For the last few years I have participated in The Sketchbook Project. It’s a nifty little show that invites artists of all ages and levels to fill out a sketchbook and send it in. It then becomes a part of the library at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. During the following year, the sketchbooks all go on a rock tour of the US and a few other countries; they set up in lots of cities and invite everyone to come view the sketchbooks for free. Often the venues are fun and interesting. I recommend going in a group so you can all check out sketchbooks, trade and view them as a group.
Anyway, I decided on a theme of ‘Unknown SteamPunk Inventions’ for my Sketchbook this year and here’s the pictures I drew. I have for the last few years, rebinded my book and changed the page layout. I like for my books to be an adventure in discovery and surprise and delight. Like in years past, I got lots of great ideas, many of which will develop into bigger ideas and actual works of art.
I have to say, one of the coolest things of the Golden Compass movie was the visuals and how awesome the armored polar bears were. (Yes, the books were better, as the movies took all the philosophical bite out. so it goes.) Still the effects and characters were well done and afterwards, I wished for a moment I had a talking armored polar bear friend.
So I was pretty excited when a weightlifter I know, asked me to design an armored polar bear he can print on a shirt and wear to his competitions. I had no idea how I would tackle it. And I have to tell you that my default art setting is ‘cute cat’. So much so, one of my early illustration teachers looked at my worked, told me some people were better off working at cute and I should aim for children’s book illustration. I took that advice and it was a lot of years before I could do something like this bear. I have to give some credit to all those ATCS here. And to some time spent dabbling in replications of old, damaged paintings for people.
Stretching out my legs in ATCs and replications, is what made it possible for my to develop this armored bear who is not warm and cuddly and definitely not cute. Taking on the occasional uncomfortable ATC project gave me some skills I thought would remain undeveloped. I’ve always thought training as an illustrator meant you could pretty much do anything; you learn skills in forgery, copying and replication, since you have to give the customer what he wants. The assignment is often similar to something he saw, a tenth generation version of an idea you start with and you often learn new media and techniques to make it happen.
Now for the first time in my life, I do actually feel I could do anything artistically and the picture of the awesome idea in my head is translating perfectly to the art.
SO here’s the thing with silly ideas. For me, when I let one silly idea in, they breed like rabbits or pennies. All of a sudden there’s a bunch of silly ideas and I have to do drawings of all of them. My silly ideas come from thinking of how to make something more absurd, hearing things wrong (a lot, I do this A LOT), weird mash-ups free floating in my brain space and funny mix ups of someone else’s suggestions with a crazy one of my own.
For a while, I studied anime and manga design. Well… let me go back. There was a time, many moons ago, when I wasn’t doing much with my art. I suppose I was feeling jaded and thinking I need to be a normal person. Being an artist isn’t so easy, the creativity wants to get out. Trying not to be an artist, with creativity splooshing out of your head, is like trying to bail a boat with a spaghetti strainer. Gigi the Giraffe is what came of that. One mad New Years, I had to make Gigi. So I did. Then something sad happened. And I couldn’t sleep for months, so I started watching anime. I got hooked on anime, manga and japanese culture. I decided to see if it’s possible to learn a language all on your own. I played with anime character design. I finally picked up my sketchbook and made the resolution to sketch while I was bumming around in front of the TV.
That’s how I got over the mad notion of ‘I don’t have to be an artist, I can just be a normal person’. This is how I decided I must find a way to be happy as an artist, since be happy as a normal person, wasn’t working out. Don’t get me wrong, being normal (which is to say not a creative type with ideas haranguing you) is great. PG Wodehouse said, ‘It takes all types to make the world go round, eh Jeeves?”. The world would be too chaotic if we were all the same. We need Jeeves and Woosters. I am glad to now be at peace with being the artistic type who can see how funny the Avengers would look, Chibi-inspired (aka anime style), as a bunch of goof offs.
After the success of the JEA show, I’ve decided to participate in a couple of upcoming conventions. The first is GnomeCon, which is a local to me con. They are having an art show this year and I love being able to do geeky subject matter. That’s what’s pictured here, a stack (40ish) of inchie magnet art, ready to assemble into their final form. They’ll look like the round magnets on my JEA table. I also have some surprises and some large stuff.
