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Process: SCBWI Entry

I posted my entry a few days ago, and mentioned that my process had become kinda shaken up, in a good way, by Blaugust, so I wanted to document it in a little detail.

The idea of the contest was to illustrate a story in three images. The story must be on the theme ‘misunderstood monsters’ (inspired by Frankenstein), and it must show: dilemma, conflict and resolution.

I started during Blaugust, with a general brainstorm of monster characters and plot points. What type of monster can I have? What kind of story do I want? I latched onto the idea of a monster protecting its babies (or eggs) from human action and being misunderstood as simply hating humans. From there I got excited about princesses and dragons and different ways that humans and dragons could come up against one another (mining etc). I researched different historical views on dragons and got sidetracked learning about King Tamar and medieval Georgia and just focussed on learning about that to spark ideas. Here are my sketches at this stage:

dilemmageorgia
New regent is faced with killing an old ally to protect her people.
conflictgeorgia
Going off to battle.
resolutiongeorgia
Messier, but the idea is that she’s looking at a hatching dragon egg. The dragon has taken pity on the foolish young regent and decided to explain her actions.

(You can see that a lot of the compositional ideas stayed with me even as the setting changed dramatically.) At this point I considered adding an advisor character, got a little frustrated by the ‘why’ of the story and – inspired by Shaun Tan – decided to write some accompanying words to clarify it all in my head. These words actually stayed through the whole process and you can see an alternate version of my entry on tumblr.

betrayal comes as questions

how could she?

why would she?

they are rhetorical, but you do not notice

it’s only later you realise

there may have been answers

Then I threw the whole thing up in the air and tried to work backwards from the text, creating a different story in a different world. I no longer wanted to be working in a medieval setting and I kinda wanted a modern or steam/cyberpunk story. I write a lot of notes in my sketchbook when I’m brainstorming, which is kinda cool because I can follow back my thought process later.

“dragon was useful because it’s a crest and also a monster. the juxtaposition is built in.”

“I can’t quite figure a way to give it the gravitas of medieval royalty”

and then on the next page:

“it’s her own invention! it IS Frankenstein (…) she created life that could create life.”

And that was basically the final key to the ideas in the narrative. A few more pages of sketches and miscellaneous ideas (what kind of monster, again) and I sketched something that set a visual tone for me and created my main character:

IMG_8407

I designed the robot from pterosaurs (the true dragons) and bats and birds. And then I finalised the compositions using ideas I’d already generated earlier.

At this point I also had to actually render the pieces. And this was the most scary part, but also maybe the best news of the whole project, because it was more fun than rendering has been for me for a long time, much quicker and less stressful on my body, and I liked how free it felt when finished. It’s mostly made of watercolour elements that have been scanned in, resized/rotated and layered over (and sometimes inverted). On top of that I added the main characters in digital paint with digital pencils over the top.

I still have a lot of experimentation to do, and I don’t think I’m going to render every picture this way from here on out. But it was an enjoyable way to build a piece and I liked the sort of photo-negative vibe it gave off, leading me to feel like the whole thing was taking place in an industrial cold-war type setting.

Taking my time to let ideas percolate was really useful and led me down paths I wouldn’t have otherwise gone. Using words to help me attach emotions to the pictures was also interesting, and I think it really helped me distill the concept in my head. And I’m excited by the prospect of using traditional materials more in my work. So, good stuff all round 🙂

 

Day 21 and I’m flagging

Blaugust is beginning to fall by the wayside. I’m not too upset about this because I feel like it served a pretty useful purpose, and the reason I’m struggling to blog is because I want to spend all my time experimenting and making art.

melba

So today let’s just talk about that. On the weekend I went out with my watercolour set for the first time and did the two images above and below this paragraph. I sat with my brother in a warm food court and we sketched a rainy Melbourne. On the practical side of things I learned that it’s good to have more than one sketchbook, so you can swap between them as paint dries. I brought them both just so I had options and it turned out to be really useful. On the art theory side of things, I mostly learned that I should go out and do this a lot more.

melb2a

At home I’ve been trying to stretch myself out to more complicated scenes in traditional media, with characters, settings, and lighting. I’m working purely from reference at the moment, and am loving Jamie Oliver’s recipe books as a source of interesting reference material. This picture was done from a lovely atmospheric photo in Jamie’s Italy and, while there are a lot of flaws, I think it’s a good starting point. I’m getting to a good value range and, above all, it’s just fun to paint a full scene in my sketchbook. It gives me a taste of what I could get to.

jamiesitalya

I’ve been using my black pencil a lot, and I also want to experiment with shadow lines in blues and purples and browns. And I’ve gotta remember to use pencils first and then crayons, because you can’t use pencil on top of crayon…

All in all though, it’s going well, and I think maybe (for all that I set new goals just the other day) it’s a good idea to run with experimentation + reflection for a while, and then dip back into theory once I’ve let myself find my own way.

