Lately I've been starting my day with a quick twenty-minute painting. I do this mainly because it can take me a couple of hours or more, settling in to work for the day. That's a pitfall of my freelance life and of my personality I suppose. The computer/interwebs are also a large part of the distraction. (Damn you Instagram!) What's great is that I'm finding this little exercise is really kicking my day in to action immediately.
I took a writing workshop once with Lynda Barry (the great) and loved that she began the session with abstract line doodles, nothing recognizable made, kind of hypnotic to create... Very relaxing, put you in a receptive place with no particular intention. It was something I always MEANT to do to start my day, but didn't. More recently I saw Isabelle Arsenault post a 20 minute timed drawing, and so I thought I'd give it a go with paint.
Look at this - I'm lying to you already! I cheated the 20 minute countdown and gave myself another twenty to figure out illustrator John Cuneo's face (above). This was a second attempt, see the first below.
This was the first try at John Cuneo's face... My fault that I chose a still from a YouTube clip of him being interviewed during a demonstration video at a college. The top of his head was out of view and that was not ideal. The lighting was also dim and blue-ish. In my defence there are not a lot of photos online of him, so I made do. I worked on this way longer than I should have.
I set up my palette, grab paper, choose a person ('cause I love people), look up an online countdown timer for twenty minutes and hit the start button. It's great - a bit of adrenaline to get it right, good practice all round. Makes you not linger on decisions too long, which I love - I have long term portraits I've been working on, and doing these quick little studies are immensely satisfying. That's not to say that it always works out - I create things you'll never see - because they're just terrible. Gotta make a lot of garbage to get to the good stuff. Love the long and the short timed portraits in different ways - the short are immediate and responsive - the long are conversations with time to try things out.
If you want to check out more, I've been trying to post photos on Instagram and I have started scheduling in friends to sit for me over the next few weeks as I'm finding painting from photos are more often than not, a bit of a bore. This one above is me, done from a mirror at my desk. No time for vanity with the timer on.
In the September issue of O magazine, my work appears in a 16 page feature on storytelling that highlights 8 different illustrators with varying styles and mediums.
Art director Lauren Stine stipulated that each illustrator incorporate sketchbook/lined paper to give the work a personal storytelling feeling. I saw it as a great opportunity for the concept of time… Here is my response to the short article, “On This Very Spot”, examining that when you stand in any given place, below you “has been the setting of more stories than can be fathomed, most of them now forgotten.”
Things I Think About While Biking To The Studio: Focus & Style & My Work
I'm fascinated by artists that seem to have obvious and deep obsessions in their work, and a style that they carry for YEARS. I've had difficulty with this. I do get bored eventually. Outside of illustration, I suppose this is partly why I've never applied for a grant... How can I name what I'll be doing in a year? The answer to that is, well, I COULD name it. I am resistant. Part of my love of being an illustrator is that I really like to be able to immediately respond to how I see something in the moment. I hate the idea of being pinned down—like to be able to change my mind. In a backwards way of looking at it, it's like when someone sees something you used to do, style-wise, and wants that. It's impossible. You've moved on! And for that matter, how do you know where you'll BE, a year or so from now?
*Image above and right: An early piece in my career.
This is an evolution of my initial style, allowing me to expand to play with colour, bringing in circles. That lasted a while.
I had a great deal of trouble having a consistent style when I first started. So I started playing a game with my work to help get some focus - I would make rules for every piece of work I did - it must have a limited colour palette of a certain yellow, red and green. Then circles had to be involved. (See image at top of this post.) It worked. It made my work seem consistent. Later, I made further constraints for particular jobs, like full colour editorial newspaper work... It was to save time (many jobs I had were a one day turnaround) and to make it worthwhile (for me) for the budgets available. I used cardboard and acrylic paints in a pinkish-flesh colour, red, black and white. Again consistency. And art directors at magazines began to request I work this way. Eventually, as it usually does, A GREAT BOREDOM ENSUED. So I eventually let this way of working dwindle off.
Cardboard, with a limited acrylic palette for full colour editorial newspaper work.
That's the way it goes for me. Those rules I set in the past have didn't get to live a long and happy life. I get bored, I move on. I still have some "rules" for editorial work. Luckily they are loose enough to allow me to move around and play. They get to stay. I still see so much that I could do with it. But I know that will eventually change. It can seem easy to fake it, to make those rules. And not at all. I suppose the key is going deeper than the materials. The materials just tag along and you shine through. That's my hope anyhow. I think if you look at my work though, those older ways of working are still present. They just manifest themselves in a slightly different way. I would also say that creating work for myself, or for commissions outside of my commercial jobs helps me push, explore and take risks that I can bring into upcoming gigs.
What I think about a lot in the last five years is - what do I know for sure about myself? I remember hearing Marshall Arisman say something along those lines years ago, in reference to his own adventures in trying to get his work noticed. So, I could make a long list, but the short one is; people, their quirks, the way we relate, life issues. I'm naturally empathetic and it comes through in my work. It's what I'm attracted to in film, books, music, my friends.
When it comes to what or who visually inspires me, it's created somewhat of a problem to say that I'm inspired by many and everything... It's partially intentional because I worry about settling too long on one pretty flower - that I will mimic too closely what I love. And partly because I'm keeping my eyes open.
I hate to say it, but I need at least a pinch of the "rules" - a bit of focus leads to opportunity. It helps when people know what to expect of you - your style and the way you visually problem solve. Incremental changes. Hard to have patience for it sometimes.
Emma: A beautiful girl, lots of smiles and loves loves loves cats, but will not be able to have one until she's much older.
When I initially placed a dollhouse in the lower left (because I was certain she had one), she was not pleased. "Only boring kids like dolls and dollhouses!" So, when asked what would be a better replacement, she replied "A beautiful block tower." and her mother Ellen sent me a photo of what she had built for me to use as reference. A photo of math she was working on was included.
Emma takes after her mother in many ways - she loses herself in making things - doing embroidery, drawing, creating independantly every day. Ellen works at a book distribution company, and writes craft books for kids. She has an immense and beautiful collection of children's books, lots of classic illustration hanging on her walls... So this is what inspired this portrait of Emma here, in a little story of her own.
(The two rabbits in the frame also represent Ellen and Emma.)
The thumbnail to the above right is one of the shots I took of Emma's face along the way... I liked it, but she looked a little younger than she is and the shape of her eyes was not exactly right.