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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

So Sad! An Unacceptable rat!

Today I was working on my second postcard and thought I was done.  But when I scanned it and looked at it with new eyes, I realized I didn't like the rat!  His eyes are wrong and his fur is too dark and without highlights.

So what to do?  It's watercolor over pencil.  And I made the mistake of adding ink over the rat's fur.  All in all, close to a disaster.  I certainly don't want to start all over again.  So, after much thought, I'm going to repaint him with opaque acrylics.  Hope it works!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Postcards from Fantasy Land

Next week I'm going to a local day-long conference for writers and illustrators of childrens' books and although I don't have anything finished I wanted to have something to put on the writers'/illustrators' table, so I decided to make promo cards - two of them, one for each of the books I'm working on.

This first one is for "The Christmas Feast."  Below is the pencil drawing I started with and the finished color version is above.  

Actually, the first step was a pencil sketch.  From that, once I was happy with it, I traced and transferred it to a piece of Strathmore Mixed Media paper and then did the detailed drawing you see below.

From there, I added color.  I was dreading the background because I find smooth color to be difficult with transparent paints.  By the way, I used Golden Fluid Acrylics.  I did, however, discover that even though the first coat may not look too good, it seals the paper and makes subsequent coats go on more evenly.  So, I try to keep my first washes light.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Another Rat

Here's the next rat I did.  This time I was sure to use Strathmore Mixed Media paper.  I began with a line drawing with very little detail then immediately began adding watercolor washes - not too much because a lot of the shading would be done in pencil.

Next I added pencil work - quite a bit, actually - then strengthened and enriched the colors with more washes.  By the way, these first two photos are from my camera.

Finally I continued with more pencil and more washes until I felt I was done.  This third image, by the way, is a scan.  To me, it seems to have more contrast and saturation than the original, but I didn't mess with any settings or do anything in Photoshop other than crop, so this is what the scanner "saw."

As far as comparing the two rats so far - this one on the Strathmore Mixed Media paper and the first one (earlier post) on Stonehenge drawing paper, the two differences I noticed are that the drawing paper seems to have more texture so the pencil work is stronger.  On the other hand, the mixed media paper holds up so well with the washes.  Another thing to try would be Strathmore Illustration board, which I may do next.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Here's the color version of the rat drawing.  When I got out the watercolors I was horrified to realize that I had done the drawing on Stonehenge drawing paper instead of Strathmore Mixed Media paper.  Nothing against Stonehenge drawing paper - in fact I like it very much for drawing - but I wanted to be able to add water media and didn't think it would work.

But I tried it anyway.  The paper buckled a bit but flattened back out when it dried and the buckling wasn't bad enough to make it difficult to paint.  It also seemed that the pencil lines were dissolving more than I expected them to.  As a result, I did very little painting.  In the end, I added a bit more pencil but it hardly showed up.  Also, I used white acrylic ink and a crow quill pen for white highlights, but they didn't show up very much.

This image is a scan.  There appears to be more contrast in  the scan than in the original but I don't know why.  I didn't touch up the image at all.

I started another rat drawing - this time definitely on the Mixed Media paper.  I'll do the drawing first, as in this one.  Then I may try one where I do only the outline drawing, then the watercolor washes, then the finished pencil work.  We'll see which works out best.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Beginning a Week of Rat Drawing

Today was my first day of a week of drawing rats.  I'm doing this as preparation for illustrating my book, "Milkweed Manor."  This drawing is not one of those illustrations but is part of an exercise in really understanding the 'look and feel' of rats and being comfortable drawing them.

Also, I'm looking for media that will work well for me.  I'm always comfortable with drawing.  Tomorrow I'll add some watercolor washes and see how that goes.  This drawing is on Strathmore Mixed Media paper and I've found that I can lay watercolor washes over pencil without the pencil smearing - as long as I don't get it real wet and don't do a lot of scrubbing (which I shouldn't do with watercolor anyway!"

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thinking About the Illustrations

Now that I've completed the first draft of my Milkweed Manor manuscript I've begun to think about the illustrations and I'm realizing what a challenge they will be - harder, I think, that any visual art I've done before.  That's because the same characters will appear in several illustrations and each time must be recognizable as an individual.   Also, there will probably be a need for more "action" than I usually do.  I typically gravitate to very still and balanced compositions.

So what I've decided to do is devote a chunk of time to each character in turn.  The first will be the main character, Colwyn the rat.  What I'm going to do is as many drawings of rats as I can until I really understand the way they're put together - the head and body shapes, length and thickness of tail, size and shape of ears, eyes, and nose, how the hands and feet work.  Then I'm going to define Colwyn's "look" and do several sketches of him in various positions, developing not only his appearance in a recognizable way, but also his personality as expressed in his face and body language.

