Theres someone I'd like you to meet--or should I say, someones.
These are the friendly monsters! (If you follow my instagram, you've already met them :-) They star in my latest picture book dummy. This is one of those ideas that hit at 4am (I was up thanks to a hungry baby) and just WOULDN'T LEAVE ME ALONE until I put it on paper. I jotted down a few lines and then was finally able to get a bit of sleep.
The first draft came out pretty easily. I let it sit, did some edits, and then I sent it off to a few different friends (and the 12x12 community) to get feedback. I love having different places to get feedback from, because I feel that when I just get it from one critique group they hear the first person's comments and then everyone just ends up agreeing with that person--not always, but fairly frequently. I like having different places to get feedback so people are thinking up their comments independently--I feel they're more helpful that way.
I don't know where I first heard this thought on critique, but its something I generally live by: If one person tells you something, its an opinion and you can ignore it if you choose. If two or more tell you independently that it is a problem (not just critique group partners chiming in, people critiquing who don't have any access to the comments of the other) then it is something you need to take a look at.
In the case of this story, having multiple critiques... didn't backfire, per se, but it did give me directly contradicting advice. From one friend, "There is too much X! I think you should take out X completely." From another "The X is nice, but I think you need even MORE X."
Oh, the joys of navigating critiques. I've at least got plenty to think about with this story, and I'll do my best to be true to what I loved about that idea at 4am.
As far as the art goes, I'm trying a slightly different style here, and LOVING it. Seriously, why didn't I try working this way before! I'm still using my cutaway linocut vector process, but really minimizing the linework. Instead of starting with the lines and then filling in the shapes and colors, I'm starting with the big shapes and adding lines only where necessary to define the form. I'm using the shadow layer to create texture instead of the line layer as I usually do. I really like how it came out. I think I'll definitely still do linework-based illustrations, but I want to do more of this approach as well.
As usual, progress images of how this one came together. What do you think?
I completed a new piece! This one was inspired by one of my favorite artists, James C. Christensen, who recently passed away. He often created images with elaborate ships, mixed scale, and clever sayings, often in Latin. So it was something of an exercise--not exactly a master copy, and not with the goal of being entirely in his style. I wanted something in my style, but inspired by his. I think I succeeded in that at least.
I have progress images (I always think those are fun to see, maybe nobody else does though) but that will have to wait until my internet is working better--its patchy right now for some reason.
I said I'd do it, and I did. Earlier today, I submitted the dummy of my story FINN'S FEET to the Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award. Thanks to all who commented on my last entry to help me find a title. Now my little story is going off into the world...
It was a big project, and the housework definitely got neglected as the deadline got closer, but it's done. It feels so good!
I only saved progress images of one of the illustrations, though. I was just trying to get them done as quickly as I could, so saving out periodically as I usually do just didn't happen.
This is a good start for my goals this year of pushing forward with my writing and illustrating this year, and actually submitting my work as well. Before doing this project I thought I mostly wanted to illustrate other people's stories, but putting this together helped me to realize that I actually really like creating my own stories too. I will definitely be doing more!
Sometimes, my baby sleeps. And sometimes she doesn't sleep on me. And sometimes when she's sleeping not on me, I get to do stuff. Like make pictures.
My dummy is still in progress! But I was feeling really bogged down in the sketch-tightening phase (my personal least favorite in the whole illustration process.) So, I decided I needed to do a quick piece start to finish to remind myself what it is like to actually do the final stage--which I really enjoy!
So, I put together a quick piece for the SCBWI postcard contest. I just threw together the first image I thought of, without trying to be super original with the concept or composition--I just scribbled a sketch and moved forward on it. It was really refreshing, actually. I felt more free, less attached to what happened, and since I didn't care quite as much I felt more able to experiment with things without being stressed about the experiments going bad. So it was a great piece because I enjoyed making it, whether or not its actually any good otherwise ;-).
I didn't save periodically during the process on this one like I usually do, because I was just moving through it and trying things, as I said. Here's how it turned out:
Hello! I am still alive. And still very pregnant. Just about as pregnant as you can get, actually. Sometime in the next month, this little person is going to emerge and life will never be the same! In the meantime, we are trying to get everything ready AND get enough sleep. That whole thing about sleeping now because you won't when the baby comes? You all forgot or never experienced a huge stomach that kicks you and randomly contracts (sometimes quite painfully) and crowds your bladder. The short of sleep thing has already started, my friends. But this being baby #1, there is nothing to keep me from taking naps, so there is that. I make sure to get one most days now, and it is keeping me sane.
