At Kaleid yesterday I was trying to think of something quick and sketchy to contribute to the pool of art for Two Buck Tuesdays. For some reason a pineapple popped into my head…so I took suggestions from various artgoers about compound words that could be made from other words. These are drawn on slate blue paper, and I used a “denim blue” marker for a little extra tone.
I’ve been in the mood to draw more after gathering up my editorial cartoons from hundreds of digitized college newspapers. Keep an eye out as I post those over the next few months. For now: rebuses!
It’s the first day of summer, an excellent time to debut more work in the Bathers series. There are now six! Here are all of them.
This moody piece came together from many different sources. I found this gothic (or possibly medieval)-looking frame at a Goodwill attached to a beaten-up print from JCPenney. Around the same time, I was working on a UI design that needed sample content and had picked the phrase “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” to use. It occurred to me that both this Alice in Wonderland riddle and Poe’s poem “The Raven” reference the same themes: writing, ravens, and a touch of madness. I envisioned a frustrated writer toiling in the late hours by candlelight – a good fit for the heaviness of the frame.
While making the initial sketch, I decided it would be interesting if the writer was himself a raven and was using his own quills to attempt to write. I liked the idea of arranging the pose so this wasn’t obvious at first, but a closer look at the back of the head would look more like feathers than hair, and what could have been seen as the arm would actually be a beak.
I gathered up dozens of photo references for desks, candlelight, and ravens, but I knew it’d be tricky to get the perspective, pose, and lighting right without a proper mockup of the full scene. I briefly considered getting a 3D program to set up a scene and ultimately decided it would look too artificial. Instead, I built a scene out of a shoebox, a tiny flashlight, a 9″ posable model (the excellent A9 Ranger from Digital Double), a few odds and ends, and lots of paper and cardboard. After taking about 50 photos from every conceivable angle, I whittled it down a winner and enlisted my husband and frequent model Alan to mimic the pose for additional clothing/lighting reference.
The frame is pretty shallow so I tracked down a 24″ x 30″ canvas on panel for the painting. The beginning process was pretty similar to my other paintings. I’ve come to realize that after my tone layers & ultramarine blue, I often go to either greens, purples, or whites as the next few layers. These are usually the ones that start bringing individual areas much closer to a finished state. I also set the frame around the painting in the later stages to make sure the tonal range matched.
Like previous paintings, I’d restricted myself to using ultramarine blue for the dark areas initially; it, combined with burnt umber, can often make a rich and interesting dark color (to see this in action: every painting in the Statement series uses this blend except Statement III, which uses a carbon black for the helmet and jacket to make it stand out). Near the end the overall tones still looked a bit too soft, so I browsed through paintings of candlelit scenes for inspiration. This helped me shore up the candles, and this painting by Pehr Hilleström in particular made me decide to use carbon black to make the figure and feathers stand out.
The back of the painting is papered over with a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem. I ended up leaving out references to “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” but will leave you with the solution I’d come up with and still prefer most: because they both have inky quills.
Here’s another piece in the same style as my Edith O’Gorman and the Language of Flowers illustration from last year. Like that one, she came from browsing the Library of Congress archives for interesting people. Again, in the spirit slightly odd vintage photo captions, she was described as “famous lawyer and bicycle rider.”
Belva Lockwood caught my eye because of her serious demeanor and more masculine clothing. She was one the first female lawyers to practice in the US, and the first to appear before the Supreme Court, overcoming “many social and personal restrictions relating to her gender.” She also was the first woman to appear as an official candidate (on printed ballots) as President of the United States, in 1884 and again in 1888 for the National Equal Rights Party. Had this photo been taken a little later, I’m guessing that would have been a more noteworthy description than “bicycle rider”.
For this interpretation using the language of flowers, I’ve adorned her background from bottom to top with the following:
Just scanned a bunch of the sketches from the little notebook I carry with me (theme: Undefined Variables). Much like my first notebook (Object Oriented) I started running out of ink at about the 3/4 mark, right near the end of these. I remembered that a drying-out brush pen is still pretty useful for shading, so now I’m carrying both it and a fresh one.
