Up on the Moors

Very sadly, a couple of weeks ago my father in law passed away. He had been ill but we were hoping for another year with him. In many ways it released him from pain and suffering which is good, but I just miss him, a lot.

He was a good, good man and would do anything for his family.

Since this happened I haven’t been able to paint. The creative place where my pictures come from is just silent at the moment. I’ve let this blog just roll through the schedule I had already prepared and uploaded. But now I have run out.

I am planning to paint a portrait of Jim for his wife in oils or acrylics once I’m able. I think oils would be better but they will take so long to dry, so I’m going to try using acrylics in a similar way to painting alla prima with oils and I’m going to use a retarder to give me more time to blend.

Today I had a go at a simple digital painting despite the silence inside. Although I didn’t plan it, it does reflect some of the saddness I feel about losing Jim and seeing his wife Jane so sad at his loss.

Here are some screen shots of how the painting went…

I completed the painting in Photoshop. I adjusted the levels and added a border. Here’s the finished picture…

Simple Tree Tattoo

This week I designed a tattoo. I’ve made a couple of attempts to design this tattoo before but both times the design was too complex and would need to be larger than I could handle in terms of having the work done. This design was made to be kept small (about 7 cms in diameter) which is manageable.

I did the design work digitally and began with a very basic shape…

Then using this as a guide I roughed in some basic branches…

Taking away the original rough guide, it looked like this…

Next I filled in my basic branches and then reworked them a little…

My next job was to put in some leaves…

To do this I needed to reduce the length of many of my branches. I used a simple rendering of light on the leaves. I imagined that the sun was setting just to the right of the trunk and kept the light section of each leaf towards that direction.

Finally, I wanted to give the viewer some idea of the texture of the trunk, but still keep things really simple. In the end I settled on this…

Here’s the finished design…

I think it will look good! I’ve found a really good tattooist to take this design forward and tattoo it for me. Now I just have to put down a deposit and then get an appointment!

Art Therapy

Sadly, I had to leave my job for health reasons a few months ago and I have struggled quite a bit with this change. At first my GP helped me and then eventually I managed to arrange some phone counselling to work through it all.

Now I’m not going to go into details about any of the counselling itself here, except to say that it’s been incredibly helpful. What I have found though, with respect to my art, is that it is of real therapeutic benefit.

Firstly, art it is a form of meditation for me a lot of the time, and this has been very helpful. It’s very soothing to draw and paint. It feels a bit like putting a really good hand cream on very chapped hands. Secondly though, it gives me this wonderfully safe space in my head and on the canvas where I can work things out. I don’t know if this kind of thing would work for everyone, some people are more at home with words than visuals, but for me it has been very useful indeed.

This is a drawing I did as I mulled over a question my counsellor left me with at the end of a session…

It was initially done in ink on paper and then toned with Mars Lumograph pencils.

Then I scanned it into my computer and coloured it like this…

I wonder if other artists find art is supportive in this way? Maybe some writers and musicians feel the same way?

Designing A Celtic Tree Motif 1 of 2

Nature has always been really important to me. It’s why I read a mixture preclinical medicine and biology during my degree, why I paint and draw animals, plants and natural places so often, and where I go when I am in need of restoration. I wanted to design a piece of art which captured this feeling and could be used repeatedly in many places as an icon or symbol for these experiences.

I thought a tree would be the perfect subject for this particular project and I was drawn to the motif from many cultures of the “Tree of Life”. I love the way that a tree in this style is shown as part of a circle which links very much with the way nature comes and goes in cycles. I also love tree of life symbols which incorporate celtic knotwork into them. I have found it hard to discover the real history of this kind of knotwork as much of it has been repurposed as marketing for various modern jewllery and tattoo designs. Personally I see, in this pattern, ideas about interweaving the varied threads of life and mutual dependance among living organisms.

At first I began playing with this idea in my sketchbook…

…but soon moved across to a digital drawing board since I wanted a largely symmetrical design and could use the symmetry tool to design this really effectively. (This is a digital tool which will reproduce the mirror image of what you draw on the other side of a line of symmetry.)

I began, as always, thinking about the large shapes in my design…

Next I moved onto my own knotwork design. I alluded to this style rather than implented it more fully so that my tree still looked very tree-like but with strong overtones of knotwork in it. So each branch weaves through others but is only joined to them at the trunk. I planned the knotwork first using single lines so I could get a feel for the pattern that I wanted. I went through several iterations of this and finally found something I liked…

I really liked the way the top of the tree has a hint of a large lotus flower in the way the branches are placed.

Like this (in orange)…

Once I had a pattern that I liked I moved on to roughing in some branches and roots…

Once I removed my blue guidelines this looked like this…

My next stage was to redraw my line art neatly and put in a balanced set of crossovers in the knotwork effect. This is taken part way through when I had done a lot of the roots and was working on the branches…

Then I added some leaves, but this decentred the picture…

…so I got rid of my original outer circle and put in two new ones. My basic outline design was now finished…

From here I wanted to make two different pieces of art. The first was a gradient wash of watercolour in some iconically natural colours. The other was a detailed digital design possibly one in greyscale and one in colour. This week I’ll go over the watercolour work.

