Friday, 31 January 2020

Book review: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Hello everyone! So, I don't usually post book reviews on here (mostly because I don't read that much these days) but I made an exception with this book because wow, have I got a lot to say! It has been a long time since I've felt the need to rant (and not in a good way) about a book so here goes...




So I came across this book as a recommendation because of its diversity, and I am sad to say this was its only positive feature. I am trying to venture into adult fantasy, having been a fan of YA for many years, but all my attempts thus far have ended in heavy disappointment. This book is painfully mediocre at best, and downright awful at worse. I have so so many issues with almost all of it- the characters, the content and themes, the plot, and the utterly wasted potential and failure to capitalise on built up situations, and I will go through these below.

On the positive side, the writing was competent (if a few of the metaphors were odd), and the actual representation of LGBT was very seamless and the intimate scenes were tasteful and well done. However this does not give the book a pass on its other multiple failings (in my opinion).

First off, the story is extremely unfocused. There are four main ‘point of view’ characters (only two, Ead and Tane, I can call actual protagonists but you don’t realise this until at least 200-300 pages in, which is not a good thing), and thus the other two, Loth and Niclays, are complete wastes. It feels like the author put them in to show off her worldbuilding, to expose us to geographic regions outside where the actual main characters reside, and it’s excruciating.

Loth in particular, his ‘story’ is over within several chapters and added nothing to the overall plot. He is set up to have this arc of learning to become a spy, to infiltrate courts and perhaps do things that he would never have considered before, but nothing of consequence happens to him. He doesn’t fall into trouble or traps because of his supposed naive and honest nature, he easily gets what he was meant to get (i.e. he was a driver for plot, not a character with an arc) and later on his plot also crosses over with Niclays which makes the latter even more pointless as Loth covers the same ground he does. Loth also undergoes no development- he doesn’t change as a person as a result of his adventure. His story is also so short, and his relationship with Ead is told in pockets of backstory. Not flashback, just narrative. Their relationship is never shown, making it very weak, and hard to care for when you’ve never seen the two interact. The same goes for his friendship with Kitson- Kitson is literally there as a sympathy device, in exactly the same way ‘fridge’ characters are only there to make you feel sorry for the character they are attached to. He has maybe 5 chapters before he’s killed off- this was far too early, but clearly the author couldn’t have two characters travel together so she just erases him, making him just as pointless as Loth’s narrative in general.

Niclays is also a pointless character with no real development. He is portrayed as a drunken exile who wants revenge, and this set up could have been quite interesting...but nothing comes of it. Things happen outside of his control which he is then blamed for (rather than him making poor choices out of resentment), I didn’t care for any of his scenes because it was detracting from the overall plot, and his final turn to the good side happens in a SINGLE SENTENCE. That entire chapter is him loathing, about to get the revenge he wanted from the start, and without any prompt, without any thought process or insight or anything, he gives up and spills his plot to kill Ead. Not to mention that in the SAME SCENE, he is then told about the death of a character he was close to and this is given half a paragraph to sink in before he renews his allegiance to the good side. Again, his plot crosses over with Loth’s, so why did we get a doubling over of plot for nothing? Like I said, it seems this was done by the author to show off other regions in her fantasy world, not because the characters meant anything, and this was extremely frustrating. The alchemy plot line was also completely pointless because outside of Niclays telling us that Sabran was once interested in this, no other character cares about it. It’s not brought up in lore backstory, the rulers of other nations don’t care about it...so why is it given so much weight? Another case of telling us alchemy and eternal life are a thing without showing us.

Because of the focus on these two needless points of view, this took away from Tane, who is an actual main character but gets far, far less development than Ead does. Tane should have had a lot more prominence, and it would not have been hard to let her take over the roles of Loth and Niclays. Her arc about doing something wrong and then having to give up her rider status was also over far too quickly (the pacing in this book is atrocious)- it would have been so much more fulfilling to have this guilt gnaw at her over the story, having her accomplish the things Loth and Niclays did, and THEN being banished when the truth was spilled. And because she has absolutely zero interaction with Ead until a chapter or two before the end, she gets TWO SCENES to develop a relationship with her (which supposedly all happens off camera) and there is no conflict, no opposing ideals, they just smile and agree to whatever the other says. This was wasted potential! These two should have the most developed arc and relationship to really convey the struggling to compromise- the east vs west that the story tries to push so hard. These two should have come into contact far, far earlier, via the gems, or via other means, so we could see how they react to each other and overcome their differences to work together. But no, we get two scenes, and a final battle where they don’t even fight side by side, which was hugely disappointing.