Just finished a fun project: creating customer journey maps!
Though normally there isn’t much crossover between my artwork and my experience design work, this project fell squarely between the two. I learned a lot while doing it, and the output is fun…so here’s a glimpse at what I created and why.I recently worked with Weight Watchers to distill extensive research into a high-level story about what happens when people sign up for the program. Director of design Vlad Margulis, researcher Paige Bennett, and I worked together to describe the process – which spans a website, in-person meetings, and a mobile app – into one continuous experience. We used personas, spreadsheets, and service blueprints to craft a story with 16 distinct steps. Each step has its own customer & business goals, opportunities and pain points, and even different teams working on them.
That’s all design work, though…why use illustrations? With such rich detail about the logistics, the illustrations provide one coherent story arc. It not only shows how one interaction led to another, but also provides insight to the emotional cues: the uncertainties, the curiosities, the victories.
This project was particularly well suited for this kind of activity due to the variety of environments and people that are a part of it. Here are the qualities I’ve found to make these kind of illustrations lively and effective.
Expression. Both the facial expression and pose can speak volumes about what’s on a person’s mind. Eyebrows, shoulders, and overall angle can go far in showing reactions, even with stick figures. I reused drawings of “Jennifer” many times with these small adjustments. When Jennifer’s contemplating something, I have her raise her right eyebrow just a bit higher than the left; asymmetry always looks more natural.
Closed eyes can help reinforce contentment or frustration. On one drawing, I added a little extra blush when one of her fears is addressed. For the meeting portion I introduced Jennifer’s purse as an additional cue about how she feels. The way she holds/interacts with it changes over time as a signal about how comfortable she feels.
Meaningful colors. I started off with more muted tones and made them more vibrant as the story progresses. I also picked a few key colors to make it easier to spot particular items of note. Pink/salmon is Jennifer’s color to help keep the focus on her throughout the story. Green is a cue about the environment she interacts with: from her laptop, to the chairs at the meeting, to her mobile phone. Blue is a cue for Weight Watchers itself, which I used when Jennifer compares plans and imagines what it will be like, and reinforced by the book she receives and the meeting leader’s attire.
Varied layouts. Seeing the same layout step after step can present a quiet feeling, one where not much is happening besides the passage of time. If this is what you want, great! If not, it’s worth varying the size, layout, and/or angle of characters to keep it fresh and prevent them from feeling wooden or lacking emotion. There are three types of layouts I like to use to switch things up.
Environment. These are great for establishing shots before getting into details. I also started with one here with a thought balloon to contrast what Jennifer’s thinking about (“what plan should I choose?”) with a reflection of where she’s starting from for food and fitness.
Over-the-shoulder. It’s handy to see both the person and the thing they’re looking at. In this case, it was more important to see her facial expression and pose than how she was specifically interacting with her laptop or phone. What she sees – the screen – takes the place of the background. It’s what she’s focused on now, after all. I also kept with a cartoony style here to avoid prescribing what the interface itself should look like (and also wanted to indicate locations that matter to her: home, work, daycare).
Cause and effect. I like to use a squiggly line between two things to show different points of view. Since I can assume the team I’m creating this for reads English, I can rely on a left-to-right visual parsing of what I draw. It usually doesn’t take much beyond that, though if it’s a trickier visual progression, characters can look or gesture towards the direction you want readers to see next. If all else fails there’s always arrows, but it’s a fun layout challenge to make it work without them.
I found these little frames with comic-strip-like sections and thought it would work well with a three-part phrase. I immediately thought of Elvis Costello singing “what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” I thought about tattoos as a way to show these words, and a few small sketches later came up with this.
I didn’t use any photo references on this one so it’s a little more cartoony than my recent work. I wanted to use realistic-looking tattoo styles and locations, with each piece seen as tattoos are often seen: as the decorative pieces peeking out from clothes.
