A little creative reuse led to these spooky holiday decorations. Earlier this year, I bought a half-dozen frames that I intended to use for wall art. Often frames will come with both a wall hook and a fold-out arm so they can be used on the wall or standalone on a surface. These particular frames are mostly wire so the fold-out arm was plainly visible and looked wrong. I carefully wrenched them off of the back of the frames and the metal hinges holding them. I like to reuse materials whenever possible so I stared at these for a little while to figure out if I could do anything with them. I noticed the shape looked a bit like a stylized coffin, and they’re covered in black velvet. Perfect opportunity to try out velvet painting!
Since the coffin shape was a bit off-kilter, I thought the skeletons should be too. I decided they should all be striking poses a la Vogue. I used white acrylic paint on a very dry brush – any amount of water, including water leftover on a freshly-washed brush, kills the effect. To further spiff it up I added a sparkly silver border with washable Crayola sparkle glue. There was a small amount of black ribbon attached to the back (formerly to provide tension to the fold-up arm) that I folded back on itself and sewed into a small hanging loop. Styling!
As a way to emphasize “small”, I’ve made this a tiny gallery on its own. Each piece in here looks like a frame, complete with mat and label. The art itself is on Artist Trading Cards, a nice small format, drawn with black and gray markers.
The gradation on the mat is not an optical illusion. I’ve had this aqua-colored mat board for years, and at some point realized it had become faded by the sun along one edge. I like the effect here where the color is draining away.
Over the course of four years I drew editorial cartoons for the Mustang Daily, the student-run daily newspaper for Cal Poly State University (San Luis Obispo). Since this was back when the paper was print only I haven’t had access to them…until now! Cal Poly recently digitized the entire 100-year run of the paper. I tracked down all of my illustrations – nine quarters’ worth, from ’96-’99, 231 cartoons in total.
The deadlines for a newspaper, especially a daily newspaper, are pretty grueling. I’d usually follow the same routine:
The cartoons ranged from very local concerns (campus politics, things happening around San Luis Obispo), to typical college woes, to US and world politics. I’ll be writing posts about a half dozen or so themes I’ve gleaned from looking at all of them together and some of the context around them. In the meantime, here are a dozen of my favorite illustrations that showcase some of the variety of topics.
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.