Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Treehouse Heart

I created this illustration for a show called "The Secrets of Hearts," which opened on September 30 in Taichung, Taiwan. That's right, my art is on display in Taiwan!! How did that happen?

During my studies at the Academy of Art University, I had a very thoughtful, very hardworking, very tall classmate named Shih-Fen. Here's a picture of us enjoying some pizza. Shih-Fen is on the far right. I'll let you guess which one is me.

Shih-Fen's thesis project was a children's book about different kinds of hearts: a beach heart, a flower heart, a castle heart. They were symbols for different types of personalities and relationships. But it was far from being saccharine or cliche. In fact, my classmates and I were kind of stunned when he explained the meanings of the hearts. For example, here's "The Gearwheel Hearts."

His description: "At the beginning, they try to adjust the gearwheels little by little. Hope that one day everything will run smoothly. Unfortunately, the friction is still there. One day, they lose their patience and point to each other. Everything is different from that day."

Dang, right?

Since graduating from art school, Shih-Fen has been busy teaching and illustrating in Taiwan. I'm not totally sure exactly what he does, because his Facebook updates are mostly in Chinese, but he definitely seems productive! A while back he contacted me about participating in a group show centered around his "Secrets of Hearts" theme. He asked me to come up with my own heart illustration.
Despite the fact that movies, tv shows and commercials consistently depict men as very simple creatures, I think I speak for a lot of women when I say: men can be pretty mysterious and baffling. (Ladies: back me up in the comments section, please.) I wanted to draw a man's heart, and a woman struggling to find a way in. 

I played with some ideas of "The Shuttered Heart" but just couldn't come up with something that worked visually. After setting the project aside for a few months (yes, a few months. I really had a tough time with this), I had the idea of a treehouse heart, and a little boy absorbed in his own boy world, ignoring the efforts of a little girl trying to interact with him.

The initial sketch came together easily enough, but from there on out I struggled with the direction for the color scheme and the lighting. The entire way through the piece I felt unsure of whether I was taking it in the right direction.

Although I do like the end result, whenever I look at this piece I still wonder if I should have done something differently. Perhaps it's because it's such a personal piece.

The wheelbarrow of girly things is my favorite detail.

Here are some pictures of the show in Taichung.

Thanks Shih-Fen for asking me to participate in your group show. Keep up the good work, and I hope we can meet again someday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

GeekGirlCon 2016 post-mortem

Last weekend I had an artist alley table at GeekGirlCon in Seattle. Last year GeekGirlCon was my best show and this year was no different.

GeekGirlCon is like a comic con with a feminist/progressive theme going on. But there's still plenty of men who attend the show - I'd say the crowd was about 30% men, while most comic cons, in my experience, seem to be about 50% men. It's a small show, but very well-organized. What everyone kept saying - both attendees and fellow exhibitors - was just how exceptionally nice everyone was.

There are also quite a few children who attend the show, and they are SO. CUTE. They're also remarkably well-behaved and intelligent. I had not one, but three little girls around the age of ten, who asked me if I work traditionally or digitally. When I said digitally, I was surprised when they asked for specifics about what programs and hardware I used. Then they told me about their projects and what programs and hardware they were using. Their dads would be standing nearby, smiling proudly.

These two prints - "Imagination" and "Busyness & Inspiration" - really struck a chord with the attendees, particularly writers. I had two different attendees visit my table and tell me that they had bought "Imagination" from me last year and proudly had it hanging right above their desks. One lady said that she had it hanging in her cubicle in the Washington State Department of Health.

One woman walked up to my table and completely froze when she saw "Imagination."

"Hi, how are you?" I said. She didn't move.

"How's your morning going?" I tried. Again, she didn't move. I noticed a tear going down her cheek.

"Uhhh are you ok?" I said.

"It's just....this is me!" She said. "This is my space. My special writing space. The place where my children aren't allowed to argue with each other."

She told me more about her special writing sanctuary, ended up buying both prints, and asked for a tissue.

I'm often surprised at which of my drawings resonate with people and which ones don't. "Imagination" and "Busyness & Inspiration" sold out by the end of the con.

I've decided that this con is going to be my last con - at least for a while. If all cons were as positive and profitable as GeekGirlCon, I'd happily exhibit at more. But too many of my con experiences have been disappointing. You never know if a show is going to be a good one or a bad one, and a bad show is really emotionally draining. It's hard to sit by and watch a steady stream of people ignore or reject your work for an entire weekend, knowing that you paid and prepped for weeks and mostly likely traveled for hours in order to do this.

For the past two years I've tried to crack the con code and figure out how to make them more profitable. But I realized that it was taking away too much time and attention from freelance, which is much more profitable for me anyway.

I will miss getting to meet fans and hang out with other artists after the show. I guess I'll need to find other ways of getting myself out of the house more often!

