A Novel Diet #5 and Art!

There’s been a bit of editing since the last post, as well as other commitments taking me away from the keyboard. I did notice, however, that editing doesn’t hold the same creative drive that writing does, even if the editing requires sizable chunks of rewriting. To scratch the creative itch, as it were, I decided to work on a drawing of my main character. It also didn’t hurt that I could use an extra piece for our local SCBWI chapter sample show. (About a dozen of us brought in postcards, tearsheets, and other printed samples for display before and after the meeting.)

I’ve been fussing around with doing black and white illustration using black Prismacolor pencils, with perhaps a black watercolor wash underneath. I love the technique but for one thing. It is so blasted slow. Layers upon layers of shading looks lovely, but takes forever, and then is very picky about scanning and reproduction. So I thought, ‘why not go back to pen and ink? That’s fast. Right?’

 

JeanRough72

The original sketch, about 1.5″ x 2.5″

I started with a small drawing of my hero out of my sketch book, scanned it, then blew it up to match the size of the original sketch of the wolf.

Wolf&JeanRough72

Resized and layered in Photoshop.

I blew them up again so the image was about 5”x8”, then printed it out and reworked it with black Prismacolor, correcting anatomy and shading. On a piece of tracing paper I did a rough ink, basically to see where to stop drawing.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

Done on cheap tracing paper with a crowquill nib.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

The wolf was inked on a separate piece of tracing paper. I think the first piece was too small.

Once I was reasonably confident, I put the reworked printout on my light table with a piece of Arches 90# hotpress on top, and went to town.

Overall, I like the way it turned out. The difficulty has proven to be in trying to repeat this success. I have tried twice, with another character, and neither one works as far as I’m concerned. It may simply be a matter of refining my technique, or accepting that I’m using the wrong technique. Either way, it’s worth the effort.

 

Jean&Wolf72

The final on Arches 90# hotpress watercolor paper. Crowquill with Calli black calligraphy ink.

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I did do some editing. I’m maybe a quarter or a third of the way through the manuscript, and my critique group just gave me some wonderful feedback which might actually make the book shorter. Here’s hoping.

128,999 words

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Let’s Put On a Show!

SCBWI_illustratorShowPoster

The Western Washington chapter of the SCBWI has a wealth of amazing illustrators. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see for yourself at the Washington State Convention Center. The show went up on October 10th and one of my pieces (this one) is included. Please go see it if you have the chance.

And speaking of shows, I had seven pieces at the Avanti gallery during the month of September, and one of them (this one) sold before the show even opened!

Thanks to everyone that put these two shows together and to everyone reading and liking this blog. It doesn’t matter if you are in Seattle or halfway around the world. Go Out. See Art. Be Enriched.

A Novel Diet

For the past long while, I have been writing a young adult novel. (It was referenced in an earlier post here.) About two years ago I finished the first draft. If you were to read it straight through, it wouldn’t make any sense, but that is what I am told first drafts are for. Over the course of the last two years, I dragged the tale, kicking and screaming, into some semblance of narrative cohesion. The first weekend of October was spent grabbing the last chunks and shaking out the inconsistencies.

There was just one problem. That revised draft came in at over 135,000 words. A nice sized chunk was removed when I found a scene had been duplicated twice. (All for the sake of changing one sentence.) Another lengthy scene was great fun to read, but alas, it had nothing to do with the plot and didn’t move the characters forward either. Whack! So after rough cutting this gristle, I got the beast down to 129,718 words. Still way too much, but enough of a change for me to realize this is possible.

I read somewhere that a YA novel should be between 50,000 and 80,000 words. If I ever wrote a YA novel in 50,000 words, my son would disown me. He prefers books that double as exercise equipment. And that’s in paperback. 80,000 words seems like it would give me enough room, but I’m not convinced this story can be told that quickly. So I’m not setting a final word count goal. It would be nice to be in the neighborhood of 100,000. It would be nicer, I think, to tell the story beautifully and efficiently, to let the story dictate what it needs. And if that takes 115,000 words then so be it.

I will try to post word counts regularly. I’m not just cutting, though. I’m editing too. There are several areas where my critique group has asked for more, and they shall get it. The result, as is the way of all diets, is that there will be days when the weight won’t come off. Yesterday yielded a net gain of 69 words. But I think they are better words than the ones that came before. So I will not despair, but hone, and trim, and tighten until the story says I’m done.

October 8th: 129,787 wordsJeand'YvelWeb

Here’s a newish version of the first scene. (The first version was back in that other post.) It has a watercolor wash for the under-painting, and then black colored pencil on top. I got midway through the trees in the background and realized they were too dark in the wrong places. So I erased all the colored pencil off the trees and started over. It made the lighter areas sort of muted. An interesting effect, but not one I would like to rely on.

