Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Third Illustration - Vicious

I finished the third of my illustrations for my book "Milkweed Manor."  This is vicious, the weasel assistant to Reynard who is a fox and a shaman.  Seeking help for the sick mouse children in the village, one of the badger boys, accompanied by a crow, hiked deep into the woods to find the shaman.  As they approach, Vicious confronts them from a window of the shaman's compound.

As with the earlier illustrations, this is pencil with watercolor washes.  This is a combination of media that I'm comfortable with and I like the old-fashioned, tinted drawing look.  These take quite a while to do and this one was especially challenging working around the filaments of the spider web.

At this point, I'm simply illustrating passages at random.  Once I have about a dozen I'll probably switch to working on layout with place holders for illustrations that aren't done yet.  This is a fun process, but has some frustrations.  I find it impossible to concentrate just on these illustrations.  Other projects seem to call to me in voices that won't be silenced.  So this set of illustrations will inevitably take quite a while to finish.  I'm venturing into unknown territory with the layout!  But fun!

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Divinity of Bears - a Collage Start to Finish

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I did manage to finish my bears collage and thought you might be interested to follow along with the process.  Drawing the bears was my first step and I added quite a bit of detail as I prefer to begin modeling the form and creating the texture at this first stage.  The only pencil I used were HB and 2B.  I've found that proceeding to softer pencils can yield a drawing that smears at the next stage, although one could always mitigate this by spraying the drawings with workable fixative.

A while ago I found these digital downloads of antique star maps on Etsy and purchased them.  They're great to use because no book is destroyed and also I can use the images over and over again.  For these, I manipulated them in Photoshop to remove the antique golden hue.  I knew I would use them under blues and with that golden color the result would have been green instead of blue.

So here's the first layer of the collage.

For the blue pieces, I used stencils of my own design that I cut on my Cricut machine.  I stenciled onto white tissue paper with white gesso, then, when the gesso was dry, washed over them with blue watercolor.  The gesso resists the watercolor so the design stays white.  Strangely enough, the Liquitex Mat Gel Medium that I use as an adhesive for the collage doesn't disturb the watercolor once it's thoroughly dry.  

As you can see, I used a variety of book pages for the bottom part.  The purpose of these pieces is to simply add texture, although I like the circular images in the lower left.  They're from an astrology book and fit the overall theme of the piece quite well.

Then I worked quite a bit on the background, adding thin washes of Golden fluid acrylics and more collage elements.  Finally I glued the bear drawing in place.

Here's the detail around the large drawing of a bear head.  I like the bit just to his right.  It suggests to me a reflective lake, its sandy shore, and deep foliage behind it. I don't plan these effects, but if I see them emerge I may very well decide to go with the suggestion.

Here's the full bear, walking peacefully along the bottom of the design.  The theme of this piece is the spirituality of bears - that they are both creatures firmly attached to the earth (the walk plantigrade and den in the earth) yet also walk among the stars.

The little dark piece of collage behind her front paws I found particularly interesting.  I has several mystical - I think astrological - symbols on it.  

And here's the cub - in the sky, nestled behind a shape that vaguely resembles a cloud, and with another one of those circles from the astrology book tucked behind her head resembling a halo.  Think I'll go with those!

Then I added color to the bears with washes of fluid acrylic, as well as pain-staking teeny stroke of the fluid acrylic for the texture of the fur and modeling of the forms.  More work on the background, including blending the margins of torn paper around the bears into the background.  

The collage piece I liked so much behind the full bear's front paws pretty much disappeared behind darker and darker washes that I felt I had to add to "ground" the piece.  But I used a lined brush and white acrylic ink to paint those symbols on deli paper.  Then I tore them out and added them as collage pieces.  I like working this way with deli paper because it pretty much disappears with the adhesive.

At about this stage, I noticed a BIG problem.  The support was coming apart.  I had relied on wood glue to attach the 1/4" thick MDF (medium density fiberboard) to the pine frame behind the edges.  So I learned a few lessons:

1.  Never use MDF with the slick white coating on the back (it was all I could get at the time) because the glue doesn't stick to it very well.

