Dan Droid and Autism – A Digital Art Design

This week I worked on a simple greyscale digital art design of an android. I called him Dan because if you say Dan Droid it sounds close to Android (which I thought was funny) and also he reminds me of Asimov’s Daneel Olivaw who was my favourite robot as a child. (I think I also rather unconsciously modelled his human looks on a Euphonium player I knew at school called Daniel.)

I began with a simple sketch. One of the things I’ve been working on recently is how to better use my drawing tablet to get nice tapered lines. I really tried to work on that here. It meant drawing faster and having more faith in my hands to do the right thing without the constant supervision of my brain. Here’s the sketch…

Next I planned out a basic elecronic look for the part of his face which is showing his internal structure. I looked at reference for the muscles and bones of the face for this so that I could mimic real human anatomical structures with electronic equivalents. So the group’s of wires you can see, for instance, model muscle groups in the face.)

After that I added my darkest shadows. I really do love the way solid blacks look in comic art. At this point I gave him black hair to balance the image tonally, even though my Euphonium friend had blond hair.

Then I added 2 levels of greyscale tone using a cell-shading approach.

Finally to finish off the image I surrounded him with a background reminicent of electronic circuit diagrams. I though he looked really great amongst all of that.

So here is the final image…

Reviewing the art

Looking at this drawing, I like the way he’s walking across the frame but turning to look the viewer in the eye. I think it engages the viewer a bit more and also reveals his inner nature. I also like the simple cell-shading style although that’s really just a matter of personal taste.

If I wanted to add more I think I would render the background into 3D and make some parts of it look like matte metal and some parts look like chrome. I could then drop a shadow behind him onto the background to really make him stand out.

Reflections on Androids and Autism

In terms of the meaning of the art, I personally think people draw their own meanings from things like this. For me, this is all about what it feels like when I suddenly make a mistake and reveal my autistic nature. It’s very much like I have suddenly turned my head and now they can see what I really am. The electronic background he seems to carry with him is like the label of autism which other people then see.

There are some folks who think autistic people shouldn’t be compared to robots, but personally I think it’s a good metaphor. In order to do the normal social things that neurotypical people find automatic I have to set up a whole raft of decision-making flowcharts in my head, remember them in detail and follow them. This feels like having to build and maintain external circuitry to my regular self in order to hold simple conversations. The huge extra work of managing this circuitry is one of the things that makes socialising so draining.

For a long while I have felt ashamed of being this way, sort of deficient. However now, through counselling, I am beginning to believe that being my own self might be OK (with the same caveat as everyone else in the world, which is that a person acts decently).

I follow Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax on this one. She says. .

It’s not my place to tell ‘em what to believe, if they act decent.’

Playing around with styles

This week I’ve been quite unwell and struggling with really bad pain. I’m handling it all by resting, talking with my GP and trying to keep my mind off the pain and on other things while I wait for an appointment at a London pain clinic (UCLH). It’s quite hard to keep my mind clear of the pain at the moment though because the pain is bad enough to shut down my thinking a lot of the time. It feels like wading through very thick treacle when I try to concentrate. Audiobooks are good and my little handheld switch video game player helps too because it provides an outlet for my mind to be active without impacting my body. Art has been really difficult though. The only thing I’m able to do is short figure drawing sketches and some arty playing about on my android tablet to add to backgrounds to the sketches.

So, here are a few of the 5 minute sketches I’ve been doing…

I’ve been taking some tips and ideas from the simple exercises in this brilliant book on life drawing by Bridget Woods. (I love this book)…

Of the four sketches I did here, the one I found most interesting as an exercise, was the one on the bottom left. It is drawn entirely with curves (which was fairly easy with a curvy woman as my subject). I was amazed at how simple it was to get the lovely curvy feeling of her body down on paper using only one type of line.

Then I photographed these sketches and pulled them into my tablet for some colouring. I wanted to try out different styles and approaches. It was great because each sketch only took 5 minutes, I wasn’t worried about messing anything up which gave me a lot more freedom to really experiment with things.

The first sketch felt like it had fairly precise, careful lines. I remember as I drew this particular girl I fell into this absorbed but relaxed state. It was beautiful – almost like the drawing was drawing itself. Consequently when I came to add colour and tone to the sketch I painted her with sections of flat colour and then made the background by overlapping blocks of pastel colours in simple triangles and quadrilaterals. Then, remembering the lessons I learned from the Art Prof team on YouTube, I made some changes to the way I framed the portrait to give it a kick of the alternative.

Here it is…

The second sketch I chose to colour was really tiny. This made the lines look rough but natural looking. So I followed that theme and put my dancer into a naturalistic rough pastel world…

The aspect of this one I like most is actually the rough dark green border which I drew by hand.