A Mermaid’s Tale

Mermaid9

In an earlier post I mentioned a project I’m working on. It’s a young adult novel and someday I’ll tell you more about it. This time I want to talk about one of the members of my writing critique group. Brenda Winter Hansen has written a lovely YA fantasy novel set in the waters off the coast of Ireland. She and her novel have been accepted to the Whole Novel Workshop, put on by the Highlights foundation. All she needs now is to get there and she has set up a Kickstarter project to achieve her goal. (It’s now on Indiegogo. See the link below.) This artwork was commissioned for the rewards to those who contribute to her project. You can find out about it here, and if the link changes when the project goes live, I’ll update it, so you might need to check back. If all goes according to plan, the project should go live on Wednesday, March 20th. Go look at her project. Right now. I’ll wait for you.

Back? Cool. Remember to check in on Wednesday and donate if you can. And don’t forget to tell your friends.

(Fair warning: what follows is a LONG post.) In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to go through the process of creating the art. Brenda was generous in giving me a free hand and it definitely helped having read the story. That being said, when we chose this sketch to take to finish, we weren’t sure if she was even a character. But she fits the story, so she got the part.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

The original sketch is on the left. I redrew her on 140# Arches hot-press paper.

Perhaps this would be good time to mention that I’ve never painted an underwater scene before. I didn’t even have a clue how to start. Luckily someone posted a Photoshop tutorial on Deviant Art on just this subject. In about a half an hour I had a reasonable underwater background and much better chance of pulling this thing off.

The first wash.

The first wash.

At this point I mixed A LOT of paint. The basic green I used was Terra Verte from Dan Smith Inc. I have some issues with this pigment, but I won’t get into them now. It will be a suitable subject for it’s own post. I also mixed up some very old Windsor Newton Prussian Green, a separate puddle of Indigo (WN) and Terra Verte, and for the top, the ‘under-surface’ of the water, Cerulean Blue (WN) and Permanent Green Light (DS). I wet the paper as evenly as possible and finally started slapping down color. I had, however, forgotten that Cerulean has a tendency to not play well with others and it ‘precipitated’, separating from the green. Actually, it didn’t just separate, it dove into the paper and latched on. Momentary panic set in, followed by vigorous scrubbing, and a bit of swearing. You can still see the where the blue stained the paper in front of her face. The rest of the background went in comparatively easily. I set it aside to dry, and started breathing again.

The first layers of skin get painted.

The first layers of skin get painted.

When I was in art school sometime back in the Jurassic, my watercolor instructor wouldn’t let us use black. We had to mix it. She also gave us a great formula for Caucasian skin tone: Cerulean and Orange. Since she made us mix our blacks, she made us mix our oranges as well. (I don’t think I’ve ever owned a tube of Orange watercolor.) This time I used the aforementioned Cerulean along with Cadmium Red (WN) and New Gamboge (WN). Unfortunately, at this point in my process, I have several pools of paint mixed up and I start getting sloppy. I just dip my brush here and there, add a bit of water or a bit more pigment, keep things moving. As a result, I have no idea exactly what colors were used in the green and blue parts of her skin, the fishy bits. I started with the green, painting over the areas for both green and blue. In the picture below you can see the blue has been added.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

She gets her hair done and I deepen the skin tones.

The first layer for her hair is straight Indigo. I think I went back in to the flesh tone a little bit here.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

The fish get some definition and she gets some outlines.

I gave the school of fish behind her a bit of definition and then went in with colored pencil. I used black on her hair and then started on her edges with the black as well, but it was too flat. I grabbed my trusty Terra Cotta colored pencil, but that was too warm. So I covered the Terra Cotta with the black and successfully avoided a horrible Goldilocks metaphor. It looks as though I added another layer to the background here as well.

The first 'finished' version.

The first ‘finished’ version.

It was a good days work. I took her into the house to my resident color expert.

“That’s a good start,” she said.

“Start?”

“You never use enough contrast,” she said.

Sigh.

Mermaid10

The next day was spent carefully adding layers, deepening shadows, refining linework. I showed her to Brenda that night, and while we all like the art, it still wasn’t ‘there’. The big difference you see here is the result of this being a scan and the others from our Canon point & shoot.

The 'final' final.

The ‘final’ final.

This is where my resident color expert (aka my wife) gets her real due. I knew the piece needed ‘more’. I just lacked the confidence to be as drastic as I needed to be. I’m fussing and fuming over how to proceed and she just points to a glob of paint on my palette.

“What’s that green?” she asks.

“Permanent Green Light. It’s too bright. I can’t use that.”

“Just mix it with this other stuff. It’ll be fine,” she says.

