Saturday, July 26, 2014

By the Campfire 2

This is the continuation of my blogpost last week. I'm coloring the pencil sketch drawing of the forest critters by the campfire using Photoshop and a Wacom Intous pen/tablet. Below I started playing around with the colors I had in mind. At first I didn't want the colors to be too bright because it was night time and colors wouldn't be as bright as when its daytime. However, I ended up making it brighter later because it felt flat and uninteresting.

On this next screenshot, I've brightened up my colors and added some bit of shadows. The nice thing about Photoshop is that its easy to change colors and it's also easy to get the darker or lighter tone of the same color. I found the background behind the trees too bright and lacking in texture. So in the next screenshot, I had darkened the background and used textured brushes as well.

I then added darker shadows and the yellow fire. Now it's starting to feel warm and cozy. I must say, my favorite parts are the bluish green plant at the lower right and the daisies beside it. They both came out much nicer than I had expected. I like the effect of the pencil shading on those areas. I should do a lot more of my tonal values when I do my pencil sketch and not just rely on the digital coloring. The pencil shading gives it a lot more texture.

I thought the scene was too serene and "clean", the wind is probably not blowing much too, so I added in the fireflies. Nothing like bugs to make the night by the campfire feel magical and real. I love the effect the fireflies created.

This is officially my first digital painting using Photoshop. It definitely was a different experience compared to using the traditional paints. There were times when I terribly missed the texture created by real brushes and paints. The layers feature of Photoshop is quite powerful. I could turn the whole painting to a much darker night scene by just placing a bluish layer over the entire thing. I also like the fact that one could combine both traditional drawing and digital painting in creating the image. It is quite a powerful technique.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

By The Campfire

It dawned on me the other night that I had something established illustrators (the state that I desire) may not have and that I currently have - the freedom to illustrate whatever I want. If I was a commercial illustrator now or if I was making a living doing illustration work, my illustrations would be dictated by what my customers need, which may not be totally aligned with what I would want to illustrate (e.g., I may want to draw dragons and the customer wants an illustration of a bowl of soup). This thought made me quite thankful and I therefore proceeded to bask in my recently realized freedom (which I had all along).

I asked myself, "So, what scenes or images do you really want to illustrate?" This is an important exercise, the figuring out of one's self and one's inclinations because illustration is not just about technique or about process or about how well one executes his/her idea, first and foremost, I believe the important thing is the creation of the idea or concept itself and then only after that, all other things follow. This then led to my second realization - being an illustrator is not just about skill, it also has a lot to do with what goes on within, our mindset, our thoughts, our emotions, our passion, our beliefs and so much more. It is almost like a journey, as one moves from one illustration into another, one discovers more about herself that she hadn't realized before. The resulting image shows how the illustrator sees the world...that comes with the premise that she sees the world first.

As I posed the question of what I wanted to illustrate this week, I found myself going back to the sketch I did a few months ago of forest animals huddled over a campfire. I'm realizing now that I am drawn to images of people/or animals huddled around a fire or the fireplace, the warm light coming out of a window on a cold winter's night, or the yellowish glow of the street lights in a dark foreboding street, or paintings like edward hoppers's lighted coffee shop late in the evening. These images evoke an emotional response from me, a tugging, a yearning for that sense of comfort, security, warmth, peace and contentment that comes when I'm huddled near a fire or when I'm looking into a lighted window, in contrast with the darkness around or the coldness outside.This feeling is probably universal that's why they put the video of a fireplace crackling on TV during Christmas time or why every Merlin TV episode I've ever watched ends with the young Merlin and his old master having a quiet talk in his master's firelit workroom.

I then remembered that there was this image from a favorite book that I had which I've dissected and imagined over and over for countless of times when I was a child. We didn't have bookstores then and I had like 15 books max during my entire childhood, most of which were the small ladybird fairytale books, whose images were also burnt deep into my subconscious by now. Among these though, there was one big book that was my favorite and I have spent countless of hours staring at the illustrations. It's the King Goblin and his Forest Friends by Geraldine Grimm. It is no longer published today but luckily I still have that book with me, carried across continents when I moved around. At the back of the book is the illustration below and I remember as a child, staring at this illustration gave me great comfort. It took my imagination places! Here we are huddled together, having our warm dinner that's cooking in the blazing fire pit out here in the cold forest, under a big shadowy tree with our delicate tea set and fireflies aglow, celebrating all the hardships and excitement we had in the day's journey, victorious. What an ending!
I am quite convinced that this image had influenced my definition of a happy ending, both in fiction and in real life.

Back cover of "King Goblin and his Forest Friends" book. Illustration by Horst Schonwalter.

I didn't remember this image when I made my sketch of forest animals around a campfire below. But now looking at it, the two are similar in some ways. My sketch was done with my daughter's crayola pens.

Illustrating night scenes is challenging for me because with minimum light, the object's colors wouldn't be looking like their actual colors. They would be muted and as the night grows darker, the colors would tend to turn into bluish black. So if I wanted a not so dark night, there would have to be a mix of the actual colors muted with some blues or black, which is challenging. However, what I like about doing night scenes is putting in the highlights. There's no better time in the day to put in the glow of the light than at night (or dusk).
That's why I love night scenes.

