I have remained very much in Nature Mode the past few weeks. I’m finding so much joy in being outside that I’m spending all my personal art time paying tribute to it. It helped that I took a road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains right at the peak of spring – absolutely stunning!
Here is a collection of the art I’ve been making lately, both digital and from my sketchbook:
We’ve all had it- you’re knee deep in an illustration, deadline’s coming up, and it is just not working. It’s too late to scrap the whole thing, but you dread going into the studio. The piece just doesn’t feel right.
What do you do?
At this point, I’ve hit this wall enough times that I’ve developed a bit of a routine to deal with it. I’d like to share my steps for troubleshooting an illustration that just isn’t quite right. They’re presented roughly in the order that I use them, but that’s definitely dictated by my working method and artistic priorities. It could be completely different for you!
Tip 1: Check Colors
I’m a nut for color- working with color to find interesting combinations is my favorite part of any illustration. If I don’t like a piece, odds are I’m not into the colors. If I feel stuck, I’ll grab the hue slider and pull it around until something clicks. I might do it on one or two elements, or (temporarily!!) flatten the image and play with the whole thing. Eventually something will spark and give me a new thing to try.
Tip 2: Check Values
Because I really love color, I often neglect the importance of value – that is, light/dark – in my illustrations. If the space feels confusing or the hierarchy of elements isn’t right, values are often the culprit. I check this by adding a black layer to the top of my document and setting its blending mode to “color,” effectively making my image black and white. Then I can see where I need more value contrast and go in to lighten or darken certain elements. I do this with the filter still on, then turn that layer off and adjust anything that might have gotten blown out or turned a weird color.
A lot of the personal practice of an illustrator involves playing around in a sketchbook, unsure of where it will lead. You plant your little seeds, and you have no idea which ones will grow.
Then, sometimes, you get to harvest! That’s what this illustration feels like for me, it’s a harvesting of a bunch of little ideas that have been germinating in my sketchbooks. It’s impossible to trace back all of the roots, but here are a few:
First of all- until pretty recently I was not at all a fan of colored pencils. I found them tedious, I thought the soft, grainy texture made most drawings look amateurish or like schoolwork, and I resented not being able to have any color I wanted. However, as I’ve been trying to incorporate more color into my sketchbook, I’ve found colored pencils to be a really good way to do that. They require no prep, I enjoy how easy it is to craft an interested limited color palette, and I discovered I LOVED the textures I can create with firm pressure and rough, scribbly lines. This lead to a few of my favorite sketchbook spreads:
Next, subject matter. Would you believe I used to hate drawing backgrounds? That’s really evolved over the past few years, too. I’ve had to draw plants and forests for various projects, and I’ve discovered that creating environments is now incredibly relaxing- meditative, even. I’ve built up a sort of lexicon of plant shapes (which I’m always trying to add to) and I get to pull from it whenever I get to draw something like this.
For our latest Sunshine Syndicate assignment, we’re working on patterns themed around “green” with a certain color scheme. I really wanted to do something nature-inspired, because at the time I was starving for some springtime! I grabbed colored pencils because they’re an easy way to iterate with certain colors, and I started doodling in my sketchbook. I liked the way the sketchy drawn trees looked next to the more filled in ones, and I thought I’d try filling a whole page with them.
Not only did I really like the results, I realized I had a lot of fun plotting the page out as I worked, figuring out where it needed an extra element or a different color. It was just.. fun! And relaxing. So, I wanted to do more. I also have a big empty wall in my kitchen, so I thought.. why not go big?
And that’s when I grabbed the big 18″x24″ pad of paper, basically untouched since college. And also when I laid down on the rug and started coloring like a little kiddo!
Now, this process of pulling from things discovered in the sketchbook is happening all the time. This is just an example where that growth is fairly easy to see. Hopefully it inspires you to dig into your sketchbook with some new materials- you never know what will come next!
Happy Valentines Day!
The Sunshine Syndicate did a fun Valentines printable project, and I knew I had to do some silly printable (and nerdy) Valentines! I love puns, plus I’ve been eyeing my buddy Marisa’s adorable annual pop-culture Valentines for years. It was great to give it a try myself!
Another really fun challenge for this was that we all used the same color palette. Rachel Place picked the colors, and they are so outside my typical wheelhouse, yet I totally fell in love with the combo as I was working and finding how to make it my own. Great learning experience!
So feel free to print these puppies out and give them to your Valentines!
It’s really nice once in a while to get to do something totally out of your norm. Stretch out those art-brain-muscles in a new direction!
This is – of all things – an album cover commissioned by DJ (and twitter-friend) Bill Boulden. He ran a super interesting Kickstarter for his new album, Music To Die Alone In Space To. The album is being re-recorded for each backer, and they have a number of customization options, including album art.
I made my first zine! And it’s now available in my shop.
It’s a little book about feelings and how to deal with them. A little bit serious, a little bit silly, and very honest.
