Arrow: A Look Into The Process, Part Two

I left on this process with my final pencil drawing for Arrow. 

 Final drawing for Arrow, transferred onto 140lb (300gsm) hotpress watercolor paper

Final drawing for Arrow, transferred onto 140lb (300gsm) hotpress watercolor paper

The next step was to move onto tone and color studies. 
I will admit this isn't something I have used a lot since college, unless I feel the need for it in client work. But it is something that is important to process, and so it's one thing I am going to be exploring more. 

I have a few frustrations with this step. There has to be a happy meeting of getting the right amount of information, without dedicating too much time and creating a very small, concise miniature piece of art, before you even begin the painting. I am still struggling with finding that place in my own process. 

Another thing is finding the right surface. I have been exploring printing out a smaller version (about 5x7) onto different papers. Ideally I would use the same surface as the painting, and in the end I might have to take that option more seriously, but for now I am looking for a less costly way around that. My preference would be to do this in the media I am working in, rather than in digital, which is something I am not comfortable with. 

 Attempting to make a color study. 

Attempting to make a color study. 

 Trial and error color and tone study on regular print paper, with some photoshop

Trial and error color and tone study on regular print paper, with some photoshop

Above was what I shared in class. It was a definite miss, and so Rebecca came to the rescue with helping me figure this out, and also providing me with something more tangible to work from. 

Firstly she pointed out that I work more opaquely with my watercolors, which is true. Next came the first push outside of my comfort zone:

1) Don't be afraid to lay in a large color wash. This means not using the while of the paper, which happens to be more of a result of habit from how I learned in college. 

2) My figure is my main character, and everything else is a supporting element. I need to keep this in mind as I continue ahead. 

3) Work in main shapes and value scale basics (or in other words, less is more).

A) Decide my lightest value (in this piece it will be the doves)
B) Wash in the entire piece. This will help to unify everything. 
C) Decide on the darkest dark (her hair). Build this up, don't start out at the darkest!
D) A step down from the darkest tone will be the cloak. Establish a ground color before building up shading (establish how dark the actual fabric will be)

Rebecca recommended a pearly green grey color to tint the skin of the figure. She wanted me to keep my shadows on the lighter side, rather than going for saturation. With a strong drawing, it will be ok if I leave some things under rendered without the overall feel looking like it's not complete. This is also something I struggle with.  I'll just have to keep in mind a quote from Marc Scheff, another instructor in the smArt school program, who sometimes drops into the different classes. "You need to ebb in order to flow".

 A process of working on colors, using a less clean version of the final drawing. The center is the color comp created in class by Rebecca, and the far right is of a piece by Miho Hirano, which I am using as a guide for both tone and color (but mostly tone)

A process of working on colors, using a less clean version of the final drawing. The center is the color comp created in class by Rebecca, and the far right is of a piece by Miho Hirano, which I am using as a guide for both tone and color (but mostly tone)

Rebecca proceeded with the color study, and also a few small tweaks to the final drawing. In this middle piece, which was the study she did during my crit time in class, she had gone with the figure being the lightest tone, and the birds the second lightest. However I switched this around when I started the painting. A big help was looking at another work from an artist, in this case Miho Hirano, to help me understand how to translate information. The colors were a bit too muted for what I had in mind, but it was because we worked with more of a focus on color with Miho's piece at this stage. 

 Contemplating color tweaks, Rebecca does a digital color study

Contemplating color tweaks, Rebecca does a digital color study

The above piece applies some of the previous mentioned notes, especially in regard to color. This wound up being closer of an idea I had in mind for how the actual painting would turn out. My own color studies continued to miss the mark, and are definitely something I need to figure out to help with my process, and in the end, the final painting. Rebecca worked digitally, but it's not a tool I am really comfortable with. However traditional studies fall short as well, so I may need to mix some digital in the future.  

 Working off my notes from the critique and laying in an overall wash, as well as working up tone.

Working off my notes from the critique and laying in an overall wash, as well as working up tone.

 Establishing my color and base tone for the cape, which is my second darkest element.

Establishing my color and base tone for the cape, which is my second darkest element.

