Inktober 2020 Recap

Well. I’m back with a full blog.

I think everyone can agree that the last year was insane. For me, it was definitely nuts juggling full-time graphic design, pushing ahead on illustration work, and fathering a second and first grader as their never-ending Spring Break stretched into the first month of the next school year being remote as well. So, for the sake of sanity, I had to step back from writing here.

But, as I said, I’m back, and just in time to post-op how Inktober went for me last year. For those who don’t know, Inktober is a social media art challenge where the goal is to post an ink drawing every day in October, and by doing so, you improve your skills and hopefully grow your audience as an added bonus. In 2020, I wanted to do something different, so I planned to do one huge drawing with 31 characters, and post my process as I drew and inked one character a day. For multiple reasons (but mainly because I thought it would be fun), I chose to depict the Battle of Hogwarts, the magical war deciding skirmish that closes out the Harry Potter series.

My first step was to re-listen to the audiobook. I took note of which characters were involved, where and when they were, and as many physical descriptions as I could (“which cheek of Harry’s got cut again?”). From there, I put together a list of which 31 characters could be included. Once I’d worked, and reworked, that, I grabbed a 12×24″ piece of newsprint, and drew out what was in my head as quick and ugly as I could.

Once I numbered the characters to the days that I would post them, it was time to start on the drawing. I taped a 12×24″ piece of 300 lb watercolor paper to some foamboard, grabbed a non-photo blue pencil, and started to work. Now, I’d never used this type of pencil before, but knew enough about comic book illustration and animation from the past to know that it was designed to be easily removed from inked artwork. I found that as an added bonus it worked beautifully on the watercolor paper, and fell behind the ink lines in a really appealing way, which allowed me to skip over erasing my piece day after day.

That first day was a challenge, because I chose to do Kreacher, a small elf in the front. This helped set the style and scale of the characters moving forward. However, I knew, but it wasn’t visible, that he was crouching over a casualty of the war who wouldn’t be drawn for another 19 or so days. That right there was the biggest problem to solve in the drawing – drawing in characters meant interact with other characters who were basically invisible. Of course, I told myself that I would work ahead, but that rarely happened, so the best I could do was to block in the forms of where a handful of characters would go at a time before jumping back and forth around the paper. I would work on it at night between 8:30 and 10:30 (once the kids were in bed), with the occassional early morning in the office to finish the inking on the drawing from the night before.

It was equal parts dizzying and fun, and here’s what I ended up with:

I am really happy with how it turned out, because it’s exactly what I had in my head, and I didn’t compromise on the attention to detail. You can check out the full project page here.

The biggest frustration with the project actually came from the social media side of things. About half-way through the month, Instagram apparently messed with their algorythm (or the amount of #inktober drawings just became too much to cut through), and the reach I was getting was affectively cut in half from what I had in the first week. Which is pretty messed up, since posting every day and getting audience interaction is supposed to increase exposure. Unfortunately, the opposite happened, so a lot of days it felt like I was just releasing scraps of paper into the harsh wind of the internet. Then at the very end (we’re talking about the day that I posted the final drawing of Harry), Instagram made it so that it was impossible because search recent posts for all hashtags because of garbage surrounding the U.S. Election. Now this sucked a lot. I was hoping to build my following with 100 new followers, but as October closed, I had only gained a net of 28. In the end, I was able to find a bit of follower and like redemption, but I had to use a paid Instagram advertisement to get my work in front of the people who really wanted to see it (you win again IG).

But, here’s the deal: social media is an illusion, and this project was a wonderful reminder of that. The amount of likes and follows your art generates is in no way a reflection of quality of your work. If that were the case, every anime piece would get 12 likes, instead of being inexplicably popular. In the end, I’d rather have the one person who wrote a really nice message about how much he loved this piece and how he thought it was the most impressive thing he’d seen created for Inktober that year than a few hundred anonymous likes. And hey, I even managed to sell a few of the prints, which you can get here!

Hmmm…. It’s October again in just a little more than a month. Might as well start planning for the next Inktober…

Project Updates

Seriously? Way too much has happened in the last year to give you a full rundown, so I’ll just drop in some of my favorite projects I’ve knocked out in that time. The one thing I will call out is that I signed up for and took the inaugural Children’s Book Pro course over the summer. Now, the summer is particularly tough for my schedule (without school be around to helpfully kidnap my kids every day), so I wasn’t able to get to all the assignments, but I did make it through all the lectures, and there was a lot of good stuff in there. Once we really make it into fall (instead of me just fantasizing that we’re already there), I’m going to jump back in the course work, so keep your eye out for illustated pieces from my take on Little Red Riding Hood.

Now, let’s have some art:

Ellie and the Ink Fairy Drawing Process

Oh man. I’m alive. It’s been a crazy busy last few months, but I’m back. I’ll have a more in depth update and blog in a few days, but tonight I want to share the process steps for a new piece I just finished, “Ellie and the Ink Fairy.” I created this one for SVS Learn’s September illustration contest (rules stipulated that it needed to be black and white, and made in ink (or made to look like ink)).

At some point (hopefully soon), I’ll be adding value in Photoshop so that I’ll be able to add a grayscale image to my portfolio.

When to Bail

A couple weeks ago, I was all set to create a painting. I had thumbnailed the concept, rough sketched the idea out further, cut the 300 lb watercolor paper to size, taped it to my drawing board, and set aside the time to make it. And then I didn’t do it.

Part of being a creative person is learning when to bail on a project. You’ve thought up this amazing idea, artwork, or product. You may have even planned every step of the creative process. But then, for some reason, it becomes clear to you at the onset (or during the project) that it’s not the right thing to work on right now. The young artist (and I know I was like this) will try to shove that thought down and push forward, not wanting to have wasted the time spent prepping the project. This is a mistake. The mature artist listens to their intuition that one of the following realities is true.

