Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1001 Knights: Steppe Dragon Rider

I created this illustration as part of the 1001 Knights project, a collective art anthology organized by Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton that features 1001 drawings of knights from over 250 artists. The Kickstarter has totally blown up, and the energy around this project is incredible! It really makes me wish there were more anthologies like it for artists to participate in.

Usually in these blog posts I like to tell you about how I came up with the idea for a drawing. In this case, the story is extremely complicated. See, it goes like this: I needed to draw a knight and at the time I was listening to Dan Carlin's podcast series "Wrath of the Khans." I started thinking: what if the Mongols had dragons?

I know, I know. It's profound stuff. Clearly I'm not an artist who shies away from the really tough issues facing our society today. What if the Mongols had dragons?

What's interesting about this illustration, to me, isn't the (clearly brilliant) thought process that originated it, but how a friend helped me improve it. Most importantly, it shows the value of getting an outside eye from a trusted source.

So I was drawing the drawing, and I liked the drawing, but eventually I got the feeling that the dragon needed some space to breathe, so I changed it to a landscape format.

I don't work in landscape formats very often, but this immediately felt less cramped. I showed it to my friend and fellow artist Young Kim, (who also has a piece in 1001 Knights), expecting him to be impressed with my very topical, very relevant Mongolian dragon scene.

But instead he - as he always does - suggested a small fix that immediately made the image more epic. He sent me a paintover where the dragon had it's massive, translucent wings unfurled, and I immediately said "why didn't I think of that?"

Two of the most valuable things I got from art school were 1.) understanding the value of listening to feedback and 2.) a network of talented peers to whom I can always go for said feedback. Whenever I need to make a drawing more epic, I know I can always go to Young, or to some other trusted friends, for help. This is incredibly valuable to me, and I can't imagine where I would be without that network.

Here's a closeup of our intrepid heroes:

Here's a process gif, because I know you guys like those:

If you like this, you'll love the 1001 Knights book. You can back the Kickstarter here, or I will also be selling special artist-only editions after the books are printed. I also made this illustration into some greeting cards, which I will be listing in my Etsy shop soon (hopefully).

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Helpful Links for Illustrators

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.

  • The Style Problem for Artists by Kyle Webster - Kyle makes the case for having a variety of styles in your portfolio, not just one "signature" style.
  • Forget about Getting Paid, It's Time to Work for Free by Gregor Louden - I will never tire of sharing "don't work for free" articles. Never.
  • Triangle of Reasons for Doing Things by Craig Benzene - This video starts off very silly, but stick with it. Craig explains the importance of finding a balance between doing things for yourself and doing things for others.
  • The Evolution of a Cover by Laura Martin - an author describes the experience of having an illustrator create a cover for her book, and the difference between YA and middle grade covers.
  • Let's Kickstart a Comic by Spike Trotman - For $5, you can download a 32-page ebook written by someone who has run seven successful Kickstarter campaigns.
  • The Benefits of Oversharing by Supachute - Do you ever worry about annoying people by posting too much artwork? You need to read this.
  • Address for Success by Lauren Panepinto - an art director shows off the postcards and promos that illustrators send to her in the mail. Very interesting!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

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.

Illustration by Babs Tarr

Illustration by Dan Dos Santos

Illustration by Miranda Meeks

Illustration by Paulina Ganucheau

Illustration by Kerem Beyit

Illustration by Tommy Arnold

Thursday, January 28, 2016

1001 Knights: Tomoe Gozen

She was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.
- The Tale of the Heike, an epic poem circa the 12th or 13th century
Did you know that the name "Kelley" means "warrior"? It's true. And it's pretty undeniably cool, if I do say so myself. (Thank you, Mom and Dad!) My whole life I've been looking for more stories of female warriors. When I read Lord of the Rings in high school, I became absolutely obsessed with the character of Eowyn. Besides her and Disney's Mulan, I can't remember any other female knights or female warriors that I encountered in movies or books.

That's why, in 2014, I was particularly excited to hear about an art project that was looking for artists to draw knights. It's called 1001 Knights, and it's a collective art anthology organized by Annie Stoll and Kevin Jay Stanton. It's an incredibly ambitious project, featuring one thousand and one drawings of knights, by 250 artists, spread out over three beautifully bound hardback volumes. The theme that ties the volumes together is that anyone who embodies the virtues of a knight - courage, wisdom and fellowship - can be a knight.