 One of my favorite parts is painting in the skin tone!

One of my favorite parts is painting in the skin tone!

 Stopping point before the next class session and critique. 

Stopping point before the next class session and critique. 

 A look as I flesh out the painting, making sure to work with my reference as well as the color study provided by Rebecca. Also notice the scan of the work isn't the same as the previous pictures via my phone camera. Neither was similar to the actual painting. Just another art problem. 

A look as I flesh out the painting, making sure to work with my reference as well as the color study provided by Rebecca. Also notice the scan of the work isn't the same as the previous pictures via my phone camera. Neither was similar to the actual painting. Just another art problem. 

At this point in the painting I was feeling a lot more comfortable and confident. It was still a bit awkward for me to use myself, but this time it was less difficult to render than Ariadne had been. That said there were still some things I needed to keep in mind.

1) I need to watch the dark areas and shape language. Especially in the shadowed areas around the arm holding the arrow, both above and below. The same applies to the areas of the stomach (again and area I am really uncomfortable with rendering), and the breast area. 

2) Rebecca felt that the cast shadow on the arm with the dove was reading oddly, and suggested lifting it out all together. This was an important lesson in really deciding what information was important vs conflicting. It was a reminder that I don't need to be a slave to what I see in the picture. 

3) Hair is still something I struggle to render. Rebecca pulled up some pieces by Tran Nguyen and we took a look at how she paints hair. Specifically at shape language just the way it related to everything else in the piece. 

A) Keep my hairlines soft. This is especially apparent in Japanese paintings. 
B) If I need to go in and add delicate detail, it is totally ok. Even if it's not with a brush, but with pencil instead. Again, breaking me out of a bad habit. 
c) Lighten up areas around the mouth, which I tend to make too dark.
D) Cool my skin tones a bit in some places. This is easily remedied with some washes of blue or green as opposed to the violet or pink that I love to use for skin. 

 NOTE: Use your phone to look at your piece in greyscale as you work!

NOTE: Use your phone to look at your piece in greyscale as you work!

One nice thing from when I was playing more with Photoshop as a media was the histogram tool. It allowed a pop up window of the piece you were working on to be shown in greyscale so that you could keep an eye on tone. It was also a small window, which meant it was easy to see if some things weren't holding up. 

It's a great tool to use, and when I am painting with my watercolors, I still like to see what my work looks like in greyscale. So I always keep my phone near at hand for this. Working on client work it's extremely useful to see how a piece holds up small. This is especially important if you are working on card art!

KatGBirmelin_wiparrow2016
 Princeton Select Fix-It Brush

Princeton Select Fix-It Brush

Just a note, the above was when I pulled out some of the shadows. There are a lot of ways that water colorists use to pull out pigment. Normally I use a damp brush, which I did in areas of this painting. But sometimes it's not enough, so I used this specialty brush. It has a stiffer, slightly tapered bristle. I've only used it a handful of times, but it's one of my favorite tools, and it really came in handy in the piece that followed Arrow. More on that later.  

 Saved the birds for last, not just because they were the lightest area, but because I was a bit uncomfortable rendering them. 

Saved the birds for last, not just because they were the lightest area, but because I was a bit uncomfortable rendering them. 

KatGBirmelin_Arrow_2016

The final piece came out so beautifully in the end. I really had a lot of stuff going on with this piece, and learned so much. I also came a little closer to being comfortable with using myself as a model in a pinch, and that to me altered the original symbolism of this piece. Or maybe added another layer to it. 

One last detail I added, which I wasn't sure about until the very end, was adding some Finetec metallic watercolor to the golden areas. I am happy I did it, and only with it was something I could capture better in a picture. I guess you'll just have to take my work on it, or come see this original in person. 

Arrow: A Look Into The Process, Part One.

Quite often while I am online I will come across and image that sticks with me for some reason. Quite a while ago I can across this image on Pinterest, and there was just something about it that really drew my attention. So I put it into an inspiration folder to think about later. 

