3.1 Frog in a Well (‘You are what you eat’)

Final edited images – still need some sorting, and maybe redoing from a new sumi-e panting specifically painted for the final image. Things either looked painted on, or started to get too distorted. I like this way of working, but it is not easy. My work using similar methods for Assignment 3 The Nose where I do a new set of ink paintings is more successful – by that time my painting skills had also improved.


Choose a proverb to illustrate and produce two different versions, one implying the ‘good’ and the other the ‘bad’ meaning implied by the advice. Think about how you use the two images in relationship to one another. How do you create a comparison between the symbolism of the good with the bad? Think specifically about which elements in the illustration you need to tweak to make this work successfully.

For this assignment I chose the following Japanese proverb:

a frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean

The more I thought about this the more possible meanings I started to identify – the different elements: ocean, frog and well can all be good or bad independently, giving different interpretations of the relationship. Just focusing on the frog and the ocean, I developed two series.

Series 1: Ocean is good and beautiful

Good sense: the world is wide and wonderful, the frog glimpses it and is inspired to go further.

Bad sense : the frog is imprisoning itself in its own little world, depressed, angry

Series 2: Ocean is churning and threatening

Good sense 2: the frog is sheltered in blissful ignorance of the churning storm outside.

Bad sense 2: the frog is in blissful ignorance of the churning storm outside, and so is vulnerable and unprepared for what is to come. unaware of the wonderful world outside.


I learned a lot from much deeper consideration of these images as I prepared for assessment.

My first set of images sent to my tutor were based on a comic book style. Although I quite liked the comic sketches I did,  I found it very difficult to really make these work as images. At the same time thinking in this style, and why things were not working, then brainstorming on a range of variations in colour, size and visual dynamics was interesting.

I then started to study East Asian painting and found more Chinese and Japanese images of frogs. I also did some frog sumi-e paintings and did a second set of images, building on my earlier analysis and ideas.

I like the feeling of these second set of images. Using blending and masking techniques with physical watercolour and ink paintings and doodles gives a mysterious feel and can produce very dramatic contrasts and unusual colour combinations. But these images really need to be done again, with new sumi-e paintings now designed with these images in mind. I have put specific comments on the image files themselves. I need to learn a lot more about digital shading to make the perspective completely convincing. This is maybe not possible in Procreate, and might need to be done with the superior blending, masking and selection possibilities in Photoshop.


Sketches and paintings

I started by doing a web search of photos on the web and also Japanese myths and symbolism about frogs. I also took some photos of frog ornaments I had at home, and in the Fitzwilliam museum (see all these below).I then did some doodle sketches of frogs in my sketchbook to work out how they can be drawn, different moods and styles. With a view to doing the final images in Procreate on my iPad as part of my exploration of analogue to digital techniques.

My final set of images were based on further study of Japanese art, and particularly the Hokusai exhibition at British Museum Chinese artists I learned about in classes on East Asian paintings I started to take in September 2017(see all these below). Inspired by these I did some sumi-e paintings of frogs to combine with backgrounds from watercolour doodles from my sketchbook.

Series 1a: the world is wide and wonderful, the frog glimpses it and is inspired to go further.

For the first interpretation I had this image in my head of a frog crawling out of the well, overcome with wonder at the calm silver ocean and night sky. My first images were in black and white. For the frog itself I used one of the photos of the web and traced this with Procreate, then experimented with the facial expression – made the eyes loo more filled with wonder through making them look upwards with wide pupils and highlight. I also experimented with the size of the well and positioning of the horizon line. Of the two black and white images I prefer the original one – the frog’s head is above the horizon, and the wider angle on the well makes it look more of an effort to climb out.

I then started to experiment with colour – I made the frog a dull green (just an ordinary everyday frog). The first background with just blue I find rather dull. I tried complementary orange, but this brings the well forward too much as the centre of attention – though the well then becomes a friend to freedom. I like the turquoise version best – with the highlight on the rim as if in moonlight, and it makes the frogs eyes and their expression more prominent.

Series 1b: the frog is imprisoned in its own little world, angry, depressed and unaware of the wonderful world outside

I started with the same frog image, but this time dull and grey. I wanted the outside to be very colourful and bright to contrast with the dull, grumpy frog that cannot be bothered to look outside. I experimented with positioning and size of the well and frog. The first image is too unbalanced – putting the sun in the centre also did not work. – I was not sure whether to make the frog a ‘little Englander. I also experimented with the waves and colours. And blurring the sun. But this became too complicated. In the final image I simplify the shapes and colours.

Then I changed the frog for a tracing of my own grumpy sketch with flaming red eyes. I tried several versions of the well – is it a jail with a grid in front where the frog is imprisoned? Or is the frog there voluntarily? Putting the brick lines of the back wall facing downwards gives a more depressed and imprisoned feel. I like the drama of this final image, and the glowering in the frog’s eyes.

Series 2: Ocean is churning and threatening

Series 2 good meaning: the frog is sheltered in blissful ignorance of the churning storm outside.

