Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Personal work: The Midnight Circus


Recently I realized that it has been too long since I last sent out a round of postcards and emails to art directors. However, I had barely any new work in my portfolio for the AD's to look at. It's not that I haven't been drawing, but that most of what I've been drawing has been cozy mystery covers and Bible scenes (which I already have in my portfolio), or things under NDA. It was time to whip up some personal work.

I started out by visiting Barnes & Noble and browsing the children's book section for inspiration. As much as I want to love picture books, I am always, always drawn to the covers of middle-grade books. They just look so cool. I want to draw them all.

I started thinking about what I was doing when I was at the "middle-grade" age, and mostly what I remember is lots and lots of ballet. So I started drawing ballerinas.


But I just wasn't satisfied with drawing pretty ballerinas in front of pretty stage sets. I never feel satisfied until I have a drawing that suggests a story, and has some unique element or some tension in it. So I started drawing a circus ballerina standing on an elephant. Then I introduced a boy character, although I couldn't decide on exactly who he was. I laid in bed at night thinking about it - which always happens when I'm excited about a drawing.


Next I was browsing vintage circus photos on Pinterest and I came across photos of people on stilts. This gave me the idea for a bad guy - and suddenly I had my story.


Next I plan to create some black-and-white drawings of this story, as if it was a real book with interior illustrations. I'm not yet sure what those scenes are going to be, although I have a few ideas. So stay tuned for more adventures with Jez and Arielle and the Midnight Circus.




Thursday, August 20, 2015

What do you tell yourself you can't do?


If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. -Vincent Van Gogh

Note: This post is an edited repost from May 2014.

Yesterday while reading illustration blogs, I came across a comment where someone said that she could never get an agent because she's in her 40's, and no agent would ever choose to represent a middle-aged woman.

I have never heard any agent say anything along those lines. It's entirely untrue, but as long as this person tells herself it's true, it will be.

I was at an illustrator meetup a few weeks ago where a new guy nervously showed us his portfolio. He was falling all over himself to point out that he's "not really an illustrator" and he "can't do color at all" and he "can't draw people." (Actually his drawings were very strong.)

While we all have our weaknesses and difficulties, but nothing is impossible unless you tell yourself that it is. When I started out at art school, my portfolio consisted entirely of pencil black-and-white drawings, so I told people "I don't know how to do color." But I set out to learn how to do color, and now I can do it; in fact, it's one of my strengths. What if I had told myself "I can't do color"?

What do you tell yourself you can't do?


That you could never learn digital?
That you can never go full-time freelance?
That no game studio would ever want to hire you?

That you can't draw children?
That you could never have a table at that conference?
That you could never afford to attend that workshop?

Last year my husband introduced me to cycling. It was very difficult for me, both physically and emotionally, because most of my life I have told myself that I am not a strong or athletic person, that I don't do exercise. Whenever I bike, the message "I can't do this" goes through my head. I confessed this to my husband and he said, "Remember your blog post, Kelley! It's not that you can't do it, it's that you don't know how to yet!"


That's right, he quoted my own blog to me. I should probably stop giving out advice on this blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Covers Before and After

Every few weeks I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.














Thursday, August 13, 2015

Personal work: Imagination Reimagined


This drawing I did in 2011, titled "Imagination," is my most popular drawing.

This has kind of bugged me, because this drawing is so old and I never even thought it was that good! But people seem to connect with the concept, especially writers - which I didn't expect because it's a portrait of myself drawing. People tend to see themselves or their friends in it, and will leave comments like "This looks exactly like my friend Marissa and she's a writer!" Deviantart even used it in an official blog post about creativity.

Note to self: people connect with the concept behind a drawing more than the technique.

This week I was preparing some of my most popular illustrations for a new batch of prints. I wanted to print this one, but it had non-standard dimensions and a low resolution, because this was one of my first digital paintings and at the time I didn't consider stuff like future print runs. So I decided I would take a few minutes to just add a little to the sides to make it a standard paper size.

