Monday, April 13, 2015

Working on Magic

Something clicked for me after MATS A, and that's the concept of joy in one's work.  I connected it finally with the idea of creating magic in an illustration. It's something I have struggled with for a long time, and am always working on.  So, this past week, I made it a point to focus on this element and re-work some past illustrations.

I started with my sketches from the Global Talent Search back in 2013.  I loved my sketches for this project, but ended up submitting something completely different and kicked myself afterward.

Anyway, I worked with this palette which I used for the competition and that I love, and it helped me focus on just having fun and making a sweet little repeat.

revamped repeat

original illustration from 2013

Next, I thought of a different concept with the playground scenario.  What if the playground animals came alive at night and had fun jumpin' around in a magical firefly forest after dark?  So, I re-inked the original sketches, illustrated all-new spring animals, and created a night-time palette to help me focus on illustrating.  Here is what I came up with:

alternate night time theme, 2015

Wouldn't it be so cool if it came in actual glow-in-the-dark fabric?  I keep thinking of a pajama set for my little guy that glows in the dark!  That would be neat!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MATS Part A - Overview and Review

5 weeks of illustrating like crazy!
 The following is a two part review of the Make Art That Sells course Part A as it was presented this year (2015).

1) A Review of the Make Art That Sells Course, Part A (from the heart)

MATS is a meeting place for people all around the world who are looking for their "tribe."  I know that's a word that's flung around a lot these days, but I don't have a better word for it... I guess I could say like-minded or similar seekers.  The community that is created after sharing our work, well, it's kind of intimate.  When you're working so hard on a dream that you hold dear, and you share it with others who have a similar dream, it's not difficult to see why we come together and why the course begins to take on a deeper meaning. MATS has a following because we feel connected to one another.

What about the work?  I can only speak for myself.  I have grown a lot and I think you can see it most in my final two assignments.  I used the five weeks of the course to try and discover a style within my work.  I wrote in my pre-course planner, "I have invested in this course because I want to make marketable art that feels true to me in a style that rocks!" So, I experimented with various mediums and line and hoped a style would jump out at me.  I can see a common thread running through all five pieces, mostly it's a color-based thread, but no obvious style jumped out at me.  The biggest thing I learned is to stop being slap-dash about my work.  I can see in my final piece a deliberateness that wasn't there before.  I am taking the lesson of deliberate mark-making as my biggest achievement in these past 5 weeks.  Did I achieve my original goal?  I think I kind of did.  I think all of my work feels true to me, but I don't think I'm far enough along in my illustration journey to say, "Yes! I love this style!  You, oh thick line and wavy brush, you will be my style from this time henceforward!" or whatever.  Not there yet...

2) A Review of the MATS Course, Part A by the numbers

Let me give you an idea of how dense this course is.  I created an outline in order to keep track of all the materials after the final wrap-up post, and it took me 12 hours to do a cursory review and download the course materials.  TWELVE HOURS!!  If I were to collate all the pages and content of this course, it would amount to a very, very thick 3 ring binder.  It would be somewhere between 200 and 300 pages of material.  The first photo in this post is just a fraction of the content.  I printed out only what I intended to fill out or jot notes on.  And this is just Part A! There are several hours of videos including interviews with successful working illustrators and artists.  There are written interviews with experts in the business.  The course includes so many helpful tips, tricks, lists of possible clients, and a very large, supportive community (see part 1 of this review).

It is an intense course requiring the quick turnaround of 5 briefs from concept to layout/mock-up in five weeks.  Each project is broken up into a mini assignment at the start of each week, and then the fleshed out brief is given mid-week with the deadline of Sunday.  I loved the deadlines, and I happily met each one.  I loved being given the assignments, too.  It was nice having direction given to me. :)

And finally, many people who are reading this review are wondering about the reviews.  I will be straight with you.  My work never made it to the reviews.  Each week, Lilla Rogers chose 9 to 13 pieces to talk about.  There were over 150 people signed up for the course.  Many of these people, I'll say 20% are professionals.  Remember people take the course for all kinds of reasons including re-booting a career or refreshing a portfolio.  Some of my peers taking the course had already done editorial work with big name magazines and others had illustrated entire children's books, others were total beginners.  I was... in the middle.  So, I wasn't surprised that my work was not chosen for review.

On one level, of course I was disappointed!  I want to feel validated just as much as the next artist.  But, after every single review without fail, I looked at the checklist Lilla used to discuss the merits and drawbacks of each piece and I saw that even though my work had some of the elements listed, there were always a few missing.  The work reviewed often had a little something extra or something special about them that my work just didn't have (or doesn't have YET!).

