22 June 2007

How to illustrate! Part 1 - doodling, drawing, magic, cheating, inking, being lazy

On the one hand I don't feel like any kind of expert at anything at all and especially this. On another hand more than one person has expressed an interest in further 'how to...' type posts. On yet another hand entirely (it's a Yorkshire thing - ask anybody from one of the Non-Yorkshire British countries and they'll tell you the Tykes ain't human - probably ain't even terrestrial) it's an age since I posted anything at all and so I guess I should post this.

A friend asked me to do an illustration for a conference on teenage fiction. Possibly teenage literature, I can't remember now. Actually, she really asked me to do a logo but it didn't quite work out that way. The brief was vague. Possibly some hoodies and modern teentech (handheld consoles, iPods and the like). Maybe a teenage bedroom. Definitely a cat somewhere - that was the only definite part of the brief - there had to be a cat.

SO I snatched a handful of paper and some pencils and doodled around a few ideas. The teenager's bedroom seemed to spark the firmest visual idea so that was what I worked on. This is the best of the rough pencil doodles.




The figure out on the right was meant to be on the floor between the two back-to-back figures on the bed but I drew them first and pressed on to hard so it would have looked even scruffier than my tolerance for scruffy will allow to put her where she was meant to be so I put her then and moved her later using the magic of infirmation technololly. I then emailed these magically fiddled with images to my friend for her approval. So confident was I that all would be well (or so daftly hasty to press on without thinking) , I started work on the final image before my friend replied.

I'll be careful how I put this because I know from bitter experience that many will regard what I'm about to type as an admission of outright barefaced dishonest cheating. Because what I'm about to type is something about TRACING. After I'd magically fiddled the lone figure into the group, I printed out the magically fiddled with image so that I could roughly trace the image onto some nice watercolour paper for my final illustration. Just so that people know, TRACING isn't CHEATING. Well, I suppose there might be circumstances when tracing is cheating but that's not in BOLD ITALIC so it's less important and noticeable and is probably therefore less true. And anyway, I was tracing my own drawings so I certainly wasn't cheating.

conf sketch bed

Above is the magically fiddled etc, left is the print of it that I traced from, right the pencil drawing I traced, with some embellishments, additions etc. You can buy expensive lightboxes to help you cheat or you can just attach your blank sheet of paper to the image you want to trace (the blank sheet on top) with several paper clips (you can obtain paper clips free of charge from most offices) and hold it up to a window with daylight on the other side. If you have blinds, nets, curtains or anything similar, you might want to open these first. This could result in funny looks from neighbours and passers-by but ensures best results. Similarly, the bit about daylight. If you've got all those bits right then you should be able to see the original image beneath your blank paper and all you need to do is go over it with a pencil. Below is the traced drawing half inked with drip-pen and acrylic ink. I use drip-pens because I prefer the quality of line you get with them and just the feel of doing it. They're fiddly, inconsistent, messy, unreliable, lots of other negative-y type things, but I love em - not least because they're fiddly, inconsistent, messy and unreliable. I use acrylic ink because it's waterproof once it's dried on the page so it can be painted over without bleeding.




By the time I'd got this far with the inking, and specifically by the time I'd inked the horse, I received a reply from my friend saying everything was okay except it was a bit too symmetrical for her taste and she didn't like the horse. I made something up about the importance of symmetrical horses to the unity of the hole, an excuse that had nothing to do with me having already inked it and being too lazy to do it all again from scratch a symmetrically horseless.


When I'd finished inking it and the ink was dry, I rubbed out the pencil lines and painted it using some of these things and gouache watercolour until it looked exactly like the image below. I can't be arsed to explain how I painted it because 1) I didn't take any pictures of it as I was painting it so there's nothing to illustrate my explanation 2) I sort of explained about painting already here and you can see the painting in progress in this flickr photoset and 3) I've been doing this for hours and need a rest and some grub. After that I'm going to draw and paint some european elks which I'll hopefully remember to photograph as I paint them in order to show you how.


conference illustration

3 June 2007

All Done?

I finished painting the various widgety ghosty graphics before I went away on Tuesday but didn't find time to post them let alone use them. Here are the 'contact sheets' of all the images.

ghosty gouache

ghosty gouache 2

ghosty gouache 3


I did sort of say that I would do something of a how to post about this but I'm a bit stuck for anything else to say. I have an idea, eventually I get round to very roughly sketching that idea in pencil. I go over that roughly sketched idea with ink using a drip pen and, when the ink is dry, the original roughly sketched idea gets rubbed out. Which I always think is something of a pity because sometimes those roughly sketched ideas are lovely but hey ho. I was a bit obsessed with Jack Kerouac when I was a yoof and one of the myths attached to him is that he wrote things (as in creative things, not shopping lists, notes to the milkman) then fed them into the flame of a candle before photocopying was invented and so they were lost forever. There was supposed to be some zen-y reasoning behind it all but it was probably more to do with catholic guilt. Not that I've got owt against catholics - especially guilty ones. I was always too much of a chicken to feed owt I'd created into a candle flame so I guess rubbing out those roughly sketched ideas is as close as I get to that. I use several drip pens to draw the ink version of anything and the image below is one of them. I don't clean them as often as I should which is probably true of most things.

pen n ink


When the ink is properly dry and the pencil is properly rubbed out as it can be, I paint it. A lot of the time I don't start out with a definite and complete colour scheme in mind. I'll probably have a few fixed ideas about major areas of the paper but everything else I'll just see what goes best as I go along. Lately I've started a few things with the aim of using a very limited palette - like the three colour palette for the graphics - and then things often all follow once a decision has been made about the first colour. For instance with the graphics, I made decisions about what colour each element should be once and then just repeated the theme with every ghosty. And that's about it. I scan it at 300dpi and do minimal photoshopping - mainly scale and reducing it to something that won't take forever to load, the odd bit of cleaning up where I've made a mess. Hey presto, weblog artworks ahoy!

pallet n paper


That's my palette. The screwed up toilet-paper is as close as you get to a rubber with watercolour so a very essential piece of kit. The strand of black is a doghair - they're pretty much everywhere these days!

Dem Bonez action figure...




When I posted this entry earlier, I did so in great haste and completely neglected to do what the whole post was meant to do, say thank you for the wonderful action figure that a long time blog buddy sent me. So, thank you very very much doppleganger! He emailed me to say something was in the post but to not get too excited. Naturally it was impossible not to get at least a little excited but in the end any amount of excitement was entirely justified because this was surely the coolest present ever. Okay, joint coolest with the fantastic box of art supplies Natalie & Augustine sent me and the book that Betty sent me (sorry, can't do a link for Betty any more!).

Anyway, click this link for the first solo outing of Dem Bonez, an explanation and links to his origins. This is his last adventure to date by his creator, Jeremy and this includes an earlier, theoretical Lego action figure that didn't get past the drawing board