2.  Never rely on just the glue - also use screws or nails.

3.  And, consider using 1/2" MDF, instead of pine, for the strips around the edges.  When I first build this support I sanded the edges of the MDF and pine absolutely flush, but over a surprisingly short period of time, the pink shrank and the edges were no longer flush.

I had to add screws from the front, counter-sinking them so that the screw heads could be covered.  These are the round white dots around the edges.  At this point, I wasn't sure how I would cover them, and also wasn't sure how I would deal with the edges.  Sanding them again I didn't think was a good option because of the sawdust getting all over the piece and settling into the fine texture of the collage.

Finished!  More, more, more, until I thought it was done.  More collage, more washes, more fooling with the bears.  And more decisions to make.  I covered the screws with beautiful vintage glass stars (hard to part with them).  For the edges, no long flush, I used a palette knife to spread them with coarse molding paste - rather like frosting on a cake.  And then I added a rim of that same paste along the very edge of the front.  I painted the paste with blues and greens then added a bit of Daniel Smith Pearlescent Shimmer acrylic along the raised edge.

The one thing that I would have liked to do more of on this piece was to add text.  I'm having a hard time finding a good way of doing this.  My uniball white pen turned out not to be water resistant,  My posca acrylic paint pens gave too thick a line.  Alphabet stamps seemed too coarse.  So this is a question I'll have to work on in the future.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Parrots in Paradise

Our art club is having a color challenge for its July meeting.  The challenge is to create a piece from a color palette consisting of a color you either don't like or seldom use, it's complement, and a few analogous colors on either side.  I decided to make a collage.  For the support, I build a cradled board that's 24" tall, 15 1/2" wide, and 1 1/2" thick.  (NOTE:  some of the photos have thin slivers of black around the edges.  These aren't part of the piece - they're cropping errors when I cropped the photos!)

I used papers very close to black and white for my first layer.  I chose these neutrals because I wanted to provide a consistent base then build my color palette over it.

I usually choose a theme for my collage, and the theme for this one is parrots in paradise.  Accordingly, I drew two parrots then had lots of fun leafing through magazines finding bits I could use - either actual images or spaces of plain color that would work with my palette.

I most often tear rather than cut my collage pieces, but this time I carefully cut them out.  Some, like the flowers, were actual images.  Others, like the leaves and the plumes extending upwards from the left parrot's halo, are shapes I cut from parts of magazine pages that were colors I liked.

But before adding the second layer of collage pieces, I worked on the background.  First, I washed it - but not the outer border of text - with thinned gesso to tone down the contrast between the black and whilte.  Then I tinted the background - again, not the text border - with light washes.  For the colors I chose Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Violet Dark, Green Gold, and Jenkins Green - all Golden fluid acrylics.  I thinned the colors with Golden Fluid Matte Medium.  If you thin a very light wash with water you won't get a good bond.

I spent quite a bit of time arranging my collage pieces.  When I was satisfied, I snapped a photo for reference then removed all the pieces.  I glued the pieces that would be behind the parrots and the parrots drawings which I had carefully cut out  For adhesive I used Liquitex Matte Gel Medium.  I applied a coat on the base where the piece would go, then smoothed the piece down by applying the medium over the top of the piece.  

I used silver foil from the inner wrapper of quality chocolate bars for the inside of the halos.  Strangely, I find this foil to be the best silver color.

When I stood back and took a look, the border just seemed too plain.  After much mental trial and error, I finally added the black and white tissue paper that I had used here and there in the first phase.  Some of the text still shows through the white parts adding to the textural richness.  At first I didn't like this border.  I thought it was choppy and that it distracted from the image.  But then I came to really like it.  It adds to the decorative feel of the piece.

Before I added the rest of the collage pieces, I needed to paint the parrots.  I used opaque acrylics, DecoArt Americana colors.

Then it was time to finish the collage.  The photo directly above and below are at then finish of this stage.

At this point, because of the cut shapes, there are a lot of hard edges.  There are also sharp value contrasts that need to be softened - like between the dark purple plumes just above the left parrot's halo.  So I turned back to my fluid acrylics and added washes to solve these problems.