It's also a matter of taste!  I know my work runs a bit dark (see troll and mash-up creatures), and Lilla represents some really joyful and happy art.  I'd like to make art that makes people feel joy, and I need to get back to that place.  I was there once.  Here's a throwback photo for you all.  This photo is from the RISD Graduate Student Publication "Making Something with Some Things" from 2008...

It's my entry into our class book.  I still haven't given up on that dream, I just got a little sidetracked is all.

So was it worth it?  Hell, yeah!

If you have any questions about the course or are considering it, but aren't sure, just send me an e-mail and I'll answer the best I can.  You can also write to the school itself, they're super helpful and friendly.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

MATS A, Week 5: Gifts

As I posted my final assignment for my first MATS class in the flickr group, I was really sad.  I mean it!  I was so sad it is over.  There are still a few days of "wrapping it up" and the final review, but the 5 weeks of meaty assignments with endless potential...

Wait a sec, this is just the beginning!

Put those tissues away!  Although MATS A is over, it's time for me to shift gears and get ready for phase 2!  Transition time!  This is the toughest part I think, but I've got a pretty darned good toolkit and support network to help.

My next steps in this whole illustrator as full-time career move include:

  • refining my projects based on the feedback I received
  • assembling a portfolio with enough pieces in a marketable style
  • presenting my work to companies (and/or a representative)

I've been doing research since the start of the year on artist's representatives.  Between MATS and the Skillshare, Creative Live videos, Illustration podcasts, and the books that each of my teachers have recommended, I've got a fairly good idea of what it will take for this to work... and it's a lot of WORK! :D  But, I already knew that, and hard work is quite familiar to me, and I kinda like it.

Anyway, a review of Week 5...

Mini Assignment: identify and photograph or illustrate your favorite collections of items in your life. In my case, I have a lot of scissors... and looking at the photo I realize I missed two pairs in the kitchen. Oops!  I also have a huge collection of rubber stamps and many, many items relating to what I'll call "the paper arts" - illustration, drawing, painting, drafting, etc.

yes! an authentic Caboodles case, and Corn Flakes stamps from the 1960's

I have a cute collection of house-plants, too!  It's too bad I didn't have a balcony garden this year otherwise, I'd have used those too.  Hmm, I could get my photos of them from years past for another one of these...
 And then there's the fiber arts. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but my photographed collection includes my two favorite skeins of yarn in my stash, so many spools of thread, fabric scraps, patterns, and my all-time favorite buttons... 

When our big assignment came, I wasn't sure where to go with all of these photographs and illustrations.  I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of things I had scanned, isolated, color tweaked and sketched.  Overwhelm!

I showed this image to my fellow MAT-sians at the height of my overwhelm.  I've realized this is a typical stage in the artistic process. This is the part where you feel self-doubt and uncertainty and the judge part of the brain is telling you you're nuts for attempting this.  Don't let that judge win!  My classmates helped for sure.

So, I kept plugging away at it!  I thought of a way to bring my favorite collections together and here is my secret: key phrase.  I created a key phrase to help guide me.  My phrase for this piece was "tropical vacation yarn fetish".

I started by creating creatures that lived in this overlush place, these creatures had to be over the top.  I have been dying to do mash-up creatures and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a little Frankensteining!  Above you can see my first creature above.  It's a jackelope iguana, but it gets butterfly wings eventually.

Here's a .GIF of how the piece developed once I got going.

Just in case it doesn't loop on its own, click on the image to see the short GIF

The materials in the class for this week were really helpful.  There was a great list of businesses that are in the gifts market, templates, and wonderful life tips.  All in all, it was a really strong week with which to finish the course.  I'm so looking forward to MATS B in the fall!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Surface Design, Botanical #1

After taking some general online courses on Surface Design, I came upon this one by Bonnie Christine on Skillshare.  I started this project in late February, and kept a lot of detailed notes on my progress.  Can I tell you how much I've learned in the videos from Bonnie Christine's class?  It's crazy!  I have been using Adobe Illustrator for over 10 years, and I thought I knew my way around, but I learned so many new tricks in this class that I hadn't ever even thought to try!

I was humbled by the class and how much I have left to learn about design and my favorite software.

Also, as you know, I've spent all of March working on MATS projects.  So, in between my projects and the fast-pace of each week, I've been tweaking and applying my new skills to this pattern repeat.

Here's what I did for the class:

And here's the diary of my entire process...
February 23, 2015
Choose a word, short phrase... Bloom?  Blossom?  Botanical?  Not sure yet, but I think I'll go with one of those.
Favorite things in nature... red squirrels, muscari azureum (grape hyacinths, and also bluebonnets and bluebells), new leaves, buds of flowers, dogwood blossoms, peonies and round blossoms, cacti, lithops & succulents, daffodils and narcissus, orchids, etc.  Bright saturated colors.