Then I went on to my favourite of the sketches – the one drawn only with curved lines. I coloured the main shape of my figure one colour and then gave the background another colour. Then every other bit of shading and colouring (apart from her hair) was done with circles. This was such good fun.

Here’s the final result…

While none of these are proper art projects, they work well as little thumbnails which can, perhaps, point me to fuller, more complete pieces, later on. I did enjoy an enormous sense of freedom and creativity working on something I knew wasn’t going to become a finished piece later on.

“The Boatman” Character Illustration – Part 1 of 2

This week and next week I am working on illustrating people and endeavouring show something of their character in the illustration.  For my first illustration I drew a boatman on a canal barge.    I began with a very basic drawing I made in my sketchbook.

Like this…

And here is my ink ouline…


I transferred the this outline to my tablet and then loaded the ink drawing into Autodesk so I could work on it.

First I filled in some basic local tones. I did this in the normal way by opening a new layer underneath my line art and setting the line art layer to “multiply”. This is a blending mode which adds the tones of both layers together. I could then, easily, shade in different parts of my picture…

My next job was to add some cell shading to the image, like this…

In line with what I learned about my art from the Art Professor I wanted to add a digital background so that my character wasn’t just a single subject in a white field. Since the picture is of a boatman on his canal barge I decided to paint in the river and the bank behind him. The effect I was aiming for is the same one that Studio Ghibli use, where they have simple cartoon style animation for the people and looser more painterly images for the backgrounds. First I just put down a gradient for the river…

After that I painted in the rough shadows of trees and bushes along the riverbank, gradually building up layers and tones…

Finally I added some textured details to give the viewer the feeling of leaves on the plants…

So here is my finished picture…

In terms of evaluating how it went I’m generally quite pleased with it.

I enjoyed painting the river and bank in a looser , more impressionistic style. I usually find this quite difficult but doing it digitally helps a lot since I can easily undo something which doesn’t turn out well. I also enjoyed drawing this older man.  He seemed relaxed, experienced and a little tired.

If I did it again I would try to improve the overall quality of my ink drawing and work on cleaning up the photo of it a bit more.

Going Deeper into Art

Like many people I’ve been in isolation for a while. At the time of writing I’m still unwell with a cough, bad asthma and a temperature. However, I am managing OK at home and my GP has now put me on steroids and antibiotics in case it’s a sinus infection which has gone onto my chest.



So, while confined to bed and watching some YouTube, I found a brilliant art channel. It’s called Art Prof Create & Critique. (If you want to look at the channel you can find it here.)

I found Professor Lieu’s teaching on this channel to be really excellent and very useful for improving my art. After watching a number of their videos I began to see art in a new way.

Firstly, I’ve become aware that I favour art which has a single detailed subject with a plain background, or no background at all. I think this is partly just personal taste and partly my interest in scientific illustration coming through. However if it also might relate to me being autistic and, in some sense, needing to see single detailed objects in a blank field.  I’ve always been drawn to this kind of 2d representation.  It relaxes me instantly!  But, while this stuff has it’s place, there is so much more out there.  So I’m going to start thinking beyond this pattern.

Secondly I’ve come to understand that the research I do on a subject is also part of the art!  I had no idea!  So is gathering a wide range of references, and not just references for the actual objects to be painted, but references for textures and colour combinations too!  Added to this is the process of trying out lots of quick thumbnails to find a way into a piece of work and the thinking behind the painting.  All of this is part of the process of art.  It’s something I’ve done, usually quickly and without showing much, if anything, of it on my blog.  I previously felt that this side of the work was just the annoying bits and pieces you have to do to be free to work on something.  Now I see it in a whole new light.   It’s like the soil you plant your painting in.  Good soil = good painting (hopefully)!

So I want to do some work as soon as I can, taking account of this new understanding, and giving proper time and energy to these other parts of the creative process.  I’m not able to work in traditional media right now as the Ventolin I take for my asthma makes my hands shake and, after spilling a glass of dirty paint water on my bed, bedside table and carpet I’m less enamoured with trying to do this while unwell.  So I will try it when I can.

In the mean time here’s a quick animation-styled sketch of the teacher, Professor Lieu,  I’ve been following on Art Prof.  I can’t thank her enough…


Art Prof




Process for animation-styled sketches

Here are the stages I went through for each sketch.  I followed roughly the same process each time…

  1. Sketch
  2. Pen
  3. Colour or tone
  4. Lights and shadows

Woman in Bed…



And here’s the Professor…


Having fun with styles.

