We’ve all been there. You work really hard on something. It could be a piece of writing, or art or whatever it is that you make. It’s finally finished and you are pretty satisfied with it and glad to be done. You show it to some friends and family members and they are like, “Wow! That’s amazing! I could never make that.” You're feeling on top of the world. But then you show it to that one person in your life who always tells you the truth. We'll call them, "The Critic."Read More
About a year ago my sister-in-law sent me a story her husband’s brother had written based on bedtime tales their father used to tell. She wanted to make it into a book at some point, and said if I read it and was inspired to draw a few things she would love to include my art. Well, it turns out I was inspired, because how could you not want to draw tigers and wolves? Months later, she told me she was going to have the book printed for Christmas. I had been taking watercolor classes and thought that completing a project with short a deadline would be a great excuse for me to quickly create a body of work and gain experience in a new medium.
We talked about having one illustration per chapter, plus a cover, but with only a month to draw and paint 13 illustrations she told me to just do as many as I wanted during that time period. I finished 11 and it ended up being an ideal opportunity for me to deep practice my new watercolor skills (not to mention inking with a dip pen for the first time in my life). The first few illustrations I did using a monochromatic color scheme so I could focus on watercolor technique, without adding the confusion of color mixing. Then once I felt comfortable with technique, I painted the final illustrations in full color, resulting in a mix of color and monochromatic images throughout the book. Had this not been a personal project I wouldn't have had the freedom to experiment, but such is the benefit of having your sister-in-law as your art director :) :)
I have always been really happy with products printed with Blurb, and this book was no exception. If you want to flip through it or order a copy you can find it here (note: the creators of this book do not profit from these sales).
This project was a great reminder of the power of personal projects. Prior to this, I had never painted a full page watercolor illustration and without a deadline looming, I probably would have waited until I thought I could do it perfectly. If there is something you want to improve at, there is no better way to learn than to dive in and create a volume of work over a short period of time. Set a goal that makes you a little bit uncomfortable and then go for it. Having a deadline or someone to hold you accountable for finishing your goal is really helpful because it’s tempting to keep telling yourself that you’re not ready. Well, guess what? No one ever felt like they were ready. But you are ready now, so go forth and make stuff. :)
I've been on hiatus from this blog because I have been in a state of flux with my work. And guys, I've been doing something while I was gone that I never planned to do: I've been working with traditional media. (Eek!)
I guess it all started with Inktober. I wanted to learn to ink so I could use all of the different pens that have been sitting in my studio office (closet) under the stairs for almost a year. A YEAR. So I started making some drawings, and inking them. Then I would add some watercolor just for fun. They were messy and imperfect and I did everything wrong and I didn't care. I really enjoyed myself and found that I had no desire to make any finished art on my iPad (I'm still using my iPad for the sketching phase because it's just faster for me).
Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking digital art-making. I love the flexibility of it and I feel like there are situations where working digitally is the best choice. It seems like lots of people who work traditionally want to learn to work digitally and the people who work digitally want to switch to traditional. So maybe it's a grass is greener situation. Digital media has its benefits. There are like eleventy million brushes available so if you wake up one morning and decide you want to mimic ink or watercolor or gouache or grease pencil, the possibilities are endless and there are no supplies to buy. No paper is wasted when you mess up (I REALLY hate wasting things). You can choose from any color on the RGB spectrum. Working digitally is convenient – my iPad can go anywhere and there is never a mess or tubes of paint that a toddler might decide to eat or smear all over the house. And maybe the most appealing aspect of working digitally is that you can undo your mistakes.
As great as all of that sounds, lately I've found that the unlimited choices digital media offers are overwhelming to me. It's like when I go to the grocery store and am paralyzed by having to choose one box from an entire isle of different kinds of cereal. I don't want to sort through all of those brushes or choose from all of those colors. And even though a brush says it's a "watercolor" brush, I'm finding that using it to try to mimic the look of real natural media feels contrived. There are no happy accidents when you work digitally. Everything is very controlled. The first time I sat down with watercolor paints and paper and realized the water does most of the work for you, I understood why people love them.
And that all important undo feature? I'm realizing more that it's a crutch and is promoting a lot of bad habits in my work. When I draw, I tend to make lots and lots of marks over and over again to find forms rather than deciding to make a line and then putting that line on the paper. It's something I'm working on and cutting back on working digitally is helping.
