Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sketch of Julia Reading

In writing class, the initial exercises included writing about oneself - about my experience in school, about an embarrassing moment, a learning moment, a turning point in my life and so on. The premise was that whether we write fiction or non-fiction, it is best (and probably the easiest) to write about what we know. It felt to me like an "inside going outwards" activity.

In contrast, when I took summer art classes back in highschool, the very first drawing exercises were to draw objects or figures. "Pay attention to the light, the shape, the texture," our art teacher would tell us. Drawing/painting still-life or landscapes was about developing how one sees the outside world and expressing it on the page. It felt like an "outside going inwards" process.

Now that I'm doing both writing and illustration, I am struck by this difference in learning approach. I do think that this contrast only applies at the early stages of learning because for established writers and illustrators, I suspect, the process becomes a cycle of outside going in and inside going out. Both writers and illustrators take in inspiration from the world around them and both also express themselves into their writing and illustrations. The process of creativity is cyclical in nature. At least it feels that way to me.

In the past weeks where I have committed myself to drawing at least once a week, I acquired a higher appreciation of the sketching process. I now regard it as a necessary step instead of just another way of doodling. It has become an important part of my creative process.

For me, there are two steps - sketching and then the actual painting/drawing. The two requires different ways of thinking (or being). In sketching, the focus is in the formation of the idea and the transformation of that thought into something tangible and visible. That in itself is a very powerful creative step. To be able to extract an emotion, a memory, a thought and translate that on paper and then have that resulting image convey a similar emotion, memory or thought to whoever sees that image, is challenging. We are essentially giving birth to something invisible, into something that is of this world - tangible and concrete.

Once the idea had been sketched, the next step is to further express and distill it in the style of the artist. The focus then shifts towards technique, skill, medium and style. Both parts present their own challenges and I see a lot of artists who are good in either one of them. But for sure, the illustrators that I truly admire are great at both.

My sketch below was inspired by watching my eight year old struggle to read. As I watched her, I thought about all the stories I read when I was a child myself, all of which I wanted her to discover (as soon as possible, if I had it my way). But I know she had to discover them at her own pace, slowly moving from word to word. In the meantime, the creatures and characters from the great stories that have ever been written are waiting patiently, with much anticipation, for that moment when she finally meets them in their world, that hidden world that can only be glimpsed at when she opens their book and reads.

I plan to paint this in gouache in the coming weeks. Colors and characters would likely change but the idea would be the same.

Julia Reading

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bat Sketches in Gouache

Occasionally, I just want to draw the same thing over and over again. Like this one.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Cover Illustration: "Prove It, Josh"

Jenny Watson, a good friend of mine and co-member of the Victoria children's writing group, had released her first book September of last year titled, "Prove it, Josh". The book was published by Sononis for young readers ages 8-12. More details could be found here:
Not only is the book quite inspiring, it also nicely captures the struggles of a young kid who is dyslexic (among other things). I also liked that the book is set in British Columbia, involves sailing and gives a glimpse of life near/on the water. I highly recommend her book. Jenny is a great writer. She is an inspiration to all of us who know her. Jenny's blog and tumblr account could be found in the links below. (She posts very nice pictures).

My illustration this week is of her book cover. Her book cover uses an actual photo of a boy on a sailing boat. She wanted to have an illustrated version, with hard edges and waves similar to the waves in Japanese paintings. I found this to be a great exercise. It got me browsing at books covers for middle grade readers and was amazed to find them mostly awesomely illustrated, have attractive color palettes and packed with high action. I realized, doing book covers is one whole market segment for illustrations in a way and some artists specialize in this area. Quite interesting.

Below are my initial sketches and the resulting illustration. I used brush and ink for the base drawing to produce the hard edge and colored it in Photoshop.

Jenny Watson's "Prove it, Josh" book (published by Sononis, Sept. 2013)
My initial watercolor sketches
Inked Drawing
"Prove It, Josh" illustration 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Digital sketching and coloring (collaboration with Julia)

I have been out of my usual orbit the past week, mostly associated with the fact that I had my driving test yesterday and needed to cram review the two driver's guidebook during the weekend. I am glad to say that I have passed the test and now have my Canadian drivers license. Yay! So now, after a day of decompressing, I'm slowly able to get back to my weekly routine.

I haven't got much to show but I'll share what I've just done today anyway. This is in collaboration with my 8 year old (Julia). Last week she made quick sketches of knights that blew me away. I don't know where she got the idea but she came out of her room with her drawing (below) and I just swooned over it. She had accurately depicted the knight's movements, the action, and impression with just a few quick lines. Her drawings were very fluid and simple. It amazed me how children could boil down the complicated details that adults sweat over most of the time into it's simplest forms and still retain the accuracy of the character they are portraying.

Julia's knight pencil sketches
Since I needed to practice doing digital sketches using the tablet pen anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to see how it'd turn out if I traced her sketches over in photoshop and do some quick coloring. In my earlier digital drawings, I have never traced a pencil sketch. I let the pencil lines show through the artwork. So it'd be good to get some practice making purely digital outlines. 

It took me sometime to tinker with the digital brush. I wanted a brush which is sensitive to the pressure and one that would "grow" wider if I put in more pressure and contract to a thin line at very little pressure. Also, I wanted the brush to have an angular edge and not rounded. I must have spent more time tweaking to get the right brush type that I wanted than on tracing and coloring the sketch itself. But I think, it is well worth the effort. 

Below is the resulting sketch. I wanted to keep it rough and sketchy, coloring outside the lines and finishing it pretty fast. I felt that in my previous illustration, I have been too calculated with my sketching and coloring that I wanted to do quick sketches like these for the sole purpose of loosening myself up. I wanted it to have a "cartoony" feel, like it's done by a kid instead of an adult (because the pencil sketch was done by a kid :). All in all, it was a good digital sketch exercise, quite fun to do in a span of thirty minutes. Next time, I would like to explore adding in more textures though. This one feels too 2 dimensional for me. Having some textures underneath would make it more interesting.
I'm still undecided on whether having the pencil outline is better than the digital brush outline or not.
It seems I like both. 

Digital sketch and color study of Julia's drawing

Monday, August 4, 2014

Feature Illustrator: Benjamin Chaud

Every time I go to the library or bookstore and scan the illustrations of children's books, I find myself gravitating towards the works of UK and French illustrators. It made me wonder why. There's definitely a look and feel to their illustrations that is more fluid, more organic and endearing to me. The works of Benjamin Chaud is an example.

Benjamin Chaud (Illustrator)
A quick web search shows him to be  French illustrator who studied in Paris and is now based in Marseille. 
He is an award-winning author and illustrator of more than 60 books which includes The Pomelo series, The Bear's Song and I Didn't Do My Homework Because. There's not a lot of information about him on the web but there are snippets of interviews with him (in French) and he maintains a facebook account. (Links below)

His illustrations are quite colorful and dynamic. I love that he uses pencil for the outlines and colors them digitally. His color palette is limited but are bright and very attractive. Below are examples of his pencil sketches with digital coloring, taken from his facebook account. So rich in detail!

The below two images are some of my favorites taken from his book, The Bear Song. More about it here:

His work is a great example of the pencil + digital technique. After seeing them, one cannot underestimate the power of the lowly pencil again. Here is a delightful short video using the illustrations of his new book. Pretty inspiring!