So see you sometime soonish, maybe. But also maybe I should just stop attempting to predict what I’m going to write about because I could equally be back tomorrow with theory 😀

Day 19: The Learning Process

The thing about learning something new is that you just have to do it a lot. I’ve been experimenting with different types of paper, different types of media, trying to make myself use colour, and finding ways that feel right to me.

Ostensibly I’ve been researching the medieval Kingdom of Georgia, but it’s really been much more about putting paint down on a page and saying ‘oh no, that’s not what I meant at all’ to myself lots of times. Learning.

And I finished a mini sketchbook. (I made it myself from a bunch of different types of paper!)

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Reference images: Tamar, St George, Oshki, Vardzia, Katskhi Pillar, Shatili, Caucasian Agama (1,2,3), Georgian horsemanJvari Monastery, Georgian helmet, Gelati Monastery, Bolshoy Thach. Some of these links are sensible, others definitely don’t lead to the original image :/

Some overall thoughts

As always when learning something new, the quality varies hugely. I did put up every page even though my pride really didn’t want me to. Inconsistency is such a struggle, because you get so proud of how you learned to do something right! And then you do it again and it’s a disaster.

Patience and excitement go a long way, as does confidence that an error will not render the page worthless. So much of it is psychological, and panickily trying to ‘fix’ an error inevitably makes everything much worse. Staying calm is important, but so is caring about the end result. It takes effort to get things right, so I’ve got to stay engaged throughout the process.

I really like toned paper and white charcoal pencil, which is not that surprising. Way back when I first started to draw, my parents sent me art supplies for my birthday, including two toned paper sketchbooks and some black and white charcoal pencils (thank you!). I prefer the (less smudgy) black coloured pencil now, but it’s basically the same. And, actually, I’m still using the same white pencil, although not for much longer because it’s getting small. I’m going to start working more like this, even though it’s not bringing colour into things. I enjoy it so much that it seems silly that I’ve not been practising with it. And even without colour, the ability to use light and dark lines is pretty relevant to the directions I want to go in.

I like the watercolour on toned paper too. Probably because it helps me get a bit of unity in the piece, and keeps my colours from being too bright. I still have a long way to go on mixing colours to the value and hue that I want, and I’m considering just limiting myself to three or four colours (from my palette of 11) for a while, so I can get some of that unity and learn to mix things with fewer variables to worry about. I can always add extra colours over the top with pencil and crayon anyway.

Paper (and which side of it I’m working on) makes a big difference. I’m going to just let this go for now and keep using bits and bobs of all kinds of definitely-not-designed-for-watercolour-paper because I don’t need these sketches to look fancy, and I think there’s a hardiness you can learn from using whatever paper is around.

And now, onto another sketchbook!

 

Day 17: Pause, and Begin Again

This was always going to be a bit of a mess. You can only form the coherent storylines once the process is complete. But I can take stock of where I’m at, what I’ve learned, and start wandering in other vague directions.

Big Blaugust Lessons

The things that I really want to hold on to:

  • An illustration needs a purpose (an emotion, idea, or narrative) and communicating that purpose is more important than communicating that I have any particular technical skill.
  • Style and technique are there to serve the goals of the picture, and my overall artistic goals, rather than ends in and of themselves.
  • I need fodder to make interesting illustrations. Drawing observationally, as research, and from life, gives me material to pull into illustrations. I shouldn’t just draw within narrow research bounds, but more widely to give myself ideas.
  • And I need to draw to practise seeing. I need to draw to practise knowing what I care about in a scene, and to experiment – in a low-stakes situation – with how to represent that.
  • I can spend more time on individual illustrations than I have been. I can do many roughs, including colour roughs. It’s important to take my time in order to render in a way that feels right to me, rather than rushing it through in a way that I don’t really like.
  • I’d really like to get better at traditional art.
  • Experimenting with new materials, new techniques, new ideas is A+ good stuff, and that’s where a lot of my development comes from.
  • It’s important to get good enough at the things I don’t care about so that they fade into the background and don’t attract attention away from the things I do care about.
  • On that note: it’s okay to care about some parts of a picture more than other things. Necessary, even. I should stay curious about what things I personally care about, and be aware so I can amplify or tone them down to fit certain illustrations.
  • It’s worth chasing the things I care about, and continuing to try to build them into my practice, even if I’m not sure how.

robot ruin1.jpgWhat were the goals again?

