“Grace” in Colour

Last week I had finished the graphite part of this drawing.  You can read about the process and see some work in progress photos here.  I could have left it at that but I have been doing so many graphite pieces of late I really felt like adding a bit of colour.  I decided to break out the gouache paints as I like the opaque, flat almost ‘poster paint’ nature of them. None of that pesky, uncontrollable watercolour behaviour! I don’t feel particularly confident with any kind of painting so putting paint to paper is always a bit scary for me   There is always a high risk that I am going to stuff it up royally.  Hence it was quite a few days before I dived in but I am so glad I did.  I am really happy with the end result.

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Back to basics

I SUCK …S-U-C-K-!

Everything I do is shit…. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G

I CANT DRAW!!

Ahhhh these are the wailings of a tantrumy (I made that word up obviously) four-year old AND of a frustrated, perhaps every so slightly insecure, forty something year old artist.  My darling husband puts up with this shit about once every six weeks or so.  He’s such a champion and always responds patiently (and somewhat robotically?) with;

No you don’t

No it’s not.  

And.. yes you can 

I know I CAN draw pretty good but sometimes things just don’t turn out the way I have them planned in my head and it can get pretty damn annoying.  The more frustrated I get the more I tend to over think and jump from one idea to the next and from one piece of work to another in the hope that somehow I will have a “break through” and something will work!  Consequently I end up with a LOT of unfinished pieces of crap!  I recently had a clear out of all these pieces out and pretty much filled an entire wheelie bin!  Anyway, all this rushing around in my head, and on paper, has meant that I haven’t really taken my time with something for ages.  So time to stop, slow down, go back to basics.

I wanted to go back to the basic graphite pencil skills I had learnt over the last decade and that I had somehow forgotten in the rush of getting stuff done/trying to create a masterpiece. Step one was finding a reference picture that I liked.  I came across this amazing image by Kyle La Mere.  (If anyone actually reads my blog they might be going hang on a minute, wasn’t she banging on about NOT using reference images last week and something about a potato?!).  Yes I was. And, yes, I am not a huge fan of using reference images directly, but when your confidence is shot to shit and all your creativity has been sucked out of you, it’s time to go right back to basics.  Using a good reference image is a great way for me to practice my skills and to get my confidence back and simply rediscover my love for drawing.  (And before anyone gets their knickers in a knot about “copying”; I am practicing, not creating something for sale and I am giving credit to the amazing photographer who took this photo, twice now!  I’d give credit to the model too but I don’t know who she is.)

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I think I’ve made it clear before that I struggle with hair and for that reason I purposely chose a model without much hair.  I honestly did not realise until I started that she didn’t have eyebrows though!  I often think my eyebrows (not my ACTUAL eyebrows but the eyebrows I draw) look at bit ‘stuck on’ and not part of the face.  I wasn’t purposely avoiding eyebrows in this instance it just worked out that way.

For this drawing I used the back side of some Daler Rowney Smooth Heavyweight (220gm) paper that I had.  I figure maybe I brought it overseas, or a million years ago, as it has a price tag of $29.80 which seems VERY reasonable!  It doesn’t say how many sheets of paper it is, but there are 16 left which make it even more reasonable!  I’ve run out of Arches and when I want to my local art store and couldn’t find any the owner informed me that a new company owns it and they have put the price up $15 and reduced the number of sheets in a pad!  CORPORATE BASTARDS!!!!!  Plus she only had 300gsm.  I brought one pad at $83 which my husband reliably pointed out is $6-$7 a sheet, so “I better not stuff it up”.  Thanks.  Perhaps I should go dumpster diving in to that wheelie bin full of drawing fails and see what paper I can salvage

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I actually quite like this Daler Rowney paper.  It definitely has more of a distinctive texture than the Arches paper. It give a bit of texture to the skin that I like, particularly around the eyes and eyelids.  It naturally gives that crepe-y look that skin has (or at least older skin).  The down side is that the texture is fairly uniform and distinctly horizontal which can look a bit unnatural.  In some areas where the skin is quite firm and taut across the bone like the cheeks or the forehead, it is more difficult to achieve the necessary smooth look with this paper.

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I agonised over how to draw her hair (I told you I was an over-thinker).   My philosophy is always to draw what you SEE rather than what you THINK you see or what you think you know.  Our brains are pretty adept at translating what our eyes see so that we understand it better.  When we see an eyeball we know it to be a sphere so we draw a circle.  But if you really look at it, the top part of they eye is concealed by the eyelid, so really, what you are often seeing, is the bottom three-quarter of a circle.  My point being draw what you see in front of you (three-quarters of a circle) not what you know it to be (a complete circle).  Anyway once again I digress and once again .. am going to contradict myself.

