This one’s going out into the wild! It will be auctioned, to be precise. I’ve donated it to the Triton Museum in Santa Clara for their upcoming “Mad About Art” Gala Auction. All proceeds benefit the Triton for their future exhibits and events. If you want to see it in person, it will be on display April 26 – May 2, 2014; the auction itself is on Friday May 2nd.
I wanted to create something to bridge some of the figure work I’ve been doing with some of the object explorations I’ve done in drawing: isolating objects, removing them, that kind of thing. I also wanted to explore some of the positions and expressions people fall into without thinking about it…hence this once, tapping on the phone that’s not there. Or perhaps making a point?
I modified my technique in a few ways on this one:
I painted this one straight from the photo reference – no manipulation here. I posed with my phone, which Alan extracted before he took the photo. And, the pixelated shirt (“The DaVinci Code”) is from San Jose’s own Halloway.
This one is a milestone to me because it’s the first time I’ve started a painting knowing I’d probably never see the original again in person, assuming it sells. That’s a distinctly different feeling than creating art for myself, friends, or family, and feels like it’s going to the next level after a long time dabbling in a lot of different stuff. If you’re reading this after seeing it at the Triton, kudos to you for looking up more info about it, and I hope you find a bit of the backstory interesting.
This one is for friends Ted and Claire who live in Colorado, land of extremely variable weather. They wanted a painting that reflected some of the color and variety they see on a daily basis. After consulting with them about what they liked, I went through a few rounds of Photoshop mockups of possibilities. The combination of these large clouds with a hint of reddish mountains won out.
I decided to make a triptych out of it rather than use one large canvas. Since these were considerably bigger canvases than I could paint on the table I usually use, I painted them propped against my closet.
The mountains came together right away. Probably helps that the tones mostly matched the base layers of yellow ochre and burnt sienna. They were so fast and natural to paint that it made me think of Bob Ross. He must have made some happy little mountains for all of those happy little trees to be around.
The clouds involved a lot of drybrushing. I end up mashing my brushes quite a bit with this, but I was pretty good about washing them immediately and they don’t seem too much worse for the wear. I skewed a little lighter on the overall look so I could focus on the subtleties in the pink and golden tones while keeping the weight of the big puffy cumulus clouds.
The progression on this one was a little odd in that it hit a stage where I was pretty happy with it early on. That’s good and bad: the good thing is that it’s motivating to see it come together right away, and the bad thing is that it can make me nervous about moving ahead and messing it up. Once I started adding in the pink tones, I could see more clearly how much more was needed. Also, on some paintings I just get a clear sense of when I’m done, like my recent tomato painting. On others, I see a point where it’s close to where I want it to be and I need to stop myself from overworking it. This was one of those.
It’s ready to go to its new home in Colorado.
After painting my grandfather, I wanted to create a portrait of my grandmother in a similar vein. I found a photo Alan took at her birthday party in 2012 with a neat layout and a great expression. The one drawback: the birthday cake was decorated like a giant cheeseburger. It was pretty funny in person, but for this photo it just seemed…odd.
I did a hefty amount of Photoshop work on this to make it look like a more traditional birthday cake. After digging through Creative Commons for a while, I ended up compositing two or three different cakes with a few photos of lit candles to come up with the final reference photo. From there, it was a similar process as the others, with an especially low point midway through. Got to keep on going ’til it works!
Now that I am aware of these, I should (hopefully!) be able to avoid them next time..!
Just located my work-in-progress pics for this painting! Here’s a little painting inception here with my grandfather looking at the finished piece.
This is the second painting I made in Wayne’s class – the first being this tomato. While I was working on the tomato, my husband Alan went to help my grandparents with their computer. My grandparents ran their own tool & die shop for many years. So, rather than using reading glasses or a magnifier, my grandfather uses these shop goggles out of habit. This was novel to Alan so he took a photo and sent it to me, jokingly? suggesting I paint it for the class. I thought “why not?”
This uses the same techniques as the tomato pic, though I have a few more photos of the process before the painting started.
