SmART School: Project One and Playing Catch Up

A lot of stuff has happened since my last post here. For one, I moved from the USA to Japan!

Just one of the many views from our first trek up Mt. Takao

Just one of the many views from our first trek up Mt. Takao

In September I not only relocated to Japan, but I finished up a commission for Herding Cats Press, and I started a semester of SmART School. It took me forever to save up for it, but it's been worth every penny and I am already scheming of ways to save up to try another semester. 

I enrolled in class with an artist I have long admired, Rebecca Leveille Guay. You are also allowed to monitor another class, and I have chosen to monitor Scott M. Fischer.  I have been following them both for a while, and it is nice to be able to monitor another class.

In our first week, after asking us some questions to get to know us and what we wanted from our art, we started in with thubnails for our first piece. This was supposed to be simple, either a portrait or a bust. 

I wanted to do a piece depicting the Greek figure Ariadne from the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. 

Thumbnail ideas for Ariadne in a toned paper sketchbook

Thumbnail ideas for Ariadne in a toned paper sketchbook

I have never felt like my thumbnails have been very strong, and this is something that I know some of my peers struggle with as well for one reason or another. More often than not most of us feel like only we ourselves can decipher these scrawlings. So it came as a bit of a surprise to hear that I am actually doing pretty well handling some things I am pretty insecure about in these. But despite that, I wasn't quite happy with any of these, though there were two I did like equally.  Rebecca's suggestion was to combine elements from the two I liked into a new composition, and to play with it so that it wasn't so structured within the borders. 

A bit of process: top left is the thumbnail generated by Rebecca. The following images are the result of me pushing myself on the drawing

A bit of process: top left is the thumbnail generated by Rebecca. The following images are the result of me pushing myself on the drawing

By the next class I had a drawing based off of Frankensteining together some images to get what I needed. Rebecca had some tweaks for me, and was ready to let me progress with the firs drawing, pending the amendments. BUT...

I knew this wasn't my best. I have never been great at stitching together my reference images, and due to this I have had some issues with anatomy and lighting. To date, this has been the only major flaw I have had in my portfolio reviews that has been consistent over the last three years, and this was something I definitely wanted to tackle while I was taking this class.  

So I scrapped the first drawing, taking my notes from that critique, and applying them to reworking my concept. In class I had showed her not only my stitched together ref, but the one I had my husband shoot. The self shot ref was obviously much stronger, and it captured what I wanted in this piece, but it wasn't easy for me to work with. 

Self reference. I even made a prop with a soccer ball and some packing paper from our move. 

Self reference. I even made a prop with a soccer ball and some packing paper from our move. 

I want to clarify that it is not uncommon for artists to use themselves as models, and there are a lot of pro's to this. Namely you can have more control over what it is you are trying to do because you can tinker around in front of a mirror a couple of times to see what it going on. Also it's FREE.  There are limitations of course in that you may need to rely on someone else shooting the pics (in my case my awesome husband who happens to be good at taking pictures). And you are also limited to your body. 

For me this was, and I expect will continue to take some getting used to. In particular, I do not like how I look at all, and I have suffered both mentally and physically as a result in such dislike. Being forced to using myself for reference made it difficult to want to continue on, but I had reminded myself that I had saved up for a long time for this opportunity and I couldn't let myself get in the way. And you know what? I wound up with a much stronger drawing in the end.

Of course there were still things I needed to address. I hadn't quite nailed some features, and so Rebecca took my reference  image to the light box to show me what I needed to do. This was eye opening as she explained how to really look for key features and not just trace or copy what was there, but to really make important decisions. She also opened up about how she herself has had to reconcile with her own body when using it for creating artwork. She mentioned that no one body is ever perfect for whatever it is we need it for, but how with observance and practice in our craft we can make changes to reflect our end goal.

First pass at tone and color study. Needless to say I needed to work on this. 

First pass at tone and color study. Needless to say I needed to work on this. 

Nest we tackled color and tone. I didn't nail it the first go at all, which was fine since this is all a learning process. I did get a bit flustered as I thought about how I should have a handle on these things by now given my investment in college as well as having worked as an illustrator, but there is always room for improvement. Rebecca pointed out that I was already making really good progress. She also admitted her own feelings about colleges and their short comings in teaching to some degree here of there, and she helped me to address the issue. We talked about artists to use as a color key, and she introduced me to the work of Miho Hirano as a possibility (more on that in the next post).

The Three Ages of Women, by Gustav Klimt

The Three Ages of Women, by Gustav Klimt

Judith and The Head of Holofernes, by Gustave Klimt

Judith and The Head of Holofernes, by Gustave Klimt

Revised color study ideas. I think they have a kinda Milo Manara vibe going on.

Revised color study ideas. I think they have a kinda Milo Manara vibe going on.

I looked to Klimt for ideas on how to handle tone and color with my piece. Rebecca mentioned The Three Ages of Women detail for his use in tone. In retrospective I probably should have gone with her recommendation, but I wanted to tackle a darker skin tone. I wanted to convey a Mediterranean skin tone for Ariadne, so I tried to use Judith and The Head of Holofernes instead.  

Again I got caught up in the black hole of using myself for reference, and I did loose steam as I was painting the image. It gave me a little bit of an excuse to sketch out and start taking reference for my next piece.  In the critique she pointed out what was working, and what I needed to watch out as I continued on.

After that short respite I was able to go back into the painting and tackle it to the very end. 

That top hand! Often I bring one part of my painting up to finish so that I have something to go off of for the rest of it. 

That top hand! Often I bring one part of my painting up to finish so that I have something to go off of for the rest of it. 

Finished at long last!

Finished at long last!

Of course I was able to finish this up in the end. This piece has definitely been a learning experience, and I am glad to see where it ended up considering where it began. Rebecca is super nurturing and helpful in her critiques in each class, and it pays off to take notes. I usually keep my mini notebook open at my work desk so I can reference it from time to time as I go along, just as I would with a color comp or grayscale study.


Major Lessons Learned via Ariadne:
 
* Pay attention to the negative space around your figure. This will help you frame it better.
* Use yourself a reference more!
* Keep it simple: don't over emphasize things, but look for planes and structures
* Never waste a good hand. EVER
* When light boxing, also keep a reference image to the side to help in decision making/ clarification
*Create a small stable of artists to use as keys to developing your own work

So that's been a sneak peek into what my process has been in creating Ariadne, as well as small bit of what my experience with SmART School has been like so far in. Stay tuned for more process on my upcoming works!