Ead has the most focus (but not enough)- as she is the main protagonist she should have had the first chapter, and more emphasis that she had this role (it took me 200 pages before I realised she was supposed to be the lead). Ead however also suffers from a weak arc, and (yes I know this term is banded about a lot without good reason) comes across as Mary Sue. I mean she is:

a) a magic user in a land where this is outlawed/ not believed in, making her ‘special’
b) is very proficient at it, despite being away 7 years from the tree
c) is also fully combat trained and skilled with several weapons at once
d) is never wrong in her decisions- while other characters may disagree with her, she is always eventually proven right and never makes a mistake
e) has no actual flaw- getting injured in fights is not a character flaw, and she is not truly reckless because her actions have no consequence to her as a character (as opposed to her physically)

As a result, she doesn’t undergo much development either, as she never makes a mistake or error that causes her to look at her decision making and change. There is such potential here; as I said above she could have had a real conflict with Tane about dragons and magic, but because they never meet until the end, nothing comes of it. The foundation is there, but it is never built upon, and that is equally as frustrating as the pointless other two characters. I don’t know if Loth and Niclays were added because the publisher didn’t think having two female protagonists alone would sell, or because Game of Thrones has made the cast of thousands popular, but they were definitely not needed.

As a result of these extraneous characters, the book is extremely bloated. It’s far far too long- it could easily have been condensed if the focus was on Ead and Tane. Having three mystical artifacts was also too many, as one gem barely plays a role, and the other is just a means for Tane to fast-travel when her dragon is lost. Thus her having lost the dragon is inconsequential! This seems to be a running theme in the book- a roadblock is put in various places, but then a magic alternative appears (Aralaq, the bird character, etc), so the roadblock might as well have not been there. This is a symptom of the book being too long- it’s already an unfocused bloated mess so the author has to cut corners otherwise it would be even longer. But this saps tension out of everything- like the Niclays example above, that scene is built up so well, and then in 500 words it’s all thrown out the window for nothing. Ead gets lethally poisoned- but is magically healed anyway with no lasting disability or problem, and there is no time consequence either. Same with Sabran- she gets ill a few times, nothing comes of it. She miscarries, nothing comes of it. Laya and Niclays escape the pirates- nothing comes of it. Tane is stripped of her rank- she gets demoted, sure, but everyone treats her so well when it’s supposed to be this awful disgrace, so essentially nothing came of it.

The villains of the story were also weak. If you break it down, the story is basically Lord of the Ring with some altered set dressing- find the magic relic to kill the dark lord. This for me was another hugely frustrating thing, because with the set up of east vs west, star vs fire, you could have had a much deeper and more original and interesting story looking at the conflict of these ideals- that the magics can work in harmony not opposition, but no, we get the bare bones good vs evil story. The fire dragons are always portrayed as evil- why? The book goes out of its way to tell us (again not show us) that there needs to be balance, but what balance was there? Eastern dragons good, western bad is not balance. Again so much potential lost- we know the orange tree is based off fire magic, so why not have this the cause of imbalance? Humans taking the fruit to use its power has made fire magic over-powerful, it is thus humans who have caused this problem, not some abject cosmic horror that just randomly appeared a thousand years ago. This would have been a much more fulfilling approach and an actual new take on the genre (honestly the reviews this thing has one wonders if they have actually ready other fantasy books).

Like I said with the magic system having no consequence, this was another area that could have made the story much more interesting. Why not have the mages constantly fighting addiction, and temptation of power? Why not have Ead like an addict, craving the magic and abandoning her post for it, leading to destruction of Ascalon? Why not make her a parallel to the Witch, the person she could become should she choose the path of temptation? You know, actual character driven conflict, not just ‘oh the author needs me in this city at this time so let’s put as many contrivances as we can to make sure she’s on schedule’. The story is plotted like a bus timetable- character x needs to be at y at time z, and it’s boring and forced.

The secondary characters aren’t much better. Sabran is well written enough, as was Margaret, but there was so so much focus on endless lists of names and titles, it was very hard to follow. Usually for books I read the first 3 chapters, and if it doesn’t grip me I put it aside. The first three chapters of this book are very unwelcoming- they shove lore down your throat and expect you to keep up, adding more and more names and titles, then we have nicknames mixed with real names, too much emphasis on two minor characters (the guy from the opening chapter and his girlfriend, I forget their names, because that’s how memorable they were). I only persisted with the book because I had actually physically bought it and was on an 8 hour plane journey.

As a result of everyone seemingly having equal narrative weight, this is why it took me 200 pages to realise Ead was the main character, because there was no way to tell who was significant and who was not. Tane also doesn’t come back as a POV character after the first chapter for a while so this was even more jarring. Again, over-reliance on the author wanting to go ‘Look at my world! Look at the islands and people and nations! Aren’t I so clever and original!’ means the characters and plot suffer. I mean there’s a side character death that happens and I had absolutely no idea who she was because she blended into the 100 names I’d been drowning in since the start, so it held no weight.

The lore wasn’t well built into the narrative either. This can be challenging as you don’t want characters who should know basic lore spouting it for the reader’s sake, but easily fixed- have Tane in the west and Ead in the east. Remove the death on sight penalty, and change it to imprisonment or deportation, and have the two evade authorities. Done. Each learns of the others customs and cultures and this bridges the gap between them. Alas, no.