It is so cool, you guys. Go check out their Kickstarter to grab your own copy - one of the reward tiers includes a print of my illustration above.

So, let me tell you about this knight I drew.

Tomoe Gozen was a real-life samurai who lived and fought during the late 12th century. Her life is mostly shrouded in legend, and even the legends disagree with each other. For example, some sources say that she died by committing seppuku, others that she walked into the sea carrying the head of her fallen master, others that she retired and became a nun. But they all agree that Tomoe was an exceptionally brave and beautiful warrior. In paintings she is often depicted with long, flowing hair, wearing a white headband and riding a rearing horse. This beautiful print by the famous Hiroshige was the inspiration for my painting.

I loved the fluid lines and the movement in this drawing. I wanted to draw it in my own style, so I just dove in, not really knowing what I was going to do but super excited to do it.

I traced the outline of Tomoe straight from the print; however the horse's pose needed a little tweaking. His anatomy in the original print is a little wonky.

At first I stuck really closely to the original print, but it felt kind of bland. I'm not as master of understated simplicity like Hiroshige. I always have to add a scene with some narrative to it, so I started scribbling in a battleground.

Things just got worse from there. A full-on war and snowstorm started raging!

I spent a lot of time on this painting; I estimate maybe 30 hours or so. I was really relishing adding intricate details to every part of the scene, but especially Tomoe's kimono.

Here it is compared to the original inspiration:

By the way, that's my name in Japanese in the corner. It says "Mikkumorisu Kerii." That single Japanese calligraphy class I took in college has finally come in handy!

I'm really proud of this drawing, and I'm honored that it was chosen as one of the print rewards for 1001 Knights. Again, go check out the project, and please spread the word! The world needs more knights!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

5 Fears that Keep Artists from Posting Online

What keeps you from posting your art online? Whatever your reasons, you're not alone! A fear of posting online is something I hear very commonly from beginning artists - which is a shame, because there are many benefits to posting your artwork online. Not only can doing so bring you work, but it can also help you develop an extremely valuable network of fellow artists who can encourage and guide you.

When people tell me about their fear of posting online, I've noticed five common themes.
  1. Fear of being seen as an impostor. I know an artist who doesn't post online because of her "lack of credentials," as she puts it. She's hesitant to write blog posts because she thinks people will read them and say, "who does this girl think she is?" I think she imagines the internet as a small party, where when you walk in everyone turns and wonders who you are and who invited you. You can't just show up at a small party. But the internet is more like a big party, where no one notices if you show up, and if they do, they assume you're there for a reason. Trust me, people won't ask about your resume. (Edited to add: Obviously, don't spout off long posts about topics you have no experience in. That's not what I'm saying here.) Credentials, expertise and confidence are built by doing things, not by holding back. If you're making stuff, you have credentials, so join the big internet party.
  2. Fear of being ignored. Oh, you're definitely going to be ignored. Again, the internet is a big party - don't expect the room to stop and stare just because you show up. Everyone is ignored at first. Bestselling author and Youtube celebrity John Green, who gets greeted at movie premieres by throngs of screaming teenage girls, has said that his first book readings were attended by three or four people. Being greeted with e-crickets online doesn't mean that your artwork is bad, it's just that it takes years of consistent online posting to begin to develop a following - so start now. Those internet celebrities you see who get thousands of retweets or reblogs - they've probably been posting consistently for years, and they started out just like you. Being ignored is the first step to not being ignored.
  3. Fear that their art isn't good enough. The internet is not a sacred space for only The Perfect of Art. It is full of people of all skill levels posting all kinds of drawings. If you post a drawing that's less than great, no one will hold it against you and remember it forever. In fact, people like following the progress of someone who is working hard and improving. They find it really inspirational to see someone share their struggles and their hard work. If you wait to post your artwork until it's perfect, not only will you never post anything, but you'll miss out on opportunities to inspire others and be encouraged by them!
  4. Fear of their artwork being stolen or copied. Yes, artwork does get stolen from the internet. However, this is a fear I see disproportionately expressed among beginning artists. For example, recently I was reading a forum thread where a 15-year-old, who was posting typical high school anime-style sketches, was expressing paralyzing anxiety that someone was going to steal her drawings and ideas. This is, to put it gently, unrealistic. Again, there are millions of artists posting millions of images online every day. Unless you become extremely popular, the chances of your art being stolen are pretty slim. Do what the professionals do: protect yourself by watermarking all your artwork with your name and website, uploading low-res images, and consider registering your copyright on your pieces. Then let it go.
  5. Fear of not being the best. I've heard some people say, "It feels pointless to post online when there are so many other people posting amazing art." Yes, there will always be artists who are better than you. There will also always be artists who are worse than you. You will never be the best or the worst artist in the world. What matters is that there is something unique that only your art can bring to the world, and the world needs it from you. It isn't your responsibility to be the best artist in the world. It is your responsibility to go about developing your talents to the very best of your ability.
"The antidote to mistakes is to stop being fearful and just keep drawing." - John Hendrix