With the hair I did the opposite.  My brain could just not compute what my eyes were seeing.  So I kind of ignored what I saw and thought it’s shaven hair and shaven hair is just short little strokes.  So that’s what I did… lots of short little strokes bit different grades of graphite.  Again the Daler Rowney paper was actually good for this as it added to that sense of texture and roughness.

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I didn’t want to have just a head floating in space so I added the neck using a combination of Tombow Mono 4B and 6B graphite and 6B Staedtler Mars Lumograph black pencils  I have probably mentioned these Lumograph blacks before but they are my charcoal “substitute”. I just can’t deal with charcoal!  It’s messy, impossible to sharpen, and ahhhgg sends a control freak like me in to a tail spin.   Lumographs contain a higher proportion of carbon in the lead than graphite pencils. The carbon creates a matt black finish.  I tend to only use the 6B and the 8B versions as the 2B and 4B aren’t particularly dark.  They are also smudge-able (again not a real word I know) as you can see around the collar of her top.  In truth they are probably not as matt black or as smudge-able as charcoal but for me they are a perfect alternative.

So I am pretty happy with the end result. I feel like I am back in the groove. Maybe I should just stick to what I know and stop mucking around with those colour pencils!!

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Mr Potato Head

Remember as a kid how you could draw anything you wanted completely from imagination?  I was particularly fond of drawing five eyed green martins and weird dragon like creatures.  I didn’t need reference images.  It all came from imagination and probably looked nothing like a “real” martian or a “real” dragon but at seven years old I couldn’t have cared less.  As I got older my attention turned to fashionable ladies in exotic gowns and horses… lots of horses.  Again I didn’t need ‘inspiration’ or reference images to work from.  I just let my imagination do all the work.

Somewhere along the way I lost that ability to ‘imagine’ things.  These days I am fairly dependent upon having some kind of reference image or scene in front of me.  Maybe it’s because I’m less creative as an adult or maybe I just want my portraits to look like real people not aliens.

Or maybe this need for reference material is just be an elaborate rouse for me to justify spending hours browsing the internet.  Pinterest is of course my main source of inspiration and reference photos.  I must have thousands of images stored in there!  A few other places I like to go are:

  • www.vogue.com – best place for runway images, especially detailed shots.
  • www.theimpression.com – features the best backstage runway photographs.  (I think now they are starting to charge a membership fee to access some stuff)
  • www.models.com – I kind of stalk the new faces section for pictures of beautiful boys and girls (I’m very creepy I know).
  • www.zara.com – the Zara app has recently become one of my favourite places to search for interesting faces and fashion poses.  Their photos are generally on a white background and they use different angles and cropping.  While all their models are of course ‘beautiful’ they do have a range of faces it’s not always a sour- faced-pouty-lipped-blonde-Caucasian-20-year-olds (yawn).

 

I am not entirely comfortable with directly “copying” an image.  Sometimes I do this if I want to practice a particular skill or technique and don’t want the bother of coming up with my own image.  More often I try to create my own compositions by pulling different elements from different images and my own photographs together.  For example, for a face, I might take a nose from one image, eyes from another and a mouth from another for example.  I might change things or add things like longer eyelashes, freckles, makeup, jewellery or clothing, or maybe add extra ’embellishments’ like flowers, bugs, etc.  I put them together roughly in Photoshop and voila I have a “new” face.  I liken it to playing an advanced game of Mr Potato Head.

But just like in Mr Potato head I’ve managed to create some weird, messed up, looking faces!

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This odd-looking creature was a mash-up of one girl’s eyes, another’s nose, someone elses hair, someone’s ears and yet another’s mouth, all on a beautiful pearl collared jumper that I originally spied on Zara.

When I sketched it out I thought it looked fine. I thought I had everything nicely placed.  Foolishly I started with the collar as that was the part I was most excited to draw.  It took absolutely forever but turned out great!

Then I did the rest of her features. I can’t remember at what point I realised there was something weird about her face.  And yes I certainly believe the most beautiful faces are those that have something off kilter about them.  Like eyes to big or lips too large. This lady is, however, a bit too far off kilter.  There is something eerie about her that I like but then something a bit wrong too.

Her nose is too big and off centre.  Her ears are too big.  Her eyes maybe too big and her mouth too small?  Her forehead is too narrow and short.  Actually I think the right eye is smaller than the left?  Is the light source coming from the left or straight on?  Ahhhgg

Turban girl is also a “Mr Potato head” with different bits and pieces collected from different reference images.  This one worked a lot better and she looks much more natural.

