I just finished hanging a dozen pieces of art at Bel Bacio coffee shop in San Jose’s Little Italy. There’s an entrance wall and a front room with three walls (and a window), so I chose a mix of paintings, illustration, and prints for each of the four walls. I matched nearby colors wherever possible and grouped them together in four themes:
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.
Prints can be on watercolor paper, maple, or metal. The base prices shown below are for watercolor paper prints.
Here are the rules I’m following: pick one person from the excellent Facial Expressions reference book, and each week, focus only on that person and draw a different expression every day. The book is a wonderful reference of people of a mix of ethnicity, body type, and gender, from 20’s to 80’s.
This week I chose Roshan, a 47-year old woman. I started off by penciling first and then inking. I’d barely started on the eye when I quickly realized that the Uniball Vision I was using put out too much ink for the notebook I’m using (a blank thin-paged paper-cover Moleskine). I switched to a Micron 02 (0.3mm) since the paper is so delicate. It’s much easier to draw creases and wrinkles when drawing with thinner lines overall. It feels slightly like cheating to me because I’ve been drawing with thicker (more unforgiving) lines. I figure if I do this for a while I can get more confident about working back to the thicker lines. I felt like it lost a bit of the expressiveness by drawing it in two stages (pencils & ink) so for the rest I used ink only. Week 1 is done!
I’m not a knitter. I gave it the old college try, and two hats, a wallet, and a scarf later I’ve realized I’m just not into it. I had two rectangular-ish pieces from a half-done knitting project that’s been languishing for the last year that was supposed to become a little backpack. But alas, the backpack was not meant to be.
So, their second life began: I decided I would make little bags out of them and felt them. I’d felted once before using a kit to make zippered wallet-type bag with sushi on it. It involves agitating the heck out of the piece in the washer with hot water until it shrinks. I ran it through once…and again…and again. And nothing was happening. Apparently I forgot to check what kind of yarn it was. Wool will shrink, and therefore felt. Acrylic will not. And the 20% wool/80% acrylic blend I’d been using merely scoffed at my attempt to felt it. The bags, too, were not meant to be.
A few days later, while looking at the decidedly-not-felted larger piece, I picked it up to puzzle over its shape and, inexplicably, put it on my head. And…it fit. And the two corners stuck out like ears, almost intentional. So I grabbed some of the remaining pink yarn from the sushi wallet, filled in the ears, and sewed the ears closed so they’d keep their shape. And that is how this hat came to be.