Yes, posting your artwork online is scary. You may be ignored. You may get some negative comments. You may feel like you're wasting your time. All artists feel these things, even the ones who seem confident and successful.

Do it anyway. Keep drawing. Keep posting online. Choose to be busy with drawing rather than busy with self-doubt. Over time, people will begin to notice your hard work, I promise.

And you'll look back and wonder what you were so afraid of in the first place.

"Nothing pushes away fears like working hard." - Howard Lyon

(Thanks to Joie Brown for helping me brainstorm this post.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How to Run an Art Anthology: Interview with Janet Sung and Arielle Jovellanos

I'd like to introduce you to some exceptional women. Last year, illustrators Arielle Jovellanos and Janet Sung organized the Ladies of Literature 2 Illustration Anthology. They invited 100 artists to draw their favorite female characters from literature, ran a successful Kickstarter to fund the book printing, packaged and delivered around 1,300 copies of the book, and managed to have enough funds left over to give a payout to all the artists involved.

I was so impressed by their organization and professionalism, I asked Arielle and Janet for an interview so I could pick their brains. If you're considering doing an art-based Kickstarter or collaborative project, trust me, you'll want to read this.


How did Ladies of Literature: Volume 1 get started?

The first Ladies of Literature started fairly modestly in 2013. It was funded through pre-orders via Storenvy and primarily word-of-mouth through reblogs on Tumblr. We had organized a few other collaborative projects prior to this, which helped us test the waters and build up our online audiences.

It also helped that a lot of our participating artists also had pre-existing online presences--especially within YA book fandom--that allowed us to reach certain corners of the internet that we might not have been able to reach on our own. We were able to fund and sell a larger print run than anticipated! All the money we received was used to pay for the cost of production, and any excess was donated to classroom literacy projects via DonorsChoose.org.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter for Volume 2?

We’d been organizing zines together for the past couple of years, and for each project we took on we did our best to experiment or try something new with subject matter, page count, or artist involvement. We gradually worked our way up to the point of wanting to do something bigger. We decided to use Kickstarter for the second volume because of all of recent success we’d seen our peers experience with crowd sourced funding. Kickstarter allowed for a wider reach that other social media platforms lacked. Plus, since Volume 1 had already been successful, we really wanted to find a way to top the quality, make it even better, and expand our audience outside of tumblr!

How did you spread the word about submissions for Volume 2? How did you choose which artists would be in the book?

Our main goal in Volume 2 was to include way more artists so we made a post about an open call for portfolios with the existing following we accrued from Volume 1. Then we asked our returning Volume 1 artists to reblog it and spread the word to their other artist friends and followers through social media. We received an overwhelming amount of responses! Janet thought that we would get 50 maximum, and I (Arielle) thought we’d get at least 150. We wound up receiving over 400 portfolios.

From there, we spent nights looking through every portfolio and finding the artists we felt were most suited to the prompt. We were definitely looking at how well artists could tell a story through a single image, since the focus of Volume 2 was for people to discover new female narratives through our project.

Through this, we got a little taste of how it must feel to be an art director! We went through so many rounds of eliminations, it became really difficult at the end--there is really a lot of talent out there! Ultimately, we would have loved to include every person who expressed interest but unfortunately page counts and budgets pretty much tie our hands!

What did you do to prepare for the Kickstarter?