1. THE TIME ISN’T RIGHT

This is when your situation or the world changes and you have no control over it. Case in point: the painting I was going to make a couple weeks ago. I actually wrote a bit about it in my last blog entry. It was for the SVS May illustration contest, and needed to address the topic of isolation. My idea was to show how it must feel, in a whimsical way, for an intelligent animal to live in a zoo. Surely, it must feel like being in solitary confinement in a prison cell. So I was going to have a chimpanzee relaxing in a tire swing, reading a book and eating bananas in an orange jumpsuit. There were going to be day tallies and chalk sketches of nature on the wall, coconuts turned into weights, and maybe even an escape rope made out of bed sheets stuffed in a corner. You know, just hitting some areas where life in a zoo and life in prison would overlap.

And I was excited to get starting. But then something major happened in the world a few days before I started the painting. A Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, a black man, in the street, in broad daylight, on video. This proved to be the final straw in a long line of black men and women unjustly killed by the police or white vigilantes, and America exploded into protests for justice and reform.

After days of processing what had happened and what was growing and building into the larger Black Lives Matter movement in this country, it was clear to me that I couldn’t make the painting I had planned. There was no way that I felt it was appropriate to do anything touching on the criminal justice system, and I definitely didn’t want to give any racially charged person something to read into in my zoo analogy (specifically the chimpanzee character and the bananas, which racists have used to insult black men and women in the past). I didn’t want to unintentionally offend anyone in this time of pain, and I didn’t want any political message read into my work that I didn’t intend. So, I folded up my drawing board, and leaned it up against the wall.

Sometimes the world changes, and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Maybe you were about to launch a series of work concentrated on flames, and then all of Australia catches on fire. Maybe you were about to start a graphic novel about space ships and the crews that run them, and the Challenger explodes. Put your pencil down. This is not a failure, but an opportunity to prioritize reflection, education, and finding out how you can help or change what is happening around you.

2. YOU AREN’T RIGHT

These are the circumstances that are tied specifically to turmoil or major change in your life, both positive and negative. Relationship struggles, the birth or adoption of a child, the start or loss of a job, a move, a divorce, your child’s behavioral issues, or a family emergency are all massive shifts in your life, and when you’re shifting is not the time to work on a major project. Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and loneliness shouldn’t be ignored so you can force out your big dream. They need to be addressed, and your art can wait while you take care of yourself and your loved ones. When you’re in a better place you will be so much stronger and better equipped to do the things you love.

3. THE PROJECT ISN’T RIGHT

Sometimes, the issue really is the project, but not because it’s a bad idea. Maybe it’s TOO good. Maybe it’s too big and complicated for your level of experience or the amount of time you can commit right now. In that case, try working on something similar but smaller. Instead of a graphic novel, illustrate the first few pages as a standalone short comic. Instead of a huge landscape painting, paint a series of 4-hour studies. Or maybe, the project is too small for you. Maybe you’re at the point in your career that doing online art challenges is taking you away from your life’s work. Maybe it’s time for you to sacrifice the immediate for the long lasting. Take a step back, think hard, and make a list of your goals, then plan where you want to be in 6 months, a year, and 5 years. Does this project fit in that plan or get you closer to your goals? If yes; great! If no; bail.

But I’ve got some great news:

BAILING DOESN’T MEAN IT’S FOREVER

Saying no today doesn’t mean saying no for the rest of time, and just because a project is right right now doesn’t mean that it won’t be right when the world, your life, or your experience changes. My painting “Cruise” was originally supposed to be for a contest in January 2019; I ended up painting it for Slowvember in November of that year. My painting “Treat Yourself” was planned for February 2019 before it got shelved; it was painted as an entry in a fundraiser for a local art gallery one year later. Even now, for my zoo/prison painting, I have plans to bring it back in the future. My kids have smartly suggested that I include an orangutan so that there’s an extra character and give the animals old-timey black and white striped outfits, and I can’t wait until the time is right to pain it.

When you need to bail on a project, write it down and set it aside, so you don’t have to worry about it anymore. I keep a notebook where I write down the illustration and painting ideas that I can’t get to so I can return to them when I have an opening in my schedule. Some ideas even end up on scraps of paper that I put in my “Idea Debt Jar.” If things get slow at work, I can always pull out an art idea at random to work on. Whether you like the notebook, the idea jar, a google doc, or stone tablets, the point is to remove the weight and guilt of dreams defered from your mind. You need that creative energy and mental space for the right project for right now, and that right project might be the wrong project yesterday, last month, or last year.

PROJECT UPDATES

  • Inktober 52 keeps plugging along. I’m still behind, but at least I’m not falling even further behind. Here are the drawings I’ve done in the last few weeks:
  • Speaking of Inktober 52, I got enough of them done to put together a second volume of coloring pages that are available for free for anyone looking for distractions from the disappointment of a lost school semester and a global pandemic. Fun note about these: the Instagram post promoting it (independent of the boosting I did) became my furthest reaching art post, and became my first to pass 100 likes!
  • I’m almost done with my 6 Fanarts project, and most of it has been really fun:
  • The upside of bailing on May SVS contest is that I have my paper prepped and ready to go for the June contest, so I won’t (fingers and toes crossed) wait until the last minute to start work on it. Also, its prompt centers around a monkey really hungry for oranges, so I was on the right track, just in the wrong month.
  • Hey, I sculpt too! I’m playing with the idea of making maquettes for my characters at the beginning of big illustration projects, like picture books and graphic novels, so I’m doing a trial run with my version of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. I’m guessing my next blog will be the documentation of how that goes down. Hint: it’s a huge success (hopefully)!

Creating Community

Long time no post. After my last writing, stress just kinda built due to the virus lockdown, and it knocked me sideways. Isolating and staying at home, turns out, is EXTREMELY not good for young kids. Really, it’s not good for anyone, but especially 7 and 5 year olds. So some shifts in classwork and work-work scheduling needed to be figured out, and my brother and sister-in-law stepped up to help the three of us get some space and time apart. All that added up to me basically losing any steam to draw or paint in early April. The good news is that hitting that snag really underscored a big mental/emotional/spiritual need for me:

I NEED ARTISTIC COMMUNITY.

This has always been a problem for me. I’ve always been the art guy. I was drawing before I could talk, I was always the best artist every step of the way from kindergarten through high school, and even in college all my roommates were computer science or software engineering majors. Basically, I’ve always been doing this alone.