The second convention is the North American Discworld Convention in Baltimore. It’s all about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld book series. I’m thrilled to be doing some large snd small format art for that. Wheeee!
Well the opening went well, I sold a few hanging pieces and a bunch of small works! I admit, I feel I’ve finally gone over a hurdle that’s been sitting in front of me for a while. I’m thankful for all my friends who came to see me. It was great. Here’s a gallery of the work.
I’ve mentioned my new sewing habit right? The truth is, I don’t know if I would have been successful at any of the 3-d stuff I’ve started doing in my art school years. Even the paper mache. But since I took up clay sculpture and plushie sewing, I’ve been amazed at how 3D design has crystalized in my mind. True, I’ve always been a spatial person, true, I’ve spent years working in a field that demands that (construction), but I’m still surprised that now when I envision something 3-D, I get the map of how to build it in my head. Just like when I have a 2-d idea. I think I should attribute this to practice. It’s that 10000 hours of practice that makes luck mixed with a little knowledge seem like genius.
Anyway these are 2 Christmas gifts I sewed. From ideas in my head. No pattern, I made the pattern myself and adjusted on the fly of making them. I’m pleased with how they turned out.
And currently, I’m working on a bunch of stuff for a show. March 10th is the opening. So far. it’s going ok. More about that later…
One of the fun things for artists at Christmas, is that we get to make some of our gifts. I try to reserve making gifts for people who want something hard to find. This year I turned a tiny collectable Hello Kitty into zombie HK. I made a string of beads. I made two stuffed plushies (which I’ll post next time after that gifts are received). And I customized a blank Munny into a Loki.
The thing about Munnys is they can sit around for a while until you figure out what to do with them. My friend was looking for a bobble head Loki or something similar but no one could find one. Of course I had this blank Munny, my first ever, waiting for something. After some research on customizing Munnies in the Kid Robot forums, I got to work.
The great thing about a Munny is you can add Super Sculpey to it to customize your character. That’s how I built the helmet, bracers and boot tips. Oh yeah, and I used an old paint brush handle and made his staff. Then, even though the Munny is vinyl, you can bake the Sculpey right on it! It comes out of the oven a bit soft and hardens as it cools. Then a bit of paint gets you mostly done. Just to throw it over the top, I added a felt cape.
I was pretty pleased with the results and so was my friend. And now I have a new addiction (the forums warn of this) and a new medium. Hand made gifts can be great for discovery if you let it push you a little further than you’ve been before.
Recently, I learned a new skill. I learned how to sew. I had taken a crafts class a couple of years ago as part of my teacher’s prep and learned the basics. Then I went to an expert (AKA mom) and learned more. This hippo, was my first little project I did on my own.
I think it’s important for artists to learn new skills and learn skills they think they won’t need. It’s important to look at other artists work, that aren’t in your field. It’s important to look at people’s work who is better than yours IN your field.
I can’t count how many times I used a skill from my construction (once everyday work) to make a piece of art. Learning how to saw and build properly has been useful. You never can tell when new skills come in handy. It’s true of unrelated skills too.
For no reason many years ago I studied photography. For quite some time. I learned how to do this: one of my early photos, The Pear…
Seriously, I spent time learning about lenses and shutter speeds and film. And darkrooms and chemicals and tidyness in darkrooms. (pre-Photoshop people!)
And even though I didn’t stay in photography. I thought about it a lot. It affected how I did my work after learning about it. It taught me how to do composition in artwork. I learned about light and contrast and framing.
Learning stuff you don’t think you need to know often comes in handy. It gives you ideas. Learning how to have fun and do frivolous art is important too. I took this photo when I got hold of this large pencil.
Now it might combine with some of my other new skills and my tried and true skills and lead to another project. Of which I will say little about. The cool thing is that it comes from a collaboration of a friend who is like me. Learning new things, stealing peeks at other artists work, alchemically changing ideas inspired by those glimpses into ideas and projects of your own. That’s how art works.
It’s nice to return to basics! Doing things in black and white means you really have to sort out composition and contrast and value. So I did this set of postcards for a Black and white swap. I also learned that a depleting Sharpie is very useful for lighter nearly grey tones. very nice. technically doing the work with just a black pen (over a pencil sketch, erased when done) also helps me to focus light weight, which is something I’ve been working on in all my recent work. but these cards were great practice!