Saturday, 14 April 2012

How I Work an Illustration

Hi there.

Lately I have had several different people ask me how I execute my artwork. How do I do my illustrations? What is the process like? Do I work digitally and what materials do I use? These are really good questions because I always wonder the same thing about other artists but I'm always too shy to ask them. I work alone, on my own in my studio which means I don't have the luxury of having other artists around to observe and learn from. There is no one for me to compare working styles with and I often wonder how 'normal' my way of working is. So I'm doing this post to show a little bit on how I work and maybe it will resonate with you too. All you computer whizzes out there may want to look away because I'm sure there is a much easier and quicker way to do all this and I can see you now screaming at me from your computer telling me to get a life and start living in this century.

I am a dinosaur when it comes to making my art. I went to art school in the 1980s. I was taught in a very traditional way. This was way before computers appeared on the scene and everything was done by hand. I work totally old school, in the same way I did back then. Is that sad?...or is it cool?...I haven't quite figured that one out yet. But, it's me and it's all I know. I do use a computer for basic things like research (thank goodness for Google Images), scanning, resizing I guess I'm not entirely clueless.

I always start an illustration or painting with an idea which then inspires my research. The research part is funnest part for me. It means I get to collect things and then organize them and then study them in their neat tidy little categories. I usually get out my books and magazines. I have been keeping a very organized image collection for years and years (I highly recommend this). I have thousands of pictures of things ranging from hands to fabrics to cars to patterns, color schemes and textures...all neatly filed away in folders. These are the most helpful tools I have in my studio. When I get stuck and can't draw something tricky (like folded hands or feet at a funky angle) and I don't have an image for it...I do a Google Image search and almost always find what I need.

Then I do some sketches...lots of things that may or may not go into the piece. I keep drawing until it starts to come together. Then I cut out the drawings and move them around the page until the composition looks right. I tape them down and then with tracing paper, do a tracing of the rough drawing. Then I work the drawing some more until it's ready. Now it's time to transfer the image to the paper I'm working on.

To transfer the traced image onto the surface I will be working on, I first rub the back of the traced image with the side of a very soft leaded a 6B or something. This leaves like a 'carbon' coating for the transfer. Then I turn the tracing paper over, tape it down and re-trace the image with a very hard and sharp pencil 6H. Once that is done, I rework (with pencil, usually 2H or HB) the transferred drawing by adding value and shading as well as focusing on making my line quality rich. I then paint some background layers, sand, scrape, rework...whatever it needs. In areas that are highly detailed, I will cut out that section of the traced image and put it where I need it and transfer the lines again by redrawing. I keep doing this until the piece is nearly done. I make sure I always use a very clean tissue under my hand because I am a Messy Marvin...I always seem to smudge graphite, paint, coffee or lipstick the tissue keeps my grubby hands from smearing stuff.

Once the piece is nearly done, I take a break from it. Go away from the studio for a snack or a walk...whatever. When I come back I look at it from a distance. This helps me to see if it's balanced and if the values are working. I often have to go back into it and either bump things up by adding some dark areas or soften things up if it looks too hard. My final steps usually are to add a little bit of black ink or gouache in areas that need detail or definition. Then I scan it. Then I reeeeeally push the boat out and tweak the colors and sizing on Photoshop.

So, that's it. I hope I didn't lose you because I can hear the crickets chirping. Heehee.
I'd like to do YouTube tutorials some day...but it's the dreaded technology learning curve...I need a technology makeover! Some day I would love to learn how to use Photoshop and Illustrator too...properly.

Love and Light
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