1 colorful photograph (for palette) & 3-5 photographs (thematically related, to draw from) -- See mood board labeled "Botanical #1".  I love this bouquet I found on Pinterest.  And, I found other beautiful photographs on several photography sites.  I'm personally not that great of a photographer and so I looked on Pinterest, Flickr, and used keywords of my favorite things to find inspirational photographs.  

Mood-board Photo Origins: I searched for the origins of the peonies bouquet, but to no avail.  The leaves, curled seed pod are from photographer Alan MacKenzie a very talented wildlife photographer.  The daffodils and muscari azureum on the top right of the moodboard are from Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  And the red squirrel is from Birds in Berlin blog.

February 24, 2015: Choose 10 - 15 simple/med complex sketches  I'm thinking the squirrel, hyacinths, and the succulents will be my complex elements and perhaps I'll simplify everything else into 1 or 2 colors.  Maybe I'll use just the filled-in outline for some, and/or the line-art.  Time to play!

February 25, 2015: Digitizing the sketches
This was somewhat tedious, but in a zen-like way.  It's digital tracing using a bunch of different techniques.  Some I used my own custom brushes in Illustrator, then expanded the stroke.  Others I used the blob brush as instructed in the videos.  Then Others I used a black marker and filled in areas using my tracing table, and then scanned, and did "live trace".
March 1, 2015: Simple Repeat
Alright.  I have to say it.  This class is ROCKING my world!  I just tested my simple pattern repeat, and using my palette, I "recolored" the artwork.  To my amazement and wonder, I now have 3 colorways that I absolutely love.
What do you think?

March 4: Complex Repeat WIP  
Here's where I am with the motif for the complex repeat.  I've struggled a bit to get it where I want because one of my goals was to add texture to my work.  So, I made some textures, scanned them, etc. and got them to be vector-friendly.  Then, I learned that you can't make a pattern repeat from something with a pattern in it... so be sure to expand all your elements before trying to make a pattern from it!  I learned that after a while of trying to drag it into the swatches panel with no success.  Oops!  Lesson learned!
March 18, 2015: Complex Repeat WIP The past few weeks I've learned a few things about repeats.  I bought and read several of the books that Bonnie recommended (mastering the art of fabric printing and design & the field guide to...).  I also learned some new work-flow for Photoshop and back to Illustrator in order to add texture and correct alleys and holes  and too easily recognizable repeated motifs.

Also, I went back and re-inked some of the original motifs that felt a bit lacking, and here are the newly inked icons.

March 30, 2015 And, if you look at the version I submitted, you'll see the versions above were the ones I used.  

The next steps for this project:  
  • add more geometric/abstract patterns
  • refine the color palette
  • find a fabric manufacturer who would like to work with me to print the collection!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

MATS A, Week 4 Wall Art

This week was a very freeing experience for me.  Before this year's Bootcamp and MATS class, I hadn't done a proper painting in forever.  I was a scenic artist for half of my 20's and had painted giant scenic backdrops, kitschy scenic flats, furniture, design illustrations, etc.  And, this week felt like I was taking all that experience, plus a distinct perspective as an adult and I was able to just let it flow.

Here is the final mocked up in a frame...

The assignment called on several specific requirements - choose a pair of colors based on our zodiac sign, use collage, include text.  My sign corresponded to the colors pink & yellow. I was really excited about pink & yellow, but truthfully, I would have been excited no matter what the color combo.  I love getting direction and parameters to work within, and I also love color.  Yay color!

Next we had to collect 2-D and smallish 3-D items that were in our colors, a color scavenger hunt!  My studio is lightyears beyond the mess that it was last year.  I've tossed so much, and even then, I managed to have no shortage of things in these colors.

button collection and swatch for gloves WIP
ancient i-pod and lovely silks
And, once I figured out how I was gonna work, I was off to the races.  I didn't have a large enough canvas so I worked on five little canvases that I would seam together digitally.  Dekopatch, gesso, matte medium, acrylics, markers, pens, post-it notes, paper, rice paper, fabric, buttons, tissue paper, cardboard, and stamps... to name some of the things I used to make this piece.  While things were drying, I rotated the canvases and made linocut plates.  I had a really good flow going, and I was listening to my fave tunes on the ancient i-pod.

lino cut and watercolor dots
The next part, the digital seaming, was a bit more tedious, but it allowed for a kind of freedom that I hadn't had before with paint.  The ability to "undo" is an amazing weight lifted off one's shoulders.  The fear of making the next mark is completely gone, and it was great!

This project was tons of fun, y'all.  Tons.