The Eastern lore, in my opinion, was poorly done. It comes across as a purely aesthetic choice with no actual research, and amounts to eastern dragons look different to western ones and eastern philosophy reveres them, and that’s as deep as the author goes. Nothing into the base conflict of philosophy- that western philosophy favours heaven and the afterlife while eastern favours reincarnation and cycles of life and death (yes this is a big generalization I know but it’s something to work off at least). This could have been brought into the conflict so easily- the West believe they need to slay the Nameless One to end the darkness, but the East know that because the orange tree is being used by humans, this is what caused him to be created, so they need to destroy the tree to balance the cycle, so the Nameless One goes back to being in harmony. Again this would have been so more interesting, and would have actually shown balance being the way forward, not the extremely one sided view that gets pushed in the real story.

Next is the magic system, which I have touched on above. It was much too vague and felt tacked on. While there is nothing wrong with a soft magic system (one that plays off the mystical rather than having structured laws), in this book it doesn’t work. Since the author has two magic pools (fire and stars), and people can access them, it should have gone with a hard magic system. Alas, there seemed no real consequences to using magic and no real rules, it’s just ‘magic’ and works as the plot wants it to. It reeks of deus ex machina, like when Loth is healed of the plague, or when Ead awakes from her coma- it works because we can’t kill off these characters or show any lasting disability, and since there’s no ITU (intensive care unit) and this plot needs to go go go we have magic miracle cure instead. The animal characters reek of this as well- they appear because the author needs a fast travel option like in a video game, ‘cause we can’t have 800 pages stretch on even longer.

Like I said above, the author hints that eating the fruit of the orange tree bears a consequence...but it doesn’t! The addict angle would have been perfect for this but no, yet another waste. And when the Nameless One can communicate to those who eat the fruit, why wasn’t this utilised? Why didn’t he taunt Ead in dreams and visions, tempting her, being a manifestation of the addictive nature of the fruit? Why didn’t he turn over other mages to his side? So much more could have been done!

Also, Tane who is supposed to be on the opposing side of star magic, eats the orange fruit! I was stunned to read this, because as I predicted, it was utterly pointless. All it did was ‘heighten her abilities’ and didn’t impart anything new, have any consequence or impact the plot in any meaningful way. Tane never uses this new magic either. I mean if she had the proper development with Ead which the book decided to completely ignore, this could have been a symbol of the two sides coming together, uniting to be stronger, but this was just stupid. The star magic is also grossly underrepresented in a story where it’s supposed to have as much prominence as the fire magic (fire magic being stronger does not mean it should have more prominence), and it really makes the author, who is desperately trying to push a narrative about balance, look like she forgot that it was the theme in the first place.

Overall, this book is a grating disappointment, with poorly executed themes, weak underdeveloped and boring characters, unfocused and unwieldly plot, and is simply another LOTR clone with some altered set dressing. While it does do a good job with the LGBT portrayals, that tiny sliver of silver is not worth the mounds of dirt you have to sift through to get.

I can think of two much better books that did these themes justice- the first is Alison Croggon’s Books of Pellinor, which did this feminist LORT retelling far better many years before (it’s not as explict with its LGBT as this book is but it is a much, much more competent story with better characters and writing), and the second is Eon by Alison Goodman (this is based in fantasy China and actually WAS research very well, also has feminist themes and a much more engaging Eastern lore). Don’t let the fact that these are YA put you off, because they are much more competently written.

1 star out of 5, would not recommend.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Top 5 Most Painful Medical Procedures

Top 5 Most Painful Medical Procedures

Alright, so anybody who's ever been admitted to hospital or needed a specialist medical investigation will have met with their fair share of uncomfortable procedures, whether it's blood tests or certain examinations. Some of course are more painful than others, particularly where needles are involved, so this is a list (in no particular order) of some of the most feared medical procedures carried out on patients.

Having often been the one doing and not receiving these tests, I also don't have much of a personal connection to these tests, hence why it's not a hierarchical list.

But trust me, it hurts me more than you :P

1. The arterial blood gas. (ABG)





One of the most useful and acute bedside tests available in modern hospitals today, the arterial blood gas, fondly abbreviated to ABG, has long been considered a fairly painful procedure. Although it's quick, the site of the test (often the radial artery at the wrist) and the angle in which the needle must strike the skin can be very off putting to patients, and it's often described as more painful than a regular blood test (venepuncture).

Why it's done: to check blood acid/base balance, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and other useful items like lactate and estimations of haemoglobin and electrolytes. The test is essential for lung or heart conditions or if there is severe organ failure, or if a patient is acutely unwell and there is no clear cause. It also gives an indication of severity of illness, and can be repeated to see if a treatment is working.