And that sucks. It’s exhausting. And it’s lonely. And that sure wasn’t going to get any easier in a global pandemic, because there was no way to find an art community (outside of the SVS forum that I take part in). So, the only option was to take the bull by the horns and create one. I knew that my buddy Ben from work had been getting into oil painting over the last year, so I pitched the idea of creating an art group with the goal of encouraging, critiquing, and holding each other accountable to keep working on our projects. He was in, and we then invited another friend from work, Jason, to join in. He had never painted before, and wasn’t sure of his artistic prospects, but was looking for a new hobby to pass some of this downtime. Each time our group meets, we’re all tasked with sharing updates on what we’ve worked on, what we’re working on now/next, and what skill we’re focusing on improving with our current projects.

Since then, we’ve met twice, and plan to continue Zoom meeting once a week or two to keep each other moving forward. In our first meeting, we chose that we would all paint a portrait of Ben’s bulldog, Winston. I’ve chosen to work in oils for the first time since… 2006?… and got a rough sketch and color palette ready to share at the next meeting. Unfortunately, that meeting wasn’t able to go down, because work got a little out of hand at the last minute for Ben and Jason. Well, I didn’t want to start on the oil project until I’d gotten feedback on the rough sketch, so I decided to not sit around (I’d been doing way too much of that already), and threw myself into a quick ink, watercolor, and gouache warm-up illustration. I call it “Bulldogs Suck at Poker:”

I really love how it turned out, and it already has my mind spinning about thinking up different things that animals surely suck at.

But back to the real painting. Here’s that rough sketch, and the color palette I’ll be sticking too:

Since this is going to be a long term project (because oil takes forever to dry), I’ll keep you posted as updates are available. My favorite take away from the new art group (aside from hanging out virtually with my friends and not talking about work for a change) is that it’s snapped me out of the slog and has made me super productive again. Evidence being (aside from the extra painting I already made just to surprise the group)…

PROJECT UPDATES

  • During my short term art depression, I fell behind on Inktober 52. I think a big part of this was because for the month of April, colors were required for the prompts, so I knew it would take me more time than I had the energy for. Once I told myself to grow up, I decided to use the color as a reason to play around with Copic and Spectrum Noir markers more, and that’s proven to be really fun. Here are the drawings I’ve made for the series in the last month – I particularly love the squid:
  • #6fanarts is a thing on Instagram, so I decided to jump on that, instead of the Batman comic page I was planning to make, mainly because I new that this project would push me closer to the direction I want to go. Here’s how it works: you ask your followers for which characters they’d like you to do fanart of in your style, and you pick which six you’ll make. I’m using the project to force myself to get better at painting in photoshop underneath my ink work, and I’m starting to develop a process that I’m comfortable with that’s not far from my ink and watercolor style, that will work well for graphic novels and comic strips. Here’s what I’ve gotten so far:
  • Follow me on Instagram to be able to see new illustrations for Inktober 52 and 6 Fanarts (as well as updates on everything else I’m working on) as soon as they come out.
  • This month, I have room and forsight in my schedule, so I’ll be taking part in SVS’s May illustration contest, “Isolation.” After some really basic ideas, I’ve settled on showing a chimpanzee/inmate relaxing in his enclosure/cell at the zoo/prison. This isn’t a political statement, but more of a riff on how I would illustrate The Far Side. Here’s the thumbnail of the concept I’m plaing with, in two orientations. I’m pretty sure I’ll do this as an ink and watercolor, but part of me wants to just jump in and use it as way to practice with gouache. But I also kinda want to win, so….

Vector Illustration Process

We’re one week away from Easter, and I’m just starting to wrap my head around the fact that we’ll all be spending it shut off in our own homes. This morning, I ran to the grocery store and grabbed some candy, chocolate, plastic eggs, and baskets for my kids, so that the holiday can feel as normal as possible. We’ll even put on some nice pink clothes, which is weird, but all of this is weird.

Speaking of weird – my vector illustration process. So far in this blog, I’ve focused mainly on traditionally produced artwork, but I’ve been a professional graphic designer since 2008, so most of my work is actually created digitally, using Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is fun primarily because it looks like witch-craft to anyone unfamiliar with it. I think most people can understand Photoshop in the abstract (you’re painting… but on a computer!), but creating vector artwork in Illustrator (you’re making art with points and math to insure infinite scaleability?), not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s really versatile.

Let’s take a look at my vector illustration process using my Adventureland poster project as an example.

STEP 1: THUMBNAIL SKETCH

I created this, along with three other thumbnails for the other posters in the series, so that I could show the client my rough idea for the layout, and what elements/attractions from Disney World’s Adventureland would be featured. Pretty sure the whole set took between 10 and 15 minutes, because each design was really clear in my head. Now, when I pitched it to the client, I included a detailed explanaition of what was going on, but for my purposes, this was good enough for me.

STEP 2: FINAL SKETCH

Once my client responded back with approval, I printed out the reference images I’d googled, blocked out the frame on some 14×17″ bristol paper, and got to sketching. I feel like this sketch took somewhere between three and four hours to knockout, primarily due to the pirate ship. 1) There wasn’t a reference image from the Pirates of the Carribean ride that showed the angle that I needed for the illustration, and 2) I don’t recall ever drawing a pirate ship before. That doesn’t mean I hadn’t as a kid, but I have no memory of it. This created a fun challenge to tackle.

STEP 3: COLOR TEST

After the final sketch was completed and I’d scanned it into the computer, I created this insanely simple color sketch. I’d already pitched the color palette that I intended to use to my client when I sent over the thumbnail, but I wanted an abstract view of how the colors would work together with the Adventureland layout (for my eyes only). This is a step that I would definitely call “productive procrastination.”

STEP 4: COLORING BLOCKING

At this point, I placed the sketch on the first layer of my Illustrator artboard, set the transparency to 50% and the blending mode to Multiply, so that I could create the artwork underneath without losing my guide (which is all that the pencil sketch was ever going to be). I then pull out an extremely sophisticated tool that makes all the magic happen.

