Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Steampunk Sea Art...Sea Punk?

I wanted to do a quick post to share something that I accomplished last week.  It's one of the paintings I referenced in my post about failure! 

A few months ago I was working in my sketchbook and started working on a drawing of a Steampunk'd-out sea horse.  I really liked it, but didn't go anywhere with it at that point.  Then, a few weeks ago at 212, our graphic design guy Keith showed us the postcard he made for Saline Picture Frame's Circle of Art - an annual art auction that benefits Food Gatherers of Ann Arbor.  The theme for this year's art auction is Steampunk!  I knew what I had to do...

I took my sea horse sketch, did some tweaks and changes, and made it into a small watercolor painting. It was going along well - I liked the colors, felt pretty confident about it, and while there were a few things I thought about changing, was pleased with how it was coming along.  My final touch was to do the inking on it, and it went well...until I shook my koh-i-noor ink well pen too close to the painting and disaster struck:

The ink splotched everywhere (including on me), and all over the lower portion of the painting.  I couldn't believe it!  I tried to do a pattern on the tail that would cover the ink or incorporate it somehow, but failed miserably.  

At that point I realized that I could sit there and brood about my messed up painting, or just Keep Moving Forward and start over.  I'm fairly pleased with the results! There are some things I liked better on the first, some better on the second, but all in all I'm happy with it: 

You can bid on the finished, non-ink splotched sea horse on the Circle of Art website, or go to the event on May 18th from 12-5pm at Saline Picture Frame and bid on it in person!  I'm also planning on doing more of these to sell on my Etsy shop, and will post a link where there up.  There will be more Steampunk animals to come, as well!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Week 7: Failure!

So last week I...failed. I was working on a couple of paintings, and they just did NOT turn out the way I wanted them!!  One of them I just kept staring at thinking, "I don't know what I thought I was doing here..."  I had a very "Dinosaur-from-Meet-the-Robinsons" moment:

I knew, though, that, "From failure, you learn. From success...not so much." I'm frustrated that these paintings didn't turn out how I planned them, but I'm learning a lot in the process.  For one of them, I started over from scratch and ended up like parts of the second one better, but other parts I felt were better in the first painting.  Each time I learn something and each subsequent painting that I do will be better for it.  Failure can be one of the best learning tools that we have!

You just have to focus on what you have learned, rather than on the fact that you failed.

"Keep moving forward" - possibly the most important step.  When we fail and then just sit and stew in our failure, nothing gets accomplished.  But if we pause, accept our failure, and then keep moving forward, we can learn so much more and become a better person for it.

Walt Disney had it right!  So don't worry if you fail.  Just go watch "Meet the Robinsons" (one of my favorite movies, if you can't already tell), and then Keep Moving Forward!
(I didn't mean for this post to be a motivational speech, but there you go!)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Week 6: Greenfield Village

I know this is Monday and not Friday (when I usually do my weekly review) but being off on Friday for the Easter holiday threw me off a bit!  It was a good week, though, so I wanted to be sure to review it.

I'll be writing about part of the week later, but for now wanted to focus on a big highlight - Greenfield Village is open again!!!  Hallelujah!  It reopened last week on Tuesday, but due to crummy weather I decided to wait and go on Thursday.  It was a good decision!  The weather was perfect on Thursday.  I spent about five hours there, ate lunch outside (a delicious flatbread sandwich bought from the "Taste of History" cafeteria), made a mini brass candlestick (I had NO idea you could do that there - it's AWESOME!!), chatted with some docents at the chapel, journaled, searched for cool doorknobs, and sat and contemplated life. ;)  It was wonderful!  I love it there - an outdoor museum, surrounded by it any wonder it's the subject of my current series of paintings (and one of my favorite places)?  

Here are some photos from my day might see a familiar...face... in some photos:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Skull's Day Out

I have been giving private art lessons to a middle school student the last few weeks, and we're working on drawing the human figure.  We've been starting from the skeletal system out, and I knew that the best way to do it would be to have an actual skull from which to work.  Thankfully Keith, the graphic designer and watercolorist at 212, has a skull (named Skully) that he let me borrow.  (It's a plastic skull, thankfully...!)