Further reading: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=c5987b1e-add7-403a-b817-b3efe6109265&chunkiid=14767

2. Bone marrow aspiration and trephine/ biopsy


Though not that common a test, this is arguably THE most painful invasive investigation. In general solid organ biopsies aren't very comfortable, but the bone marrow aspiration is in a league of its own. This is where a direct tissue sampling of the bone marrow is performed on a conscious patient. Although this procedure does involve local anaesthetic, this is only injected on the superficial skin, and since bone is richly innervated it's very sensitive to large needles coming through and scraping out some marrow. For some patients it's too much, and it has to be done under a general anaesthetic, though this isn't common.

Why it's done: to investigate any bone marrow disorder, ranging from the leukaemias and lymphomas to the bone marrow diseases such as myelofibrosis.

Further reading: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=c5987b1e-add7-403a-b817-b3efe6109265&chunkiid=14757

3. Lumbar puncture (CSF tap)

A lumbar puncture is where a spinal needle is inserted into the cerebrospinal space and the fluid here (cerebrospinal fluid, CSF) is tapped and sent for various investigations, including estimation of glucose and protein, looking under the microscope, and culturing to grow bugs. A special test also looks for something called xathochromia, which is indicative of an acute bleed within the brain. Again, while local anaesthesia is used for the skin, it can still be discomforting.

Why it's done: to look for nervous system disease, from acute problems like meningitis or subarachnoid haemorrhage, to other infections like tuberculosis, or for other diseases such as multiple scelrosis.

Further reading: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=c5987b1e-add7-403a-b817-b3efe6109265&chunkiid=14865

4. Colonoscopy


A small bore camera is inserted via the back passage and allow for direct visualization, biopsy sampling and even treatment of diseases affected the large bowel. However, it does require a lot of preparation (the bowel needs to be 'purged' to allow for a good view, usually done two days prior with potent laxatives and a clear diet), and can be very discomforting as air needs to be inflated into the bowel. Some patients find the procedure intolerable after a certain distance in the bowel, and so the procedure has to be abandoned.

Why it's done: to check for bowel problems ranging from bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, polyps, diverticulosis and many others. Samples can also be taken to be looked at under the microscope (histology), and polyps can even be removed at the same time as well.

Further reading: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=c5987b1e-add7-403a-b817-b3efe6109265&chunkiid=14795

5. Transoesophageal echocardiography




Most people are familiar with ultrasound and the typical echocardiogram- a scan that looks at the heart- done via the chest wall (transthoracic). However, the scan can also be performed from the inside via the oesophagus (gullet), which allows for better views of other chambers. Similar to having an upper GI endoscopy (camera test looking at the stomach and upper intestines), an echo probe is placed down the mouth, via the throat, and the heart imaged in the chest. Sedation can be given and local anaesthetic spray to the back of the throat, but it can still cause a lot of discomfort to some patients.

Why it's done: to check the chambers of the heart, heart wall thickness and chamber size, function of the valves, how much blood the heart pumps, and if there are any blood clots sitting in the heart.

Further reading: http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=c5987b1e-add7-403a-b817-b3efe6109265&chunkiid=191606

There are probably loads more tests I've skipped over, but these are the ones that stick out for me. What test have you had done that's made you cringe?

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Inktober- My Story So Far (Part Three)



Welcome back to Part Two of my Inktober journey! I recommend reading Part One first.

So October is the month of Inktober; an art challenge made by artist Jake Parker in 2009, where you have to draw 31 daily prompts in ink-based media. This has evolved over time, with people taking more liberties and using their own prompts/ themes/ media, and every year I say I will give it a go and every year I neglect to...

But 2019 is different! I plunged right in (3 days late mind) and have been able to keep up with the daily drawings. So, as well as share with you each drawing I've made, I also wanted to comment and reflect on the experience, as it's been very eye-opening and has made me want to pursue the medium of pen and ink further.

Each drawing was made using Derwent HB pencil, eraser and Staedtler pigment liners drawn on sketchbook paper- no digital means at all (apart from adding the prompt title).

I'm going to split the post into 3 parts, as it'll be quite an eyeful to go through all 31 drawings in a single post, so this will cover prompts 21-31.

You can see all of my artwork from Inktober plus all my artwork on my Instagram, @maddoctorartist

Let's get into it, shall we?

DAY 21- TREASURE

This was a fun one to do! I immediately thought of magpies and how they love to collect the shiny things. I actually used my own photo reference of a crow in this pose, then added all the trinkets. It took some time to come up with what sort of items a magpie might steal, so there's an assortment of watches, coins, mirrors, jewellery, cogs, screws and keys in there!

I also tried the feathering strokes again- it didn't really seem to work for the head and body, so it was something to look at for future.

DAY 22- GHOST

Another tricky prompt, as I didn't want to draw the stereotypical ghost in white sheet. Ghost can also mean spirit, however, so I thought I could do a haunted elk skull. Initially I was going to do a wolf in the sky with the northern lights, but once I did the skull I felt it was detailed enough to be its own thing.

As you can see here I really started to get to grips with shading, adding it to the trees, rocks and skull itself. I quite enjoy doing crosshatching, it's quite relaxing! I did make a lighting mistake on the left antler, which I only realised afterwards. Thus this has made me try to think about light sourcing and where to put the strokes, something I hadn't really done consciously before, and this is a good thing!