The arm tattoo I imagined as “Rest In Peace” with a calavera, a decorated skull just barely visible. The ankle tattoo: “Love Kills”, with the V as a dagger into a heart. The back tattoo I never fully figured out beyond “Understanding is the only way” but I imagined it has another few words there.
I used this to test out some new watercolor pencils and quickly realized I should have used thicker paper if I wanted to treat it like a true watercolor. After I added the ink outlines, I filled in more texture, color, and contrast with regular Prismacolor pencils instead.
I put my Bookbinding I skills to work to create an accordion book for a quickstart manual for a used camera we recently picked up, the Canon EOS 50D.
I found the PDF online, but unfortunately it had a bunch of watermarks across it. Or did it..? Yes, I have Photoshop skills. No, I won’t use them to remove watermarks from legitimately-for-sale imagery. But to make password-protected-for-no-good-reason old product manuals look better? Sure.
I arranged the corrected pages so each page ended up 2.5″ x 3.5″, and I was able to get about half onto one standard letter-sized sheet of paper. I set them up so they would create a nice, thick two-paper-width page once folded. My measurements were perfect, and they lined up nicely. Attempting to glue them…not so clean. I really need to get the “50/50″ glue we used at the class since it’s more forgiving for repositioning. The basic school glue I used was not, so my perfect alignment ended up not-so-perfect…oh well.
In the true spirit of a first attempt from memory of something done in a class, I also mis-measured the paper for the cover. I forgot to take into account the thickness of the davey board used for the cover, so I realized the paper wouldn’t wrap far enough (~.25”) to cover the edges so the inner paper would be approximately the same size as the paper. Yes, these are the things I’m now aware of after a class about this. To “fix” this, I chopped of 3/16″ of the davey board for the covers. This would definitely not fly if I were making this to particular specs, but since I was making this just to work on its own, it’ll do! The rest came together a bit better: the glue didn’t warp the paper as much as I feared, the glue held, and I decided to favor cover alignment (so the front and back lined up) rather than paper alignment (since that was a bit off-kilter anyway).
I’ll just pretend there are no mistakes. Isn’t it lovely?
Over the last year I’ve slowed down on new paintings in the Statement series in favor of other projects, but there was one more I hadn’t posted yet. This one is my photographer friend Jillian who took the reference shot for Statement I. During a different shoot for reference photos I noticed she was wearing a white shirt while I saw her reviewing photos. I asked to include her in this series, and here she is!
Since this was in her studio, there was a large white background on one side of the image. It had very subtle shadows and lighting which was interesting to pin down. It was so bright relative to the rest of the scene that I opted to put a warm tone on the rest: the crates on the floor, the stacked reflectors on the left, and the wall and floor. I kept the dark details in the blue-ish range to stay soft while still providing sufficient contrast from the warm background.
It’s always satisfying to find a few small high-contrast details to paint. The reflection on the camera screen was a fun piece to do as well as the embroidery on the shirt. Nicely balanced!
This weekend I took the Bookbinding I intensive class at The Crucible in Oakland. This is right up my alley — I like working with paper and fabric, and I found that those skills carried over nicely.
We started with paper folding and learned about some subtle aspects of paper. Plain copy paper is surprisingly high quality for book purposes. It has notably different sides, too, and will accept folding better if you pick the right side: if you bend it lengthwise on each side, you can find one is slightly more accepting of the bend than the other. It’s called the “wet test” as I guess getting it wet can also reveal that too. Probably destroys your paper along the way though.
There’s a lot of cutting of paper and fabric, so an eye for measurement and mat cutting or other Xacto knife experience comes in handy. A little bit of needlework experience from cross-stitching, crochet, or knitting also helps for the bindings.
This was a fun way to use fabric and paper remnants. I’ve started a Creative Bookbinding board on Pinterest to gather neat applications of these, and I’m already planning a few more books to make.
In order, we made: