Tips

How to save a photo

There are times when we take great photographs of our subjects in a variety of poses and there are times when we have that one photo of our subject that is blurred or ruined. I like to draw from my own photographs but when it came to the blue throated macaw I was not very lucky. The bird was behind glass and this blurred all but one image I took That image was spoiled by dirty glass. These birds are rare in zoos, so I could not get another photo anytime soon. But then I thought of something: why don’t I save the image by drawing it instead. This post will show several stages of how I went about “saving” the photograph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  1. This was the photo I was attempting to rescue, it was of a pair that was trying to be bred by keepers to bring up the population. According to their website the pair was unsuccessful but at least I got to see these beautiful birds in real life (even if they were behind glass). As you can see it wouldn’t make a good photograph because of the dirt/ scratches on the window but the birds themselves are quite clear.

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  1. Using my tablet I uploaded my photo onto a free grid maker app called Proportion Grid Maker. You can click on the picture to add or take away lines. I don’t usually use a grid on my pictures but because of artist license I did not want the birds in an enclosure but wanted them in the wild. The way the bird on the right looks over the fence and onto the wood gave me the idea that these birds could be at a nest site looking out from the tree. As a result I wanted the birds placed onto the page correctly so a grid was a way to make sure this happened.

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  1. Happy with the grid on the tablet, I proceeded to draw the grid on the page. I used the grid lightly to add the birds in the correct places but did not follow it like law. The lines on my page was not identical to the tablet grid lines so some parts of the bird was inevitably different to the grid maker photo. This was alright as long as the bird was accurately proportioned/sized and placed roughly in the same place. To help with placing the birds’ wings correctly, I drew the outline for the wing feathers.

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  1. I carefully erased the grid lines. Using the line from where the bird looked out from the fence from the photo, I created the tree. I looked into many references of nest holes for these birds online. It was very important for it to be nest holes for these birds as they are smaller than some macaws and live in Bolivia, not Brazil like other macaws. I roughly indicated markings on the tree as it is very likely when colouring, that they would be placed differently than the guide.

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  1. I then coloured in the tree and background. The tree and background could not be too detailed as they would not be in focus from that distance, so they were quite simple in design, with not extra detail. It took a few colours to get the colour of the tree, mostly reddish browns and greys and the hole itself had beige in it. originally when I did the hole it was too bright so it had to be dulled down by rubbing it out and reapplying it until the tones faded into the background enough. Using the eraser, I also created the patterns on the tree. These greyish and reddish tones were important as they would make the blue and gold birds stand out even more.

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6.Although hard to see, I have replaced all my pencil lines now with colour. I always tackle the picture in the same order, the dull tones first then the colourful feathers of the bird. In previous backgroundless portraits, this meant tackling the beak, face and feet before the feathers. But in this picture it was done in the order of tree, sky, skin (feet and face) and beak then finally  feathers. These stages are very important to me as it usually takes two days to complete a picture for me. The light where i live, fades significantly in the morning to 10/12 o’clock and this means accuracy with colour becomes difficult. I do not need to pay too much attention to colour for backgrounds and beaks etc. in my pictures as the bird’s feathers are the main focus. So prioritizing the feathers to last, where I will have fresh light and most of the day to focus on the colours is very important to my pictures. I also changed the background foliage as I thought this one suited it more and being less uniform made it more realistic.

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  1. Having finished all the background and gray tones of the birds the day before, I now have the whole morning to focus on getting the correct colours for the blue throated macaws. There are multiple layers in these feathers to make them as intense as possible. The gold has three colours and the blue several. If this was a close up I would have had at least three whole layers of colours built up over the entirety of the feathers. Usually the first two are too dull but in this picture the layering it just fine as the birds are further away.

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  1. The picture is now finally complete. What I achieved was that the birds had come from a man made environment to the wild and that I had turned a poor photograph into a reasonable art piece. What I need to improve on is backgrounds; the tree and greenery needs a lot more work and it will probably take many art peices before I can successfully create a background with coloured pencils.
Tips

Easy mistakes in coloured pencil

When I first started using coloured pencils I was very young and did not feel the need to read up on how to use them. As a result there were many problems with the art pieces; I will be addressing some of them in this post. These are easy mistakes and hopefully this post will help those who are new to the media.

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I am going to use two of my own art pieces to help illustrate the issues. The one above is an old piece I did many years ago and there is much to improve with it.

The biggest problem with this piece is that I have not rubbed out the pencil outline. Why’s this an issue? It is an issue because not only does it stand out and is unrealistic as no animal has a bold outline real life , but if you were to colour the picture the coloured pencil is likely to mix with the graphite in the pencil. This would result in an unwanted muddy colour.

A second problem is that I have not placed the subject in the correct place on the page. Rules in composition state that if you are doing a scene you should have the subject in one quarter of the picture (top or bottom). That would allow the viewer’s eye to wonder through the background as well as looking at the subject. However, this would not apply to an average portrait like this. the average portrait is often situated in the center of the page, some say there should be a space at the bottom so it does not appear to drop off the page but In my opinion that depends on the picture.