DAY 23- ANCIENT

As I mentioned in Part Two, I think this would have been better suited to Day 15 'Legend', and would have neatly swapped (as Virgo is an ancient constellation). Regardless, I chose to draw Pegasus wandering the ruins of Ephesus (in southern Turkey). I visited this place while on a cruise with school, and found it quite fascinating. I always like the style of Greek ruins, but aside from Athens (which I also saw on the same cruise) I haven't seen many.

I enjoyed coming up with a background for this one along with doing the feathers. Pegasus is often draw with his wings open so to be different I did him with one wing folded. I also really liked how the shading on the pillars came out.

DAY 24- DIZZY

This one I struggled with for a long while. Then I recalled a piece of fanart I had seen years ago from Fire Emblem, involving a character who could transform into an eagle. The fanart showed him twisting through a ravine (you can see if here if you wish), and I thought that 'dizzying' feat would work well for a bird. Initially I was going to do a peregrine falcon, but once I found a great reference picture of a bald eagle flying upside down, I decided to go for an osprey instead.

As you can see it was a very challenging pose, but great fun to do. I was also starting to think about how to convey 'colour' when I only have black and white. As odd as this sounds, if you desaturate a colour, it has a natural 'brightness' (so a desaturated red looks different to a desaturated blue, even if the colour is missing). In art terms this is called a value, and it also depends on how much light is hitting the object.

With pen and ink though, conveying 'colour' and shadows uses the same sort of idea. In this case the belly of an osprey is white, while its wings are brown. I perhaps could have done without drawing the individual breast feathers and made it more 'fluffy' to convey white, but that is the fun of Inktober- it has let me experiment and try things out. While not everything has come to what I had in mind, I haven't been upset with any result. It has all been a grand learning experience and has taught me a lot more than digital art has, and I'm super happy about it!

DAY 25- TASTY

Another prompt that I already knew what I was going to do! Following my very challenging Royal College of General Practitioner's practical exam (which was super nerve-wracking), I found a fun photo of two owls devouring a mouse, which I posted to Facebook saying that I felt just like the mouse and the owls were the examiners!

I remembered this photo and thus thought to use it as a basis for this prompt. For all the bird art I do, I've only ever drawn an owl once, so I decided to go for a barn owl this time. This was a nice straightforward pose, and I decided to focus more on the 'colour' of the owl rather than the shading. Hence it looks a bit 'flatter' than the previous drawings but I liked doing the stippled effect on the feathers. I was also able to make the head more 'fluffy' by not drawing individual feathers, as I had done with the osprey.

DAY 26- DARK

Is it me, or do the prompts seem much easier for these later days? Maybe it's because I was very into thinking up ideas by now, or just they seemed to translate to wildlife themes better. Either way, this was another one I knew exactly what I wanted to do- a blank panther hunting at night. Now this was going to be a challenge, as how could I render the black fur but also make it look shaded?

The answer is not to use solid black! Thus I went with layering of crosshatching and avoided any solid shades, saving this for the background to emphasis the night-time. I loved how this came out- it feels like a full fledged ink drawing, rather than the simple sketches I was doing to start with. This also took a lot longer- around 3 hours! It reminds me a lot of published novel illustrations that you used to get- I enjoyed looking at these and always wondered how the artists could convey so much detail with only black ink.

DAY 27- COAT

This is hands down my favourite of all the prompts. Of course I wanted to pick an animal coat/ pelt, and the contenders were bear and snow leopard. Snow leopards have such lovely thick winter coats, so I went with that. Here I applied everything I'd learned so far in Inktober and I love how it came out. I went all in with shading, including the background. Some parts didn't quite blend as I hoped, such as the belly fur and leg, and the background shades are a bit too close to the fur itself so it merges into each other, but I really was please with the fur texture- a dramatic improvement over Day 6 'Husky'!.

DAY 28- RIDE

I seem to have lost my momentum with this one, I feel it's not as good as some of the previous ones, but I did enjoy coming up with the concept, and I also learned a new fact!

So, as you might be aware, Hinduism has many gods. Many of these gods have what is known as 'vahan'- literally translated this means 'vehicle', but the English 'steed' is a better approximation, as these are the animals the gods use to travel. I was going to draw all of them, but a quick search showed me there's over 30, which was far too much for a single prompt!

Hence instead I decided to choose the major goddesses- Durga (she rides a tiger), Lakshami (she rides an elephant or a white owl), Saraswati (she rides a white swan) and Parvati (who rides a lion- a fact I didn't actually know!). Parvati also sometimes rides a bull, which is her husband Shiva's steed.

Thus that was the mystery connect between the four animals and the prompt 'Ride'!.

