Ever a story... waiting to be told

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Beer Here!

Finally! The secret is out! And I can share the story of Joon!
A creative director who handles the designs for Mad Tree Brewery contacted me about drawing one of my tree women for a new beer they were creating. The beer is specially flavored with juniper berries, and will be bottled in mini wine bottles. They wanted the label to have a sophisticated, delicate feel, portraying a sweeping juniper tree, but on closer inspection, one realizes that it is a woman, facing into the wind, embracing the summer night.  He and the people at Mad Tree had been looking at the work of local illustrators, and they felt that my style would fit well with what they envisioned for this label. 
I loved the description of what they had in mind, and I had the first draft of the tree woman finished in a week (which surprised me, I usually don't work that fast!) I emailed the image back to the creative director, and then the waiting game began. It was a tense couple of days! I didn't know if they liked it or hated it. Was I going about this right? Should I have drawn it differently?
Then the word came back... they loved it! BUT. (the dreaded 'but') They wanted the woman to be older... their exact words were  "a youthful 50".  Ha! Youthful 50? Where would I ever get a reference for that... 
I knew exactly how to age the woman. I would deepen the creases and sharpen the bone structure, add some lines, thin the lips, recede the hairline. Easy stuff. NO! Everything I did to the poor girl made her look grumpy, sleepy, or sad! Is that how I look, I wondered? It quickly became my personal mission to make this 50-something woman still look attractive, despite her age!
I finished my version of Juniper and sent the image off to the creative director, and then waited some more. Word came back that they liked the woman, but could I change the color of the berries, and maybe rearrange them as a summer constellation? The problem now was that colored pencil can't be easily erased. But I managed to erase the berries partially, and then put the new color on top. As for the summer constellation... I talked with the creative director, and we decided I would redraw another tree woman (easy because I could trace my first drawing), and then draw a separate "layer" of the berries, arranged like the big dipper. I did that within a week, and also drew some individual berries that he could magically photoshop into the label any place he liked. 
Since these were the final images, I took them down to the print shop and had them professionally scanned before I sent them off. They experimented with different variations, seeing how to best fit it onto a label, with the text they needed. Then the creative director designed the final label. 
A few days later, the brewery contacted me, asking some details about where and how to send the check! It was a done deal! 
Throughout the whole project, they were very patient with me, and very supportive and complimentary. The creative director knew that it was my first time doing a commercial illustration job, and he was good about explaining everything to me as we went along. The hardest thing about it, was that I couldn't tell anybody about the beer. I couldn't reveal the name of it, or the ingredients, or the packaging. It all had to be kept a secret until today! 
But here it is, in all it's glory:  JOON!

*I went to the MadTree taproom today, for the release, and it was really exciting! I saw the label with my drawing on the tap handle behind the bar, and I saw people buying and carrying around the Joon bottles with my drawing on them. I heard lots of good comments about the beer, and people seemed eager to buy more. I thought it tasted pretty good, myself! I got to shake hands with a couple of the owners, and share their big day with them.
 Back home with my carton of beer bottles, I'm grateful to have been a part of creating something like this! 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Darkness and Light

WIP - I want to extend more rooty things on the right....
This is intended to be just the preliminary graphite study for a colored pencil piece, but there is a possibility that it could stand alone as a graphite piece. Having established the composition and the large areas of value contrast, I'm really honing in on the finer details. 
I'm trying to create a strong sense of depth, between foreground, middle ground, and background. This would be a lot easier if I were working in color, but sometimes I think we use color as a crutch. For example, we can change colors to make the background recede, or to delineate between two objects of the same value that are side by side. When you work with graphite, you have to use contrasting values and textures to achieve those things, which is challenging, to say the least! 
I have a lot to learn about graphite techniques... but my own experimentation has helped me come up with some good effects. 
To help the roots look rounded, I first drew and shaded all the textures. Then I used the kneaded eraser in the places that I wanted to come forward. I shaped it into a large, somewhat flat, blob, and pressed it onto the paper, so it would lift the pigment uniformly in that area. The texture I created would still be there, but it would be lighter. 
When I really wanted to create a bright spot of highlight, I used the electric eraser to dab the spot, then lightly blended it in with a 4H pencil.  
I also used the electric eraser and eraser shield to clean up edges: erasing them clean, and then filling them in lightly. 
For more subtly differences in value, or for thin lines, I use the Tuff Stick, cut at an angle. 
I'm hoping to learn a few more tricks, though... so I registered for a 3-day graphite workshop this summer. I'm really excited, and I'll be sure to post all about it!
Hope your summer is going well, and that your 4th of July is spent with family and people you care most about. :)