I have redrawn the image using pencil on watercolor paper for my full illustration below. I've put in different varieties of plants as foreground and had nearly similar trees as background. It probably has a lot going on right now with all the details but with the addition of color later, the eye would be focused towards the glow of the fire while all other details would be muted. That's the plan, anyway. I hope I'd be able to execute it nicely. I'll be coloring this in photoshop and probably in watercolor or gouache too. We'll see.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fox Sketches

I didn't get to sit down and do a full painting this week as planned, owing to summer related fatigue and having a bored 8 year old. However, I did get to experiment with digital drawing using my smart phone, which is about the most convenient gadget nowadays for those who have bad backs and need to draw lying down before going to sleep in 5 minutes or so.

What I ended up with are rough sketches, digitally painted with colors that I had played around with and ready for me to transfer more confidently using my traditional painting medium. I think process-wise, it is convenient to be able to do quick coloring digitally before doing the actual painting. This way, I am not too committed with the colors yet, could change them easily and enjoy the painting process more.

I am drawing foxes lately because I love foxes. If I wrote a story, I'm sure I'll be having at least one fox in it. In the below images, I pencil sketched a realistic drawing of a fox to help me look at what features are essential and what features I can do without. I then drew a small non-realistic head beside it moving towards a more symbolic image. I took a photo of my pencil sketch using my samsung galaxy note phone (I was too tired to use the scanner), and then colored it using the phone as well.  I liked how the pencil lines looked on the blue fox, a bit rough. I used a digital pencil on the orange fox and the leaves outlines, the result had a slightly different feel but I liked it too. I also liked the blue color on the fox although I don't think there are real blue foxes around, what we do have is a popular restaurant here in Victoria called "the blue fox cafe", so "blue foxes" aren't that hard to imagine I suppose.

This next drawing was when I was really sleepy. I just wanted to get the colors in and see how they would look. The left side of the image is darker because I took a quick photo under a lampshade which then showed the shadows on the left side. A clean illustration wasn't necessary on this one. After this drawing, I decided I liked the top fox heads and wanted to explore them further using Photoshop.

Below are the fox heads redrawn and repainted using Photoshop. Here I am experimenting with different types of digital brushes (pencil and ink brushes) on the outlines. I find that I quite prefer pencil-like outlines which are not too well-defined, almost looking like smudges compared to the more defined lines from the ink brush. For me, the rough outlines make the drawing feel more non-digital and raw. What I don't like though is using the digital pen to draw. I find it pretty difficult to control and uncomfortable to be drawing on a pad and looking at the screen (maybe if I had a Cintiq, it would be better?). I used primary and secondary colors for this one.

Ahhh, so there you go. I got to practice working digitally and explored ways to achieve some sort of non-digital feel to my digital drawings. Not too bad for two night's work. Now I can go back to the comforts of my ink and watercolors and leave my digital explorations for another day. 

Fox design for my printed contact card

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Taking Colors Seriously

I have been thinking about colors a lot lately. I tend to use colors instinctively, on the fly, using either those that are closest to the actual colors of the subject or colors that I like - bright yellows, magenta and cerulean blue. This strategy often ends up being a hit and miss...more miss than hit that is, with me ending up agonizing over it while I paint and then after I paint.

So I thought I'd make my life easier and give it some serious thought before I even touch the paint. Personally, this takes a lot of self-control on my part, as it is always sooo tempting to take the brush and start painting once the sketch is done. Go with the flow. That's how I like it. I love watching how the plain sketches come to life when I add the colors in. It is one of the best parts of painting! That is before I choose one "unsuitable" color and end up ruining the entire watercolor painting.
I guess it's easier to correct color mistakes nowadays with Photoshop or other digital software but its not the same. I still know I made a mistake and the original painting shows it.

Looking at the works of established illustrators, I realized I should be giving my choice of colors some serious thought. It is one of those things that significantly define an artist's work, I believe. Some of  my favorite illustrators even limit most or even all of their works within a specific range of colors. While I'm far from defining myself to a specific color palette, I should at least begin to study how to make harmonious color combinations.

To help me with this, I bought myself a pocket color wheel chart.These are what I know about color wheels so far:
- It helps me figure out what colors to mix to produce the colors I want.
- To make a shadow color of a main color, I need to mix the complimentary of that color and it is easier to
  figure out by looking at the opposite of that color in the color wheel.
- To make a lighter color of the main color, I need to mix the lighter color beside the main color plus white.

I found watching these basic video tutorials quite helpful in understanding the fundamentals. Apparently, there are a whole lot of video tutorials out there that delve into this subject more thoroughly.

So for my first try, I'm sticking on variations of the primary colors. I must say, by just planning my colors beforehand, it makes my painting life a lot more enjoyable. As an extra study exercise, I'm looking at illustrations and then figuring what combinations they are in the color wheel. I learn new things every day.

Hummingbird in Gouache

We met Mr. Crabby here on our recent vacation in Parksville, B.C.
And I must say, we all had a great time chasing him around. :)
Bonjour, Mr. Crabby!  (rendered in ink and digitally colored on smartphone)