DAY 29- INJURED


I had to think a bit for this one, as there were a lot of potential possibilities. I was thinking to do a Monster Hunter monster again, but then thought of something simpler- a stag fighting a wolf. I enjoyed the stag, but the wolf still seems a bit 'cartoony', which was not what I was going for. I didn't have a direct reference, but I did use several photos to help. Overall though I liked th emoment captured, and how I was able to shade the fur on the stag.

Here I was starting to see how difficult it can be to make consistent strokes- see the trees for example- but I was playing with different ways to hold the pen, so I wasn't too frustrated with it.


DAY 30- CATCH

This one competes with the snow leopard for my favourite. I was initially going to draw an eagle or osprey fishing, but as I had already used these birds in previous prompts, I chose to do a kingfisher instead.

I was finally starting to get the hand of blending with ink- that is, layering strokes with different distances between the lines to get a gradient of light and shadow. I also didn't try to draw individual feathers too much, apart from the head and neck, which on kingfishers are quite prominent.

Very happy with how this one turned out!

DAY 31- RIPE

And here we are, the final prompt! Once again I changed my mind last minute, as I discovered I could slip in another bird! So, instead of drawing strawberries, I went for a macaw eating a fruit, as this is part of their natural diet.

I think I went back a bit here- I was a bit too heavy handed with the head feathers, and I could've made the breast feathers bigger so they don't look so 'tiled'. Again, it's a decision between wanting to convey 'colour' and wanting to convey shadow, so this is something I can work on in future drawings.

Thus, I completed all 31 prompts, with only a single delay at the start! I am particularly thrilled to see such an evolution of my art style, from the single line flat sketches to this much more detailed and textured forms. I still have a lot to learn, and have in fact purchased some books to further my studies! I don't think I will abandon digital art either, but it is really lovely to experiment with a new medium.

I hope you enjoyed taking this journey with me, and I'll be sure to post more artwork soon!

Friday, 1 November 2019

Inktober- My Story So Far (Part Two)



Welcome back to Part Two of my Inktober journey! I recommend reading Part One first.

So October is the month of Inktober; an art challenge made by artist Jake Parker in 2009, where you have to draw 31 daily prompts in ink-based media. This has evolved over time, with people taking more liberties and using their own prompts/ themes/ media, and every year I say I will give it a go and every year I neglect to...

But 2019 is different! I plunged right in (3 days late mind) and have been able to keep up with the daily drawings. So, as well as share with you each drawing I've made, I also wanted to comment and reflect on the experience, as it's been very eye-opening and has made me want to pursue the medium of pen and ink further.

Each drawing was made using Derwent HB pencil, eraser and Staedtler pigment liners drawn on sketchbook paper- no digital means at all (apart from adding the prompt title).

I'm going to split the post into 3 parts, as it'll be quite an eyeful to go through all 31 drawings in a single post, so this will cover prompts 11-20.

You can see all of my artwork from Inktober plus all my artwork on my Instagram, @maddoctorartist

Let's get into it, shall we?

DAY 11- SNOW

This was another theme that had a wide range of possibilities, so I chatted with a friend again and she suggested an arctic fox. This was a new challenge for me, and it also made me decide that if possible, I would like to stick to drawing wildlife for each prompt.

Given the white fur of the fox, I was reluctant to add any shading so I left it blank, and added some snow. As a result it does look a bit flat, which is something I work on as we go on.

DAY 12- DRAGON

I didn't want to be too obvious with this prompt, and so in order to also stick to my general theme of wildlife, I chose a Komodo dragon. With this drawing I played with the different pen width sizes, which wasn't something I had done much until now. This was really useful to get the scales done, though it was also very time consuming!

I was very happy with the form of this one, and the detailing. Again avoided the shading so it's not quite as three dimensional as it could be, but I learnt a lot about pen strokes with this one. I also made a mistake on the left leg as I didn't follow the right contour, which was worth noting.

DAY 13- ASH


This one was difficult to come up with an idea, as it doesn't really lend itself to animals! However in the end I had a spark of brilliance, as I realised I could draw a mythical creature. Thus using a peacock base, I drew a phoenix rising from the ashes (or at least bursting from flame). It was tricky to get nice smooth curves, mostly because my drawings were in an A5 sketchbook and I usually draw in my lap rather than on a table! However this is something I made a note to work on in future drawings.

At this point my drawings were taking around 10-30 minutes, as I preferred quick sketches rather than full blown shaded pieces, but you'll see how that changes!

DAY 14- OVERGROWN

I already had an idea in mind for this prompt, although the type of bird I was going to draw changed when I saw photos of a Phillipines eagle. This was very interesting to draw as I started using different penstrokes to simulate different textures. I really liked how the feathers came out in particular, and how I could use broken lines to simulate the edge of feather strands.

DAY 15- LEGEND

This was another difficult prompt (and looking back, what I ended up doing for Day 23 'Ancient' probably would have swapped nicely with this one). In the end I decided to draw the constellation of my zodiac sign, Virgo. This depicts a young girl or maiden holding a sheaf of wheat. In ancient times she was often associated with the goddess of the harvest, Demeter/ Ceres, given that Virgo spans over the harvest season (August 23rd- September 22nd).