Skully certainly came in handy for our lesson (drawing it from lots of different angles), but the fun (for me) didn't stop when the lesson was over.  I stuck Skully (and an animal skull Keith had leant me) into a bag, went to grab some lunch, and walked down to 212 from my studio.  I had some fun with photos in the process...  I've been researching skull models now and may need to buy one.  This was just too much fun.  

I had a professor once who said that he hated it when people said that art should be fun, that you don't always have to be having fun when you're creating art.  I disagreed with him - I'm not saying I'm always having fun, but I know that when I'm not, it's time to take a break and/or make a change!  After a frustrating session with a painting earlier this week and some miserable weather yesterday, I needed this fun distraction today!
Skully, ready to be drawn
My "skullfie"...creeeeepy
Skully in my bag - walking down to 212
Skully went with me to get lunch at Detroit Dog Co. Yum!!
Posing with the cemetery across the street
Back at 212
Skully taking a watercolor class

Friday, April 11, 2014

Week 5: Spring Break!

I have an aunt and uncle who are going to be moving back to Northern Michigan soon, after living for the last several years in Georgia. They were in town this week looking for houses and commented that everyone in Michigan keeps talking about the weather, not just to make small talk, but because we all really want to talk about the weather!! It was so horrific for so long (stupid Polar Vortex) that no one can believe it's finally nice!!!! We all are also running around in 50 degree weather in shorts and t-shirts, which is not considered warm in the south. 

On Wednesday I took a little field trip to check out another of my favorite places in the area - Curtiss Park. It's connected to Mill Pond Park by the Saline River, which flows through both. Curtiss Park has a couple of small waterfalls, which block out the sound from Michigan Ave, which is nice!!  The children's book takes place outdoors near water, so I took some "research photos" while I was there. :)

As I sat there on Wednesday, the sun on my face, a fresh breeze blowing across my face, I got teary-eyed. It's here!!! Spring is finally really here!!! I know I said in my second post on here that it was, but that was hope and desperation speaking. And I know snow in April is not unheard of, but I don't care. The grass is turning green, the air is fresh and sweet, tulips and daffodils are peeking up through the damp earth, and the temps stay consistently above freezing. I seriously can't believe it sometimes. I don't know if I can explain how for real I am when I say that!! This winter was so awful and never ending!!! Or so it felt. 

The schools in the area are on spring break, which means 212 was closed, so I spent most of my time in the studio. I spent a ridiculous amount of time doing my best Pointillism impression on one painting, only to have it not turn out how I wanted it!! I think I've fixed it, but it's still not quite where I want it. 

I also met with my brother to go over the layout and a few aspects of the Tom story. It was good to have him in the studio so I could show him what I was thinking and make sure we were thinking the same things. I'm excited to keep moving forward on this project! The layout's mostly ready - I'll share some of that next week and the process I'm going through to get there. 

Here are a few photos from the park - you can find them on my Instagram page, too (link to the right)! Happy Spring!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Week 4: Gratitude!

I've been at it for a month now!!  It certainly hasn't felt like a month, more like half that.  But I do feel like I've done and learned so much over the past four weeks.  Sometimes progress has felt slow, sometimes I've been stressed, sometimes I've stared at a piece of paper for a ridiculously long period of time before knowing what to do with it! But inspiration is coming along more quickly and I'm finding myself more able to focus.

This week one thing I have been feeling in particular has been gratitude.  It is not lost on me at all what a unique and incredible opportunity this is.  Unfortunately not many people can say that they are able to make a living doing what they love the most!  I'm so grateful that I can say that I can, at least for a few more months!  I'm realizing that I need to make the most of the next five months so that I can keep on living my dream.  Now that I've tasted the sweet life, how can I go back??  