First: print out the color and black and white photos of the image, and analyze what’s going on. Where’s the light source? Are there secondary reflections? Are there adjustments to make to the color scheme? For major color and layout changes I would have tinkered with it in Photoshop more before printing it.
Second: make a good sketch. The painting will be layers upon layers of progressive refinement, so getting the shapes and layout right up front is critical. I do the old “grid” technique of sketching a small grid, usually 4×4, over the image to help with scaling it up to canvas size. It’s so easy to mess up shapes and angles otherwise.
The rest is a similar process. I ended up making the goggles edges red instead of blue with the original intent of making a red/white/blue set of colors since politics are one of his primary hobbies. As I got further into this, I decided to leave the robe more of a brownish color so it wouldn’t stand out as much. Burnt Umber + Ultramarine Blue made a nice, rich dark color that I wanted to keep as is.
This is a painting I started in Wayne Jiang’s “Paint Like the Old Dutch Masters” class and had sat unfinished since then. A year later – with a few more hours of work – and it’s done.
Wayne deconstructed a really interesting technique through his observations of incomplete paintings in museums. As I’ve been using it, I think about it as three stages:
For the foundation, painting the tones means thinking in monochrome. I worked from black and white copies of my image. The result looks like an aged black & white photo. Wayne’s technique uses warm tones, starting light and going dark: from yellow ochre to burnt sienna to burnt umber. On a future painting I’d like to try this same technique with cool tone foundations instead and see how it looks.
For the colors, there’s a dance between balancing the cool and warm tones. Since the foundation is all warm tones, the next step is to balance them out with another foundational approach and just use one color: ultramarine blue. After this it usually starts getting closer to the colors but looks pretty Halloweeny…the warms parts look unusually orange, and the cooler parts are a little dark if they were mid-range tones. Here’s where I start mixing up different colors and getting a little more opaque on the areas that need it. At some point in there I usually get impatient about getting to the good parts and need to keep jumping around to different areas to keep it interesting. I prefer to get to detail work, and have found that too much repetition makes me sloppy so that’s my way of throwing in a little variety.
The rest is figuring out how to make it “done”. During the other stages, someone could walk up to it and see clearly that it’s not finished. During this last stage, it could probably be seen as “done” as any time. If it was being painted for a class project or had some strict deadline, it would need to be. As a project by choice, I have a little more leeway to decide whether it’s done enough. It’s easy to overwork paintings, so my focus here is on anything remaining that doesn’t feel right. The subconscious is great at identifying that there’s something wrong. Figuring out why, and how to fix it, is its own puzzle.
When I reached the third stage on this painting, there were problems with the stems (too transparent, then too yellow), the shape of the tomato (weird edges where the shape meets the shadow) and background painting that left a bit of a halo around the tomato. It also took some noodling to get the right sheen on the skin while still looking nicely ripe. I’m pretty happy with how those cleaned up.
It’s gratifying to fix and finish old projects. The tomato is done.
It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted on here, a year in which I have tackled a few bigger things (for me) artistically:
Acrylic. I took a Dutch Masters workshop taught by Wayne Jiang and learned a bunch. He has the most lucid approach I’ve encountered about light and opacity, and how to take advantage of the properties of acrylic. This is one of two paintings I made in the workshop, a painting of my grandfather in his natural habitat: at home, using his shop goggles to read something. Frustratingly, I seem to have misplaced my work-in-progress photos of this painting, but I am working on a painting of my grandmother using the same approach and will go into detail on that one.
Watercolor. I really missed watercolors, and also wanted to do more figure work. I used this as an excuse for the strict format I used for the illustrations on Make It Legit. The rigor of blogging (and illustrating) weekly left no time for anything else, so I backed off from that pace late last year. The content will be getting some new life soon on LinkedIn. I may dig into the few dozen topics I had on deck and write some new stuff once I’m ready again. I’ll post about the illustrations themselves here soon.