I kept this one simple, thus I didn't give her any facial features as I wanted to convey it as a more symbolic form.

DAY 16- WILD

I was happy to get this as a prompt, as it fit very well into my wildlife theme! Since I had enjoyed the tiger so much, I decided to draw another big cat, this time a jaguar with some prey. I added a bit more of a background to this one so it wasn't so stuck-on, and tried to contrast the prey with the predator by giving it a darker coat. I also tried to follow lines of fur, which I didn't really do with the Day 6 'Husky' prompt. It still looks artificial and not flowing like real fur, but it was a start as I didn't know how to simulate the texture at all.

DAY 17- ORNAMENT

As I mentioned in the last post, I tried not to be too obvious with each prompt if I could help it. I wasn't keen on drawing any inanimate objects, which made it tricky to come up with an idea for this one! Initially I was going to do a Diwali decoration, as the festival was coming up soon, but then I thought why not do something else? So I went with a bull with an 'ornament' of flowers on its horns. I was also tempted to go with a stag, but decided for a bull in the end. This ended up working out, as I used a stag and antelope skull in future prompts.

Again I left it quite plain, wanting to stick to simple sketches.

DAY 18- MISFIT

This was a bit of a special one for me. I'm sure there are lots of 'misfit' creatures in the animal kingdom, but ever since I learned about the Aesop fable of the raven and the swan, I've been fascinated by the two species as you don't often see them together (though I do have a photo of the two together on the river Thames!).

The raven and swan!

In the fable, the raven is jealous of the swan's white feathers and ability to swim. So it tries to swim and ends up drowning, while the swan muses that creatures should stick to what they are made to do. I didn't like this rather morbid ending, so I wrote my own story with the two birds. You can read it on my Facebook Page (it's also illustrated!).



DAY 19- SLING

Another prompt that took a bit of thought, and I did consult a thesaurus to see what else I could do with it. Sling can also mean suspend, thus that gave me the idea to draw a cat trapped in some vertical blinds!

This was very tricky to draw, as I didn't have a reference and I was trying to work out which parts of the blind would sink given the cat's weight. I also made a line mistake, but one thing Inktober has taught me is that I do not need to be scared of making errors. It is good to leave them there as reminders, especially with ink as it's not erasable. Overall though I was happy with how it came out.

DAY 20- TREAD

You will start to see a shift in the detailing after this one! This was fun to come up with, and very enjoyable to draw. I liked getting the detailing of the baby elephant's skin down, and I tried my hand at crosshatching to get some shading. This was the first time I committed to trying to shade with ink, and while I didn't lay down too much contrast I liked how it was coming out. Here I learned that shading with smaller widths gave different textures than shading with bigger ones, and is something I take forward with the next prompts.

And so concludes Part Two of my Inktober Journey! Next week I will post the last set of drawings 21-31, and you can see how my ink style evolves to the next level!

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Inktober- My Story So Far (Part One)


Hello everyone! It's been a while- just when I was getting the blog back on track with more regular updates it fell away from me again, so I'm going to try to get back to it. This month has been a busy one for me, as I decided to take on the famous Inktober Art Challenge!


So October is the month of Inktober; an art challenge made by artist Jake Parker in 2009, where you have to draw 31 daily prompts in ink-based media. This has evolved over time, with people taking more liberties and using their own prompts/ themes/ media, and every year I say I will give it a go and every year I neglect to...

But 2019 is different! I plunged right in (3 days late mind) and so far have been able to keep up with the daily drawings. So, as well as share with you each drawing I've made, I also wanted to comment and reflect on the experience, as it's been very eye-opening and has made me want to pursue the medium of pen and ink further.

Each drawing was made using Derwent HB pencil, eraser and Staedtler pigment liners drawn on sketchbook paper- no digital means at all (apart from adding the prompt title).

I'm going to split the post into 3 parts, as it'll be quite an eyeful to go through all 31 drawings in a single post, so this will cover prompts 1-10.

You can see all of my artwork from Inktober plus all my artwork on my Instagram, @maddoctorartist

Let's get into it, shall we?

DAY 1- RING


I drew the first 3 prompts on 3rd October 2019, as I was away from home at the time and didn't have access to my art supplies. Ring seemed straightforward enough, but I wanted to take a little leeway with each prompt, so for this I drew Sonic the Hedgehog holding a ring.

Sonic was the first subject I ever drew regularly when I was young, and I still love the classic games and the brilliant Sonic Mania which came out more recently. The last time I drew Sonic was for a fanart contest- and he's actually harder than his simplistic design would make you think! His quills are a bit too short here, but I enjoy the pose and expression.

DAY 2- MINDLESS


The second of my catch-up prompts. This prompt felt a lot harder and it was difficult to come up with an idea. In the end my inspiration came from my best friend- she'd recently taken in a stray kitten and let me name her. She looked adorable in the photos, and I knew cats have a tendency to do what we would presume are mindless acts, such as knocking off items from tables, so I went with this as the theme.

