direction I could go in with the original painting.  So I scanned it into photoshop, colour corrected it for my irritatingly bad scanner and then corrected the tones.  Once I had it looking like it does in real life I began to try various things to see how I wanted my final image to look.

The thing that worked best was to push the tonal range a bit darker and then run a filter on it (I think I used Fresco).

Here’s the final digital image…


I like the way it’s pushed the darker tones far beyond my reference picture and given life to my flat gouche blue background.  Next time I paint I might try to push my original traditional painting more towards this kind of finish.  It might be less accurate but it has more life.

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.


The Shape of Light on Water #1


I’ve been unwell for a few weeks.  Up until now my posts have been already written and scheduled weeks before they were published so it’s all worked automatically.  However now I have run out.  I am feeling better but I’m still waiting to see if my doctor will give me an operation so I’m not up to much in the way of painting.  (I was too ill for the surgery I was due to have earlier this week.)

So I’m going to post some stuff this week from last summer when I was inspired by a beautiful holiday on a boat in Norfolk.  None of the following pictures are really finished works – instead it’s a record of my progress in trying to paint water.

I became fascinated with the shape of water and the way light reflects from it while we were on the boat.  But, try as I might, I found water very diffcult to draw.  At first I couldn’t even really see clearly what I was looking at because it was moving and changing all the time.  So I studied still photos of bodies of water and tried to see the pattern.

My first go at painting this was fairly poor…



It seems to me that my boat is sailing on some gently rippling cotton material rather than water!  The gold paint was my attempt to salvage the painting, with little success.

Then I had a go with pencils.  I used Faber Castell Aquarelles.  With this picture I was looking to simplify the patterns I could see in my photographs so I limited myself to three colours.



I lost control of the blues in places and they’ve kind of leaked into the other colours.  I’m not sure if this worked with or against the likeness of water but either way I didn’t like it.  So I next decided to try the same picture again using gouache paint where I could be stronger with my colour boundaries…



In this picture for the first time I could see something of a likeness to water despite it being quite sylised.

Progress – hooray!


Next week I’ve got another painting on the same theme of water where I followed a tutorial / demo from a guy called Steve Cronin on YouTube.