So, I've been doing Yoga and Naps and Breathing Exercises and Reading About Birth and Breast Feeding and Organizing Everything.... I have significantly cut back on my art for the last month or so, though. As in, I've barely even gotten my sketchbook out. I look at all the art from the people I follow on social media, and I certainly still THINK about it, but.... haven't really done any.
Now and then I start to feel a bit guilty about this. Does this mean that I don't REALLY want to be an illustrator? That I am stopping as soon as the going gets rough?
Maybe, but I don't think so.
For the last year and a half, I have really focused a LOT on my art and portfolio. Kind of the culmination of that were the two SCBWI conferences I went to this year--the National Conference in NYC this February, then the Greenleaves Regional Conference up at Lake George in April. Oh, and getting shortlisted for the Bologna Illustrators Showcase--so unexpected, and so encouraging! I am so glad I entered that contest went to both conferences, I have been really inspired and received great feedback. Mostly really positive feedback, too. Basically most of what I heard could be summarized thusly: "Your portfolio looks really great. You have a distinct look and obvious drawing skill. There are a couple things you have to work on, but once you fill those gaps in your portfolio you can compete with the pros."
So intimidating and encouraging at the same time. "You're almost there, just keep working just as crazy-hard as you have been for the last year!"
But, I can't. I don't make this as a lame excuse, but really and truly--I am pregnant and exhausted, and excited and a little bit scared, and really do have other more important things going on right now. That is just how the timing has worked out. I worked really hard for over a year, and its time for a break.
With this going on, I have been thinking a lot about this quote I came across on tumblr awhile back:
I read that and I think--yes. That is where I am right now. I need a time of dormancy for my art. My creative tree needs a winter, to just sit under the snow and not worry about growing or making leaves and fruit for awhile. (Ok, weird image, moving on.) I really do feel that when I come back to my art in a few months, while I expect to be a bit rusty in many ways, that it will ultimately be the better for it, and I will be able to fill those gaps in my portfolio better than I would if I just kept trying to push myself through them now.
This isn't artist's block. Its just a time of dormancy.
So one of my goals last year was to put together a portfolio I wouldn't be shy to show to people and actually advertise. I completed that goal, and I've continued to make new portfolio pieces this year as well (though pregnancy has slowed that down somewhat.)
I like what I have in my portfolio. But the entire thing is done completely in Illustrator, and while I love the textures and happy accidents I've been able to incorporate into such a digital-looking program, I feel like I'm really leaning on what is familiar. That isn't a bad thing, but I really want to get another set of quality images created--using Photoshop rather than Illustrator. That is the goal for this year. (And maybe next year, seeing as how the other goal for this year is to birth a baby and, you know, keep it alive and not go crazy.)
Awhile back the extremely popular digital artist Loish ran a kickstarter campaign which I supported. One of the rewards I received for backing was a video tutorial showing her process of painting a character in Photoshop. I watched it and felt that I really got a lot out of it. I especially liked the way her color scheme is kind of found organically through the process of painting, by using different color tools at various points in the process.
So I decided to do a quick character painting in Photoshop to try out some of her methods. Digital painting is still something I'm really insecure in, but I believe that some of Loish's tricks and methods are definitely going to find their way into my digital painting process. I especially love how she uses an unusual color for her drawing lines and uses that to choose colors she adds later. Her colorful outlines make me think of a Wayne Thiebaud painting, whose work I also love.
This only represents a few hours of work and I certainly don't feel like it is portfolio quality yet. However I feel like it was a great learning piece and it was a great opportunity to try out Loish's technique. I'm so glad I supported her kickstarter campaign!
Since I was in unfamiliar Photoshop territory, I went for a familiar character. I have no idea how many times I've drawn Attolia, but she has kind of become a default for me. I imagine this as being from a specific scene in The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. If you can guess which one you get a gold star ;-)
So after posting really regularly for awhile (well, regularly for me, anyway) this blog got pretty quiet all of a sudden. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and TWO weddings in the family (my sister and sister-in-law) equal a LOT of craziness to get through. On top of that were a couple of work projects with tight deadlines, and, oh yeah… being pregnant. I can’t put my finger on how, but I swear being pregnant takes time out of your day.