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The Side Hustle – Hustle

Graphite pencil custom pet portrait

“The Side Hustle – Hustle” sounds like some kind of dance that Tina Turner would have been doing back in the seventies.  What I am actually referring to is how my side-hustle (aka being a “fashion illustrator”) has developed it’s own (more successful 😔) side-hustle; custom pet portraits.

I am not exactly sure how this came to be.  I think it started with a request to do a portrait commission for my friend, Kirsten, which then led me to make a listing for custom portraits on Etsy; which then led to a listing for custom pet portraits.

Seems that people much prefer portraits of their pets than they do of their family members or (human) friends!

Anyway here are the latest of my furry friends: Kimba and Lola.

(If you would like your very own custom pet portrait please check out my store on Etsy A3- $60 and A4 -$45)

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Pet Portrait; Jackson

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This is Jackson.  He is super cute and my most recent pet portrait commission.  By some odd karmic coincidence this request arrived a few days after we had to put our own dog down.  Dusty has made an appearance a couple of times in this blog so you might be familiar with him.  We got Dusty whilst living in Abu Dhabi.  He and his eight siblings had been found abandoned in a flooded building site as tiny, very cute, pups.  After three years in the UAE he made the long trip (💰💰💰) back to Australia and enjoyed another three years with us here.  Dusty was the best-worst dog you could ever have.  Those who knew him will know what that means! 😢

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Anyway I had loads of fun doing this commission of Jackson.  I haven’t drawn anything but people for such a long time I’d forgotten animals are a whole different kettle of fish (so to speak).  In some ways they are a little easier as you don’t need to worry about creating a smooth surface like you do with human skin but the flip side is you have to be super careful about inadvertent ‘blending’ (aka smudges).  All that work to create tiny little individual lines of  hair only to lose them by smudge them all together …ahhhgg!

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The number one thing I re-learned doing this piece was the importance of figuring out the direction of travel of the fur BEFORE you start each area you are working on.  You might start thinking the hair goes one direction only to discover it is actually a different direction and it is not always as instinctive as you think!.  It can end up looking a bit unnatural if the hair is going the wrong way or you change it part way through and create an odd looking transition.

Weird Wikipedia fact? thing: where the hair changes direction is called a hair whorl.  It’s claimed there is a correlation between the location, number, or type of whorls and behaviour or temperament in horses and other species.  Apparently the Bedouins believe different whorls mean different things.  A whorl between the horse’s ears is a sign of swiftness and a whorl on the chest means prosperity!  But beware the horse with a whorl above its eyes, it’s master is going to die of a head injury… (that is a fairly specific way to die so it must be true!)

But I digress…. Sometimes it can be quite hard to tell the direction of the hair from a photograph. Just a quick tip; I find it helpful to actually draw directional arrows on my reference drawing before I actually start.

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Jackson

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I don’t know much about Jackson but I like to think that maybe he and Dusty are having a great time playing together wherever it is that dogs go after they leave this world.

img_1481RIP little man xx

 

If you are interested in a pet portrait of your bestie please check out my Etsy store. AUD $60 (an absolute bargin!) for an A3 portrait plus postage.

Am I a “Real Artist” yet?

2018 is the year I become a real, proper, artist (whatever that means).

I think I have always attached the notion of being a real artist to being able to sell my art.  Thus far, in my art lifetime, I have sold one birthday card for a grand total of $3.50.

I’m not a real artist then…

Ah but now I have an actual “commission”.  A money-exchanging-hands-commission.  This one is for my good yogi friend Kirsten (aka the Pink Princess).  Kirsten’s beautiful daughter, SJ, has just graduated as a defence cadet and is about to celebrate her twenty-first birthday.  Kirsten asked me to draw a portrait of SJ with her grandfather as a surprise birthday gift.

Kirsten provided me a photograph of SJ and her grandfather with instructions to “pimp” pop (Kirsten’s words not mine).  Not RuPaul Drag Race pimping just removing anything that said hospital.  Kirsten wanted the lipstick kiss on pop’s forehead to stay (which thrilled me no end as I like a bit of colour in my graphite drawings).

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Work in progress photos.

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So now that money has exchanged hands, do I actually consider myself as a REAL artist?

I make art; therefore I am an artist.  I am a living breathing human; therefore I am real.  That must make me a real-artist.