Watercolour

The first part of this painting was getting my digital design onto some watercolour paper.

I printed out the design on two sheets of A4, with just over half of the tree on each side. The using scissors and sellotape I made an A3 copy. Then I used an 8B pencil to rub all over the back of every line in my design. That done, I fixed it with masking tape to some A3 Watercolour paper and I was ready to transfer my image…

I went over the lines of my design with a hard pencil until I had redrawn the whole thing. Once I lifted up my copy paper I had a light imprint of my design to work with…

It had some darker bits where the pencil had bumped against the sellotape but it worked. I then went over this with a pencil and used a putty eraser to get rid of any rough work like this.

Finally I had my design on A3 watercolour paper!

My next job was to hash out how I wanted to do the colour. Here’s one of a few trials I made on copy paper to see what worked…

Eventually I decided on going from dark paynes grey with ultramarine, through a range of greens to a cadmium yellow deep at the tips of the leaves.

So I began to paint…

The painting was simple but demanding in the sense that mistakes couldn’t be rectified. It gave me a lovely period of intense concentration and then it was finished…

I am fairly pleased with how it turned out. I like the colour changes and the patterns and lines. If I had to pick something to work on I would paint the wash differently. Normally I paint a wash wet in wet and the watercolour almost takes care of itself. With this, because the lines were so thin and I wanted some really intense colour, I painted it wet on dry and just tried to move fast enough to mix the colours on the paper. I think taking my time and doing a few layers to build up the colour wet in wet might have given me a better result (although the final painting looks much smoother and more consistent than the photograph above).

Next week I’m going to take the outline I designed and use it to make a textured digital symbol in grey scale and in colour.

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!)

 

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…

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…

Little Acorns

 

This is a small pencil sketch of some oak leaves and their little acorns.  It was done with Fabre-Castell watercolour pencils and a small watercolour brush.  I wanted to see how small I could go and still put in some textural detail in the acorn cups.  The actual drawing is two and a half inches across.

Here’s a slightly enlarged photo of the drawing…

Ten Minute Video Observation Practice #3

This week’s video observation practice drawings were from the 1994 TV mini-series of Stephen King’s The Stand and from an advert I saw on You-Tube. I only caught the very end of it so I don’t know what it was advertising but I was really drawn to the cinematography. Again they were both drawn in approximately 10 minutes with Pigma Microns and a manga pen and shaded with natural tone brush pens.

 

Kathy Bates as Rae Flowers

Kathy Bates as Rae Flowers in the 1995 TV mini-series of The Stand produced by Greengrass Productions and Laurel Entertainment Inc.

I really loved reading The Stand and have read it twice now. So when I saw that they made a DVD of the miniseries I bought it. It wasn’t a bad adaptation either. I particularly liked the performance of Gary Sinise as Stuart Redman (although, for me, he will forever be Ken Mattingly, the part he played so perfectly in the film Apollo 13).

The frame I sketched was of the actor Kathy Bates playing the radio presenter Rae Flowers.

In this scene Flowers is running a call-in radio show during an outbreak of a deadly disease in America. Her callers describe the power of the epidemic and speculate, correctly, about the origin of the disease – that it was made in a government lab and was accidentally released. The station is stormed by US soldiers and Flowers is killed. It’s quite a powerful scene. I completely loved the bravery of the character defending her 1st ammendment rights.  Kathy plays it beautifully.  Here’s the sketch…

I managed to complete the sketch and most of the shading in just over ten minutes for this one (12min).

 

River scene

The second sketch this week is of a couple of people in a boat on a river. I’m afraid I don’t remember much about the advert this came from, except that it had an Asian feel to it. I’d been looking up the history of Japanese woodblock prints and somehow got this image from an ad associated with the video.

Here’s the sketch…

Mostly this was done with my trusty Pigma Microns again and my brush markers. I did try the branch silhouette, though, in a different Kuritaki manga pen. The pen was lovely, however the ink I chose to use wasn’t quite as waterproof as I am used to with the Microns and did smudge a little. At first I was going to give up on the sketch but then I decided to add more diffuse colour and try to get the river below the branch to look more watery with darker and lighter reflections. I quite liked the effect in the end, although it looks better if you don’t know about the ink issue!  This one took about 7 minutes in total.

As I write this it’s now half term and I’m trying to put together at least a month of posts ready for going back to work next week.  I’m nearly there with that which will mean I will finally have time to work on my “Fae” picture inspired by the Amazon series Carnival Row.  I am really looking forward to it.  I also have another importantproject I’m doing for my mum, but I’m not sure about sharing it here as it’s especially for her.  I really want to get it done by Christmas if possible.