If you're interested in purchasing my art, I have some leftover prints, cards and postcards from the show in my Etsy shop. I also have prints in all sizes at my INPRNT shop.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Month of Fear: Secrets

Every October there's an online challenge for artists called "Month of Fear." It's pretty simple: draw something related to the weekly prompt, then post it online using the hashtag #monthoffear . There's no winners or prize. Anyone can participate. It's just for personal motivation.

This week's prompt was "secrets."

Whenever I have the time to do a personal piece, I scroll through my Pinterest inspiration board and see if anything strikes my fancy. The board consists mostly of pretty women, interesting forests, flowing fabric and atmospheric lighting. That's what I like.

I found this stock photo from Awdi-stock on Deviantart:

I thought that a scene of someone half-concealed in shady bushes would be good for the "secrets" theme. I changed it to a man/woman in hooded cloak, and threw in a magical flame for good measure. Originally I had a cool, moonlit color scheme going on.

Then I threw a sepia-toned texture on top and set the layer properties to "color." I like both of the color schemes but I think the orange/grey one is a little creepier - maybe because those are Halloween colors. What do you guys think?

Sorry this blog post is a bit brief - I forgot to make in-process shots of this piece. Also, I am so, so tired right now.

If you're interested in Month of Fear, visit the official Month of Fear Tumblr to see some of the other pieces that people make, or just follow the #monthoffear hashtag on Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram. Next week's theme is "wicked." I don't think I'm going to have time to make a piece next week, sadly.

If you're feeling extra ambitious, there's another challenge thing going on this month called Inktober. The idea is to draw something in ink every day for the month of October. You can follow the official prompt list, or not, it doesn't matter, just tag your drawings with #inktober and #inktober2016.

If you're an illustrator, I'd highly recommend participating in online challenges like this. Not only is it a way to push yourself to create valuable personal work, but it can also help you feel connected to other artists online, and it can help you get new followers on social media.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Thoughts on Improving at Drawing

Last year I started a Tumblr called Anyone Can Improve at Drawing. (ACID for short, so I can amuse myself with jokes about getting artists on acid.) I invited artists to compare their old and new drawings. I created this for three reasons:
  1. To show that skill at drawing is the result of years of practice, not magic
  2. To encourage beginning artists that everyone sucks in the beginning
  3. To encourage artists to lighten up and feel pride and inspiration (or at least amusement) in their old drawings, rather than shame.
At first I was afraid that no one would contribute. Some artists feel so embarrassed by their old work that they hate looking at it, and would rather die than post it online for everyone to see. I know a guy who literally burned his old drawings on a bonfire. So I first tested the waters in an artist Facebook group, asking if anyone would be willing to participate. Thankfully, a lot of people were game, and ACID was soon up and churning out posts.

Then social media superstar Jez Tuya created a hashtag called #anyonecanimproveatdrawing , which started trending on Twitter. Thousands of people started posting their old and new drawings on Twitter, and I invited my favorite ones to submit to the ACID Tumblr. Then Lauren Panepinto wrote about it in a Muddy Colors post, further increasing the blog's exposure. Thanks to everyone's submissions, ACID is going to be providing inspiration and encouragement for quite some time!

Seeing the submissions for this blog has been an interesting experience for me. Here are some of my observations:

1. Many old drawings are fanart, especially anime fanart, while new drawings are more often original concepts. I think it's natural in our childhood and teens to draw the things we love, and it's great that anime inspires so many young artists. But eventually many artists seem to move on from these things as they come into their own styles.

2. Many old drawings are characters floating in blank spaces, while the new drawings tend to be fully realized scenes with environments and narratives.

3. Realism isn't always the goal. While most people's work became more realistic as they improved, some people's work became less realistic and more stylized, but in an intentional, consistent way.

4. We really do all start somewhere. Some successful, professional artists whom I admire submitted to the blog, and I was surprised at just how bad their old drawings were. I thought that their old drawings would be better than other people's old drawings...but no. My favorite example of this is Noah Bradley's submission. No one would look at that old drawing and think "wow, that kid has serious talent!" (No offense, Noah.) He wrote a post about how he made an intentional, sustained effort to improve at drawing. Now he's a top-tier fantasy artist.

5. People improve at different rates. On the flip side, something that surprised and unsettled me about the submissions was just how little some people improved. Sometimes drawings they claimed were five or ten years apart were barely distinguishable. I can only assume these people weren't practicing very much. As a professional, this is a sobering thought. God willing, we're all going to live another ten years. We can spend that time improving a lot or improving a little. As Gandalf said, "all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."


I hope you enjoy looking through ACID, and if you're an artist, whether a hobbyist or professional, consider submitting! Everyone is welcome.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Helpful Links for Artists

Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to drawing, freelancing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.
Have you recently found any articles or blog posts that you found helpful, inspiring, or motivating? Please post them in the comments!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3 Essentials for a Children's Book Portfolio

A few weeks ago I posted on Twitter offering free portfolio reviews to anyone looking to get into the children's book industry. A few people took me up on the offer, and reviewing their portfolios gave me some ideas for this blog post. By attending conferences, reading blogs, following art directors on Twitter, and getting portfolio reviews from them in person, here's what I believe are the three most important things that publishers want to see in illustrator portfolios.
  1. Children. You'd also be surprised at how many artists tend to draw awkward, gangly, unattractive children. Guys, this is a dealbreaker for this industry. Your portfolio must show that you can draw cute, fun, expressive children of various ethnicities and ages looking consistent across multiple scenes. They don't have to be realistic, like the sample on the left. But they do have to look like cute kids.
2. Animals. So important! Children and animals should be the meat and potatoes of your portfolio. You must have drawings of attractive, expressive, cute animals doing things and looking consistent across multiple scenes. But being able to draw animals realistically is not what's important....
  3. Narrative. have to show that you can tell a story. Don't just draw characters standing around on blank backgrounds, or portraits of beautiful women surrounded by flowers. Draw the character existing in a world, interacting with other characters, and doing things. I'm not saying you have to have a fully developed novel behind each illustration: just enough to peak a viewer's interest. Don't just draw a fox; draw a fox wearing crutches and knocking on the door of a rabbit's home. Read "A Cure for Head and Shoulders Syndrome" by Joe Sutphin.

Things NOT to include:

  1. Nudity, blood, sexuality. Your portfolio must be absolutely G-rated. Even artistic nudity is a no-go.
  2. Figure studies, landscapes, still lifes, logo designs, t-shirt designs, mobile app designs, etc. People commonly include these things in order to "prove they can draw" - but this is a rookie mistake. Everything in your children's book portfolio must relate to children's books.
  3. Fan art of pop culture. This is kind of a tricky one, but let me explain. Unless you're interested in doing licensing illustration, don't include fanart of movies, tv shows and video games. Publishers aren't interested in your "Disney princesses as sailor scouts" fanart. You can include fanart of books, if you're working from the original material and not from tv/movie adaptations. Choose classic books, like Little House on the Prairie or Call of the Wild rather than something that's been done to death, like Harry Potter. For example, I have some Island of the Blue Dolphins fanart in my portfolio. Think of it less as "fanart" and more as pretending you've been hired to illustrate a new edition of this book.
While there are many more things to take into consideration when building your portfolio, I'd say that these three things are the most essential. I think it would be very difficult to get a commission in the children's publishing industry without them.

I hope this gives you some guidance towards building up your children's book portfolio! Please post any questions in the comments!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book cover: The Shadow Guard

Hey guys! I'm excited to show you this book cover I did. This is the cover for The Shadow Guard, the sequel to The Second Guard, written by J.D. Vaughn, published by Disney-Hyperion and art directed by Joann Hill.

I'm a fan of this series because it's a girl-centric YA fantasy set in a unique, mezo-American-inspired world. Admit it, that sounds pretty cool. I like YA novels about girls who do things other than fall in love with hunky boys. A little romance is cool but I can only take so much gushing about some 17-year-old's smoldering eyes and glistening copper skin. If you read YA, you know what I'm talking about.

Yeah, anyway, clearly I have a long rant about YA romance in me. But let's get back to business. Here is the cover for the first book in the Second Guard series, which I did over a year ago:

The art director, Joann Hill, told me that the second book in the series is centered around palace intrigue and plots. The team wanted to have the main character, Brindl, (different girl from the first cover) sneaking around the royal palace, in front of a curtain, holding a knife. They wanted the same teal-purple color scheme as the first cover, and dark, dramatic lighting. They also sent over a very detailed description of the "light-filled" throne room.

Here are some of my thumbnails. I played with different poses one could use for sneaking around a curtain, and a few different costume choices for the main character. I also used a dramatic spotlight that would create big, looming shadows.

Since a defining element of the first cover was the elaborate carved designs in the wall, I tried to echo that design element here by including carved designs on the pillars and embroidered designs on the curtains. I originally developed these designs for the first cover, using the mythology of the book.

The team asked to see revised versions of the last two roughs, with Brindl's hand in slightly different positions.

The team decided to go with the second rough. They asked me to decrease the amount of light on the character, so she was just barely highlighted, and make a few adjustments to her hair and costume. Here's the color rough that I sent them.

I was approved to go to final!

A few tiny tweaks of the lighting and the character's expression, and we were done!

Here are the two books side-by-side!! Ahh it's so satisfying seeing them right next to each other.

The Shadow Guard comes out on September 13! You can preorder it at Amazon. I highly recommend it to any readers of YA fantasy who are looking for something fresh and different.

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