Back to the Playground

I've just taken part in an illustration challenge held by Lilla Rogers, and here's my entry! The brief was to create a journal cover with a playground theme, and I really had a lot of fun drawing this. It brought back fond memories of risking life and limb doing crazy stunts on the monkey bars, and tightly gripping onto the roundabout to stop myself being propelled into the stratosphere by centrifugal force from being spun way too fast by my sister - so much fun! You're never too old to have a go on the swings though, are you?

Playground-Journal.jpg

Picking Colours

I read this interesting article on Digital Arts yesterday: 10 Colour Secrets from Leading Illustrators. It's great getting some insight into how other illustrators work with colour. I might not be a "leading illustrator" myself, but I thought I'd share my own thoughts on choosing colours  - maybe you'll find it helpful!

picking-colours.jpg

A limited palette I pretty much always work with a limited colour palette - anywhere from one to six colours. That Photoshop colour picker, loaded with squillions of options (or that huge tin of pencils, plethora of ink bottles, etc) is very tempting, but too much choice can be a pitfall. I think that limiting your palette helps with the logic, rhythm and flow, so the important elements stand out and the secondary elements recede and work to create depth and texture (or whatever they're there to do!). Limiting your colours also calls on your ingenuity to create something that's still dynamic or rich with  detail and variation. I like to use halftones, pattern and negative space, rather than introduce more colour.  I also love the charm of vintage illustrations where a limited palette was a practicality. I remember in some of my favourite picture books when I was little, you'd have the lovely glossy full-colour pages alternating with the pulpy, uncoated pages featuring one or two colour illustrations. I think I used to prefer those to the shiny colourfest! I think there's something really intriguing about what an artist does with line and tone when a full colour palette isn't an option.

Nothing's black and white Black isn't always black. I very rarely use pure black, preferring softer blacks, such as a desaturated dark blue, a warm brown-black from a yellow palette, or a dull, dark red. For something more subtle and muted, I also like to use less intense colours in place of black. As long as there's enough contrast, it can still work. White might mean 0% ink, but it's still a useful addition to your palette - especially if you're only working with one or two other colours. There are some really amazing illustrations around that use negative space and let the colour and texture of the paper/background do the talking.

Tonal values I usually try to work out my colour palette before I begin, but there are often changes as I go along. In trying to pick the right combo, I like to desaturate my palette and check the percentage of black for each colour. You can make lovely, muted illustrations using colours with a similar tonal value, but most times I prefer to have a range across the greyscale spectrum, to create enough contrast. I'm mindful of the saturation of each colour for the same reason.

Anyway, that's my five cents' worth!

May I Rant About Digital Art Please?

I've started digitally "inking" the sketch from my last post in Illustrator & thought you might like to take a look at my progress. You can see from the scan of the original sketch (acting as template) that I've made a few adjustments...eyebrows lower, eyes smaller, nose narrower, jawline fuller...but basically it's the same gal! Eventually, she's going to be gocco printed on vintage paper & become part of a mixed media piece. I'll show you when it's done!

Anyway, the painstaking task of vectoring my sketch got me thinking about digital art & its reputation amongst traditional artists.

I hang around the Etsy forums waaay more than I should (when I'm supposed to be working!) & have been frustrated on a number of occasions by peoples' attitude towards digital art. I'm referring to the viewpoint that digital art is somehow less legitimate than traditional art. What's particularly frustrating, is when the people who hold this opinion know nothing about digital process whatsoever.

There seems to be this misconception that digital art is just a few mere magical mouse-clicks away! Also that it's somehow inferior because it's not "handmade" (the Etsy catch cry) & is "cold" & "soulless".

Well, I can tell you now, I use the same pair of hands, set of eyes & brain to make digital artwork as I do when using paint, ink or pencil. Furthermore, digital techniques are not as intuitive as putting pencil to paper - it's not so easy to just pick it up & hit the ground running - it took me a very long time to fully grasp the technical aspect of making pictures digitally & to finally be able to accurately render the ideas in my head. This is all contrary to the commonly held opinion that digital art is somehow easier to make than traditional art, that it takes less time, talent & skill.

And back to the "handmadeness" aspect again... Despite the fact that I've just argued that in its own way, digital art is just as "hands on" as traditional art, I just want to add that technique & craftsmanship are only part of the picture when it comes to making art. What about the more cerebral considerations: developing your concept, making your colour choices, composition, subject matter, & all those other decisions you make about how best to render your ideas? I think, especially on Etsy, with its fixation on "handmade", that some artists get so caught up with the craftsmanship of making art that they forget the conceptual side is equally important. Maybe if they considered this, they'd start to understand that computers are no different to any other tool.

I guess part of the reason digital art still gets a raw deal is because it's still relatively new, but why not embrace whatever tools & technologies are at hand? Once upon a time, the camera obscura was seen as the devil's work, & there are techniques & media embraced by the art world these days, that were once considered too "lowbrow" or commercial.

I'm a believer in using whatever it takes to communicate your ideas, whether it be a charred stick on a cave wall or a MacBook Pro.