That’s right – the humble mouse. That’s all I use to create all the points and vertices needed to form the outlines of all the shapes that build up the illustration. In my mind, a stylus is for Photoshop, and the mouse is for Illustrator. They’re different programs that function very differently. It only makes sense to me to use different tools to subconsiously reinforce this as I work. Plus, in my experience, the mouse is just faster when clicking vertices out.

For this step, I’m just focused on blocking out the overall shapes and color sections of each character or element. These are also given their own layer, as to cut down on the chance that I will go insane as the illustration gets more and more complicated.

STEP 5: ADDING DETAIL

Now, I go through each big color blocked shape and drill down with more detail. Since I’m basically just tracing the pencil sketch on this step, I like to work the vector in as red or magenta lines. These colors stand out the strongest underneath the pencil lines, so I never lose track off what has and hasn’t been outlined. Also, they are exceptionally fashionable. Two birds; one stone.

Once all the red outlines are in place, I assign each outlined shape a color from the set color palette, then make sure everything is arranged from front to back in a way that will allow everything to overlap correctly (which is basically a digital version of placing colored paper cutouts over each other).

STEP 6: ADDING SHADOWS

The last step is to add the shadows (for this posterized process, I don’t add highlights in Illustrator), which is done by adding one of the darker colors over the flat color blocks at ~25% opacity on a Multiply blending mode.

Steps 5 through 7 are done for each element in the illustration, but sometimes I do them piece by piece (for example Blocking, Adding Detail, and Adding shadows to the hippo before moving to a parrot), and sometimes I do them for the whole illustration at once. It really just depends on what rhythm feels better on that day. And, just if you’re curious, this is what all the outlined shapes on the illustration at this point in the process look like all together:

Wow. Now I understand why this (and each poster in the series) took at least 30 hours to illustrate. But, to me, it’s worth it, because everything is individually scalable and editable in a way would either be impossible or cumbersome in Photoshop. This illustration would be just as easily produced on a stamp as a building wall.

STEP 8: CREATE THE FRAME

These travel themed posters are all tied together by their frames, so on this step I designed the four tiki masks and swashbucklin’ swords, x-marks the spot graphics, and then added a weathered texture over all of it.

STEP 9: REVIEW ALL THE VECTOR WORK

This step is short and fun, the carrot at the stick of all the late nights sitting in front of the monitor wondering when I’ll let myself go to sleep… or if I will ever see sleep again. Once everything is “done” in illustrator, I turn all the layers off, then add them back in back-to-front, and watch the illustration come together. It’s at this point where I give myself one last chance to to see if I’ve missed anything, if I want to move anything, or if there’s anything else I want to add.

Personally, I find it hypnotic, especially considering it’s usually 1 a.m. whenever I find myself at a finishing point. Somehow it always works out that way.

STEP 10: FINISH OFF IN PHOTOSHOP

Now, this isn’t a step that I do for most vector work, but for these travel posters (for which I’m intentionally going for a retro, screenprinted look) and a couple of my Flat Pops, I do drop the finished vector art into Photoshop. All I do is grab an old-school grainy brush and lightly reinforce some of the shadows with some texture, to get a little bit of a spatter/half tone look.

WRAPPING UP

Projects vary in complexity, but I invariably do steps 2, 4-7, and 9 for all of my vector work. It’s challenging and fun, but by the time I finished this set of posters (the last two of which still are waiting to be released), I feel like I may have pushed Illustrator as far as I can for the sort of work that I make. This leaves me two paths: to go backwards into more simplified or abstract vector work, or to start working more in Photoshop. And the answer to that, I feel, is yes.

Both.

Oh, and if you want to buy a tee or tank top with the Adventureland print on it, you can pick it up at Nick & Lete.

PROJECT UPDATE

Well, seeing as I just spent this weekend mostly sleeping to recover from full-time homeschooling/working from home, I don’t have a ton of update at present.

  • I’m running an Instagram promotion for my emergency coloring pages (found here) because I want as many kids and parents as possible to have as many resources as possible to get through this pandemic shut down. So far, 63 people have downloaded the PDF, and that makes me happier than all the shirts I’ve sold on TeePublic to date. I’ll have that PDF available for download until everyone in America is able to go back to school and work.
  • For fun, and to get myself in the graphic novel mindset (besides all the Batman I’ve read in the past couple weeks), I’m going to put something together for a mini-challenge on the SVS Forums. A blank comic page (with the panels, of course) has been posted, and you come up with whatever story you want. Should be good practice.
  • Tonight, once the kids are asleep, I’m jumping back onto character design for my graphic novel project that’s sat dormant for 5 years. So the iron is hot, so to speak. I’ve also planned out the month to set some time aside to get the ball rolling on my Narnia cover project and Gravity Falls character paintings. That is, unless the world goes crazier.

Tools of the Trade: Drawing

How’s everyone doing? Hangin’ in there? Good. Me too. Home life’s getting stressful, but that’s to be expected with the self-isolation. The kids and I did need to get out, so we went for a jog. Speaking of which, if you ever want to feel old, go jogging with a 5 year old. But for the most part, I spent this weekend attempting to recover physically and emotionally from attempting to work and homeschool full-time simultaneously, so I didn’t touch a pencil. My main take away from all this, so far, is that we weren’t made to live like this.

But hang in there. This won’t be forever.

And now to the point. I’ve already written a post about how I make some of my artwork, so it only follows that I should write a on what I use to make some of my artwork. Since I consider myself more of a drawer than a painter, I’ll start with those tools.

IN-STUDIO TOOLS

I have always tried to keep my tool sets really simple and stripped down. A great deal of the creativity of art comes from the restraints you’re under (whether self-imposed or imposed by others/circumstance), not to mention, we’re just drawing here. No reason to get wasteful of cash and space. Find what works for you, and stick to that.