This project was really the culmination of a lot of factors. I’d been wanting to make a longer-form personal project for a while, but I also wanted to make sure it was something I could definitely finish. My experience at SPX last year got me really interested in zines, and eventually I figured it would be cool (and a good motivator) to try and have one ready for SPX this year. (Which I managed!)
I was also spending a lot of time working in my sketchbook, due to taking a daily doodle pledge in a workshop my friend Zara gave. During that, I realized that despite the fact that my work tends to be very tightly finished/colorful, I was really drawn to the simplicity and honesty of my straight-to-ink sketchbook drawings. I liked that they felt so personal, but also the messiness gave me more chances to be funny, too. Eventually that work developed into a series of drawings that I then pushed further into this little tiny book.
I really enjoyed getting to step away from my usual children’s-oriented stuff and try something a little bit different (although hopefully it still feels like me!). It’s also incredibly satisfying to have a little stack of physical booklets to look at and know that I put them together completely myself, from start to finish. Really, really looking forward to making more!
Another sticker pack for imo! I have so much fun making work for them, I feel so lucky to have them as a client.
They gave me pretty free reign to pitch a pack, and so I decided to go with one of my favorite birds: cardinals. (Who doesn’t love them?) I was inspired by the fact that you can always tell when a pair of cardinals is nearby by the gentle “peep” they make to keep track of each other. Listen for it next time you spot one – odds are their partner is around somewhere, peeping back.
For this pack, apart from the usual goals of clear emotional expressions and appealing animations, I also tried to experiment with a color scheme outside of my norm. I’m trying to incorporate more neutrals and unexpected color combinations in my work, and that’s been very rewarding so far.
For years, I’ve dreamed of illustrating a board or card game. My senior project at MIAD actually was a series of illustrations for a card game I’d come up with. (I can’t claim the game was any good, but I’m still reasonably happy with the art!)
A few months ago, Stone Blade Entertainment gave me the chance to make this dream come true! They asked me to illustrate their new kid’s card game, Bad Beets. It’s a bluffing game where you try to get rid of your awful, gross, nasty beets using every trick in the
book deck. And as of TODAY, it is released into the world!!
One of my favorite things about the project was getting to draw a diverse cast of kids. Not only was my awesome art director Ryan O’Connor on board with that plan, he was absolutely insistent that we go that route. I got to take a lot of inspiration from my art class students, too.
And my other favorite thing?
Stone Blade got a BEET COSTUME made up for Gen Con!!! Does this count as the first cosplay of a character I drew? ;) Seriously, the coolest, funniest thing.
(Photo credit to @analoggamer, thanks for letting me share it!)
Ever have one of those pieces where you feel so stuck and it’s just not working and then all the sudden out of nowhere it’s finished and you love it?
I really struggled in the mid-stages on this piece, a pet portrait commissioned by an old friend. It just wasn’t coming together. I got some feedback from friends I trust, let it sit for a day, and came back to it with some fresh ideas. Kept working at it, let my failures go so I could try new things, and the result is something I’m really proud of!
Here’s a little process gif showing some of my struggles:
About time I put together a new piece for postcards!
This is probably the most ambitious illustration I’ve taken on in a few years, but I have to say that that felt really good. I’ve been starting to feel a bit stagnant recently, and I wanted to do something new to really push myself and see where I’m at. I used this piece to try a few new things:
A much tighter sketch than is typical for me (and in pencil, too)
Value studies beforehand
Working primarily in Manga Studio for lineart/flatting
And happily, I feel that all of those new paths took me to good places. The value study especially helped immensely. I knew this idea was going to be overwhelmingly colorful and detailed – and that was part of what I wanted to do, a hugely detailed, colorful environment. I knew value was going to be the only way there could still be clarity, and I also knew as a color addict, a study was going to be the only way to get me there. I used the study and actually did a good chunk of my flatting in grayscale as well – until it got too hard to see what everything was (since I didn’t do full lineart for everything.) I also checked how I was doing on value frequently once I was working on color, by switching on/off a grayscale overlay. Definitely something I’ll be paying more attention to in future work.
Using Manga Studio more was a great experience, too. As far as lineart goes, I’m a convert – drawing lines in Photoshop has always been clunky and frustrating for me. Sometimes I wonder if the main reason my work went in a painterly direction for a long time was because I just hated trying to get nice lines in PS! As soon as I picked up Manga Studio (and brushes from the excellent Ray Frenden) my lines felt natural and went where I wanted them to. Drawing lines digitally suddenly became.. FUN. I was even able to use this to speed up flatting, outlining the shape and filling it in rather than painstakingly “painting” it in as I had done in photoshop.
I’m not sure about doing work 100% in Manga Studio – there are definitely a lot of production things I can accomplish faster in Photoshop, plus I’m addicted to my Kyle T Webster brushes. But, I’m enjoying the exploration and I’ll see where it takes me next.