Or much more eloquently from artist and designer, Victoria Rose Martin

“Am I a real artist? Real or not I am an artist and I make things because of a deep desire to do so. Nothing more. And people’s opinions, I was once told “opinions are like backsides, everybody has one.”  I don’t make things with the thought of pleasing the masses or selling them; instead I make art because my fingers and brain give me no option to do anything else.” – What Makes a Real Artist

 

FINAL

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When good things go bad or visa versa

Why is it that sometimes the things you think are going to turn out brilliant turn out shit and the things that you think are going to be shit turn out f’ing awesome (or at least better than shit)?  I’ve had so many drawings lately that I thought were going to turn out brilliant.  You know when you come up with an idea and you think I am a god damn genius (Gump), no one has EVER thought of this before, this illustration is going to be THE MOST awesome thing anyone has seen (well I’m never THAT confident but you get my drift).  And then you put pencil to paper and for some reason it just doesn’t work!

The flip side to all of this is those images that start out as a bit of a pile of shit and end up epic!.  Okay EPIC may be an exaggeration but a hell of a lot better than I thought it was going to be.

I have this job, collaboration, ‘thing’ going on which involves drawing a lot of Spring Racing fashion.  I like drawing fashion but I have to admit I am a bit out of practice, having focused largely on portraits of late.  I did the first drawing late last year of Crystal Kimber, winner on the 2017 Myer Fashions on the Field National Competition.  The National Competition brings together all the state finalists at Flemington race course on Kennedy Oaks Day and is Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event.

I have since attempted to illustrate three other winners and each one has been varying degrees of… blahg.

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After three consecutive so-so drawings I was neither inspired nor looking forward to tackling another.  I don’t know why (call me a glutton for punishment) but I chose to do the one I was dreading the most! It was an outfit from 2007 so like back when tweed and satin were fashionable fabrics (ugh), wide, waist-cinching belts were trendy and greys and browns were the colour of choice, apparently.  I am in no way criticising the sartorial choices of the winner (Lorraine Cookson).  She was bang on trend in 2007 but after all the colour of the last couple of years this felt a bit drab.

Aside from the somewhat uninspiring outfit, the really challenging part wa sourcing useful reference photos.  For these racing illustrations I am trying to accurately draw the clothing and the model.  To do so I pull a bunch of photos from the internet and then just use bits and pieces to create my own image.

So back to 1977  sorry 2007 and the lovely Lorraine.  I guess because its like all of TEN YEARS ago all the reference images I managed to source were dodgy, a bit grainy, low quality and at the weirdest angles.

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I didn’t feel confident creating my own image as there wasn’t enough detail in any of the photos.  In all honestly I didn’t have a clear picture in my head of what the outfit actually looked like.  I could tell it was a wrap skirt and a grey tweed jacket with a wide belt.  The hat was a fedora with some kind of flower and as far as the shoes, apart from being f’ing high (kudos to this woman for being able to walk on grass in those mothers) open toe, close toe, sling back I have no idea!

I ended up choosing this photo by Gaye Gerrad (Getty images) to be my sole reference photo.

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So with much trepidation and absolutely no confident I sat down one rainy Sunday afternoon to start.  Since everything was kinda vague, vague details, vague edges, vague idea of what I was doing I thought; I know I will just start by blocking in rough, vague, shapes and vainly hope that the fog will lift and I will get some clarity about what I am looking at.  By the end of the day I had this.

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and I was pretty well… chuffed!

It was by no means what I set out to do.  Normally I aim for very sharp, crisp, edges, clean lines and lots of detail, using a range of pencils from 4H through to 6B.  This was completed solely with an HB.  Generally I use a crosshatch stroke and/or a small circular motion.  For this particular drawing, I tried to maintain a 45 degree angle (although clearly my focus is not terribly good and you can see in the hat I was going 45 degrees the other way doh!)

In my second sitting I wanted to bring out the darker areas and smooth out the graduations of tone.  I really have no idea what I am doing here.  Part of me wanted to do the second layer at right angles (i.e. cross hatch) to get rid of the definite lines.  I was also tempted to focus on finishing an area completely before I moved on to the next as this is the way I normally work.  Remember the episode of Seinfield where George decides to do everything the opposite of what he normally does in the belief that it will bring him success since every decision he has ever made has been wrong.

 “if every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right”.

That’s kinda how I felt.  Resist the temptation to do what I would normally do and it will work out!

This second layer was completed primarily with a 2B focused on darkening the shadow areas and a HB to even out the transitions. I stayed away from the skirt for the time being as I wanted to keep this light.  Since I was focused on working in layers it was really important keep the pencil application light.  I wanted to avoid getting to a point where the paper couldn’t take any more graphite before I had achieved the level of darkness that I wanted.