But with all that going on, I did manage to get one illustration done! Come what may, we have to keep making art, right?
This is an idea that has been in the back of my head for awhile. It's more about the concept than the story. I, for one, think it would be completely awesome to have a gigantic tortoise as my main method of getting from one place to another. I feel like so many fantasy modes of transportation, from dragons to rockets, are about being the fastest and sleekest. But think about it--if you had a gigantic friendly tortoise to ride, you could take your time, read a book as you go, and just glance up at each page turn to steer or see if your stop is coming up soonish. It would be awesome.
OK, so I have to say--that last exercise has been my favorite so far. I just think scribbling is so FUN. And I have always thought better in shapes rather than in lines. And, while I was having all that fun scribbling, I was also seriously thinking about what I was drawing, and understanding it a little bit better. So basically, modelled drawings are the best.
Also, a heads up--this October I am planning to do the full Inktober challenge. I may decide that it is going well and that I will have time to post, but as of now the plan is to only do TWO of these drawing exercises in October, or every other week. I feel that that way I can still keep my momentum with these exercises without overloading myself. So, this week's exercise will cover two weeks.
Each week when it comes time to write up a new exercise, I go to my master plan and re-order the exercises I have outlined. I don’t think that's a bad thing. As I have actually sat down to do each exercise, I understand its benefits better, and also how it relates to the others.
So far, we have done Pre-Instruction Drawings, Negative Space Drawings, Blind Contour Drawings, and Modeled Drawings. I feel that the natural next step from there (though I didn’t see it before) is Gesture Drawings.
I’m really bad at gesture drawing.
At least, I have always felt that way. (So of COURSE it would fall on the two-week-long space…)
However, I think that may partially be due to the fact that in school I was gesture drawing next to people who learned from the amazing Ryan Woodward (though I never got to be in one of his classes--I was in illustration, not animation, which are DIFFERENT). He draws amazing gestures really quickly that also actually look like people. *sigh* But (again) coming back to Nicolaides’ book The Natural Way to Draw (this is our last exercise from that book, by the way) I saw that I could loosen up and just draw a gesture and not worry about whether it looked good or not. Because the important thing about gesture drawing is capturing the movement, not the form. And (unless your name is Ryan Woodward) they are for study, not for show.
And I will say this--as jealous as I am of Ryan Woodwards amazing skill in drawing accurate gesture drawings, he doesn’t sacrifice an understanding of movement for accuracy. Behold:
I love the way that Nicolaides described the process of gesture drawing:
I can’t get a quick, even somewhat accurate drawing in less than a minute--but I can draw a loose set of lines and scribbles that represent the movement of the figure. So can you ;-)
The tricky thing about gesture drawing is that we’re adding another dimension--which we have been doing with each exercise. Negative space drawings are pretty two dimensional, even when drawing from life. With blind contour drawings we start to think about three dimensions, but with Modeled drawings we really push that idea further and are really focusing on how a form occupies space. Gesture drawings focus on movement. Movement has to happen over time. So, in our flat unmoving drawing, we are trying to get across the idea of this four-dimensional event.
The other tricky thing about gesture drawing is that we all (including me) get caught up in the idea that drawings ought to look like someTHING. We can argue about whether a gesture is a “thing”, (it is certainly a noun, but isn’t a person or place--so is it a thing, or an idea?) but while it is done by something solid, the gesture itself is not. But even though it isn’t solid, and arguably isn’t a “thing”, you can still draw it. (One of these days I’m going to do my whole spiel on how abstract and representational art are more closely related than most people think. But not today.)
Exercise: Gesture Drawings
Goal/Focus: seeing movement, making quick decisions, sketching on-the-go
Materials: Sketchbook and pen or pencil
Assignment: Every day, spend at least 20 minutes doing gesture drawings. These should be quick, no longer than 2 minutes apiece. Draw impressions of the movement of people or animals or things. Focus on ACTION, not edges or details. Think through the action as you draw it--what came before, what will come next? It may help to think of an attitude or feeling--tired, happy, angry, scared, etc. Choose curved or straight lines depending on the action.
AT LEAST once (but hopefully more), go to a park, playground, sports game, dance class, pool, zoo, or mall, (anywhere people or animals are moving in fast, dynamic poses) to draw from life. Other days you can use photos, figure drawing websites (just search gesture drawing or figure drawing. Here is one I have used, but there are others.)
September is drawing to a close! Which means that October is right around the corner. Its time to get ready for Inktober!