My grandma and I used to paint with watercolors when I was a kid, back when there was no such thing as YouTube. I used one of those pan sets – you know the kind that comes with a tiny red or blue plastic brush with stiff bristles. I painted on cheap paper. I didn't know stretching watercolor paper was a thing and I didn't know what a wash was or how to do one. It was fun and I'm glad she encouraged me, but I remember being frustrated when the paint didn't go on smoothly and when the paper buckled and looked horrible. That impression of watercolor painting has stuck with me through my entire life, so when I was older I only wanted to paint in oils.
I have always loved the look and transparency of skillfully applied watercolor paint, but thought it was just really difficult to do. So actually learning to use them the way they are meant to be used has been eye opening. I started taking a class a few weeks ago with Sue Kemp at Laguna Gloria and it has been really helpful. I have also been getting expert advice from Marsha, who does really beautiful watercolor art. It's a steep learning curve and I'm starting from scratch, but already I'm feeling creatively recharged and inspired. I'm also finding that when I go back to working digitally, the knowledge of working with traditional media helps inform my digital art.
Stay tuned for more watercolor updates!
Most of us are familiar with doing personal work. We give ourselves assignments to fill our portfolios and show prospective clients the kind of work we like to do and what they can expect from us.
This approach works, but lately I've noticed the cycle of going from one individual piece to the next has left me feeling empty because the things I'm doing don't lead to anything bigger. Every time I finish a piece for my portfolio, the story ends and I find myself in limbo until I come up with the next assignment.
I dread this because it removes me from making art. Sometimes I'll spend weeks researching a topic, unable to settle on a concept. And although this is an essential part of the process, it feels like progress has stalled which puts me in a bad place mentally.
The idea of a personal project is really appealing for a lot of reasons, but primarily because it's easier to maintain momentum when your brain can stay immersed in a theme or story as you make a collection of pieces. But once you have your theme or story, what should your personal project actually look like? Here are some different formats you might consider for your personal projects:
Online Graphic Novels
For a long time I've been in love with the idea of serialized web comics. These are produced at intervals over long periods of time to eventually make up a long-form comic called a graphic novel. Raina Telgemeier's popular Scholastic graphic novel Smile began as a serialized web comic about her childhood. Many artists I admire have published, or are in the process of making, inspiring online graphic novels or web comics including:
- Starspun by Laura Diehl
- Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske
- The Unlikely Adventure of Pip Swiftfoot by Kimberli Johnson
- Montague Mouse by Kiri Leonard Ostergaard
- My Sister the Freak and Little Women by Dani Jones
- Copper by Kazu Kibushi (Author of the Amulet series)
Annual Sketchbook Collections
A graphic novel is an impressive goal, but also a daunting one. A graphic novel could take years to complete. For someone who needs a more attainable goal, Cory Godbey has a particularly interesting approach to personal work. He creates a focused collection of approximately nine pieces all related to one story or theme. He calls them "annual sketchbooks" because when he is done, he assembles them into a printed booklet. In this article on Muddy Colors he talks about why he has chosen this approach to personal work http://muddycolors.blogspot.com/2013/11/personal-work-making-it-count.html
Have you noticed posts on social media using the hashtag #100dayproject? This post from The Great Discontent explains how to get in on the action, but all you have to do is make work and post it using the hashtag. One hundred days is a LONG time, but it recently occurred to me that it doesn't have to be 100 consecutive days. You can find some really great inspiration by browsing the hashtag. Try choosing a theme that is specific rather than "I'm going to make 100 illustrations" because often, self imposed limitations actually fuel creativity. The lovely Blythe Russo has been working on a Kids and Their Pet Pals #100DayProject lately that is amazing. My fellow PuddleJump Collective illustrator Gladys Jose also completed a really fantastic kidlit #100dayproject a while back and you can see the entire thing here.
Make a Finished Book
It's common for author/illustrators make book "dummies" or small, rough versions of a picture book to show publishers how a finished book might look. Dummies typically have rough sketches and one or two spreads with finished art.
But what if you just made the entire book? That's what Shawna J.C. Tenney did for her spectacular picture book Brunhilda's Backwards Day that was picked up by Sky Pony Press. Her intent was to show it to publishers, but she planned to publish it as an ebook regardless of how it was received. She just acted like she already had the job she wanted to be hired for and did her best work.
What personal projects have you seen others do that you found particularly inspiring? Please share them in the comments!