Hello, hej, hallo and bonjour to all you wonderful readers!
It’s that time again- there’s a change coming in the air, a chill at night that’s heralding the end of summer… Time to stock up on fluffy jumpers and hot chocolate! (And a pair of new wellies. Or a canoe. With today’s rain I’m thinking of the latter.)
I’ve had a busy couple of months, no change there: and a busy week so far, designing and deciding on work for promotional packs to send out into the big wide world, to some carefully selected corporate greetings card and book publishing companies- fingers crossed that with a lot of patience (and only a hint of bloody mindedness!) I can land myself a beast of a contract!
As my desk looks like a wintry north wind has blown through it with all the furious drawing, reworking and painting, this month’s blog post will be about my process from beginning to end of one particular favourite design, a vignette artwork entitled “Fall.” As with a lot of my artwork that I end up using for greetings cards ranges, it sparked into life as a little poem, which I’ve included in “Story Corner” for you all to enjoy- concerning the particular problems of a chubby little harvest mouse named William.
Step one: Research and initial sketches.
Ye can’t create a good artwork without sturdy foundations.
I like to try and complete my research and initial sketches in tandem: that is to say, when I see something particularly interesting during the research process, it will spark a little light on in my brain which I’ll quickly scribble down. This is why you may have heard the stories about a lot of writers keeping a notebook by their bed: it’s the same for illustrators, you have to grab that fluttery little chaffinch of an idea before it flits back into the thickets of your subconscious. I suppose the most important thing to remember is to never switch off, and to always be armed with a sketchbook and a sharp pencil. You never know when something is going to inspire you- so keep your eyes peeled at all times!
Since a lot of my artwork is inspired by nature and animals, I find that taking a walk with my sketchbook is the best research I can do for new material. It can also help if you have creative friends who are similarly inspired: making a promise to meet someone for a drawing session on a specific day will help you to keep to your schedule, and be less likely to fall victim to the “Oh, but it’s raining!” / “Just 5 more minutes in bed…” demons. Just last week I went scurrying about Margam Park with an old illustrator friend to draw some of the animals and scenery, we were out for a good few hours and it was very fruitful!
I was actually reading an article about Harvest Mice when I started scribbling down my first initial sketches for “Fall”- a photo showed a particularly small mouse frozen in between two plant heads, camouflaged and attempting not to catch a predator’s prying eyes. I surrounded this sketch with small notes about what was working and what could be better- trying to understand how the little creature must be feeling. (This is when the first little spark popped into my head for his little poem mentioned at the beginning of this post.)
I always try to keep separate sketchbooks for research and designs- as well as making things easier to find later on, (it’s easier, for example, to find a harvest mouse sketch in a book of animal drawings than it is to find it in a sketchbook labelled “Research Book 1”) it’s quite difficult to draw something out again when it’s on a previous page in one sketchbook. Drawing out an initial sketch into a new book surrounded by blank space gives me a lot more room to make notes and circle specific elements of a starting point, and psychologically I feel better knowing that I have the rest of a double page, blank, to begin working up the idea. Try it- you’ll notice a big difference!
Initial sketches and development
Now, this is the fun part- the development stage is a lovely time during the design process where you’re never too precious over making your work look clean or finished: the freedom of which usually results in more natural and interesting linework and squiggles!
Once I’d drawn out my initial sketch and made some notes, I started working the design up in pencil sketches (and photocopying my initial sketch to work over the top in a different colour, to make the mouse fatter!)
This is how your design will evolve- by drawing it out several times, you will try adding or taking away or changing elements that your brain will throw out- for example, I added some extra grass fronds, and then took them away as they served to be more of a distraction for the eye; I tried bending the wheat stalks underneath the fatter mouse’s weight; and changing the placement of his feet to suggest weight and desperation- a real sense that he was clutching on with all of his might, in a split second to begin falling off.
This stage usually takes the longest for me to feel happy with- the final form of the design can sometimes take a fair while to materialise with trying out all the possibilities, but I can feel when it’s ready.
When I’m happy with the black and white form of my design, it’s time to start exploring colour! Similarly to developing the sketch in black and white, the colouring process can take a little while to get right, but it’s definitely worth the wait!
You will probably have had thoughts about colour palettes for your design during the process already: but if not, have a think about all the things you want to convey with your image. Is the subject happy, peaceful or commiserating? Is it depicting a warm or a cold location?
As I work mainly from nature, I will usually work with seasonal colour palettes. (You wouldn’t believe the difference the weather and temperature make on my choice of colours!) For “Fall”, I was working from the glorious weather we were having last week: warm sunshine, with a hint of briskness in the cold nights beginning to creep in; a lot of warm oranges, golds and browns. If I was to use these colours undiluted in the final design, though, it would be very difficult for the eye to process: too much of any one colour can be a bit swamping!
I slowly introduced little touches of blues and greens in the wheat to help make the oranges look warmer and even more pleasing to the eye, and suggest a lot of things that we associate with autumn: the last of the warm weather, lots of good food from a harvest which makes us feel happily fat and sleepy, and a glow of happiness spreading from our toes to our noses.
Right up to the final design, I am still making little notes about how to improve, or reminders of particular processes to remember during the creation of the final artwork. I’ll always draw out my composition sketchy in the final artwork first- to retain some of the freedom of the development stage to trick myself into not feeling daunted by the task of completing the final image. I’ll begin to mark in fur, dark areas and details with a hard pencil that won’t smudge underneath the washes of watercolour and ink (my favourite is a now very stubby Mars Lumograph ‘H’ pencil) and begin to work up the colour, from light to dark: here beginning with a rich orange-yellow, and moving onto the browns, greens and blues in the shadows.
The last thing I’ll ever do in an artwork (ceremonial, perhaps- like breathing life into a new creation!) will be to paint the darkest layer onto the eyes. From there I can scan the artwork once dry, have prints and cards manufactured, and fix the original into a frame too, if I want to sell it.
From one starting point can stem many possible artworks, remember:
This design idea came from William the chubster’s initial sketches too- his partner Teasel, who may have encouraged him to stockpile his food instead of eating it all in one go, squished happily into her newly woven nest. I’m currently working on the colour scheme to shift this nest scene from warm autumn to frosty cold winter for an upcoming craft fair. (Keep an eye out for the finished design under “Greetings Cards” in the bar above, and on my Facebook page!)
As it’ll be in October, I want my stand to show a progression into the colder months, using warmer colours and leaves at one end, and leafless twigs with lots of blue hues and Christmassy items at the other. My preparations and designs for this will be included in next month’s update!
Until then: never stop thinking, drawing and painting, my friends: it’s what keeps you alive!
– The AutumnHobbit
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