This is a very tall order, but a great exercise in growing as a visual artist.  I'm looking forward to starting, which actually happened Thursday but will continue tomorrow and through the week.  I'll be scanning and posting the drawings.

Here's a little ceramic piece I did of Colwyn a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Milkweed Manor - The First Big Step

Yesterday I reached a milestone - I completed the first draft of my book, "Milkweed Manor."  I didn't need to print it out, but I wanted to feel it in my hands, and what a good feeling it was!  My manuscript!

I've written books before and four of them  have been published, but they're all been art instruction books.  Writing fiction, and fiction to be read to children, is quite a different ballgame!

Anyway, the next step is to complete the first round of editing.  But I've put is aside for a few days so when I come back to it, I'll have "fresh eyes."

Meanwhile, I haven't done any visual art for about a week, and I've been missing it.  I'll use these next few days for that.  Then there will be some photos back in the blog - seems so strange without them!

By the way, if anyone out there is interested in writing a children's book, I recommend joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.  There is so much information available through that wonderful organization.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Continuing on Little Owl

In the little owl's story in the picture storybook I'm writing, "Milkweed Manor," a storm destroys the owl family's nest and Thea gets separated from the rest.  So I thought shed needed a little pink bed jacket.  I made it from a scrap from an old chenille bedspread which I bought on Etsy.  Then I distressed it to look like it had been through a storm.  I may have over-distressed it a bit, but once it's done, it's done.  No way to undo distress!

I have a ways to go with this piece, namely working on the base.  For that I'm waiting for materials so I'll sadly be putting this project aside for a little while.

More About Milkweed Manor

It seems so strange, after 857 blog posts, to write one that doesn't have any images!  For a visual artist, this is difficult to do.  But now I am expanding my artistic efforts to writing and illustrating a book, "Milkweed Manor."  I can't say that I intended to write a book, but the idea evolved from something else, as is so common, I think, in the creative process.

I was pondering ways to add value to my ceramic animal character figurines and, since I nearly always had a little story in mind as I created them, I decided to actually write the story and include it in a tiny hand-written booklet that would accompany the figurine.  At some point it seemed a shame to only use the writing once.  And at the same time, the characters I found myself imagining were tied together.  They all lived in the same place - the forest behind Milkweed Manor  The idea for a book slowly worked its way to my conscious mind.

And I must say that I had a catalyst in this process.  At the beginning of the year I joined a coaching group for artists created and led by Nikol Peterman, called "Fearless Academy 2018."  It has been so helpful in so many ways.  I was working on defining my "body of work" that I wanted to concentrate on this year (in addition to continuing to produce pieces for my Etsy shop The Foxes' Garden} when Nikol nudged that seed into sprouting!
I never really thought of it as a children's book, but during a visit to Barnes and Noble, looking for books sharing the format of the one I had in mind, I found myself squarely in the children's books section.  This has taken some getting used to, but I'm almost there.

What I'm really interested in is the characters and the way they live together in their little Community in the forest.  I've found that what I have in mind would fall into the children's book genre of the Anthology which is apparently (according to my research at least) not much favored by editors.  But after giving it some thought I have decided to forge ahead, banking on the value of authenticity!
So I'm aiming for about seven chapters.  I have ideas and notes for all of them, and have written the rough first drafts for four and am now working on the fifth.  Sometimes the writing seems to flow, and other times it's difficult.  But the flowing times are so wonderful that the hardest of "stuck" times are well worth it.

I'm absolutely itching to get to the illustrating, but I'm not going to do anything but preliminary character sketches until I have the whole thing written at the second draft stage.  It's so much easier and quicker, after all, to rewrite that to do a new illustration!
Thanks for listening, and I'd love to hear from you!

Little Owl

Now I'm working on my second needle felted animal character inspired by my emerging Milkweed Manor stories.  This is Thea, the little owl.  A large storm destroyed her family's nest and, even worse, separated her from her mother and brothers and sisters, hence the (Swarovski crystal) tear falling from her eye.

At this point I've completed the needle felting.  The wires you see sticking out from the underside of her feet at to allow me to attach her to a base.  And speaking of a base, for literally a few years I had the perfect piece of wood - a narly chunk from the base of an oak tree that my sister found - sitting on my kitchen windowsill.  Now I can't find it anywhere!  So frustrating, but it's just another problem to solve and I'll come up with something.

The next step will be to make her bed jacket.  I bought a few pieces of vintage chenille bedspread scraps on Etsy and I'll use one of those.  Then I'll have to distress it to look like it's been through a storm.

Lots of fun ahead!