New Work: The Turnip Keeper's Lantern
Posted on 20 May 2013
I've always wanted to illustrate the folktale behind the modern tradition of the jack-o-lantern - the story of a drunken sinner who, through trickery, extracts a promise from the devil never to claim his soul and is subsequently forced to wander the earth with a carved turnip containing an ember from the fires of hell to light his lonely way.
(The pencil & white charcoal sketch.)
I thought all that accursed wandering might be rendered pleasanter and more efficient with the addition of a bicycle. Unfortunately, bikes are one of those things that are both hard to draw properly from imagination AND suitably large and cumbersome that dragging an actual one up from the basement for reference purposes isn't entirely practical. My solution:
Viewing my creation, it may not alarm my readers to learn that my exemplary marks at art school were marred by a few D's in Sculpture; however, this crude model is something of a marvel of hidden engineering. Standing a full 3.5" high, it features sturdy cocktail skewer & hot glue construction and (wonder of wonders) a fully articulated front fork and handlebars for lifelike handling.
The completion of this piece also marks the happy occasion of having enough reasonable examples of my current working style that I feel comfortable starting to knock some of the older, more cartoony stuff out of my portfolio in favor of the new pieces. I always advise illustrators just starting out to chisel their portfolios down to the bare relevant minimum, but for some reason I have a hard time doing it myself until I have something better to replace it with.
On the bright side, it's nice to be able to look at my current work against stuff from 2011/2012 and see a marked improvement - it gives me hope for 2014 and beyond.
New Work: Nest
Posted on 12 May 2013
A little illustration for Mother's Day.
Some Daily Sketches
Posted on 20 Apr 2013
I tend to overwork personal pieces - setting myself up for failure by choosing an enormous canvas ("Oh, this will look fantastic on the wall in case I ever slip through a wormhole in space and time and land in an alternate reality where I'm a gallery artist!"), overthinking reference materials, and spending waaaay too much time rendering things that require very little rendering.
To that end, I've challenged myself to make some daily drawings whenever I get a few minutes free in my work schedule. The only rules:
- Each piece should be no larger than 5x7(ish), and
- Each piece must be finished within the space of a single day, or abandoned.
It gives me a chance to work on creating coherent compositions on the fly, as well as reinforcing the idea that "no deadline" doesn't necessarily mean "this should take forever."
The first batch of drawings turned into a series of perplexing and pointless quests carried out by a girl in impractical armwarmers. The one with the snail is my favorite.
I have, of course, entirely defeated the purpose of this exercise by starting to make a larger, more tediously rendered finished piece out of the second sketch, which I will be posting soon. Oh well.
New Work: The Fold
Posted on 09 Apr 2013
A new piece is up, featuring sheep hats, a juice box, and lots and lots of stairs. Check out the full view in the gallery; details and some reference photo hilarity below.
As you can see, this is another pencil drawing on toned paper, colored digitally. It's a bit of a shift from my usual process, though, as I took the paper stage a bit further with colored pencils before scanning and finishing it out in Photoshop. Due to the size of the piece (16x20 - a bit larger than I usually work) I confined the colored pencil rendering to the characters, and left the background and lesser elements in graphite.
Since this didn't call for a huge range of colors, I put away most of the set and used dark green, peach, and red (not entirely coincidentally, these are some of the few Prismacolor shades that are actually lightfast).
The end result photographs badly (read: I am a bad photographer) but is actually a nice subtle effect, with the soft stippled tone that colored pencils produce. I'm planning to try a fully-colored pencil drawing on a smaller piece in the near future.
In my last blog post, John asked if I use reference photos in my work. Short answer: yes. A lot of my older work (the pieces with the more cartoony style and the ping-pong ball eyes) were generally done without reference, and suffered for it. I've been taking reference photos for most of my newer work, particularly since I've been using so many potentially disastrous low-angle views. They're a huge help in putting characters in the correct (or at least, closer to correct) perspective to their environment. Since in my neck of the woods the only model I have available is myself, and since I'm working with a rather limited photo studio/laundry room, this involves a lot of jumping on and off of the washing machine to set my camera's timer.
My photography skills and modeling ability are, at least, equally matched.
One major upside I've noticed is that the more practice I get using photo or life reference in my work, the more accurate to life my non-referenced sketches are becoming. The resulting images are the best of both worlds - some of the liveliness and stylization that comes from imagination, along with some semblance of anatomical accuracy. Pieces like this one feel a little heavy handed on the photo reference - I can't quite ignore the fact that all of the characters have the same build (insanely ripped upper arms!) that I do.
Materials & a Work in Progress: Wolf Boy
Posted on 30 Mar 2013
Since I've started doing more traditional media, I've had a few artists ask about the toned paper, pencils, etc. that I'm using and where to find them.
- Smooth toned paper - Strathmore toned sketch paper in gray, product page here - this seems to be a fairly new item, but is available at most online art retailers. It's what I used in the sketch above.
- Textured toned paper - Strathmore charcoal paper in any of the lighter tints (pencil lines get lost in the darker tones). I used this in my Summer Wine illustration, among others.
- Charcoal White pencils - the ones I use are Generals brand, available here and at even the most podunk local art supply store.
- White Sewline pencil - Something unusual: a white-lead mechanical pencil intended for fabric marking, which I use for fine lines & details. Product info here - I haven't yet found "artists'" white mechanical pencil leads, but these seem to do the trick and can be found at most fabric/quilt shops. They seem to be better for smooth shading than the white charcoal pencils.
- Regular-ass pencils of the mechanical variety (0.3 and 0.5mm being my go-to).
The wolfboy above is a detail from a project I've been working on this week, and a pretty good example of the process I use when working with these materials. Shading large areas in pencil is something I dearly loathe, so I can't recommend a nice mid-tone paper like Strathmore's enough.
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