It's been really interesting this week to learn more about children's books in general.  Did you know that the industry standard for children's books is 32 pages?  That allows for twelve spreads and two half-page drawings if the book is self-ended, or fourteen spreads and two half-page drawings if the book has colored ends.

Don't know what the heck any of that means?  That's ok, I'm right there with you.  Maybe only slightly ahead of you, now that I've been doing a little more research.  I'm glad to know about all of this now, though, before I've really gotten* this started instead of later when I'm done with all of the illustrations.  

On a slightly unrelated note, as I'm illustrating I often think of Cynthia Coppersmith, a character in author Jan Karon's Mitford Series.  The book series is about Father Timothy Kavanagh, an Episcopal priest in a small town (Mitford) in North Carolina, and the happenings of the extremely lovable townsfolk.  They're some of my favorite books!  Cynthia Coppersmith is Father Tim's neighbor and is a children's book author and illustrator.  She often talks about deadlines and watercolors and sketching from nature, which pops into my head as I work.

Which reminds me, I took a little field trip on Wednesday to my favorite local park to do some "research" for the book.  I really just wanted an excuse to ride my bike - the first ride of the year!  Everything is still very brown - it's all still waking up from this cruel winter - but it was still great to see my favorite spots and anticipate the green that is to come!

When it's green, it's gorgeous! (The nature, not the bike.)

*Anyone else hate the word "gotten" as much as me?  I don't know what it is about that word, but it bugs me.  Not as much as the word "cacophony," but it's up there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Children's books

This week I've been working on the starts of the children's book illustrations.  I'm realizing how much pre-planning is going to go into this!  I've been sketching the characters from the book for a few years now (not terribly consistently, but I know what they look like), and had actually done a few full-page illustrations in colored pencil several years back.  Since I finished those pages, I went to grad school and my artistic skills and styles have changed somewhat since then.  I realized that before moving forward with the book I was going to need to take a few steps back.

A little note first on the book itself: I am purposefully being very vague on here about it!  I may be paranoid, I may just be cautious, but I worry about copyright issues, so won't be going into a lot of detail about the book just yet.  I will say this: the main character's name is Tom, and he's an animal, with a diverse group of animal friends.  How's that for vague?  I'll probably refer to "working on Tom" a lot in the future.  

OK, back to it.

The first thing I did was go to the library and look at children's books. I looked at different page layouts and illustration styles a few weeks ago, and this week went back for more.  I got out 9 books with very different styles/set-ups/media, and this time spent a lot more time really pulling apart my favorites and deciding what I liked and what I didn't.  I even started writing reviews of them in my Tom notebook. 

Then I started to sketch out some potential page layouts on a large sheet of paper:

One of my favorite books of the nine was called The Lonely Moose by John Segal (in the left corner of the photo above).  I loved the illustrations, the variety of page layouts, the Moose, and the storyline.

Another favorite is Fibblestax, written by Devin Scillian (a Detroit news anchor), and illustrated by Kathryn Darnell.  I've owned this book for probably a decade now, and I never get tired of flipping through it - it's just beautiful!!  Great storyline and gorgeous illustrations.  Plus it's about wordsmiths, and I'm a big 'ol Word Nerd, so it appeals to me on so many levels!

I also grabbed four or five books that have won the Caldecott Medal to get an idea of what is considered (by one group, at least) to be "good" illustrations.  I will be honest, I was slightly baffled by some of the winners.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (another book I own and love) won, and it's very clear why (if you haven't read/seen that book, plus his follow-up, Wonderstruck, you should ASAP!); but so did a book called A Ball For Daisy, by Chris Raschka, which surprised me quite a bit...  Maybe it was the simplicity?

This post is long enough, so I won't get too much more into it here, but I've been thinking that I might post some of my reviews on here from time to time. They'll be short (like the brief paragraphs about the two books above), and will largely be about the illustrations. 

I'll also write more about the process I'm going through, working with my brother (the author), deciding what the best illustration based on what he's written would be, story boarding, etc. Exciting times, my friends!