The Kickstarter site itself offered a ton of resources for creators regarding project stats, trends, and tips. Both of us are fans of other projects funded through Kickstarter, so it helped to take note of what we thought other Kickstarter pages’ strengths were and what was emphasized.

How did you decide on a funding goal?

Since this was our first time budgeting for a project of this scale, we worked with a lot of estimates to come up with our funding goal. We looked at price quotes for all the big things we knew we needed to allot money for--printing service for the book, supplies for creating rewards, payment for artists, postage and packaging material, etc.--and then we added some padding to each category to account for unforeseen costs. Things like paying for expedited supply shipping or buying more rolls of tape--stuff like that adds up, so it’s good to be prepared.

The Kickstarter was a big success, more than doubling its original goal. Why do you think the campaign was so successful?

Without a doubt, we have to give a huge hand to our fantastic roster of artists. Without their amazing work, we wouldn’t have a book at all. We love the idea that all these female characters resonate so strongly with our artists and that this anthology allows them to share these characters with readers who may be looking for the next book to add to their shelves.

We felt the idea behind the anthology just really appeals to readers and fans of representation in storytelling. It all comes from a place of love, of feeling passionate about a book and wanting to recommend it. We really believe that seeing--not just complex female characters--but a wide range of complex female characters from multiple walks of life can be really empowering!

What was the fulfillment process like? How many books did you ship out, and how did you manage to do it with just the two of you?

We decided to handle the fulfillment ourselves to keep costs low, which was definitely hard work but we knew that going in! We probably shipped out about 1300 books with some assistance from some very generous friends. The key is to handle everything in steps and stay organized. Janet is pretty masterful at using Google Docs and post it notes. Oh, and it also helps to bribe friends with food. :)

Were there any moments during the process when you regretted taking on such a big project?

There were definitely a few stress points, but there was never a feeling of regret. We started and ended it as a passion project on top of our regular work lives. With everything else we had going on, we made it a priority to run Volume 2 in a way that kept it fun for us and everyone involved because that was the point of it all!

Now that it’s all over, it’s nice to kick our feet up a bit, but we’re still taking care of a few logistics from the aftermath. All in all, we’re so glad we did it because we met so many new friends through it!

How do you feel about running another collaborative project in the future?

We’d definitely be open to the possibility of running another collaborative project. This is our fourth time organizing together, and I don’t think we’re ready to stop just yet! We definitely feel like we’ve “leveled up” our project management skills significantly and can’t wait to bring that to our next venture!

Are there any lessons you learned from Volume 2 that you would take into consideration for future projects?

Volume 2 took us a little over a year to complete. We knew that it would take a long time going in, but we think we (now) have a much better idea of what that the value of time and effort on a project like this actually means. That’s something we would consider when planning the sheer scale of our next project for sure.

Do you have any advice for other artists thinking about running a collaborative project or Kickstarter?

If you’re thinking about starting a project, just go for it! It’s the best feeling in the world to hold a finished book/zine/poster/whatever you made in your hands. Funding the project will always be a part of the equation, so if you decide to go the Kickstarter route, make sure you do your research! It also helps to have a buddy lend you an extra eye (and a shoulder to cry on) along the way!


Thank you ladies for taking the time to share your secrets of project management with us! You are an inspiration!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Man Doesn't Live on Bread Alone

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’" - Matthew 4:1-4
I've been drawing Bible stories for Lifeway for about 2 years now, and to date I've created 114 illustrations for their Explore the Bible series. And I'm still working on more!

Here's a simple scene of Jesus being tempted in the desert. The AD asked for the devil to be depicted as a vague shadow. Here is the rough sketch I sent.

(My husband said, "is the devil doing shadow puppets? Is he trying to make a duck or something?" He's supposed to be pointing to the stones on the ground, gosh.)

The AD asked for the shadow to be blurrier and less defined, but otherwise the sketch was good to go. I wanted to give the scene an eerie, otherworldly feel, so I went with a cool light/warm shadow color scheme. I mean, this is a showdown between Jesus and the devil! It needs to be otherworldly!

I have about another year of Bible stories ahead of me. Once this series is finished I want to print out all the images, lay them out on the floor and take a photo, like Elisabeth Alba did when she finished her tarot card deck. Except my deck will be bigger, and, you know, less heathen.

(I kid, I kid.)

(But seriously though, it will be bigger.)

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