A Magical Paintbox of Infinite Possibility

I was digging through some old work today & came across this 'volley' I did for a game of Photoshop Tennis. If you're not quite sure what Photoshop Tennis is, the basics are that someone makes a picture in Photoshop, then passes it to someone else, who somehow alters it, then it's sent back to the original person (or to a third player) who alters it again, & on it goes... The element I used from the image that was sent to me was the paper hat - the rest I made in Photoshop. Apart from the photograph of the little boy on the pull-along sheep that I scanned & digitally coloured, everything else in this image I made from scratch in Photoshop - the cloudy sky, the marble, the winged heart, the floorboards, the lapis lazuli backdrop, the moon & the stars.

This picture is from years ago, & my skills have improved since then. At the time, I had trouble making convincing looking fabric - the curtains appear hard & plasticy - but with time, I worked out it was just a matter of blending modes, & I can make realistic looking fabric now.

I look at this image & feel envious of the time I had back then to play & explore & experiment. I was working for someone else at the time, & I had plenty of free time after five to fiddle around with Photoshop for my own education & amusement. Not so lucky these days - self-employment eats up a lot of my day (& night) - but I'd love to be able to make pictures just for fun sometimes, & not to pay the rent.

And I look at this image & remember the first time I ever sat down in front of Photoshop at art school. I had no intention of studying digital imaging - I didn't even own a computer. But when I walked into my first class, & opened this confusing program full of tools & palettes, it took me back to childhood Christmases when my mum would give me boxes of art materials...rows & rows of coloured pencils, oil pastels, watercolours & felt tip pens...& a big sketchbook full of crisp white pages just waiting to be scribbled in. I remember the excitement I used to feel when confronted with the infinite possibility of paper & pencil...& that's what Photoshop seemed to be when I first sat down in front of it - even before I knew how to use it - a magical paintbox of infinite possibility. And I still feel that magic.

Gocco Mania & Other Stuff

Etsy asked me to write a Gocco article for their blog, The Storque, & you can read it right here. Just a brief rundown of the plethora of Goccoed items available on Etsy, & some links to Gocco resources as well. Etsy also very kindly featured some of my picks (& one of my own Gocco prints) on the front page. I took a screenshot!

In other news, I just want to draw your attention to the lovely Pamela Buckley who has a blog called Ophelia Golly. She bought one of my prints a few weeks ago & has just written the most generous & lovely blog entry about my work. I thought it was so great because she's written about how she makes up stories to go along with my photomontages & how she prefers to think they're real rather than a bit of digital sleight of hand. I love hearing people's perspectives of my artwork.

I hope she doesn't mind me quoting her; this is what she has to say about my print Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep:

The story I put with it (almost within seconds of deciding it was real!) was that it was probably a photograph of a magician's children, and he insisted on the dove being part of the photograph as a silent signature of his profession. I am not making this up (well, I am making it up but it is something that I am not lying about believing when I saw it!) and I know that the imaginative talent of the artist was what was behind my suspended belief otherwise I never would have wondered over it at all. (I can also say that having just recently seen the Prestige might have fostered this idea just a little bit too...) But obviously the art is the magic!

I just thought that was so sweet! Thank you Pamela! Ironically, I sold my last 5x7" version of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep today. I'm happy (& grateful) that the entire edition has sold, but a little sad to wave goodbye to the last one. There are still a few left in the 8x10" edition though.

Whew...this has turned into a marathon post. But I can't leave you without posting this fantastic clip from the Jerry Lewis film The Ladies Man...

Before & After

People sometimes ask me about my photo manipulations - how much of them is real, & how much is digital trickery. I thought I'd post a few before & after pics...I don't know about you, but I find them interesting to look at. Firstly is the original photo I used for Gone to Earth: Plate One. As you can see, I even gave the poor boy a new face!

G2E1-640x463.jpg

Although photo manipulation, retouch & restoration aren't my main line of work, I still do some commissions from time to time, & also like to do them sometimes just for enjoyment. I find restoration very relaxing...kind of like unravelling a big ball of tangled string (but rather more creative!), you can zone out & just lose yourself in the painstaking detail of the task.

Cowboy-640x534.jpg

It's incredibly difficult to colourise a B & W photo convincingly. Sometimes you want that flat, over-painted look that has a kind of retro quirkiness, but other times you might want to bring the photo to life in a more realistic way. Skin tones are particularly hard to do. No one's skin is uniformly one colour, you have to add those subtle variations like a little redness on the nose & maybe blueish shadows under the eyes.

A friend of mine bought a cardboard folder full of glamour photos from the 1940s & I had a lot of fun messing with them. As you can see from this example, the original has degraded with time; the mid-tones & shadows are quite flat. I've tried to freshen it up, not only with colour, but also bringing back some dimension with tonal adjustments, & painting in some highlights. Her face & arm are quite flat in the original so I've rounded them out in the colourised version with some airbrushing. The hair is still pretty flat & there was not much I could do to bring back the lost detail. I've added a few subtle highlights, but I didn't want to overwork it & make it look too painted.

GlamourShot-640x480.jpg