Monday, September 15, 2014

Pencil portrait: That Newlywed Glow

Most of the artwork I feature on this blog are digital paintings. However, for the last 6 years I have also run an Etsy shop called drawworm, where I offer custom pencil portraits. This pencil portrait was a commission from that shop.

These ridiculously good-looking lovebirds got married a few weeks ago, and their friend ordered this portrait as a wedding gift.

This was the photo the customer sent me. It is really a joy to work from a lovely photograph of lovely people - I loved drawing that gorgeous long, curly hair! As you can see, I cropped the image to focus more on the couple's faces. I used an 11x14" sized paper.

Using powdered graphite, I added a toned background behind them, to contrast with their very light hair. Then I used the eraser to pull out spots of light, kind of a bokeh effect, just to add a bit of magic.

The customer said, "Its so beautiful in person! We were showing it off to everyone before we wrapped it!" Apparently the couple in the portrait, after they got back from their honeymoon and opened their presents, loved it too! Just another day's work for the drawworm!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Highlights: Thunder and the Storm

I have two illustrations in the September issue of Highlights magazine!

This story is about a boy named Bailey whose family adopts a hyperactive German shepherd named Thunder. Bailey is intimidated by the large dog. One day a thunderstorm is raging outside, and Thunder is barking inside the garage. At first Bailey is irritated and yells at the dog - until he realizes Thunder is just scared and needs a little kindness.

The art director specifically asked for one of the drawings to look like a cutaway of a house, so we could see the living room and the garage at the same time.

I used contrasting warm and cool color schemes to emphasize the loneliness of the garage. I also gave the characters contrasting color schemes in order to make them stand out - Bailey is cool in a warm room, and Thunder is warm in a cool room.

Just to amuse myself, I put Thomas Kinkaid-esque landscape on the living room wall.

The second illustration description said, "Bailey is cautiously opening the door that leads from the house to the garage. Inside we can see Thunder, who is cowering from the storm but seems to be noticing Bailey."

It was surprisingly hard to find reference photos of German shepherds looking frightened. Maybe they're just so big and fierce that they rarely feel scared about anything.

Here's what the illustrations look like in print:

Monday, September 8, 2014

I'll be at APE in San Francisco!

APE, the Alternative Press Expo, is a large art and comics show taking place this October in San Francisco. I'll have a table there with my good friends Inkyung Lee and Alex Lee. You have to buy tickets to get in; if purchased online they start at $10 for a single day.

If you're there, be sure to stop at my table and say hi!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sit in the Chair

"Sit in the chair. These four words changed my life. For a long time, I was an aspiring writer. I aspired daily, but I didn’t make writing a priority. Instead, I spent time passively parked in front of glowing screens: watching TV, perusing Facebook, checking email.

Ultimately, I didn’t become a writer until I developed a writing habit. People don’t learn how to write via osmosis. It takes work. So: forget word count or page count, and don’t worry about creating the perfect writing space. Instead, focus on sitting in the chair distraction-free, writing for at least an hour a day. Do this for a month and you will improve more than you thought possible."

- From "How to Improve Your Writing" by Joshua Fields Millburn

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Personal work: Princess Ka'iulani

Crown Princess Ka'iulani was the last heir to the throne of the Hawaiian monarchy. She was intelligent, beautiful and a talented artist.

When Princess Ka'iulani was 17 years old, she was studying abroad in England when she received a telegram:

"'Queen Deposed', 'Monarchy Abrogated', 'Break News to Princess'".

In that single tweet, her country, her future, everything was gone. She traveled to the US on a mission to gather public support for Hawaii, hoping to reverse the hostile takeover of her country.
Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong.
Despite her efforts, Hawaii became a US territory in 1898. Ka'iulani died less than a year later, at the age of 23. I admire her not only because she was a princess, but because she was brave. She was fighting for a cause as a teenager and a non-white woman in a foreign country, where powerful politicians and businessmen were actively working against her. She must have loved her country very much.