Friday, June 19, 2015

That's What Neighbors Are For

This is about 15 inches of the large graphite study I'm working on for a possible colored pencil drawing. It illustrates the beginning of the the story I'm writing, about the magic stones.  I figure that, even if the story never gets finished,  I can use the drawing for my portfolio.
Besides the challenge of making up a story,  there is also the fun of making up new characters. And for this woman, who must be very mystical and fairytale-esque, I needed some help! 
First I visited a very cool place called Costume Castle, and had a great time browsing through all the outfits and props. Oh my! You could create a million different characters with the stuff they had! I rented a cloak and long gown, then bribed my neighbor girl to come over and be the model for me. She was a good sport, and agreed to help. (She tried to refuse the Target gift card I gave her, but I insisted) 
Posing a model, though, is not as easy as I thought! Thank goodness for digital cameras! The first several shots looked very awkward... but after a while, we both relaxed a little bit. I told her the story, and who she was portraying, and she started to get into the character more and more as we worked. I also took shots of her posing for future scenes in the story.  (Good thinking, eh? Saved myself another trip to the costume shop and another Target gift card).
So now, I'm building the magical forest around the woman, working my way out from the center. I don't really know how big the finished piece is going to be. It depends on what kind of trees and foliage evolve! I'm using reference photos that I took in Muir Woods last year, but not using any one particular tree, just interesting branches and roots from several photos. 
I hope you're all having a good weekend, amid all the severe weather, and frightening events going on across the country this week... sending my best wishes to everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What A Character

Franni And The Little Red Fox -Illus.3
“Once you are real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.” 
Margery Williams (Velveteen Rabbit)

The best part about illustrating a story is that you get to create something or someone that never before existed. You're not just looking at a subject and rendering your own version of it, you're bolding going where no man has gone before... 
Wait.... let's not get carried away!
I've learned so much about how facial expressions change to convey different emotions, and how the tilt of an eyebrow, or the shadow near a mouth, can completely alter the character's mood. 
I've also learned a little about how to subtly make animal faces look more human. I did some reading about the way concept art is developed, and learned that most animal characters have human eyes, because we relate to the characters better if they resemble ourselves just a bit. 
Franni And The Little Red Fox - Illus.1
Speaking of resembling ourselves.... my bathroom mirror was my best reference for these three drawings! I can't even count how many times I stood there making faces at myself, and watching how the forms of the face changed with each expression. Luckily, my characters didn't turn out looking like scowly old ladies! 
Franni And The Little Red Fox - Illus. 2
The story is written by Artie Knapp, and will appear soon in various children's publications. I'll let you know when and where as soon as I find out!

As I'm waiting for both my illustration projects to be released (sigh)... I'm starting to work on developing a brand new character of my own. It's evolving gradually into a 'real' person, with a distinct personality and with consistent body and facial features, as I sketch him in various poses. 
HOWEVER... not to be type-cast in the art world... I am also working on a very realistic drawing of, you guessed it, some tree roots. 
Hopefully, I'll have something new to post in a week or so! 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Long Story Short

Colored Pencil Illustration
This is the main character of the story that I'm illustrating for a local author (I have to find out whether this is a hush-hush project, or if I'm allowed to say his name and tell about the story). 
This is my second draft of a little red fox for this project. The first one didn't pass inspection, as it didn't embody what the client had envisioned. 
That's to be expected though. If I were an author, I think I'd have a hard time letting somebody else illustrate MY vision. So I try to be sensitive to that. I expect to go through a few revisions with every project. I'm learning, though, that the more questions I ask, the better chance I have of hitting the mark on the first try. 
I've quickly discovered that commercial illustration is basically the same process as what I've done these past few years with the house portrait commissions. The biggest change, though, is that the client doesn't send photos of the subject that they want me to draw. Instead, I'm given a written or verbal description of what they have in mind.  
Graphite Draft for Illustration
I always do a complete graphite drawing, before I do the drawing again in colored pencil. 
These hippos are the comic relief in the story. At the moment they are tumbling around, worrying about a terrible creature that swoops down from above to snatch some unsuspecting animal, and carries them off to who-knows-where and does who-knows-what to them. 
The little fox is clinging to the giraffe's neck, looking up in fear.

The story will appear in a children's magazine and maybe some educational publications, so the author didn't want any background above or below the animals. I like the effect, on the plain white paper... but it's a bit stressful, trying not to get any smudges on that pristine white... I've been laying a piece of thin plexiglass over it as I work, and only exposing the few inches that I'm working on at the moment. 