Drawing. I finished my Object Oriented sketchbook and have started on a new book in a slightly different theme. It’s still objects, but instead of the objects I draw the environment around them and highlight some kind of pattern. Posts about both will be coming.
2014 is already shaping up to be an interesting year. I’m taking a break from work – really the first major pause I’ve had since college – and diving into my backlog of projects. I’ll sprinkle those in here as I catch up on writing these others up.
At the beginning of the month I finally, finally launched Make It Legit. I’m happy that I took the time to work through it to be what I wanted it to be – especially because I decided I must make an illustration with each post, and came up with a format that got me back into watercolors after a long dry spell (literally).
Here’s a work-in-progress photo on the left for the the finished image on the site itself. Most illustrations so far are pulling references from other places.
It took a bit of work to get to that part, though, so here is the breakdown of what it took to get the site going. Maybe this will help you if you’ve been thinking of starting a blog too.
Lesson: Claiming your virtual stake early is always advisable.
I got the idea in late 2011 after it occurred to me that there were some similar themes to the advice I was giving designers to help them get unstuck. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but I knew I wanted a way to describe it. After jotting down a bunch of words trying to get to the right idea, I landed on the phrase “make it legit” as best captured two key components: it’s about getting things made (to differentiate from ideas, prototypes or other vision pieces), and perhaps more importantly, having what gets made be something genuinely useful for people. The URL was available so I grabbed it, and after a little more thought, got the Twitter handle too figuring I could use it to announce new stuff. I am really glad I did as it would have definitely been gone within a few months (probably by the dude at @makeitlegit_ or someone else).
Lesson: Have a good sense about how much you can really say/create.
I knew it wouldn’t work for me to sort it out on the fly–I’m not the journaling type. But…there was something to the advice that seemed like it might be useful to capture. I started a running list in Simplenote to write down each of these bits of advice since I knew I could talk about them. I realized some of that advice was the result of working through things that frustrated me, and started paying more attention to that initial trigger in my day-to-day work. It doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but as it did I would make note of what it was right at the time. Later that day or week, I’d usually come around to thinking about it again, and would actively think through what was really happening there a little more objectively…and figure out how to come up with something constructive about it. That would then become a new topic.
I did this through much of 2012, and it was a handy little exercise. I started keeping track of how many topics there were, and once I hit 50, I felt pretty confident about moving forward. Even if I had nothing left after exhausting that list, that’s still a decent amount of content.
Lesson: Be thoughtful about how much to DIY.
This was the worst roadblock for me. I’m an experience designer and an artist, and I have a degree in computer science. That sounds like that ought to be the perfect combination for making a site, the elusive designer/developer combination that’s supposed to just create amazingness. I couldn’t shake this expectation for a while, and it utterly paralyzed me.
I started making progress on this once I started letting go of this, a piece at a time, to get down to the parts that were most important for me to do myself. Handcoding the structure from scratch? Not important; WordPress would be faster to set up and reasonably extensible. Make a template from scratch? Investigated for a bit, and decided I could customize the look of an existing theme and that would be good enough…plus then I could start with something responsive, eliminating another level of DIY.
The last piece was accepting Alan’s help on the setup and troubleshooting. Even though I genuinely did not want to do this part, it took me some time to let go of stubborn pride. He set up the WP install, and later on, did some troubleshooting on formatting issues I had while fine-tuning it, both of which were key to getting it going.
Lesson: Getting feedback, even on stuff that’s not all that great, helps for getting unstuck.
Around November 2012-ish, once I knew I had enough content and a vague idea of format, I started planning out color schemes, layouts, fonts, etc. Or rather, I mocked up a few things that felt somewhat half-assed to me, but it was something…at least enough to get some feedback from a trusted friend, Kevin, who was in the early stages of his own project (an illustrated book). We met to show work in progress and talk about it, and much as I disliked where my work was at, getting his feedback helped me think through what I wanted to do with it and enough confidence to get to the next stage of starting to work with the some dummy content in the WordPress template to figure out the overall structure I wanted.
