While thinking about new art to make for a comic-themed show (“Ripped from the Strips” at Psycho Donuts), I remembered The Boondocks. It ran from 1996-2006, originally on Hitlist.com and The Source before it got picked up by national newspapers in ’99 when I discovered it. It was political enough that some papers would relegate it, Doonesbury-style, to the Opinion page. I enjoyed the comic and most of its animated incarnation. However, the cartoon shifted in tone from the comic quite a bit…enough that creator Aaron McGruder eventually cut ties with it. The opening theme song by Asheru still gets stuck in my head though.
I figured if the comic were going today, Huey and Riley would be Black Panther fans so they’re doing the Wakanda salute here…or trying to. After I inked it I realized I reversed it on Riley, which is incorrect. It kinda makes sense that Huey would get it right and Riley’s being a punk about it, though. Maybe he just wasn’t paying close attention to the form and would get pissed off if you pointed it out. Or it might actually be a partially-completed “up yours” gesture. Either intent works! I couldn’t bring myself to draw Granddad as anything but grumpy; he’s not pleased to be here.
I think every artist has a go-to character/style/theme when they’re feeling stuck…here’s one of my go-to’s when I want to draw a comic character.
This past weekend was Silicon Valley Comic-Con and we’re less than a month from Free Comic Book Day (first Saturday of May), so in honor of those, Psycho Donuts in Campbell is hosting a “Ripped from the Strips” show. It’s been a little while since I’ve drawn in a comic style, so I decided to go for one of my standbys: Flaming Carrot.
Flaming Carrot is an indie comic character created by Bob Burden in 1979, published in some form up until 2006. He was one of the “Mystery Men“, a superhero group also created by Burden that was made into a movie in 1999 that’s a pretty fair (though much flashier) representation of the oddity of the comics.
I like the combination of things to draw for Flaming Carrot – the giant carrot mask, on fire, on a guy in a kinda rumpled button-down shirt. Superhero costumes are usually spandex or armor so it’s fun to draw something different. I flipped through a pose reference book to find something suitably epic to base his pose on for exclaiming his battle cry, “Ut!” I sketched it in pencil, filled it in with watercolors, and inked the linework once it was dry.
Vinyl records are a surprisingly good base for a painting! I recently came across a call for entries for a show titled “Extended Play: A New Spin on Vinyl Classics” that invited artists to use albums as the basis for new paintings. This is a collaboration between Art Attack SF, a neat gallery in the Castro, and a little bar called Church Key in North Beach.
Music lyrics seemed like a good inspiration, and I went with the first thing that came to mind since it had a few distinct images in it: Cat’s In the Cradle by Harry Chapin (or Ugly Kid Joe, depending on your era). The first part of the refrain combines lines from nursery rhymes: “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon” I had three albums to work with so I decided that little boy blue was the least interesting of the three and focused on the others.
“Cat’s in the Cradle” was pretty straightforward; a cat, holding a cat’s cradle string game. I opted for human-style hands to make it easier to show the gesture for holding the cat’s cradle.
“The Silver Spoon” was less clear. I thought about combining it with Little Boy Blue but I decided I’d paint these out of my imagination (i.e. no reference materials) and wasn’t confident about how a boy would turn out. I already had the cat and the moon, so the next thing that came to mind was an owl because of the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat”. The owl could hold the spoon.
“The Man in the Moon” I felt needed a cravat. He seemed like he’d be out having a cocktail.
I wasn’t sure that the acrylic paint would hold onto the vinyl. I’d just had a painting fail where I’d painted a few layers on a found canvas that ended up not sticking on it. To my annoyance I’d discovered that the gloss seal and the paint were just barely holding on, and they peeled off in one plasticky piece. I did a small test paint patch that I attempted to peel/scrape off the album and it held quite well, so I was relieved I didn’t have the mess around with sanding and sealant experimentation to get it to hold. The one tricky thing about working on the album was that it was difficult to make the underlying sketch. I used a white pencil to sketch the basic forms, and it really only showed when the lines were nearly perpendicular to the album track. When they started to align the pencil would slip into the groove and fail to leave a mark.
I tried something different on the colors for these: instead of starting with warm tones as the base, I built it out of cool tones. It has a different look to it, so now I have a better sense of how I might use that approach in the future.
I decided relatively late what to do with the labels. I had started painting the cat before I had a clear idea of what to do with them, and partway through decided to make the label a collar-style necklace since it had a nice rainbow gradient. On the owl, the label had some playful hand-drawn lettering for the band name so I decided to leave just that showing, and the curve made it look a little like a worm that could be in the owl’s beak. On the moon, I decided the man in the moon would have a round head but be occluded by the label. The label also had Columbia’s logo of the dog and phonograph so that made for an interesting thing for the moon to look at. As I was filling these in I also realized the center holes weren’t filled in, so on the cat and owl I styled these to look like pendants.
They were looking a little incomplete floating on the albums, but I didn’t want to eliminate the album background completely because it shines in a neat way. Since these all had a nighttime feel I added fields of stars to the backgrounds of all three.
I found these nice sleeves printed in the style of the “carte de visite”, the collectible trading card craze of the mid-19th century. Slightly larger than modern trading cards, this style of card was used for portraits of friends, family, and celebrities.
It’s been a little while since I’ve done watercolor so I created a bunch of tiny portraits based on photos that would have been the right era for these styles (mid-1850s). Because it’s Halloween, and I wanted to loosen up a bit, I leaned a bit more towards caricatures and intentionally skewed them to look creepy.
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.
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.
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.
This chunky wooden frame reminded me of the aesthetic of Bruegel’s earthy illustrations or Goya’s creatures. I felt a gargoyle would suit it, so I found this fellow for a start. I wanted to give it more of a body so after I drew the head I opted to draw its paws, clawed, to echo the fangs.
Once I started filling in more of the body, I thought it really needed something else to balance the picture. A bird! I found a reference photo with just the right expression: mostly clueless, but slightly wary. It was also a nice light touch against the darkness of the gargoyle.
I’ll leave it up to you as to which one is waiting and which one is watching.