I've had an update on the other illustration project that I did, for the product label: They sent me an image of what the final label will look like (I LOVE it), and it should be on store and bar shelves by the end of the month, at which time I can finally write a post about it! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


17x19" Graphite
Suddenly I am surrounded by wild animals... and I'm loving it!
This piece evolved as a spin off from the illustration project that I did back in April. I've always studied tree forms, everywhere I go, and I always liken them to people or animals in various poses. This tree is in my neighbor's backyard caught my eye one day, and I knew I had to draw it.
I liked all the sawed-off branches jutting out, and the old string netting draped through the trunks. As with most of my drawings, I started out by drawing the tree as realistically as possible. I created the bark texture in a series of steps, using different pencils for different values, and a variety of different erasers, repeating the process of adding marks, erasing marks, adding new marks... until I began to see some definite shapes and forms emerging. I considered the idea of bringing forth a man and woman dancing gracefully, but I just couldn't see them clearly enough to give me a good idea. Then I saw the crocodile snout, jutting up into the air, so I drew him. From there, I began to see animals all over the tree, and the menagerie was born!
But that's not the end of the wild animal trend for me... I accepted a second commercial illustration project... three drawings for a children's magazine story! The characters in the story are all animals, so I took a trip to the zoo and did some research. I watched, I studied, I took lots of pictures, I bought some models, and I even got a nice sunburn. 

This drawing is for the part where the story reaches the peak of suspense, right before the surprise ending. The hardest thing is trying to get the right expressions on the animals' faces... I had to draw the fox head six times, on a separate paper, and experiment with the expression until I came up with one I liked. (Hopefully, this will come more quickly and easily as I gain experience...)
The cool thing about doing this type of drawing is that you get to create something that never before existed... but that also makes it very mentally stimulating and challenging.  I usually love that type of thing, but sometimes it can get frustrating, too.
The next drawing on my desk is for the beginning of the story... and I'll be using my hippo models that I bought at the zoo. 
I hope you're all having a good week, and doing creative things that make you happy! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Setting Up Shop

When the chairperson for the Mt. Adams Artwalk asked me to participate, I had my doubts, but I agreed, provided she assign me to an indoor locale.  Some artists would be setting up on the sidewalks, while others would be inside the stores and restaurants. She assured me that she had placed me in a very nice market/cafe/bar named Sprout. But even so, I had visions of myself, parking six blocks away from the place, and making umpteen trips back and forth to the car, in pouring rain, lugging heavy equipment and artwork, and then sitting miserably in a cramped, neglected corner all day. I considered backing out several times, but I had promised, and she posted such a nice advertisement about my artwork, that I felt I just had to go through with it. I'm so glad I did! This art fair turned out to be what every artist dreams of!

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning.
I parked the car right across the street from the cafe.
The owner and employers were so nice and helpful, and just fun people to spend the day with.
They let me set up right in the middle area between the cafe and the market. Everybody who walked in the door had to go right past my display. And lots of people walked in the door! Some people were there for the artwalk, but others came in to shop in the market, AND the cafe was a very popular place to sit down and eat! They offered a very unique brunch menu, and they were crazy busy all day long until about 3:00, and then it calmed down a little bit, but soon, new customers started showing up for drinks and cheese plates. I sat on the corner bar stool all day, sipping Diet Coke and drawing, but I didn't get a lot of drawing accomplished, as I had so many visitors to talk to about my artwork! 
It was fun to meet a different type of clientele than I usually meet back at the gallery. I sold two prints, one of them framed, and also sold two of my magic rocks! 
I also gave away free mini Hershey bars to everybody who walked by (they had special wrappers with an image of my artwork, and my website, sort of like a business card)

At about 5:30, I started packing up, thinking I should get out of the way before their dinner rush. A few employees helped me, and it didn't take long at all to load everything back into the car. Mission accomplished. I still have to haul everything back to the gallery, but it turned out to be a good experience this time. Not saying I'll do another art fair this year... but I'm glad I did this one!


Steppin' Stone

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New Finished Work!