While I was at it, I could just touch it up a little. Just a little.

Then I just got carried away.

Several hours later:


Here's a side-by-side comparison: (click the image to enlarge)



There were three major things I wanted to improve in this scene:
  1. Flat lighting and color. In the original drawing, there's no way to tell where the light is coming from or what temperature it is. It's just completely uniform across the room. I fixed this by deciding that there was a window on the other side of the desk, and having cool daylight coming in from it. I increased the shadows under the desk and behind the character, which increased the sense of depth. Putting the white chair in shadow also helped keep it from standing out so strongly.
  2. Too many harsh, unbroken lines. In the first version, there are a lot of harsh shapes: the picture frames, the desk, the dresser. These bothered me at the time but I didn't know how to fix it. Now that I've had more practice, I knew that I could break up these shapes by layering in softer objects: the windblown curtains, the backpack, the table plant and scarf.
  3. Sloppy rendering. Like I said, this was one of my first digital paintings, so the amount of detail is pretty sloppy when seen up close. There was a lot of polishing to do.





Now I finally order my prints!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Ladies of Kirk Kickstarter is live! Also, a free wallpaper for you!


It's up! It's up! It's up! Go see the Kickstarter!

I made a free wallpaper for you guys, featuring all of the ladies! Download it using the links below:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Is there a "blacklist" for illustrators?


On the DearArtDirector Tumblr, there has been some concern about whether art directors "blacklist" illustrators, and, if you have been blacklisted, if there is any way to redeem yourself.

Spoiler: there is no "blacklist," other than art directors talking with other art directors, the way anyone in any business does. And AD's are decent enough people that they can forgive artists who make honest mistakes.

Even if there is a blacklist, it shouldn't matter to you. Your goal shouldn't be to avoid a blacklist, it should be to blow people away with your awesomeness so clients are pounding on your door to work with you again.

I don't worry about a blacklist because I strive to be a pleasure to work with. I communicate clearly, quickly and cheerfully. I do my work. I turn it in on time. My goal is to solve my client's visual problems and make their job as easy as possible. Not every assignment ends up going smoothly, but the thought "what if they blacklist me?" never crossed my mind.

It seems that people want to see how much they can get away with. I saw this attitude in art school sometimes. A visiting professional give us a talk, and afterward the Q&A would go like this:

Student: What if I'm late on an assignment?
Pro: Don't be late.
Student: What if I don't have a scanner and can't take good photos of my paintings?
Pro: Get a scanner.
Student: What if I only have a blog, not a website?
Pro: Get a website.

Your goal is not "how much will my clients put up with?" It's "how can I be the best?"

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Preparing for a Kickstarter, part 2

It's been a busy week! Here's what I've been doing lately to prepare for the upcoming Ladies of Kirk Kickstarter campaign:

  • Continuing to post drawings on social media, every Mon/Wed/Fri. Here's the ones I did this week:


  • Filming the video. This took a long time because of a myriad of technical difficulties which nearly brought my computer nerd husband to the point of mental breakdown. We tried every possible combination of computers and programs. Either one would have sound, but not record video, or show video but not record it, or record video but only at low frame rates...it was ridiculous. Who knew it was so difficult to record video from a webcam? Sadly I had to ditch the nice mic in exchange for better video quality. Oh well.


  • Editing the video. This was a lot of fun and went much more smoothly, thanks to an awesome computer program called Camtasia and some free music from a guy called Kevin MacLeod. I am quite happy with the result.
For your entertainment, I present you with the outtakes from this week's filming fiasco. Let me warn you, this video will give you the impression that I am a rambling madwoman and should probably not be trusted with running a Kickstarter or just being professional in any capacity. Trust me the finished video is much better.



Watching myself on camera, I can see why people think I'm a teenager. The chin acne really sells it, I think.
  • Lastly, I'm just waiting for some print samples to arrive in the mail tomorrow. If they're satisfactory, that's the final piece in the Kickstarter puzzle. I can submit the campaign to be approved by Kickstarter, then publish it next week.
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