The tools that I use in my studio (or as my kids like to call it, the “dinner table”) are as follows:

  • HB Pencil. For the vast majority of my work, this is the only pencil that I use. I know a lot of artists like to use colored pencil to sketch in, but I grew up using a No. 2 for everything, and this is the closest pencil to that that has the least amount of smudging and smearing, which is important to me, as the flat of my hand has a tendancy of getting all over the place.
  • Pencil Sharpener. Because X-acto knives are for cutting paper and board to size. You’re not impressing anyone.
  • Hard white eraser. For me, this is the most successful tool for removing pencil lines, without discoloring the paper. You do, however, need to be mindful of whether there is any ink residue on there (after you’ve used it after you’ve inked a drawing), because that will smear on the paper if you’re not careful. So just keep a scrap of paper on the side where you can rub that off.
  • Kneaded eraser. This one’s great for just knocking some pencil work back rather than fully removing it, or for lightening a section of colored pencil for highlights. It’s also an absolute must if you’re working with charcoal.
  • Pens. This is the most important set of tools for drawing in my opinion. Every pen has it’s strengths and weaknesses, and which one’s you use will help to shape your style.
  • My workhorse is the Pentel Pocketbrush brush pen. It’s a super solid brush, is fairly easy to control while giving expression to your line work, takes replaceable ink cartridges, and I can get it at Michaels. The ink is waterproof, as long as you don’t try to drown it and give it enought time to set, so I’m able to use it with watercolors and markers. It’s awesome. I use the technical pens to suppliment the brush pen, and the brand I use for finished work is Faber-Castell, not because they’re the best (I actually like Microns better), but because their ink’s blackness most closely matches the Pocketbrush. I use an F for contour lines for inorganic props (like machinery) and sets, and S and XS for fine details and hatching (the XS specifically for hair).
  • The final drawing instruments that I use are Prismacolor pencils. In keeping in line with pairing things down and keeping the setup simple, I’m only working with the standard 12 pack now, and I mix my colors on paper. They also come in handy for adding detail, texture, and shading to watercolor or marker base colors.
  • Drawing boards. I’ve got a portable one that I can clamp paper to and work flat on the table or on my knee on the couch (pictured here), and a larger adjustable-tilt board. I only use the latter for drawings that will take multiple hours or days, because the tilted surface saves stress on my back. But if that will then need to get inked, I’ll switch it to the portable board, because I only like to ink flat.
  • You may have noticed something missing, and that’s a ruler. I only use rulers as a straight edge to assist me in cutting paper down to size, because I firmly believe that an artist shouldn’t need a ruler after they’ve gotten past high school art.

TRAVEL TOOLS

I also keep a separate, smaller set of tools bagged up if I ever want to sketch outside of the house. When doing so, I grab one of a handful of sketchbooks laying around and take these:

  • HB pencil. Still the main deal.
  • 6B pencil. In case I want to top keep it just a pencil drawing, I’ve got this softer option to add value.
  • Hard white eraser
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Picma Micron pens. I’ve added their brushpen to the .05, .03, and .01. It’s not great, but the ink’s the same color, and anything I make with these tools I consider a sketch, so it gets the job done.
  • Artist’s Loft colored pencils. These are the generic brand offered at Michaels. I have much larger set if I want to do more intense coloring in my sketchbook. But for the most part, this travel set does the job just fine.

PAPER

Right now, I’m loving working with Canson’s Bristol and Mix Media papers. I use the Bristol for pencil only (including colored pencil) work, or drawings where traditional means end after inking, and the coloring/painting will be done digitally after scanning. I use the Mix Media paper when I think there may even be the possibility that I’ll want to add watercolor after inking. This is the paper that I’m using for all of my Inktober 52 animal drawings. But why 14×17 pads? Because I can easily cut it down to 11×17 or 11×14, which are standard frame sizes, which also just feel the most comfortable for me to draw on.

WRAPPING UP

That’s it. That’s all that I need to make some good drawinings. You don’t need a lot, and you can get everything you need (or at least what I need) at Michaels, and you know you’re going to get all of it at 40% off or better.

PROJECT UPDATE

  • To do my part in bringing a little creativity and fun into these troubled days, I’ve collected a bunch of my Solving Problems (still need a better title…) ink drawings into a print ready PDF so that kids (or you!) can print it off at home and use as coloring pages. You can download it for free here. Have fun!

Blue Jays

Not going to lie – it was really hard to draw this week. It was the week that the kids were home because of the pandemic, but the school hadn’t gotten their plan together yet, so it was a “scramble a schedule of pseudo-learning activities together so they don’t kill each other or conspire against me” week. And it was mostly successful, as no one is dead. But I didn’t feel like drawing.

Just now, I was outside on the balcony, staring into the gray and overcast North Texas sky, thinking about how this outbreak came at the exact right time to wrap up the hardest year of my life. But before I could spend much time focusing on when exactly I must have brought this Egyptian curse on myself by defiling a mummy in my youth, I noticed the blue jays bobbing around the apartment. They’re my favorite birds that live around my home, and it looks like they’ve decided that spring has returned, so so have they.

I walked back inside, grabbed a sketchbook, and did a quick drawing.

While watching the birds going about their day, I had a few quick thoughts (all at once) on how to deal with life right now.

EMBRACE THE STRESS

Easy to say; hard to do. But do you think that flying south for the winter is a blast? No. I’m guessing it sucks. And then you have the return trip. Which probably sucks. But these guys do it every year. When the temperature around here starts to drop in the winter, they don’t throw up their wings and decide they just can’t deal, man. They rise up and get to work. And we have to do the same thing in the coming weeks and months. For me, this means that every morning before I wake my kids up, and I look at my list of things to get done that day, I can’t panic, and I can’t let it overwhelm me. I just have to accept that it’s going to be stressful (it may very well straight up suck), then put on a smile and start making breakfast.

GIVE GRACE TO YOURSELF, THEN GIVE IT TO OTHERS

The next step after accepting that things are going to be hard is to give yourself some grace. You are not going to get everything done today. You are not going to be the perfect parent. You are going to forget to do the dishes. You are going to fall asleep on the couch instead of playing the sixth educational video about why soap is important that the school has recommended. And it’s okay. Just go ahead and forgive yourself for all that stuff before you even put pants on. All that you can expect of yourself each day is to do the best that you can. That’s it.

Once you can do that for yourself, don’t forget to do it for the other people in your life. Chances are a lot of them aren’t going to embrace the stress as well as you do. They’re going to get overwhelmed. They’re going to have short tempers. They’re going to emotionally shut down. If you have little kids, they might just go insane every 26 minutes. And when they do, remember that some mature, cool-headed person gave you grace when you lost it in the past. If we are all willing to give help to those we can help, and actually receive help from those who can give it, then we’re all going to get through this in one, mostly recognizable piece.