  1. Figure out the kind of stories I want to tell
  2. Consider the pieces of art I really like, stylistically
  3. Analyse the way those styles and techniques support the stories and emotions they’re conveying
  4. Tie this all together by doing studies and experimenting with new techniques

Have I achieved them? I’ve definitely done a lot of 2 and 3, but there’s a lot more to cover. I’ve been doing some of 4, though you haven’t seen much evidence of it. And 1… well, the realisation that pictures need to be about things rather than about skills has just sort of done away with this as a question that needs to be answered. I was looking for an answer like ‘oh, yes, draw people-based stories from Ancient Civilisations, sometimes fantastical’ and then I could start ticking boxes within that category. But that all seems backwards now.

In the rest of the month I’d like to expand on points 2,3 and 4, by considering elements of illustration I haven’t yet investigated.

I want to look at different methods for creating contrast and leading the eye. I want to look at various ways that illustrators seem to consciously step away from realism, and their reasons for it. I want to focus on some specific things like illustrating people and illustrating in greyscale. I want to go back in history to other art movements/illustrators I like and see what they have in common with modern illustrators I like. I want to do some studies of individual illustrations to really get into the nitty-gritty of how it works. This is a slight change of topic, but I also want to reflect a little on organisation of materials, projects, folders etc and how to make it easier for myself to create. And I might start posting some of the sketchbook experiments I’ve been working on.

robot ruin2.jpg

That’s a lot of stuff and I’ll be busy volunteering at, and attending, the Melbourne Writers Festival in the final week of August, but we’ll see how it goes 🙂

Day 16: Jealousy + Reset

It used to be that I was jealous of every artist I liked. I saw their work and it was beautiful or emotive or funny and I wished that I could do that. I wanted their colours, their compositions, their ideas, their details, their rendering, their vibrancy. All of it.

I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but I checked in with my brain the other day and realised I’m not all that jealous anymore. I can appreciate an illustration, ask myself ‘do you wish you had made that?’, and the answer is usually ‘nah, not really, it sure is cool though.’ Every now and then though, the answer is still ‘oooooooh, yeah, I guess I do a bit.’steampunk2

And so now jealousy can become interesting, where before it was overwhelming. Is there a specific aspect of the illustration that makes me jealous? Is it the idea behind it? Is it everything that illustrator makes, or just this one piece? What am I missing?

Most often, it’s a technical skill, or the ability to use a medium that I have no experience in. This is, in some ways, an ‘easy’ fix, if a time-consuming one. I just need to learn the skill, or medium, and then either adapt it into my work or choose to leave it by the wayside. It’s good to be specific though – about what the skill is – or it’s harder to address.

It’s trickier if I’m jealous of someone else’s ideas, but I think Blaugust is helping with that. By looking at the themes I try to express, and the habits I have formed, I can see where there are gaps. I can see themes and ideas I wish I could express, and how the habits I’ve formed are not conducive to that. I can imagine new habits, that might help me to create images with a wider range of meanings and interpretations. I can imagine no longer being jealous of ideas, because I am proud of my own ideas coming through in my own work. I’m not there yet, but I can imagine.

matilda

Something else that I find myself jealous of is a little harder to parse. Perhaps it’s something along the lines of artistic intuition or freedom of interpretation. Freedom to stylise. I’m jealous of this in Victoria Semykina’s work, in Nuria Tamarit’s, in Charlotte Ager’s, in Rovina Cai’s, in Pascal Campion’s. It’s perhaps the main reason I’m doing Blaugust at all. There’s a sense of freedom about their illustrations. No longer tethered to imitating reality, they’re showing something that still feels tangibly real but also vibrant and unique.

These illustrators mentioned are all so different that it feels odd to group them together in this way. But it’s an important reminder that I don’t want to imitate any one of them. I do want to find my way to a practice of illustration that has some similar sense of freedom. I’m not certain of how to apply this. It’s something that people seem to say ‘comes naturally’, which is the sort of answer that has always infuriated me. I like to learn. I like to study. I don’t like the idea that you’ve either got it or you don’t. And generally when people say it ‘comes naturally’, they just mean they don’t remember how they learned or developed something. So I’m choosing to believe it’s something that I can develop, that it’s not a mystical magical thing, but just that I’m not quite able to understand it yet.

real final

And honestly, so far for Blaugust I’ve covered such a tiny section of the artistic decisions that people make. I’ve learned a lot, but there’s a lot to learn. It’s just about midway through the month, and I think I need a mini reset, a little stocktake to assess what’s going on, what I’ve learned and what more there is that I want to achieve. So, tune in for that tomorrow!