For my third sitting I focused on the lighter areas, being the skirt and the skin, using a 4H pencil.  Also at this time I added in the darkest of the darks where necessary with a 4B (the shadow her skirt casts on her legs, the back leg and the right side of her jacket.). I continued to work on smoothing out the gradiations.

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I ended up with something really different to what I would normally do and I quite like it.  Truth be told it is one of those pictures that looks better in the flesh from a distance!  I know that sounds like a euphemism for saying its really shit.  Stand on one leg, close your left eye and then look at it and trust me then you’ll see how good it looks!😉

 

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Crikey, I’ve lost my mojo!

"Emmi" - Colour and graphite pencil drawing (detail)

I often use this blog to give a bit of the back story to each of my drawings; where my inspiration comes from and how the illustrations came to be.  I’d love to have a great back story to this piece but .. well… there actually isn’t one   I started this drawing late last year when I had four or five unfinished drawing “failures” hanging about.  Failures is probably too harsher word but illustrations that just hadn’t come together and consequently I’d lost any desire to finish them.  I felt like I had completely lost my mojo.

After taking a bit of a break I decided that the best way to rebuild my confidence was by drawing something that I am comfortable with and that I know I do quite well.  Take the easy road!  A graphite pencil portrait of a pretty girl!

I normally do my works on A3 (297 x 420mm) Arches paper but for this one I needed more space so I busted out the rarely used A2 (420 x 594mm) paper.  I find A2 a bit too large and awkward to manage.  And when you have an A3 scanner it can be a complete bitch to scan A2 and match up the two halves seamlessly.

I started with the graphite pencil face and then the hands using my usual Tombow mono pencils.  Initially I wasn’t planning on doing anything other than the face and hands but since it was going along quite well and my confidence was up I decided to add some colour.  I have no idea why I chose to draw them in colour pencil I think it was just an intuitive thing at the time.   It didn’t even cross my mind that my last effort with colour pencil had been a little painful.

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(Now I am going to crap on about colour pencil for a while, so you can just skip to the end to see the final image if this is all a bit boring.)

I started with an underdrawing using complementary colours; green pencil for the red flowers, red pencil for the green leaves and purple pencil for the yellow flowers and buds.  With my last colour pencil drawing I had difficulty getting sharp, crisp, edges.  Once again the colour pencil queen, Carrie L Lewis, has come to my rescue with her conveniently titled “How to Draw Crisp Edges with Colored Pencils”.  Read her blog for a more comprehensive explanation but in short; mark the outline before you start shading and ‘draw a light outline with every colour you use on that area’.  Why didn’t I think of that!

I used my Prismacolor Premier pencils to outline the red flowers in Kelp Green and then shaded in the darker/shadow areas in the same green.  I outlined again in Crimson Red being careful to travel as exactly as possible along the initial green line.  I repeated the Crimson Red outline with each layer of colour I applied.  You’d think this would be a pretty straight forward and simple process but truthfully I got better at it the more I did and my last flowers look a hell of a lot better than the first couple.  It takes a bit of a steady hand to trace accurately over the line below each time.  The more accurately you can do it the more crisp the edge will be.  Again I added more shadow in Crimson Red and Scarlet Lake for the centre.

To be honest, I really only used three colours on the flowers.  I’m seriously starting to believe that the LESS colours you use the better.  Creating ‘red’ with only three colours (one of which is not even red!) is more effective that using six different colours.  Maybe that’s just me!  Maybe a more experienced artist uses a lot of different colours I don’t know! (Maybe the colour pencil companies are a scamming us with their box sets of 72 different colour pencils and in reality you only need 2 reds, 2 blues, 2 greens, 2 yellows, 2 browns and black and white?… conspiracy?)

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Flower-no2-v4.jpg(The top photo is one of the first flowers I did and the bottom photo the last one.  I think I got better!)

For the leaves and the yellow petals I followed the same process of tracing over the outline carefully with each colour I used.  It really did help me get a crisper, sharper, outline.  As with the red petals I continued to use a fairly limited palette starting with a complementary colour.

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In my last colour pencil piece I liked the stage where some white paper was still showing through.   I prefer this over pushing it to the limit with as many layers as possible and removing all signs of the white paper.   This piece does lends itself well to that ‘style’ as I imagine it is a white blouse with the flowers and leaves embroidered on top so naturally there may be some white fabric peaking through.

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Initially I had planned to add hair.  I struggle with hair a lot so I decided to leave it until the very end.  Now I kind of like her ‘hairless’.  I don’t know. What do you think?  Am I just being lazy!?

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