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!

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):