TAKE HOLD OF OPPORTUNITIES

The blue jays weren’t just sitting around; they were living. It rained last night, so half of them were collecting blown off twigs and leaves for their nests. The other half were murdering little frogs in the rain puddles to take back to their chicks. We should do the same. Metaphorically. Don’t actually kill a bunch of little frogs…. I’ve already made that mistake once as a kid (maybe that’s where the Egyptian curse came from…).

I’m guessing you have a lot of extra time on your hands all of the sudden. Well, maybe you now have the time you’ve always wanted to volunteer at your local food bank (or simply donate with the extra cash you’re saving from not going out right now). That big project you’ve been dying to get to, that you fall asleep thinking about every night? Go for it. Paint your first oil painting, build that card table, illustrate that graphic novel, learn Japanese, finally learn to balance a checkbook, whatever. Build stronger relationships with your family and friends. Check in more, share your heart, reconnect with your spouse, learn your boyfriend’s middle name, or spend more time with your kids (you have no choice anyway). You have a once in a lifetime opportunity now to build the skills, habits, relationships, and life you’ve always wanted. Do it now, and when things get back to normal, that new normal will be so much easier and fulfilling.

BELIEVE IN PROMISES

When the blue jays migrated, did they know for a fact that better feeding grounds were waiting down south? Or when they got back in the spring? No. But something deep in the back of their tiny, tiny bird brains promised them things were going to be fine. In the same way, we each need to have faith that things will get better, and that promise is stronger than this virus. Because I believe that, because I belive that God has a plan for me, and a better tomorrow for my family, I can continue to work remote during the day, draw silly animals at night, and laugh with my kids in between.

WRAPPING UP

So, because I saw some blue jays (now joined by a group of sparrows) flitting between the magnolia trees and the rooftops, I was given the clear message to wake up and remember to embrace stress, give grace, and rest on faith while working towards a better tomorrow. Maybe the coming year really will be an improvement.

PROJECT UPDATES

  • In an act of taking my own medicine, I’ve given myself grace by pushing a few illustrations I’d scheduled to make this month into April, knowing that I’ll need that time to focus on my kids and getting all our schedules rebuilt.
  • I did, however build and launch my Society6 shop! I’ve got six of my favorite pieces up there available as prints, canvases, notebooks, and cards.
  • In a second round of sucking it up and practicing what I preach, this week I’ll begin development on a science fiction graphic novel I’ve been dying to make since 2009. It was originally conceived as an animated short, so the first chapter is already fully boarded, so I’ll just have to translate that into comic pages. But first, I’ll be revisiting the character designs, and those sketches will be hitting my instagram in the coming weeks.
  • And speaking of my instagram, a promotion of a recent painting is wrapping up now. I’m pretty happy with the response, and have picked up 12 followers, and a ton of views of my work and website.
  • Tonight, I’ll be drawing last week’s Inktober 52 prompt “tower” (I’m falling behind, but it is what it is), so until that’s done, here’s my last one for “elf,” inspired by my daughter.

Ink and Watercolor Process

Well, that escalated quickly. Since my last post a week ago, I took my vacation to relax and work on artwork. Let’s just say that didn’t quite go how I planned. Yes, I got a lot of work done, but not everything I wanted (more on that at the end), and my relaxation started to go out the window as the Coronavirus went full pandemic on us. So now I’m looking at at least two weeks coming up of remote work for the day job, and at least the first week of them will be with the kids staying home, as their school has “extended Spring Break for another week.” Basically, my work/life balance will be severely tested (as I’m sure many of yours will), but I’ll take that over having to turn into the dad in a post-apocolyptic movie any day (I’m looking at you, Cormac). So, everyone, stay smart and safe, but don’t shut your lives down. I, for one, am going to be keeping our life as normal as possible, and I’m going to keep creating artwork and putting it out into the world, because if it can make at least one other person smile right now, it’s worth it.

This blog was originally going to be about the tools I use for each of my work processes, but that would take more prep-work that was available to me as the world caught fire, so today I’m going to break down my process for creating ink and watercolor paintings. This is my favorite way to work right now because it combines what I’m best at (drawing) with the wet medium that I’m most comfortable with (watercolors). Let’s start, shall we?

… we have to start, because I’m writing this…

Step 1: Rough Sketch

I need to make a confession: I don’t always do this step. Heck, I usually don’t do thumbnails either. I know that’s going to upset a lot of art teachers, but it’s true. Even some art teachers who I respect a lot say you should do 50 thumbnails before you move to sketches. And maybe that works for some people. My response would be, if you need to do 50 different options of a drawing, you haven’t thought about it enough yet. You jumped onto the pencil or stylus prematurely. Also, if someone can give me proof that they picked a thumbnail that wasn’t one of the first 12 they sketched, I’ll go vegan for a week. For me, I won’t do more than 3 thumbnails of a design, and I won’t do more than 2 rough sketches. I think that’s because a) I spend a lot of time thinking about a piece before I draw it (seriously, sometimes a year before I get around to some of these things), b) I went to film school, so I naturally think in terms of camera angle, staging, the rule of thirds, and dividing lines, c) and I’ve been drawing since before I could talk. Usually, when I do a rough sketch, it’s so I can tell myself I “worked” on a piece without actually working on it. It’s basically just productive procrastination, and I have a sneaky suspicion that it is for most other people with long, drawn out sketch processes.

I DID do a rough sketch of “Little White Lie” though because I had to come up with a painting in a couple days for a gallery show. This one took a couple minutes (please don’t ever spend more time than that; there’s so much else to do in life), and that’s less time than I just spent explaining why thumbnailing is usually a waste of time.

Step 2: Pencils

At this point, I grab the watercolor paper or board, an HB pencil, and get to work. Since watercolor is a transparent paint, I’ve gotta work really light at this stage because mistakes will show through. I have to remind myself of this the whole time, because I naturally press really hard with my pencil, and I think that’s because I hold my pencil weird. I hold it with my index, middle, and ring fingertips and thumb touching the pencil at all times, so there’s more muscles and articulation involved than normal. I’d like to take this moment to thank whatever teacher it was that didn’t attempt to correct me on this technique when learning to write. Whoever you are, you just might be responsible for my style, ability, and career.