A third issue that I continued to do with many of my pieces is labeling it in big words on the paper. This usually is not needed but if you really need to label your work there are many tasteful ways to do so. Some of my favourites include: having it written neatly and small placed few centimeters near the corner the work at the bottom of the page and having a mount on the frame that has a piece cut out of it so as to reveal a section of the picture in which the words would sit, it could also be done by sticking the label carefully on the mount.

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To help show the difference the next problems can make if fixed, This is one of my newer pieces. The bird is situated well on the page and has no pencil outline. It was originally drawn with a pencil outline but these lines were replaced one by one with coloured pencil before I started to colour in, removing the risk of it blending in with my colouring.

The picture also illustrates how shading can greatly enhance a picture but most of you already know this.

There is one last easy to see issue on my old picture and it is that I tried to capture the detail with the pencil and not the coloured pencil. This is shown where I outlined the feathers on the wings and chest, it not only smudges the graphite into the picture but it looks horrible too. The best thing to do is to do all the detail inside your picture in your coloured pencil even if you have to map them out in pencil then rub them out and replace them with colour before starting your picture.

There is a lot  more I have to learn with coloured pencils, But I hope that I have helped some of you with your art by helping you avoid the mistakes I made.

Starting Out

The fantasy phase

Since I was very young, I was fascinated with the idea that there were hidden things around me. Books like the Spiderwick chronicles and the Secret garden gave me the idea that there were secret things everywhere. My favourite films were Coraline and the Lord of the rings. The two films followed the fantasy theme and Coraline in particular, gave me that recurring feeling of mystery tucked away in plain sight.

It inspired my already active imagination and made me want to create my own creatures. As usual, I tried to learn how to draw fantasy creatures before creating my own. I drew dragons out of books and films, Hippogriffs from Harry Potter and my favourite mythical creatures.

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My biggest obsession at the time was Dragons. I drew hundreds of them, well known dragons like Maleficent, Smaug, The Hungarian horntail and more. I copied young animators’ dragons from award winning animations. All of these were crudely coloured in and nothing great.

Then I got a hold of my most prized possession at the time: The Dragonology books by Douglas Carrel. These books made dragons seem real, they were written in the style and designed like that of old explorer books. I had every single book and the illustrations got me into drawing line art dragons. This increased my skill and although they weren’t realistically shaded, accurate movie monsters, they were good enough illustrations. Unfortunately I spent so much time copying others drawings; I made only a few designs of my own. The feature image is of one of my first dragons I made, the head did not change much in my art and the structure (if not in that stance) was basically the same.

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But copying didn’t sustain me for long.  As soon as I was happy with my skill, I strove to create my own dragon. If only it was as easy as it sounded, my favourite dragons were the quadruped Westerns with thick, shiny scales and large bat wings on its back. The physics of it all ruined it for me. It said that no living creature could create enough lift, without beating them as fast as insect wings, with wings on its back. Heavy scales would also create major drag. The natural wonders of the world are what drew me to the fantasy world ironically and therefore I could not overlook the western dragon’s flaws.

The dragon design I made tried desperately to be scientifically plausible in everything but size. It traded its arms for wings, lost its spikes and had feathers instead if scales. I hated the design as it did not feel like a dragon to me but a large archaeopteryx. I complicated my design process by wanting the design to always be in proportion and this led me to always measure its features.

Though this was not the only complication, I wanted it to have binocular vision like real predators. I fused multiple dragon heads together. But I had a vision of what a dragon head should look like, from the countless dragon ornaments I had collected from every holiday I went on to this date. None of them ever looked like that vision.  They had all failed.

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I didn’t really like dragons as much as I used to and ended up changing my already avian dragon to look like one of  my favourite birds at the time so much that it became just a regular Blue and gold macaw. I finally came to the conclusion that dragons just weren’t for me and after many years of drawing them it came to an abrupt end.

But I did not want to give up on fantasy, it had kept me happy for so long. I tried to create other creatures. I made my own carbuncles,eeveelution alternative designs, Kitsune and even tried hippogriffs once more but nothing caught my interest more than the immortal phoenix.

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I had always loved birds; my greatest interests had always been them, dinosaurs and dragons. But once again it did not work out as I had hoped. I could not make a phoenix using my favourite birds the macaw and rainbow lorikeet as everyone saw them as red eagles or peacocks. I was not brave enough to breach this expectation and therefore had to abandon the phoenix idea.

This is how my fantasy art finished, I had tried to make it work for me but then I finally understood. If I really loved the real world that much, why don’t I just draw real birds and this is what I do from now on.

Starting Out

Origins

Like most artists I started out practicing my art as a child. This meant drawing my favourite characters, mostly copying other peoples with no care to proportions, shading or backgrounds. I think most artists would agree that these were their “golden days”. I say this because most of us weren’t under pressure (whether by peers or ourselves) to do  better, to be accurate or unique. Those times were precious and they made us feel completely relaxed. However, now looking back at them, I cannot overlook the problems of my old work and sometimes even begin to hate it. But I am not alone in this thought as like the majority of artists there nearly always comes a time when we feel the need to improve.  That was when I metaphorically waved goodbye to my childish art and went in search of my own style.

