Georgina Gibbons was a master of pastels and animal portraiture. Some of her art was on display at the New Forest Show in 2014, which is how I came across her, and her winning entry to the 2013 BBC Wildlife Artist of the Year competition was called Dangerous Waters; a stunning and photographic chalk drawing of two lionfish.
So after exploring her website and many more treasures within, I decided to copy my favourite one, for its unusual subject matter and beautiful contrast. It’s also very small, the original, which must take phenomenal concentration. You can see the camera focus and foreshortening. A lionfish also seems to have naturally good composition, with all the radial fins and spines drawing your eye in to the centre.
I decided to cheat and trace it on my Galaxy Note 2 (flashed with Ditto Note 3 rom). With tracing, using layers and the colour picker tool, that was more like paint-by-numbers. Starting with low lights, highlights and colour blocks:
And at some point, started experimenting with all the brush settings in Sketchbook Pro for the chalk effect, the translucent fins and the multi-tonal background…
You can see here all the options, which can be hidden if you’re not using them: brushes, opacity, size, spacing etc are all customisable; you can make colour palettes, switch tools on the fly, insert a reference picture, add layers, rearrange them and make them invisible. I spent most of the time zoomed in to a ridiculous degree. Impressively, the app never stuttered.
And 9 hours later had something that looked like it had never set barbel near a mere mobile phone! I could certainly never do the real deal in chalk pastels. Colour mixing and matching is something I struggle with, so drawing this digitally allowed me to sidestep a lot of my weaknesses.
A year on, I finally went back and finished all the fiddly fine details on the spines, with no idea what settings I’d used previously. Several people agreed it’s more striking with a black background, so I’ve relocated the lionfish habitat from the warm Indo-Pacific to a deep sea dive. And gave him his other whisker back, whoops. However the Galaxy Note really over-saturates colours, so on different screens or printouts the colours become dull (and they did deviate from the original by the end).
And the final product is this beauty!
For more information on the talented and spiritual Georgina Gibbons, please check out her art here. I was very sad to hear that she was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2014 and died June 2015, but at the same time it’s wonderful that she achieved high goals and real recognition before that, and leaves behind something so beautiful. It inspired the first real art I’ve done in years.