 Alfred Cheney Johnston. Ziegfeld Girl

Alfred Cheney Johnston. Ziegfeld Girl

There was something about the softness in her face, and the grace of her pose that I really loved and wanted to try to emulate in a drawing. So I sat down and started sketching a few things, trying to focus on her figure a bit and incorporating other elements around her until I thought I had an idea that I liked. 

 First pass at a sketch I liked, but still too close to the original figure

First pass at a sketch I liked, but still too close to the original figure

I liked the idea of a classical Greek or Roman looking figure, some god or goddess perhaps. A few had sprung to mind as I played around with the idea: Eros, and then Demeter. But ultimately I wasn't sure, and felt that maybe I could make it androgynous. 

By lack of confidence I turned my attention elsewhere, to the arrow. The idea that it could be a key sprang to mind as around this time I was thinking about the possibility of participating in Kristina Caroll's Month of Fear/ Month of Love duo. One of the prompts was Key, and I felt like I could probably juxtapose this idea with something a bit more treacherous. But then life got a bit swept up in client work, conventions, a wedding, and a move to the other side of the globe. 

When I was able to come back to this piece, quite a few things had changed. For one, I no longer liked the original direction of keeping the figure androgynous. I did still like the idea of the arrow being a key though. Secondly I knew I wanted to flesh this out further while I was in SmART School with Rebecca. 

Given what I had learned while creating Ariadne, I knew that it was better to take my own reference image using myself. It had worked well before, but I was still not really comfortable with using myself as a model. In the end the benefits, and the want to explore this idea, plus lack of time to find another model outweighed the squeamishness. 

 Self Reference, and hours upon hours of cutting out and arranging birds in Photoshop

Self Reference, and hours upon hours of cutting out and arranging birds in Photoshop

I had my husband help me take new photos for reference prior to my next class. At this point I was still struggling to finish working on Ariadne, and neither Rebecca nor my classmates had seen the original sketch for this concept. 

Once I chose one of the pictures from the shoot, I sat down and laboriously  found, cut out, and arranged the doves in Photoshop. During this time I started to think more about what I wanted this piece to be. The figure wasn't going to represent any of the Goddess or Gods, but I did like the idea of the arrow symbolizing some of what they stood for. 

With Eros, the arrow is a symbol for love. With Demeter much more symbolic of the sacred hunt. But why couldn't this arrow be both of those things?

 First draft of new sketch

First draft of new sketch

By my next class this is the piece I had to show. I was anxious about showing it because i thought that there were probably a lot of things that just weren't working with it. Namely I was afraid the birds would be too much, since I struggle with composition. But I had looked over my previous notes from Ariadne, and I tried to be more mindful about paying attention to negative shapes and eye flow. 

She loved it, and she helped me to fix the issues I had in this piece. Namely the tangents created by the wisteria in the back, which was not super apparent what that was supposed to be, and also didn't help frame this piece at all. And of course, the face needed work too as I was still struggling to see the information that was in play. 

 Revisions in photoshop from class

Revisions in photoshop from class

I was really happy that I had less to revise in this piece, but a bit bummed out that I was still missing things in the face. Having suffered from really low self body image it's rather difficult to use myself as a model. It is hard to plow ahead, wondering if you are able to capture certain things you've set out to do, when you have a horribly self biased notion of how you look. And trying to separate that bias is very challenging. 

So I had to pause here and look back at Ariadne. I looked at the original reference I had put together and how horrible it had looked. And how much Ariadne had been after using reference I had taken of myself, even if in the final image it showed where I was not comfortable rendering. And then when I was ready, I made the edits I needed to Arrow. 

 Final revised drawing for Arrow

Final revised drawing for Arrow

By now I had a completely amended drawing that was clean, clear, and ready to be traced out onto a sheet of watercolor paper via the light box method. I just had to get going on my color and tonal comp by next class, as well as finish up Ariadne. 

And also by now this was starting to get easier to work on than Ariadne had been. I hit a wall when it came time to paint the last piece because I wasn't comfortable enough to render out parts of her. That anxiety still persisted with Arrow, but the reality was that I couldn't set this piece aside and start something else, and I had to work with what was available to me. 


Stay tuned for the next post, which will go over the final steps of the process in finishing up Arrow. 

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!