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As I was  surrounded by my mum’s and step mum’s artwork at home and had always loved the realism of the great CGI movie monsters,  it was not surprising to me that I was drawn towards realism.

But finding your style is not an artists only trouble, you need to be inspired by a subject. This could be literally anything,  but for most people, there is nearly always a key theme.  For example my step mum paints animals, mostly British animals and birds in there natural environment.  She has her own style, usually working from photographs, her paintings have a blurred background, like a photo which has gone out of focus.

Even famous artists had themes, Van Gogh had his landscapes and Monet his water Lilies. I have had many phases over the years, some of which I will share with you in other posts. I changed from fantasy to real animals.

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I also experimented with media, I tested acrylic, watercolour, coloured pencil and pencils. With the artistic pencils I got given for my Birthday last year, I am currently getting into colouring pencils.

Starting Out

Media

During my quest to find the `perfect’ media for my artwork, I have experimented with different types to see what suits me best.  I have tried canvas, wood and card.  Trial and error have shown that some materials are not suitable for certain media.  I found this out when it came to the paper I was using.  When I was young, I used the standard printer paper, not acid free, no tooth or tolerance of wet media.  The results: bending and warping when watercolour paint was applied.

After my parents had realized my sister and I were into art, they started to buy us sketchbooks.   Our first sketchbooks were paper back and were the same quality of paper as the printer paper (these were your typical kids sketchbooks, not aimed at art students or Art Professionals).  Eventually we invested in some good quality Sketchbooks,  A4  hardback.  These are worth every penny as they support a variety of media (pencil, paint and ink).  The brand I use is  Daler Rowney Ebony artist’s sketch book.  Available at most art shops, hobbycraft etc.   It has acid free paper, 50 sheets and 160 g/m2 .

Next was the actual art media itself. When little, it was Crayola colouring pencils or brandless outliners. This changed when I went into GCSE art. I started using Acrylics for assessments, charcoal and chalks/pastels for work and watercolour everywhere else. I was never fond of charcoals and the like as they always crumbled and smudged even if you sprayed a good load of hairspray on them. I will always remember going back to art peices done in charcoal in my book as it completely transferred onto the other page. Charcoal didn’t even stay on the art piece itself.

The watercolour they used was a cheap. It had a horrible pastelly texture and always created dull tones no matter what colour you used and it didn’t blend well. The acrylics were special though. Influenced by my step mum and mum’s work, Acrylic seemed like this magic art material. It had the feeling that just by using it, your work would instantly become detailed. I was naive in this though, as I soon realised by the end of the art exam that I was not good at using it. While I had consistently got B’s and an A-, the acrylic work I did for the final resulted in me getting a C. This was partly due to my skill of using the perceived magical paint and the head study I did not being interesting enough for the final exam.

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Thankfully, this did not stop me from getting into Uxbridge College as a level 3 art and design student though. I had learnt my lesson from the final exam piece and have not relied on it so heavily since.

In the holidays of secondary school, my step mum and I had grown attached to a watercolour DVD tutorial named “Alwyn Crawshaw’s a brush with art, the complete watercolour course”. The three DVD course inspired us to pursue watercolour, we brought our own sets of half pan watercolour paints in a convenient carry case. It was a Windsor and Newton Cotman water colours (pocket plus 12 half pans). Watercolour was a lovely medium, beautiful colours and brush strokes, easy shadowing formula (given by the DVD) and the most interesting thing about watercolour was the special effects like spattering and salt effects. I completed three successful pieces using them (a colourful feathered t-rex from the Dinosaur Island film, a blue and gold macaw and the lorikeet picture shown in my origins post) and I brought a fairy watercolour book.

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Soon though I began to realise why watercolour was called the “brave medium”, it was easy to make mistakes. All my work had a problem with it, whether it was small like bleeding or outline pens spreading into wet paint or large like the paper warping severely or ripping. Last summer holidays I stopped using them for free time, I packed away my Aqua brush and put my set and brushes in my college bag. I do want to get back to watercolour. I think I will try not to be detailed and let the bleeding colours and gradients make the picture.

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At the moment I am trying new forms of media.  For my birthday last year, I got a Derwent Studio 24 coloured pencil set. The art peices I create may be dark in comparison to Prismacolour pictures I have seen but they make up the majority of my coloured pencil pictures so far. They are able to be sharpened t0 a point, blend, layer many colours and can be erased easily.  To supplement my colour pencil set, I am using Faber Castelle Polychromos. I have four individual pencils: Phthalo blue, Light cobalt turquoise, May green and Dark cadmium yellow.  As I can add as much colour and detail as I want, they are my favourite art material so far. Unlike the watercolour, I can layer as much as I want without worrying about it ruining my paper.

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For my final major project at college I am working in 3D. I have used aluminium wire and have done a third piece using my college’s new 3d pen. Both don’t feel as nice to me as colouring pencils but they are pretty interesting to use.