This week I had some fun playing around with some shorter paintings and trying out different styles.  Some artists try to “find their style” but I’ve never been really bothered about that.  I have this feeling that as you develop as an artist the style thing naturally appears over the years.  It’s still fun though, to play with different ways of producing visual media.

The first picture began as a study sketch I made while on holiday in Paris last year.  We visited the Musée d’Orsay, a museum on the left bank of the Siene which really revels in impressionist paintings although there are many types of art there.  While there, I loved seeing a lot of the art.  Alexandre Séon’s The Lament of Orpheus was one of the paintings that really caught my eye.


Here’s a glimpse of Séon’s original work via a photograph…


This painting was gorgeous to see in person.  It’s odd how seeing online photos of some of these famous paintings, as above, doesn’t do them justice.  In this form it seems flat, like something is missing.  Anyway, I got out my sketch book and made a pencil sketch of Séon’s painting which I then went over quickly and lightly with ink.  This is what I used for the first of my painting studies this week.

I took the ink sketch and coloured it with watercolour and a little gouache.   I wanted to see how a classical image might look if done in a more painterly anime style.  Here’s the result…


I’m not too keen on this one – I think the linework is too rough to really make it click.  I quite like the sand texture from the way the paint I was using was granulating on the paper, but it doesn’t quite draw together as a good image.  Next time I will leave it as a pencil sketch while out and about and ink it more carefully later on.


My next painting was a small sketch of some sea cliffs in gouache.  I tried to paint big portions of them from imagination which is something I find hard.

Here’s the gouache on it’s own…

Once I’d painted them I tried to emulate a style which is being used in TellTale’s video game, The Walking Dead.  They used a fairly painterly CGI rendering of the figures and then added some comic styled edges with a filter of some kind.  It’s a beautiful effect and very suitable for a video game based on a classic comic.  You can see a little of it in this still from actual game footage…



It reminds me of the amazing film “A Scanner Darkly” directed by Richard Linklater and based on Philip K Dick’s novel of the same name.  They shot the whole film in a fairly standard way and then spent 18 months with an animation team animating the footage over the top of the digital cinamatography.  It was visually incredible.  I’ve seen it many times now and it still takes my breath away. Here’s an example of what that looked like…


Now I don’t have the graphics software which Telltale have or the Rotoshop software, in which “A Scanner Darkly” was animated, but I had a go at using a Photoshop to fill out some comic edges on my gouache painting.  I don’t think I got close to the way the pros did it but I like the effect.  Here’s my Sea Cliffs painting with the filter…



I wonder if this effect could be achieved in a more traditional way by outlining the art with a 005, dark technical pencil?  It might work for the edges, but I suspect it wouldn’t give me the texture Photoshop gives me in the rocks.


The final painting I did was a small illustration of a fox in plain watercolour over a pencil sketch.  I used wet in wet first and then went over that base with some wet on dry. Once I had it scanned in I had a go looking at it with the same filter as I used on the cliffs painting…



But, in the end, I preferred the watercolour illustration as it is…



This was the easiest of the three styles and one of the better ones for me, although I did kind of like the gouache painting with the filter.  The Orpheus image didn’t really work for me this time but could, perhaps, be improved by better line art.

Seeing, Painting and Pain

Previously when working with acrylics I have painted big gradients of colour across geometric shapes and waves. Here are some examples…

I don’t have any larger resolution photos of these because I was painting for a job at the time so they all got sold.   😦

But now I want to experiment with acrylics again and see if I could get back into them. To do this, last week, I had a go at finding out what the paint can do.

This week I wanted to plan a painting which follows a different style.  I wanted it to have the style of the paintings above but be about real objects and landscapes.  Painting like this involves simplifying the subject and making some changes to improve the aesthetic of the overall piece. I have previously found this difficult because it feels like I’m metaphorically “short-changing” reality. But I have been assured by people who have actually gone to art school 🙂 that this is OK and not “a lie” as I used to define it!



So, I began by simulating a painting in my computer to see if I can see the shapes I want to paint in a given landscape.For instance, I had a look at this lovely photo of Betws-y-Coed from North Wales – I place I have visited many times and know and love. (This is not my photograph but came from a Wales tourist site.)

Then I painted directly into the computer using my drawing pad to make this…



It was my first try (and I admit I did get enthralled in playing around with textures so it’s a bit odd in places!) But it gave me a feeling for how I want to try to paint in acrylics now. I got to practice the “seeing” of the painting which is more than half the job – the rest is the more technical side of painting. It’s very similar to improvising in jazz. When I first started trying to learn jazz, in my teenage years, I really had no idea how to do it. But now when I hear jazz I hear the music itself, and then as I get into it, I begin to hear the way my own heart sings inside the song. It’s that which I play when I improvise nowadays and it’s the same with this kind of impressionistic painting. It’s not the landscape itself I’m painting but the echo of it inside my heart.