The second series I used the same frog as in Image 1. Drawing the well as a cosy room with a contented, brighter green frog. I wanted to contrast this with a churning threatening background ocean. I first tried to so this through smudging and blending colours in Procreate, but this did not given the threatening feel I was trying for. I then thought of layering and blending the drawings of Humboldt squid I had done in Assignment 1 – with their vicious claws. I found layering and changing the scale of a number of duplicates of the image, using Exclusion and Difference Modes and then smudging gave a really interesting effect – menacing faces and dark moody colour.

In the positive version of the frog cosy I drew the frog large to make it the centre of the image and emphasise the comforting feel of the well against the outside. They eye is still drawn to the frog in the well because of the contrast in orderly style and warm colours. Finally I made the bricks less sharp and prominent and changed the expression of the frog to make it smile straight at the viewer, not up at the ocean. To make it seem more completely at ease.
In the negative version I made the well much smaller – like a lantern – to contrast with the much more menacing background. I changed the eyes of the frog to make them blinkered, and the colour to a naive pink. And changed the background brick back to face downwards.

Series 2 bad meaning: the frog is in blissful ignorance of the churning storm outside, and so is vulnerable and unprepared for what is to come.

I only did this final possibility using the sumi-e paintings.


In Japanese symbolism frogs are auspicious creatures, bringing rain, fertility and good fortune…on account of the abundant number of eggs produced by a frog (about 1500). The frog is regarded as the god of rainfall associated with the tsuyu rainy season and with good harvests (rainfall being particularly important for abundant harvests of rice). The frog has become a creature much beloved in poetry and art. Ceramic frogs are often sold at shrines as the Japanese word for ‘frog’ is the same as ‘to return’.”

Frog symbolism in Japanese, Chinese and Indian culture

Netsuke frogs

Frog from Meika gafu. Edo Period. Matsumoto Hoji, Eirakuya Toshiro
Frog from Meika gafu. Edo Period. Matsumoto Hoji, Eirakuya Toshiro
Zen frog by Kalpa
Zen frog by Kalpa
Zen Brush Painting Original Fine Art Sumi Ink Painting by Seiko Morningstar, zen monk-artist. Inspired by a Basho haiku: The old pond - Frog jumps in - the sound of water
Zen Brush Painting Original Fine Art Sumi Ink Painting by Seiko Morningstar, zen monk-artist. Inspired by a Basho haiku: The old pond – Frog jumps in – the sound of water
Other Japanese proverbs:

Japanese Proverbs Wikipedia




Many of these were quite sexist, but could have given opportunities for more feminist and comic contradictory approaches.

The Two Frogs

Folk Tale

Once upon a time in the country of Japan there lived two frogs, one of whom made his home in a ditch near the town of Osaka, on the sea coast, while the other dwelt in a clear little stream which ran through the city of Kyoto. At such a great distance apart, they had never even heard of each other; but, funnily enough, the idea came into both their heads at once that they should like to see a little of the world, and the frog who lived at Kyoto wanted to visit Osaka, and the frog who lived at Osaka wished to go to Kyoto, where the great Mikado had his palace.

So one fine morning in the spring they both set out along the road that led from Kyoto to Osaka, one from one end and the other from the other. The journey was more tiring than they expected, for they did not know much about travelling, and halfway between the two towns there arose a mountain which had to be climbed. It took them a long time and a great many hops to reach the top, but there they were at last, and what was the surprise of each to see another frog before him!

They looked at each other for a moment without speaking, and then fell into conversation, explaining the cause of their meeting so far from their homes. It was delightful to find that they both felt the same wish–to learn a little more of their native country–and as there was no sort of hurry they stretched themselves out in a cool, damp place, and agreed that they would have a good rest before they parted to go their ways.

“What a pity we are not bigger,” said the Osaka frog; “for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on.”

“Oh, that is easily managed,” returned the Kyoto frog. “We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to.”

This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he at once jumped up and put his front paws on the shoulder of his friend, who had risen also. There they both stood, stretching themselves as high as they could, and holding each other tightly, so that they might not fall down. The Kyoto frog turned his nose towards Osaka, and the Osaka frog turned his nose towards Kyoto; but the foolish things forgot that when they stood up their great eyes lay in the backs of their heads, and that though their noses might point to the places to which they wanted to go, their eyes beheld the places from which they had come.

“Dear me!” cried the Osaka frog, “Kyoto is exactly like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long journey. I shall go home!”

“If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way,” exclaimed the frog from Kyoto, and as he spoke he took his hands from his friend’s shoulders, and they both fell down on the grass. Then they took a polite farewell of each other, and set off for home again, and to the end of their lives they believed that Osaka and Kyoto, which are as different to look at as two towns can be, were as alike as two peas.

Source http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/japan.html

Frog photos

I also did some anatomical studies of frogs – eg how many toes do they have? How does the neck join the body? Different types of frog etc

How Frogs Work