My favorite part of this process is the final super fussy one - pen and ink detail.  I use sap green, violet, and acrylic inks.  What I thought was the final touch was the silver spangles cut from the chocolate bare foil and glued on, one at a time.  But then the border seemed to glaringly white.  I wanted it to be more ivory.  To achieve that, I applied a wash of very thin (with the fluid matte medium) Green Gold, then a thin wash of Quinacridone Magenta.  Since the two are opposite each other on the color wheel, what I got was an ivory color.  And, even better, it wasn't an exactly even color because in some places, inevitably, the magenta was would be thicker than the green gold, and in other places, vice versa.  I also carried these washes over the sides of the panel.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Second Illustration

Here's the second illustration.  It's the manor's kitchen cat, Felicia, trying to persuade the mice to allow her to relocate them to safety in the forest, but it's a hard sell.

I'm happy with the extensive pencil work then the quick tinting with watercolor washes.  I fell very comfortable with pencil and I should get better with the watercolor over time.

At this rate, it will take a long time to finish all the illustrations, but that's fine.  I wanted a long term project, and I've got one!

By the way, I think the little mouse hiding behind the leg of the stool adds the little touch that really makes this piece.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The First Illustration - Finished!

It was a difficult birth, but in the end I finished my first illustration for "Milkweed Manor" and I'm pleased with it in several ways.  I like the decorative style, and the technique is one I'm comfortable with and look forward to using over and over for the rest of the illustrations - there may be as many as 30 to 40!

I was very careful with the drawing - completing it on a piece of sketch paper then transferring it to a piece of Strathmore Mixed Media paper.  I applied four layers of pencil - HB, 2B, 3B, then a bit of 4B..  Most of the work was in the first two layers.

I had four choices for adding color, and I wanted the look of a tinted drawing.  One choice was colored pencil which I decided against.  I have found colored pencil to give a grainier result than the graphite and I wanted the smooth look.

The second possibility was watercolor pencil.  But I've found that some of the colors are much more intense when you apply the water than when they're dry.  I'd have to test each color before I applied it.  That seemed like too much of a risk as one the water is applied, you're stuck with whatever you've got!

The third choice was watercolor.  A down side is that I don't have a lot of experience with it.  But up sides are the beautiful, wide array of colors, and the possibility of adding more graphite over the watercolor if I felt I needed to.

The final choice was acrylic washes. I'm very comfortable with acrylic, but I don't use washes on little spaces but over wide areas.

So I chose watercolor and I'm glad I did.  I did chose to add a bit of pencil afterward.  It was a good choice!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The First Illustration for Milkweed Manor

I'm writing and illustrating a book, "Milkweed Manor."  All the characters are animals and the story takes place in a little animal Community in the forest behind Milkweed Manor.  I've written all eight chapters and have edited them sufficiently to behind the illustrations.

I've been working all week on this first one.  This is the main character, Colwyn, on his journey to his new home at Milkweed Manor.

This first illustration is important because the medium and style I use here I'll be using for the whole book.  I've already had two false starts before I finally reached this point.

The first try was watercolor over pencil, but once I had the watercolor on I realized that the body was too long!  So back to the drawing board, and onward with try number 2, which was watercolor.

The watercolor choice was definitely not a good one.  I'm not quite sure what prompted me, but, in the end it just wasn't working out.  I haven't done much watercolor, so why would I choose that medium for such a large and important ptoject?  Good question, right?  It's just a shame that I wasted so much time before coming to my sense.

So I thought some more about the medium and decided that I should use the one that I like the best, feel most comfortable with, and also feel fairly accomplished at.  I chose pencil drawing.  In the end, I'm trying for the look of a lightly tinted pencil drawing.  Here's the first layer, all #2 5mm mechanical pencil.

I have more layers of pencil to go, then I'll have to make the decision on how to add the color tints.  I'm making an extra drawing with a few leaves and a berry so I can experiment a bit before I commit myself!  

P.S.  This image is a scan.  It has more contrast than the original - not sure why.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Alligator Shaman needs Children

I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the kiln after glaze firing this guy.  I liked the sculpting, and I also liked the glazing - and that doesn't always happen!

This one was really fun to make and I was pleased to come up with something different for his shamanic cloak, namely the several insets of leaves on the front.  Don't you just love the shape of the line between the jaws on alligators and crocodiles?  The wavy line gives a perplexed/amused look and of course the teeth add character too.

I think he needs a few children, or shamanic students, so I'll make a few the next time I have the clay out.