Then I had another go with this famous picture of Kinder Scout in the Peak District (again not my photo)…

This is another beloved place for me from years ago.

This is how the second simulation turned out (with no playing with the textures allowed!)

These were not finished pictures but sketches done in about 20 minutes each to see how things might work. I love doing sketches of things on the computer because I can do it much faster than with real paints and change things faster if I don’t like where I’m going.



Of the two I liked the Betws-y-Coed one best but felt that the Kinder Scout one would be better for a first try back into acrylics.  So I had a go.  This is the best picture I can get of what I’ve done so far. ( I kept getting lots of shine from my lighting reflecting in the picture of he painting.)


I decided to put a little sleeping fox into the picture but he counts as detail and I’ve not added any detail to the painting yet.  I’m still working on the shapes, tones and colours.



I had a very difficult time working with acrylics again. While I can quickly sketch at my computer and paint for a while properly at a table I have too much pain in the evenings to stay up for very long before I have to lay down.  I can’t do something as messy as acrylics in bed.  I can with watercolour, ink and gouache, but acrylics are a step too far.  So I’m going to give myself a break for a couple of weeks to get my pain levels down again and then perhaps have another go.

Days 29 to 31 – Animal Managery

I sketched out some animals in my notebook and used their shapes to kind of fit close together (ish).  Here is my line work:


Then I shaded them with pencil..



I really liked this effect – with an ink outline and the shading in pencil.

For ages now I’ve been looking for a way to illustrate in a comic style which I like and am happy with.  I’ve been playing around with different styles for years now.  However,   I just spent a few hours colouring the above  ‘Animal Managery’ drawing .  I did this in Photoshop and used a cell shading style with a mid, light and dark version of each local colour.  I did it straight over the top of the pencil and ink drawing – setting the drawing layer to multiply.

Here’s the result…


I think I’ve stumbled onto a style which I finally really like.  I’m going to follow up on this!  🙂


Days 17 and 18 – A winged woman

Today I played around a bit more with my new graphgear mechanical pencil.


I drew a sketch of a woman with wings.  She started off as an angel and then became a fairy.  Then I put a dress on her, which, if you’re flying up in the air, isn’t exactly practical!  Anyway, I was trying see if I could follow Mark Crilly’s drawing style for his Miki Falls manga / comic book series.

Here’s an example of his art on this project:


I like the way he has thicker, darker lines around the main objects and then shades the rest like a really good pencil drawing.  You can really see what I’m mean if you look at Miki waking up in her sleeping bag in the bottom left panel.

So here’s my attempt at that kind of style / effect:



I used a black coloured pencil to do the thick outlines.  It was a watercolour pencil so it was really soft to use and I think I ended up making the lines too thick.  Nevertheless, I’m beginning to get there with that kind of style.


(Then just because I had the watercolour pencils out I decided to colour my picture…

I don’t like the watercolour pencil effect much.  I should have left it alone!

Challenge Days 9 and 10 – “Regret”

This weekend I re-read the Comic book related to Philip K Dick’s brilliant “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”



It’s done under the same title as Dick’s original novel but it’s a new story in the same world wirtten by Chris Roberson.  I thought it was really beautifully done.  The artwork gave tremendous atmosphere to the story and really fitted well with the subject matter.  The actual story art was done by Robert Adler (with colours by Lozano and Suppa).  He employed a loose rough feel in the inks which, together with sensitive cell shading styled colour worked wonderfully.  Often with looser, rougher ink work I find that the picture gets confused but the cell shaded colour made it all really clear.  Here are some examples of the work from the first issue:







I thought it would be wonderful to give this style a try in a couple of ways.  First I wanted to try this style but using rough pencils rather that rough inks.  Then I’m going to have a go at trying to ink in my own version of Adler’s approach.

So, to try this approach with pencils…

Here’s my initial pencil sketch:


Then here’s a pencil version with my ideas of how to light the image scribbled in…



First I just scanned it in a then put in some greyscale shading…



Then I coloured it fully and, to finish off, highlighted it…



I’m going to call the picture ‘Regret’  because the chap in jail might be feeling sad for whatever he did to get him locked up.

So, reviewing this,  I think I like the lighting and the colour scheme but I’m less fond of the rough pencils used as the final lineart.  I think pencil could work and would give a nice texture  to the lines but it has to be tidy and not just a rough sketch.  That said it was great fun to do!    🙂