If you don't know what Inktober is, take a look at this page: http://mrjakeparker.com/inktober
For the first time, I'm planning to do the full out, one drawing per day Inktober challenge. And to do that, I'm asking all my friends to help me out.
A few months ago, I asked for sketching prompts from all my Facebook friends and had a lot of fun with it. So, I've decided to do that again for Inktober. Here is how it will work:
Leave me a prompt in the comments to this post. Number your prompts in the order they are left--The first person to leave a prompt will number theirs with a 1, the second will use a 2, etc--that way it will be easier to keep track of how many there are. Please just leave ONE prompt. Try to keep it less than 5 words--you are not describing an illustration in detail, you are merely providing the idea that will spark my illustration.
If the 31 slots fill up before you get to leave your prompt, then you can leave one anyway and I may end up getting to it. If the 31 slots don't all get filled, then I will fill in the extra days with things I choose to draw.
I know I said that I would post my pictures of the exercises on Friday, but... I didn't. I'm posting them on Monday. Which I think might actually work better for me, so I'll probably stick with this. We can go over the principles of last week before diving into some new ones. (Maybe I should say "I", since I'm likely the only one reading and doing these exercises, but I enjoy pretending that you are there, because you are pretty great. :-)
So, last week we did Negative Space drawings! I have an admission to make: I only got 4 of the 5 drawings done. So I get like a B- or something like that. But we're not grading this, so I guess I just get 4 drawings worth of learning instead of 5.
Unlike last week's, I have decided to show my drawings here, but let me preface it first with this: while negative spaces were the focus, I found myself using many other drawing techniques I've learned to get these drawings to be (more or less) accurate. If your negative space drawings are less accurate than these, that is more than OK. Here and elsewhere on the internet there are other exercises and drawing techniques that can help you.
If, however, your drawings are already more accurate than mine, well, good job! Why are you here again? Oh yes--nobody is too good for the basics.
So, how did you do? If you actually did it, then that is wonderful in and of itself. If you feel like you can now draw better than before as a result of the exercise, that is even better. It was helpful for me too, and it wasn't new to me at all.
You may notice when looking at my drawings, and maybe your own, that these are not nice, pretty drawings which you would want to hang on your wall. They look like what they are--learning exercises. Most of the drawings you will produce from the exercises I outline will probably look the same. Today's exercise, which is inspired by one outlined by Kimon Nicolaides in his book The Natural Way to Draw, will probably be the same. That is OK. On this topic Nicolaides said,
So I'm showing you the drawings I did as an exercise, but I do not expect you to do so as well if you feel self conscious about it. If people ask to look through your sketchbook and you feel uncomfortable about it, it is OK not to let them. If, however, you are OK with showing people your work, go ahead. Do what you are comfortable with--as far as showing your sketchbook goes, that is. I do hope, however, that some of these exercises are a little uncomfortable to do, because they are meant to help you to look and think in a new way--that is what drawing really is. And it isn't always comfortable.
That is why I don't like one of the more popular types of drawing books. I'm talking about they type where it shows you how to draw an animal by starting with a structure of basic shapes and then breaking them down and adding details. The principle isn't exactly a bad one, as far as it goes, because that is one good method of drawing something. The problem is, it doesn't teach you how to do it--it does it for you. Some people are able to figure out the principle from using the book, but most (in my experience) are not--which is why this picture I've seen floating around various social media sites is funny. To most people, this is what the books actually look like--they outline what seems to be a simple framework, then throw on all the details without actually teaching anyone how they arrived at the final result.
Unsurprisingly, people get frustrated with this type of instruction and conclude that they can't draw. I believe the problem here is two fold. One, the book does most of the work for the student, without explaining the principles used. Because of this they become dependent on the book, and can't produce any drawing that isn't broken down for them. Two, the whole idea of the book is based on the premise you don't need to work hard and produce some ugly exercise drawings before you produce a masterpiece--if you just follow the step by step instructions, you will have a beautiful drawing to hang on your wall!
Sorry, friends. It just doesn't work that way. As our friend up-post, Kimon Nicolades said,
Hmm, you're saying. You seem to be foreshadowing something here. I seem to be getting the impression that the next exercise will produce ugly drawings that I will want to hide from every living soul.
Well, that may be true. But the principle is that you will come out of this with that much more of an understanding of how things actually look. You ultimately will be able to break down what you see into manageable parts, without even needing a book to do it for you. That is what we are aiming for.