I wanted to draw Ka'iulani standing in the ocean waves, which could represent the vast and powerful forces that she was struggling against. Also, ocean, Hawaii, England...I dunno. At first I considered adding some tropical fish or birds, but I didn't just want this to turn into another "pretty girl surrounded by pretty nature" drawing. She was a strong and determined person, so I had the idea of her holding the Hawaiian flag.

I used a stock photo from Deviantart to help get the arms right.

This came out looking much more...heroic than I originally had in mind, but I guess that's what happens when you draw someone holding a flag like that.

While drawing I listened to the "Hawaiian music" radio station on Pandora. It was very pleasant.

For this piece I tried out Kyle Webster's gouache brush set. While you may not be able to notice any  difference at full view, when you go close up you can see sooooo much texture:

The brushes were a lot of fun to use, and I like the painterly detail they've added to the closeups. Combined with my favorite canvas textures on top, the piece looks very convincingly traditional. People often tell me that my paintings look like acrylic or gouache; now I can mess with their heads even more!

The power!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book cover: The Azalea Bones

Here is another book in Annie's Publishing's cozy mystery series "Mysteries Unraveled." (For an explanation of "cozy mystery," see my post on the first book in the series. Quick summary: cozy mystery book covers are generally bright and colorful scenes with a small element that suggests a crime has been committed.)

In this book, a photo shoot for various crochet pieces is being held on the property of a rich, retired judge. A dead bush is dug up in order to pretty up the yard and OMG SKELETON ARM!

The art order for this was very detailed:
The cover should have colorful azaleas to the left and right of the spot where the dead one has been dug up. The background, centered on the open spot, should be a wrought iron garden bench looking away from the scene with a crocheted afghan hung over the back of the bench. I want a skeletal forearm and hand visible in the disturbed ground where the dead azalea has been dug up. A spade or a shovel should be on the ground as if the gardener drops it when he discovers the skeleton. A nice Victorian looking house would be a good contrast for the background. Maybe not dead center, but on one side or the other with a veranda-style wrap-around porch showing.
In other words, they wanted:

  • two azalea bushes
  • dead azalea bush that has been dug up
  • iron garden bench
  • crochet afghan hanging on the bench
  • skeleton hand in the dirt
  • shovel on the ground
  • Victorian house with wrap-around porch

Yeah, it's a lot, but I like the challenge. Trying to get all of these elements to fit together in an attractive way is a puzzle to be solved. In this case, the foreground, midground and background in this scene was pretty much already laid out for me, so I focused on giving the client different options - three different benches, different houses, different shovels, etc.

The client liked the foreground of #2 and the background of #3. They asked me to paint the house white, so that it wouldn't interfere with the title text too much.

The client pointed out that I had forgotten to add a dead azalea bush that has been dug up.

Easily remedied! Yay digital!

The publisher didn't send me a picture of the fully designed cover, but I found this tiny image on their website:

I received a hardcover copy of one of the books in the series in the mail yesterday, and it looks and feels really high quality. If you're interested in ordering a copy, visit Annie's Publishing. (I do not receive any royalties from sales of the book.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Practical Links for Illustrators

  • Your Style is What Sells (Or What Gets Attention) by Katie Kath Boyd - this is perhaps one of the simplest and most practical posts on finding your personal style that I've found so far. Especially good for people who feel like they have a lot of styles and don't want to be pinned down to just one.
  • Breaking the Low Mood Cycle by Elodie Under Glass - not illustration specific, but an excellent guide to breaking out of any kind of rut or slump.
  • What I've Learned in 7 Years by Zelda Devon - "These keys do exist. How you get them is up to you. You get them by getting a Mentor, going to the IMC, having a support group of people tell you when your work can be better, copying masters or people that you love, life drawing at every free moment, until it starts making sense. Most people give up. Don't give up."
  • On Breaking Into the Games Industry by Molly Maloney - A thorough, no-nonsense guide to becoming an employable, professional artist. Even if getting into video games is not your goal, this post is filled with valuable advice.
  • 13 Exercises for Clearing the Confusion Surrounding What you Want out of your Illustration Career by Andy J. Miller - "...your career is often steered by the personal work you choose to do."
And finally, I leave you with this encouraging comic. I don't know the name of the artist, whose website is in Russian, but you can find him at .