Since I’ll be eventually going over this in ink, I try to only stick to the outlines of shapes and forms, but I usually add more detail, like the hair directions, to serve as a guide when I get the pen out. You’ll also notice that between the rough sketch and the final sketch, I reconsidered the shape, direction, and placement of the feather to improve the overall sense of balance. Also to make it suck less, but that’s just a gut thing, I guess.

Step 3: Masking Fluid

This is another step that doesn’t always happen, but this time it’s entirely dependent on what the painting needs. Since I knew that the background was going to be a wash, I needed to block off the subjects. Since I’m not made of money (sorry, Michaels) I only traced Timothy instead of filling him all in.

Step 4: Wash

Once the masking agent has dried, I grab the biggest, softest brush I have, water down the background, and throw a watercolor wash on there. I’m not the best at this, and am still learning to trust the paint the first time, instead of overworking it, which always causes problems (oversaturating the paper, muddying the colors, etc.). Once the wash has dried, I rub the mask off. For those of you that loved peeling dried Elmer’s glue off your fingers in elementary school, you will find this step very fulfilling. You can see that the wash bled onto Timothy a bit. I wiped if off as best as I could, but didn’t sweat it, since I knew I was going to be covering it with stronger, darker colors.

Step 5: Inking

This is the step where the real drawing is done. I do the heaving lifting with the Pentel Pocketbrush, and finer detailing with Faber-Castell Pitt pens. At this point, style happens, and I can still go off script and fix things in the drawing (like his left hand, which I changed to hold the feather, because the original position didn’t make sense in perspective).

Step 6: Paint

Then, you just kind do everything. Again, since watercolor is transparent, you work light colors to dark, which allows for the first area you painted to be dry by the time you’re done with the last area of the same base color, so you can move right into adding value and detail. Once all the values and watercolor details are in place, I grab the smallest pen I have (an XS tip), and go through and add super fine detail where I want it (whiskers, string thread). The last step is to add white highlights (beyond what’s just bare paper) with white ink.

And that’s it! You’ve got an ink and watercolor painting.

PROJECT UPDATES

  • I finished my first set of Adventure Time Flat Pops and will promote them the next time they have a sale over at TeePublic.
  • I’ve compiled the first 9 Inktober 52 drawings into a coloring book! Here’s the flip through of the mockup:
  • I scanned six of my watercolor paintings and replaced their images on this website. The colors are richer and actually resemble the physical paintings (hurray!). I’m hoping to have prints available through Society6 by Wednesday.
  • Now I gotta fry some chicken and paint this guy (in that order):

Of Style and Substance

Most artists, especially younger ones, are most concerned with style. This makes sense, because it’s your artistic voice. Which colors do I use? Which colors won’t I use? Is there line work? How thick? Will this look good over your grandma’s couch, or on the wall of an art gallery where the proprietor will give you a condescending look when you walk in? Stuff like that. Unfortunately, I think that we usually give less thought to substance. What is my artwork saying, and what is it saying about? I think that clients, buyers, and your grandma have a better handle on those questions. For the most part, they’re not going to an art fair thinking, “I’m going to get something in a post-impressionist style that has a great handle on vermillion,” but rather, “It’d be great if I can find a cute painting of a rooster for the kitchen” (which by the way, would look great in a vermillion-heavy, post impressionist style). And then they buy the rooster painting that speaks to them the loudest. Basically, what I’m saying is that style should follow the substance of your work (or not follow it, if you’re going for ironic detachment) in the same way that form should follow function.

How we handle style and substance is what defines us as artists, and to better understand that, I’ve put together this incredibly scientific chart:

Not only scientific, but aesthetically perfect too. So, we’ve got two variables, Subjects (synonymous with Substances from here out) and Styles, and you can have either one or multiple of each. Under “One Style, One Subject” we have what are essentially the artist versions of YouTubers or influencers. Artists like Loish. She works exclusively in a painterly, digital art style (has her own marketed digital brush packs) and, by and large, she only draws young women (which a lot of the time look like vaguely anime versions of herself). If we go back before the internet, Bob Ross would be this same type of artist. He only painted wet-on-wet oil and exclusively stuck to landscapes. These are the comfort foods of artists; you know what you’re getting, and it’s gonna taste good every time. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I love Bob Ross, watched him every chance I could as a kid, and have watched through his collections with my children multiple times on Netflix. And I follow Loish on Instagram, wish that I could paint in Photoshop with the ease and skill that she does, and I think she has incredible drawing skills (like way more skills than she actively uses). The thing is, I can’t understand how you can only do one thing. That would drive me insane, repeating myself over and over again. That’s like asking the Beatles to write and record 100 “I Want to Hold Your Hands.” However, that’s what the internet loves, and the “One Style, One Subject” artists have by far the most followers on social media (we’re talking into the millions).

Next are the “One Style, Multiple Subjects” artists. The first of these that comes to mind is Jake Parker. He works in a pen and ink style somewhere between graphic novel and Watterson, usually only changing the amount of detail (to fit the target market) or rendering style (digital, markers, watercolor, etc.), but it’s always very clearly the same hand behind the work. However, he changes up the subjects that he slides into that style. He jumps around between his original sci-fi and fantasy properties, children’s book and cartoon characters, Star Wars and superhero fan art, robots and machinery, and dinosaurs. If you look through his sketchbooks, you see that he’s pretty much up for drawing anything. And that’s key to this kind of artist; you have to be a master of your style to do it. Because he’s got so much pencil mileage, he doesn’t have to worry about how he’ll draw a thing; he can just sit down and draw. Which has to be extremely chill.

