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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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?


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.


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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'!.


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'!.


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!).


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.


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?


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.


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!


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 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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Chronicles of Azaria- Explore Azaria via World Anvil!

Hello everyone! So, some of you might remember that I am an author as well as an artist (yes yes I know it's been a while since I've published anything, you can blame my medical training :P). Now that I finally have more time to myself, I have gone back to my Chronicles of Azaria series and am now working on the third novel, The Blessing, which will complete the Goddess Saga of stories. Once I am close to finishing this I will give an update about publishing dates etc.

As you can find out on my Chronicles of Azaria page, this series is unique compared to many others in that it will have four stories set in different time periods. Of course Azaria doesn't stay stagnant during these eras, and so in order to keep things organised and easy to reference, I have created the world of Azaria in WorldAnvil, an amazing website which allows you to craft a detailed, living breathing world and share it!

 Chronicles of Azaria on WorldAnvil

This is very much still a work in progress, and I have not added in all the details of all the eras as it will spoil upcoming story content, but you can browse through Azaria's cities and see what they are famous for, explore the woods and mountains, learn about the infamous Tale of the Binding, and read character bios for the main characters of the Goddess Saga at your leisure!

Want something more amusing? Check out my Encyclopaedia Azaria where my characters will explain to you various pieces of Azarian lore!

Want to build your own world? You can use WorldAnvil's basic features for free- check them out!

Friday, 19 July 2019

How to Design a Fantasy Book Cover

How to Design a Fantasy Book Cover

A cover can make or break a book, regardless of the old saying, and it really is important to invest the time and effort into getting/ creating a brilliant cover (not just a 'good' cover). Here I hope to cover (no pun intended) step by step how I made the book cover for my book, The Binding. I don’t claim to be an expert, but hopefully through sharing my methods you might pick up something useful.

This tutorial is meant for ebook covers. Paperback books for POD are slightly more tricky, and I'll cover some of the differences at the end.

I used a combination of Photoshop CS2 and Elements 9.0 (mostly due to brush compatibility issues), and my Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablet (not required).

WARNING: This tutorial requires a very strong grasp of Adobe Photoshop. If you're unfamiliar with the software, I strongly suggest you find a professional to do the cover for you. All of the techniques I've used were gleaned from free online tutorials and personal experimentation. However I have been using Photoshop for years for my own artwork, so while these skills can be taught, don't expect to learn them overnight!

Access the tutorial via Pinterest or DeviantArt:

Saturday, 13 July 2019

5 Amazing Art Tricks I Wish I Knew Earlier

So I've been drawing for a number of years, self-taught, and while that does sound impressive to a lot of people, it comes with some drawbacks. Even with the vast resource that is the internet and all the excellent tutorials, hints and tips on various websites (click here to view some of my favourites), there are just certain little things that aren't ever 'taught' per se.

Reflecting on my art journey, I thought it might be helpful to come up with the top five art tricks I wish I'd known earlier. Some of these I've picked up through trial and error, some through online resources, and I hope through sharing them you might pick up something useful!

1. Use references

When I started drawing again in my early teens, I never really got this. I spent most of my time following simple tutorials, drawing shapes and making them vaguely humanoid (proportions and things aside), and not once were references mentioned. I did copy a few screenshots now and then, but was never consistent with it. I was also quite afraid of being accused of plagiarism, as occasionally I would reference poses from other art (you should really use stock photos for this purpose, as I have now learned!).

Copy of a screenshot from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion

However, a few years ago I came across a lovely post on tumblr that outlined how best to use references, along with a Mark Crilley video. Almost instantly I noticed a huge leap in quality- suddenly my faces looked like faces, and currently my birds have never looked better!

A redraw of an old fanart I did of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, the old one with no reference and the new one with!

There is a potential pitfall however, in that (as I am at the moment) you can become overly reliant on references and struggle to draw from imagination. This is something I am working on, but don't let it scare you from using references at all, as they make a huge improvement to your work.

2. Try to break things down into simple shapes

This can be easily forgotten, especially if you use references. It is very tempting to 'free draw' what your brain thinks its sees, and it leads to pictures that while they look close to a copy, small mistakes are easy to make (such as not measuring things so proportions are off, or lines don't follow perspective, etc). This is something I have also focused on while drawing birds, and I am getting better compared to when I started.
One of my earlier birds, a kea, I 'free drew', so you can see things like inconsistent feather sizes and a lack of symmetry

This fish eagle I did more recently, and you can see how much more even and consistent the feathers are as I broke it down into shapes first!

I remember when first looking up online tutorials I was often met with the 'shaded sphere' and got quite irritated as it didn't really seem to show me what I wanted to learn. However, this fundamental applies to all art, as if you can break something down into geometric shapes, you understand planes, and understanding this lets you know how to shade.

As simple as this looks, using this as a basis really helps make drawings look more realistic!

Doing this also helps to let you rotate images in your head and draw from alternative perspectives (which helps against the over reliance on references). I am not quite able to do this yet but it is something I am working on!

3. Choose your lights source before applying colour

Possibly one of the biggest fundamentals that I (and many others) ignored! It sounds ridiculous I know, but when you're in the element of colouring you do 'what looks nice', not what is physically possible. Another reason for inconsistent light source also shows up in 'detail pride'- if you do extra detail on a part of a picture that's in shadow, in reality that detail won't show so much as there's not enough light to highlight it.

This rather complex fanart of Leliana shows light reflecting off areas that should be in shadow, because chainmail sparkles dammit!

But come on, you spent so long on that armour, it's too good to make it all dark! So you add light where there isn't any, and it leads to the picture just looking 'wrong'. I also have a tendency to use the same light source (top left casting down), so I do need to branch out and try other sources.

So pick a light source at the start- draw it in if need be- and let it guide you. Sycra has some great tutorials for this so I highly recommend taking a look.

4. Make a background BEFORE starting to colour

This is something I've kinda just picked up. It's almost a running joke in the non professional art community about backgrounds being the weakest part of the image, as most of us hate doing backgrounds and just want to focus on the image. Detailed backgrounds can be tedious and take away from the enjoyment, so often it's left by the our detriment!

This Indian Robin looks not a part of the background as it is just a blurred photograph and I added it last

Usually, I would draw the lines for a picture, then colour it in, then slap dash a hasty background at the end. This however can make the colours look wrong, as different colours next to each other make the colour look different (check out this video by Marco Bucci who explains in more detail).

This silver pheasant looks much more part of the same image as I painted it first, which let me add some 'tinge' to the feathers to help it blend in

So, what I've now started to do is slap a few colour textures on the background first, usually in contrast to what I'm colouring, and THEN colour the main image. This makes the background and image sync together much better, and you can also choose better colour highlights to match.

5. Don't be afraid to trace to study

Okay, so obviously don't ever trace another's work or a reference and then claim it as your own (because that is plagiarism), but at the same time tracing can be a useful teaching tool. It lets you 'feel' the shape and flow of your subject, and that can be helpful when trying to replicate it on your own. Copying the 'masters' is also a known teaching exercise so you can see how certain effects were achieved.

It also helps to get the '3D' feel, so you can see for example how the brow bone sticks out on the face, or how the eye socket sinks in, so you can replicate the three dimensional planes on a 2D medium. This was something I learned from Istebrak's art channel on youtube.

So there you have five art tips I wish I knew earlier! I'm sure there are many many more- have you got any hints or tricks you wish you'd known sooner? Let me know!