So what is this weeks exercise, you ask?
This week, we are doing Blind Contour Drawings. These are pretty fun. Be excited.
I first read about blind contour drawings in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, but Betty Edwards got the idea from--you guessed it--our friend Kimon Nicolaides, in his book The Natural Way to Draw. Though they both use this exercise, they have different ways of explaining how to do the exercise and different explanations about why it is helpful. I will attempt to summarize their ideas, as well as offering a few of my own.
First, a summary of the exercise. What exactly is a Blind Contour Drawing? We all know what "blind" means--not being able to see. But what is a contour? A contour is an edge or an outline. We worked with edges last week in our negative space drawings. Here, we will focus on more than just where one object ends and the next begins. For our contour drawings we will also include corners and wrinkles. Not shadows or colors--just contours. Outlines. Edges.
With those definitions, have you figured out what a Blind Contour Drawing is? It is a drawing where you draw the outline of your subject without looking at your paper. You focus completely on following the outlines and edges of the subject with your eyes while simultaneously drawing them--without looking away, even to check your drawing. You keep your pencil on the page, because if you lift it off you can't look back at the drawing in order to put it back in the right place.
(In some versions of the exercise you are allowed to lift the pencil and look back at your drawing periodically. But we're not doing it that way. We're going all the way!)
So, what is the point?
For Nicolaides, a big part of this exercise is the conviction that your pencil is actually touching the thing that you are drawing--that you are pulling your pencil along the outlines of your actual subject. This essential to his definition of a contour--it is something you can actually feel, even if you are blind, as opposed to things you can only see, like a shadow or a color. If you are able to convince yourself that you actually feel what you are drawing, you will have a much more complete experience of that thing and what it actually looks like.
For Betty Edwards, the important thing about this exercise (as with most of the exercises in her book) is the switch from Left brain to Right brain thinking. For Edwards, the left brain is satisfied to label something as, for example, a hand, and move on. When you stare at the hand and draw all the little details of it--the edges, the wrinkles, the outlines--the Left brain bows out and lets the Right brain do it's thing.
(Since the publishing of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Psychologists have done more studies and now believe that the separation between Right and Left brain isn't as distinct as it was once supposed. However, I believe that for learning to draw it can be useful to think of that separation between types of thought, so I don't take issue with it as far as it goes. We're here to draw, not psycho-analyze ourselves.)
So that is what Nicolaides and Edwards think of this exercise. But since this is my blog, I get to have an opinion too, limited though my experience may be compared to theirs. In addition to their ideas, I believe this exercise is about focus and patience. A blind contour drawing, according to both of them, must not be done quickly, but rather meticulously. Do we have the patience to look, really look, at one thing for 20 or 30 minutes? Do we have the patience to look at one stationary thing for even longer than that? I think I have less patience of this sort of thing than I did a couple of years ago. Having the patience to really look at something is essential to drawing well.
To me, this exercise is about focusing. Its about the experience of really, deeply seeing what you are looking at. The drawing you produce is simply evidence of that experience, it is not the actual purpose of the exercise.
Are you ready for the homework?
Exercise: Blind Contour Drawings
Goal/Focus: Learning to Focus, developing patience, understanding of how things really look
Materials: Sketchbook, pen or pencil
Assignment: For at least 20-30 minutes a day (M-F), do two blind contour drawings (10-15 minutes each). Do these drawings from life, not photographs. Choose a subject that is complex enough to spend 15 minutes staring at. Do not lift your pencil from the paper, and do not look at your paper until at least 10 minutes have passed and your drawing is finished. If it takes more than 15 minutes, that is a GOOD thing. That means you are really slowing down--speed is the opposite of what we are going for here.
You can use similar subjects to those you used for negative space drawings, if you want, or you can find new subjects to draw. A few ideas:
Your hand or your foot
a wrinkled piece of paper or fabric
A person or face
Flowers, plants, or trees
Grouped things you have around the house--a cup holding pencils, a pile of magazines, a bowl of fruit, the contents of a drawer.
Don't limit yourself to these ideas--draw what you want. If you find yourself drawing too quickly, try putting the pencil in the hand you don't normally use to draw--that will slow you down. Your lines might be more wobbly, but this isn't about making a nice drawing anyway.
Remember: you aren't trying to draw quickly. you are learning to observe deeply.
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