Side note here: Jake Parker is the closest thing I have to a mentor. I watch his YouTube videos and listen to his podcasts for career advice, and take his online courses to brush up. He basically has the career that I want: entrepreneurial, freelance artist with a steady family life, who gets to jump back and forth between graphic novels and children’s books, and when he wants to do something new, he’ll Kickstart it and get to work. One day…

At the top of the chart are the “Multiple Styles, Multiple Subjects” artists. These are the people that will change up the medium, the focus of the art, and even the drawing style of the artwork. They tend to do this by focusing on series, catching a muse and riding it until they’re ready to try something else for awhile. My favorite example of this is Mike Mitchell. Off the top of my head, I can think of these different styles/series from him: Fat Birds, Skullies, Food Dudes, pop art cartoon characters, and realistically rendered portraits in profile. And all of them are really well made (I have a bunch of his work on my wall). I love these kinds of artists, because you can see curiousity continue throughout their careers.

But what about the “Multiple Styles, One Subject” people? Who are they? Nobody, I hope, because they would be psychopaths. Who would want to do that, anyway? “Oh yes, I paint in oil, acrylic, watercolor, and sculpt out of woven cat hair, but I only make X-Wings.” The closest I’ve seen to this are the students in high school art that don’t want to be there (or are high), and no matter what the medium or lesson is, found a way of making it a portrait of Bob Marley.

So what kind of artist am I? I’m glad to say that I’m a “Multiple Styles, Multiple Subjects” kinda guy. Here are the styles that I’ve worked in recently:

Inked Illustration

This one is my natural drawing and rendering style, and what most of my sketchbook work looks like. It’s the combination of everything that I absorbed as a kid, from Jan Brett books to X-Men comics, as I was self-teaching. It always starts as ink lines (predominantly brushpen now, because I like how the line weight varies), then I render it out in watercolor, prismacolors, or digital painting. If I lean the drawing more cartoony, it’s children’s book ready; if I lean it more realistic, it’s graphic design work. The subject can be anything, but lately I’ve been tackling anthropomorphic animals and creatures.

Bad Apples

This style was developed to fit the time restrictions of Art Conspiracy’s paint days. You have to come to a warehouse, pick up an 18×18″ piece of wood, and turn in a finished piece of artwork the same day. So I planned out a way to do that without wanting to die (like I did the first year I did an impressionistic style portrait of my son). Bad Apples start out as rough pencil sketches that are then scanned into the computer, outlined in vector (for a smooth, fluid look), printed out to size, before being transferred to the painting surface. That’s a lot of prep work, but it allows the drybrush style of acrylic painting that they’re finally rendered in to be knocked out in several hours. It’s all finished off with black paint pen (another time restriction choice, allowing me not to worry about edges at all during the painting process). The subjects vary, but they’re always cute representation of something off-center or macabre. As my work has gotten more family friendly than I’d ever guessed for myself when I was in film school studying Fincher and Tarantino, I see my Bad Apples as an outlet for darker feelings and gallows humor. They’re also almost all about eating, and there’s no way that’s not Freudian in some way…

Flat Pop

I stumbled on this style several years ago doing graphic design, when flat design for advertising illustration and icons were all the rage. I did a couple simple portraits then thought, “Hold up… what would happen if I really pushed this thing with some more complexity?” I tend to focus on pop culture entities that I love, but this style could be used to make portraits of anyone. They’re always made in Illustrator, clicking around with the mouse, tracing over a pencil sketch (that I only have draw half of, since they’re always mirrored). Flat Pops are an artistic outlet for my perfectionism and desire to control my work (since they’re symmetrical). This goes all the way to the Illustrator work file. All Flat Pops are made on one artboard, in one PDF (called the Workbench), using the same color pallette. Basically, these are the closest to meditation that my brain will allow me to get.

Detailed Vector

I clearly need a better name for this style. This grew out of the fact that, since I’ve done graphic design professionally for 12 years now (which I literally can’t believe as I type it), I’m way more comfortable with Illustrator than Photoshop (which I’ve learned is weird for illustrators). The style is meant to echo retro travel posters and advertising artwork from the 50s-60s, so I try to think of these as traditionally screenprinted, down to how each piece is made of only the combination of 7 colors (like there’s no green in Fantasyland or Frontierland; I’m creating those through layered transparencies of blues and yellows). The only use of Photoshop is at the very end, when I use a texture spray brush to add shading and hightlights to mimic half tones in screenprinting. These pieces are kinda a message to myself that in pushing Illustrator as far as I can, I’m now using it in ways that it’s really not meant for, so it’s about time I transition to Photoshop as my workhorse. But until then, I’ll keep making these overly detailed throwbacks.

Fast and Loose

This one’s a new style I’m playing with (starting in November) where I’m learning to let go of control and let watercolor and ink (my favorite way to paint) just hangout and do what they want to do. Simply designed, throwing perspective out the window, using only a handful of pigments, with washes and line bleeds all over the place, these guys are fun, relaxing, and meant to be knocked out in an afternoon.

Cartoon

Designed specifically to be animated, I like to think of these as “Muppets meets Loony Tunes.” Completely vector, they’re shaded using either smooth transparent chapes or gradients. No texture allowed. The characters are friendly, and the youngest artwork that I make.

Wrap Up

So there it is – six styles that I’m working in now. And I’ve actually been paid or made sales off of five of those (Fast and Loose is still just in the home at this point). The unifying thing to all of them is that every piece starts out as pencil on paper, sketched with an HB pencil, before splintering off into each style’s particular process. And that’s what makes them all uniquely mine. Has this variety hurt my social media following? Maybe? I’ve only just recently started posting regularly, so we’ll see. What’s more important is that it’s artistically fulfilling, and if I stick to that, then opportunities will continue to fall in line.

Project Updates

  • I’ve completed my first four Adventure Time Flat Pops! I’m waiting to promote them until I’ve got one more completed for a set of five, but these ones are already available on shirts and all sorts of other swag (I’m thinking of getting pillow sets for my kids) over at TeePublic.
  • It’s Spring Break and I’m taking some time off to do artwork. I’m going to be making a Redrawn painting, the first in a new series of mini-sculptures, at least one Inktober 52 drawing (and compiling the first 9 into a coloring booklet), reworking this website, and rescanning some of my paintings with the thought of selling prints in the future.
  • For a deeper dive into my styles, you can check out my portfolio on this site, which I’ve just rebuilt to not focus on all the things I can do, but only on the things I want to do.