Day 15: How

Yesterday I wrote about my subjective focus within a scene, the things I like to capture, and mentioned a little of how that can influence the materials I choose and the styles I use. Today I’m gonna try to expand on that.

Texture

I really like dry media for the way it lets me easily capture the texture of objects. In this way I relate a lot to how Serio and Grill work. Over the years I’ve tried a number of ways to build that natural texture and scribble feel into my digital work. (Not really aware of why I wanted that, just that I did.)

I used to spend a fair amount of time creating digital collages, using traditionally drawn elements as texture.

tumblr_nmzn94WmqT1u4iuv6o2_500tumblr_nnb8n48kyt1u4iuv6o1_500

It’s been a while though. When I switched to using Clip Studio Paint (away from vector-based Inkscape) I figured I could achieve a lot of those effects within the program. And I could, but I didn’t. It became more controlled, more refined and there were fewer messy bits and pieces. I’ve retained a lot of the directional strokes and texture, but it doesn’t have the same freedom or range that I have in my sketchbook, or even that I used to have in Inkscape.

thea4

A trade-off of texture for clarity is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is if it’s not really what I want, just what’s easier to do. A lesson for me: when making digital work I’d like to keep in mind that the textural quality is not something to be added on at the end, but a central element of the illustration. Perhaps I need to spend some time just learning the sorts of marks I can make. But this is all also a reason to improve my traditional illustration skills. As mentioned a while back, I struggle to render complicated scenes, especially from imagination, and I’d like to get better at that.

Light and Shadow

I really don’t like line art. I don’t like drawing an outline and colouring it in. I don’t like it when there’s a solid dark line on the lit side of a pale object. I’ve done many fully lined pictures that I love and am proud of. But it annoys me every time I do it, and I get tired and frustrated, I find line thickness to be a tedious thing to carefully control, and the result never feels quite true to me anyway.

And I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s because I really like light and shadow. I prefer to think of things in solid shapes, not in outlines. If I’m drawing an outline I want it to make sense – a light line on a lit edge, a dark line on a shadow edge. Often there’s no need for lines at all.

I think this is one reason why I really love (digital) collage and working with vectors. It gives me a method of creating pictures without lines. The AOI Posters from my first Blaugust post were a conscious attempt to recreate some of the fun of lineless collage-style digital art, and I really enjoyed that. It’s fun to start without lines and only add them where absolutely needed. (The summer courtyard in this post is a good example of that technique too.) Collage is also a good method for adding patterns because you can easily add a pattern to a single collage layer. One thing it’s not so good for is softening hard edges, but layers of pencil over the top can do that.

I’ve never been much for traditional collage because, honestly, I’m not great at using scissors or stanley knives, but maybe that’d be something else to learn.

Paint?

So I’ve been talking all about dry media and the ways I do (or don’t) like to use them. Another interesting question is: what about paint? What about painterly painting with colours that blend? And honestly, I don’t know. I’m just starting to use watercolour in my sketchbook at the moment, and gouache will also be making an appearance at some stage. At present I’m using them as translucent coloured layers in conjunction with crayons or pencils, which actually do a lot of the work. It’s helping me to use outlines less in my sketchbook, which makes me happy. It also adds a depth to my colours that I really appreciate.

man jamies italy.jpg

Attempting to paint in a painterly manner without any pencils at all seems like a thing I could also enjoy. It also seems hard.

I guess digitally I do sometimes use painterly techniques. Again in the AOI poster, the smoke and fire are all painterly and that was fun. Needs must? I feel pretty chill just experimenting with this as it comes up, but without any sense of bringing it wholesale into my standard repertoire at present. Perhaps it’s just worth keeping in the back of my mind.

Summarising Thoughts

Maybe I need to figure out when and where things fall apart? When do I start relying on outlines? And how can I stop myself from doing that?

Should I experiment with making little stamps? I know that’s a thing other people do to make patterns.

People are a whole ‘nother ball game, and I’m gonna make a separate post for illustrating them. Also, I think that’s where I often fall apart and start relying on outlines and get scared of light/shadow, so… it’s definitely something to tackle!

NB: The THEA picture was one I really enjoyed making digitally, and it felt like it had some of the pencil texture I wanted, and didn’t overly rely on outlines. Unfortunately when I tried to make more complex pieces in the same sequence, I found myself relying on outlines again. I still like the follow-up pieces, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t quite the direction I really wanted to go.