Tall Tails - 11x16 Colored Pencil

Yep, I've strayed a million miles from the rough draft, as usual! 
I like this vertical orientation much better, and the feeling of tallness that it lends. I also like that the boy is the main focal point now, and all the strong lines of the piece lead toward him. 
Most importantly, I like the new story that this suggests. Some might immediately tisk-tisk  at the way he is looking OUT of the composition. However, in this case, I think his gaze suggests a sense of wonder, possibility and anticipation. It's the beginning of a story... and the viewer can only surmise the rest of it. Whereas, in my initial rough draft, the whole adventure was spelled out for you, and he had already lassoed a dinosaur. 
Also, I really disliked that dinosaur. There was something a little too menacing about it, no matter how hard I tried to soften the expression or change the shape and texture. I worked and worked on just the dinosaur for two full days, before I finally stomped upstairs to the mat cutter and whacked it right off. It felt incredibly good to do that!!!!
How about you?
Have you ever just cropped the heck out of a piece, and then realized that was exactly what you needed to do? 

In other news: 
*My piece Cadenza was featured in Colored Pencil Magazine's May issue. I hadn't even submitted it to them. The editor contacted me after seeing it on my Facebook page.
*I sold another couple of rocks, and also a few prints this past month at the gallery.
*I turned down two house portrait requests, that I just didn't feel the least bit motivated to undertake.
*I didn't get accepted to national CPSA this year, which was a crushing disappointment, I admit. But all the more reason to work even harder!
*And I did a freelance illustration project to be used on a bottle label! The creative director contacted me, saying my work was exactly what they needed for this concept they were working on!
The project lasted about three weeks, and was very exciting, challenging, and nerve-wracking! And I can honestly say I know EXACTLY what an illustrator does now! But I can't tell you any more, until the product is released this summer. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Magic Stones

I think every one of us can remember finding a special stone of some sort, and feeling an immediate connection to it. We've tucked them into our pockets and bags, and we've displayed them on book shelves and dresser tops. If any one asked you whether your special stone was magical, you would  laugh and shake your head. But I think there IS something a little bit magical about stones, and the very fact that they come from way down inside the earth. They rise to the surface and spend time up here with us, and then find their way back beneath the earth's crust once again. Rocks have been on the earth forever, as silent witnesses to all that occurs. So many secrets they hold, if only they could share them with us! 
"The Mock Turtle" 
My rock drawings usually get plenty of attention at the gallery, and finally, this past week, I sold one! I thought I'd better turn out a few more before the next gallery night! 
I draw on them with brushtip markers, and then apply several coats of varnish. The designs go all the way around every surface of the stone. There is no top or bottom. 
Each stone has a unique name, and comes with a custom made velvet drawstring bag, and instructions to keep one's magic stone safe at all times. 
My story that I'm working on is all about a bag of magic stones, called Metamorphikins. 
Here's a little excerpt:

Long ago, in the wildest of times, 
when great beasts roamed the land… 
An old man walked,
His sack of stones
Clutched tightly in his hand. 

It wasn’t safe here… in the midnight woods, he knew. Yet he had no choice. He had been trusted to protect the secret stones, and he must not fail at this. He sped through the shadows, from tree to tree, not daring to look back. But he could hear them. They were coming. He clutched the heavy sack closer to his body. 
Now was the time. 
The Old Man opened the sack, and drew out the first stone. It was round and smooth in his hand. Very slowly, he drew his arm back, and with a strength he never knew before, he threw the stone as far as he could. As it rose into the night, the stone glowed so brightly that the Old Man feared somebody might see it. Then it slowly fell to the earth and he heard a soft thump as it sank into the mud somewhere in the distance. One by one, he drew the other stones from the sack and let them fly. Murmuring quietly, he bid them farewell, as he would a dear friend. Their soft landing was the only reply. 
Finished with his task, the Old Man rolled the little sack into his pocket and smiled. He had succeeded in protecting the stones, and that brought him great satisfaction. For the Old Man, like every student of magic and science, knew that the earth would take care of his precious gems. They would soon be wrapped in layers of sediment, and hidden from sight. Years and years of heat and pressure would help to hide them, and also to strengthen them. It would be a very, very long time before they rose again. With any luck, the world might be a safer place by then. And when the stones resurfaced… their power would be even greater. 
The Old Man stood in the clearing, in the light of the moon, and raised his arms high and wide, welcoming the night. 
Seconds later, when the trackers reached the clearing, it was empty. They stared in anger, and argued with each other about which way to go next. None of them noticed the large hawk, perched on the branch above them. The hawk watched for a moment, smiling, then rose quietly into the night, circled once, then disappeared.