I was surprised at how quickly I drew the image- using a lot of reference photos for my bird art seems to have rubbed off and I find it easier to build forms, so this was a good positive!

DAY 3- BAIT


And so this was the third consecutive image I drew to catch up to the daily prompts. Of course it wouldn't be long before I dropped a bird into it! Again it took a bit of thought to think it up, as I was initially going with the fishing theme (and to be honest I'm not a huge fan of drawing fish or fisherman), when I realised that worms are often used as bait and birds love worms so...here we are! As I said earlier, I didn't want to take the most obvious route with each theme, and this is a good example of what I've been going for.

I was initially just going to do the raven, but then I added the robin as well, as the 'bait' is luring both of them to the same spot. I also made an attempt at a background- drawing the backgrounds for my colouring book (link here if you're interested) has helped quite a bit with my ability here.

DAY 4- FREEZE


This prompt actually came from my friend, as we both love the Monster Hunter games and she introduced me to the latest instalment, Monster Hunter World. A monster I particularly liked was the Legiana, an ice wyvern that gives good armour (the basis of the game is to hunt giant monsters and use their body parts to make better armour to hunt stronger monsters). I had always wanted to draw one of the monsters from this game but they are all so incredibly detailed, and thus were quite daunting to attempt. Yet here I bit the bullet and gave it a go, and it wasn't half bad!

This is another positive I've taken from Inktober- that no drawing needs to be perfect and you should not feel intimidated to try something because it looks hard. Even if it doesn't come out as intended, it's an important learning experience and this has only become more apparent during the challenge.

DAY 5- BUILD


This was comically difficult- I spend a long while trying to think of something interesting to draw, and it was when talking to a friend that I came up with the exclamation that birds BUILD nests! So I was able to sneak in another bird, this time a bald eagle.

Now here was when I started to get a bit more experimental with the inking- as you can see the nest 'branches' have a bit of extra shading on them, which I enjoyed playing with. Inktober has made me feel more free to try new things, and it was at this point that I realised I wanted to get better with the medium and was starting to see the different effects you can create with different pen strokes.

DAY 6- HUSKY


For this one I couldn't really think of anything less literal, so I went for the most obvious choice which was the husky dog. However I chose to do a puppy just to be a little different. This was a chance to play with creating fur with ink, using some tips I'd found on Alphonso Dunn's Youtube channel. It didn't come out as I hoped (the strokes were a bit too short and not following a general direction) but it was very valuable to learn how different ink strokes make different effects (for example the cast shadow is different to the fur).

DAY 7- ENCHANTED


Again for this one I went with something simple and obvious- a dove and a magic hat and wand. Some of the themes have such a broad coverage that I felt overwhelmed with choice, so sometimes it was less tedious to pick something close to the theme's most literal meaning.

I was quite tentative with shading so stuck with just the hat and cast shadow. Black and white ink gives a fun dimension to drawings as you can both show shading in detail and different 'colours', and it was useful to practice here given that the hat is black and the dove is white. The dove however (and pretty much all the previous inktobers) did come over as quite flat however as a result.

DAY 8- FRAIL

My initial plan for this was to draw a different baby bird, but baby birds are quite hideously ugly so I opted to draw my favourite bird, the mute swan. Cygnets (baby swans) are born fully fluffy and they can swim straight away too, but they are still very vulnerable to predators and so they rely on their parents to protect them. Hence they are still considered 'frail'!

Again as swans have white feathers I was reluctant to add shading, though I probably could have done it for the cygnet as they are grey. Thus the images are still looking quite flat with mostly outlines only, but then again this was the point for me. When I started the aim was not to make magnificent finished masterpieces, but just to do simple sketches to fulfil the criteria each day.

DAY 9- SWING

Lara Croft is one of my favourite video game characters, though I've never drawn her before. I've lost some confidence in drawing people since I switched to birds, and I am still reluctant to go back to drawing faces as they never look realistic enough, but Inktober has been a chance for me to draw things I'm not very good at so I made an effort. It's highlighted to me the many areas I need to work on, but I was generally happy with the gesture.

DAY 10- PATTERN



This is one of my favourite pieces so far- I've found I quite enjoy drawing big cats and tigers are my favourite. I enjoyed making the furred outlines and stripes, and it's an improvement over the fur of the cat from day 2 and the husky from day 6, even after only 4 days of the challenge!

Again I'm still wary of adding any depth, but I did make an attempt with the background rocks!

SUMMARY

The more I've drawn each day, it's made me feel braver to try new things and venture out of my comfort zone, and I've also not put any pressure on myself to get it perfect first time. This is especially true with ink as you can't erase anything if you make a mistake. I thought this would put a lot of pressure on me, but I've been quite lax with myself and even if I do make mistakes, I simply let them exist as part of the image and store it for the next time.

So that's it for Part One- the next post will cover days 11-20! See you then!