After trying out dozens of themes I opted to buy one, GoodLayers by Good Space, which had the key things: it was nicely responsive, and it had both photo & text snippets for summarizing blog posts. I started stripping out content immediately, and over the course of a few days and coming back to it with fresh eyes had hacked away to an amount of content I started to like. I hit a wall on the formatting for a few items and Alan helped tackle those to free me up to think about the next level of refinement.
Lesson: Trust the basics: one for headlines, one for body.
I know font designers; I’ve worked with font fellows at Adobe. While I have a good eye for fonts, I’m not a font geek to the level of people I know. I browsed a bunch of articles about font trends, and then just decided I should pick what looks good to my eye. I knew it’d be easier to work with Google Web Fonts in the theme I’d chosen, and I also knew I wanted my headline font to be a handwritten-looking font. I went browsing and and picked out 14 different handwritten fonts from there, and 21 different sans serif fonts for the body.
I made some mockups in Fireworks to narrow it down to six or seven pairs of fonts, and for the final decision tried them out in the code. By then I’d written a sample article using one of the topics so I’d have something real to work with. This helped quite a lot for choosing fonts because I could slip into reader mode and just see what seemed easier on the eye, and better for the tone of the content. I ended up picking a font called Nothing You Could Do (love that name) for the handwritten font, and Open Sans for the body. I used these in the logo as well to make the look consistent.
Lesson: If the structure’s good, just make the pieces work together within it; don’t force it.
I ended up doing a lot more customization to the theme’s CSS than I expected to simplify the number of font sizes and styles being used across the theme. Alan figured out some of the vexing remaining styling issues, and that gave me enough momentum to shift over to the articles themselves.
I ran some experiments on the image sizes that worked best with the template and opted to work within those constraints for the illustrations. Fortunately, I found these 4×8″ watercolor pads from Fluid that are pretty close to the right aspect ratio. It’s not the highest quality watercolor paper, but it’s good for my purposes. I decided I’d be pretty strict about making clean pencil work, and finish with light watercolor shading and lines with a 005 ink pen. It’s a style that demands precision, but it’s worth it; I’ve been quite happy with the results.
Getting the writing style right was a separate effort, but fell into place pretty naturally as I thought about what I’d want to read. It had to be short enough to read in a minute or two, and it needed to have a particular point so you’d get something specific out of it. I’ve been able to stick with it so far. For here, I am not so rigorous, so this is mostly just whatever’s coming off the top of my head.
That’s it! It’s done. Or rather, it’s just begun. Go check it out.
I’m about three-quarters of the way through my Object Oriented sketchbook–the earlier sketches are here and here. My pen began to run dry, so I switched to a new one partway through this batch. In hindsight, I should have kept the original pen for shading, as it’s been challenging to do detail work with the ink-laden new pen.
Nothing like deadlines to get motivated! The Union of Concerned Scientists puts out a calendar every year with editorial cartoons about scientific integrity. I learned about the contest a couple of years ago, and somehow, each year, I let the deadline slip away from me. This year, the day before the deadline I realized it was about to happen again–and it occurred to me that the only way to break this was to treat this with the same urgency as the cartoons I drew for the Mustang Daily.
When I was doing this every day, the absolute fastest I could create a cartoon from start to finish (picking a topic, figuring out what to say, sorting out the layout, pencilling and inking) was an hour. I decided that I’d give myself twenty minutes to think of something to do. If I came up with something decent, I’d see it through. In college I used to run through the AP wire for story ideas; for this, I browsed through the UCS website to get a sense of the topics.
After twenty minutes, I had two ideas very roughly sketched out. Enough to go on! I drew these two cartoons in just under two hours. The siren lobbyists made it to the finals, which means they’ll be in the calendar. Will they end up on the cover? Perhaps, if I get enough votes!
The second batch of sketches! It’s been a few months, and I have fourteen more Object Oriented sketches to show for it. When I originally started I promised to post more when I got halfway through, but apparently I went a few beyond that. Carrying this little book and pen with me everywhere has been working in the sketch-more-often department. Enjoy!