Excerpt from Stoney Pointe Stories by Katherine Thomas. 
An illustrated chapter book for young readers, hopefully to be released sometime in the next century!
"Crocodile Rock" (This is the one I sold)
And this is their ETSY page.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Character Studies

Sitting at the gallery this weekend, I managed to start this drawing in the moleskine journal, but it's not nearly finished. I didn't get to draw as much as usual, because I had a record number of sales to take care of! 
I attribute the overwhelming interest in my work to this little jar. I came up with the idea because I wanted to make Gallery Night more fun for myself. 
It's a Give-Away game. The person who can guess the number of bricks in my Souvenirs house, will win a print of the drawing. Each entry slip asks for the participants name and email address. So now, I have a whole bunch of new subscribers to my newsletter, and I can send out little promo offers and invitations to events around town where my artwork will be on display.  
It turned out to be more fun that I could ever have predicted. People loved it! I even had some people show up after closing, begging for me to take their guesses too. Everybody was very serious about their guesses, asking me questions like, 'Do the bricks on the side of the house count?' The whole activity gave me a chance to really interact with visitors. It also drew them closer to my work. Their involvement with that one piece seemed to lead them to look more closely at all the other pieces. Maybe that personal connection led to the purchases?
I think there is an important life lesson in there somewhere too... if you are willing to give a little, you will get back even more than you gave. 
I've already decided to have another game of some sort next month. And I'll send an email to all those people telling them about it, and inviting them to come back and try for another freebie. I'll have the winner of the contest come back next time to pick up their print, where it will be on display, all wrapped up, with a tag saying "Free Print for _____. Congratulations for winning the March Give-Away".
It was so much fun for everybody, but mostly for me, to have the chance to interact with visitors that way!
I'm making progress with the new colored pencil piece, and ALSO with the story that I'm writing. I even found myself telling people about it, at the gallery, when they would comment about the little character study I was working on. 
Can you believe..... not one person seemed very surprised that I'd be writing a kids'  book, OR that I'd be sitting there drawing an ostrich, with a human-shaped body and clothing? Hmmm....

Sunday, March 22, 2015

More Questions. Fewer Answers. Please.

Mr. McGregor's Garden - 6 x 8 Graphite in Moleskine Journal.
I drew this whilst sitting at the hair salon with head full of foils. 
In this day and age, the answer to almost anything is right at your fingertips. 
But that's not necessarily a good thing.
Not all questions are supposed to have answers. It's the musing and wondering that is the most valuable. We should appreciate those answer-less questions, because they invite us to reflect and consider and to be creative about all the possibilities. 
I have so many ideas that I might want to write a whole blogpost about, but don't really feel like expounding on them right now. Most of them are answer-less questions. I just want to get them out and examine them... for more reflection and consideration.
*I took on this commission, because I really like this little house. The client said that the home is going to be torn down soon to make way for condos. Isn't that sad? It's not finished. I have to add color today.

*Nothing could be more different from a house portrait than my latest little journal drawing, Mr. McGregor's Garden. Why do I get equal pleasure from two completely different types of drawing? Maybe it's the idea of exercising both sides of the brain.
*I just got notified that all three of my entries were accepted to the 2015 Evendale Cultural Arts exhibition in May. But, I didn't announce the news on my Facebook, etc., as is customary.
I'm personally thrilled about it, of course. But why is that? Do I really need somebody else's approval in order for me to enjoy, and to value, the work that I love to do?  When will I stop measuring my worth by what somebody else thinks?
*I'm questioning my customary process of continually entering shows and lugging drawings back and forth to them. Besides the expense, there is always the added anxiety that comes with entering juried exhibitions and competitions, hoping somebody will approve of my work.
Why do I continue to participate in all that?
I don't think making art should be all about competition.
*I've been browsing the shelves of the children's section at the bookstore, and also looking through my own collection of books from my teaching days. 
It amazes me how SO much incredibly gorgeous artwork is hidden in children's picture books! Just think if all those pages were in great big frames on the wall, how stunning they would be!
*I wonder why there is such a popular belief that the more an artwork resembles a photograph... the better it is.  I really question the term "Photo-realism", because it implies that a mere camera is capable of accurately reproducing what the human eye sees. That's like believing that what's inside each of our brains, the very stuff that makes us individual and unique, can be replicated by a mechanical device.
*I wonder how long I'm going to keep talking about writing this childrens' chapter book... before I actually do it. So far, I've made a really good outline,  I've compiled the necessary science research that I need, and I've written about 7 pages of the story... but it's not a part of my daily routine, and I think I need to make it so. 
* It's good to wonder and examine questions from all angles, without having to arrive at any definitive answer. I'm not looking for answers. It's the thought processes themselves that I savor. Thanks for letting me share my musings!
I hope you're having a great first week of spring!