I do the tiniest bit, knowing it’s hopeless. It isn’t. It’s gorgeous. I don’t care if it makes me a wuss. I take my wife’s advice because she knows what the hell she’s talking about. The Permanent Green is very yellow, so it contrasts with all the blue green in the picture, popping the mermaid off the page. With the green in her fishy bits plumped up I move on to the blue and have a bit of fun. I used Lapis Lazuli (DS). It’s the real stuff, not synthetic. The batch I have is a greyish blue and it gives a lovely depth to her blue as well as a slight contrast to the blues around her. Her pink skin needed more warmth too. I didn’t want to use my skin tone mix, that would push her more to the brown side. So I used a thin layer of Garnet (DS), also the real stuff. Her hair got a little more black (mixed, of course), and a few more touches here and there, but after a day of sketching, a day of drawing, and three days of painting, I think she’s done. That may not keep me from fussing with her until she gets sent to the printers, but all in all, I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.

And don’t forget what this was for. Check out Brenda’s Kickstarter campaign. Donate if you can. Thanks.

The Glories of Antiquated Technology

As the result of a fabulous consultation with Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster last April, I have been, oh so slowly, coming up with more black and white samples aimed at interior illustration for children’s books. Not picture books, as those are usually in full color, but middle-grade to young adult novels. Ms. Cummins also suggested that I concentrate on animals. No problem, says I, and off I went to create new, amazing samples in glorious black and white.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The first scan @ 600 dpi on the HP. This probably has not had any tweaking in Photoshop.

In my first few posts I made mention of the difficulty of scanning black colored pencil. My scanner (an HP Photosmart All-in-One thingy) simply refused to see the lighter grays, so a lot of the subtlety of my drawings got blown out. My wife’s scanner is a newer version of mine and even though it can see more gray tones, it still knocks out the lighter stuff. And to make matters worse, my art work is often on paper larger than 8.5×11. Look at your scanner. See how the glass is lower than frame? Imagine trying to get a good scan from a 9×12 piece of stiff watercolor paper.

Now the solution to all of this is very simple. Get a good, legal sized, flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, my budget will not allow that.

So what’s a boy to do? Call on his geeky friends.

That’s what.

One such friend of mine used to run a large format digital print shop. When I told him of my problem, he said “I probably can’t help you. The scanner I’ve got has a SCSI cable. It won’t hook up to your new machine.”

Ah, but I have an old G4 Macintosh that I was thinking of scrapping. Not any more. The new (old) scanner was easy to install. The AGFA website still had downloadable drivers and manuals. In minutes I was up and running. And the results? Holy dpi, Batman! That thing works! And it’s flat. I’ve draped 12×14 art work over that thing and stitched it up in Photoshop. No problem.

The scan on the left is from the HP scanner at 600 dpi. I think I went back into the original art and darkened things up and boosted the contrast in Photoshop. The one on the right is from the AGFA scanner. It’s a 16 bit file at 450 dpi. It is HUGE. I don’t remember if I bumped the contrast on this one or not.

A close-up from the second HP scan. Note all the blown out white areas.

The same close-up from the AGFA scan. Hopefully you can see some sketchy lines in the light area under his jaw line. That’s my under drawing. My original layout scribbles.

I’m sure there are scanners out there now that will hold this kind of detail, and there’s no way I could have afforded the AGFA when it was new. But that can’t stop me from singing the praises of a piece of antiquated technology that not only works, but rocks.

Taking Liberties

I just finished this small commission piece. It’s about 3” x 4.5” with colored pencil line-work and watercolor using natural pigments. Because of its size it was fairly quick to produce. There was, however, one problem that cropped up (and this is something I’ve had to struggle with before). If you draw a deer in any way realistically, whether it be male or female, it will look like a doofus.

Think about it. The head is too small for the body and the ears are too big for the body, let alone the head. And if it’s a stag, the antlers get stacked on top like some sort of forest-roaming Carmen Miranda. I’m surprised there aren’t more cases of hikers being harassed by surly stags as they must all suffer migraines.

Their necks are long and thick and appear to be glued onto a body thinner at the chest than the rump. They have no shoulders to speak of. Their legs are too spindly to support their weight and they are all knock-kneed.

Just to be clear, it’s not the animal I have issues with. It’s drawing the animal that drives me crazy. So I decided I must take liberties when drawing deer to make them look cool. For this piece it wasn’t too bad. I was able to ignore the toothpick legs. I wanted to anthropomorphize the stag anyway, so I didn’t need to render the eyes accurately. The head is a tiny bit larger than my reference photo and the antlers are skewed to surround the sun. And I made his ears smaller. With a little tilt to his head, he almost looks suave.

Hopefully he still looks like a stag.

Ongoing Project

I’m working on a manuscript for a YA novel and it is currently in the toddler phase. The story is all there, it may even be able to walk on its own, but it’s still clumsy and unintelligible at times. Writing something like this is a daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. (Feel free to refer back to the toddler metaphor.) Every once in a while you need to take a break. Do something else.

So as a way to maintain my minor grip on reality and keep my drawing skills honed, I’ve decided to illustrate scenes from my story. I don’t expect these to end up in the book and this is not a graphic novel. This is just me stepping away from the keyboard.

Here is my view of the opening page of the novel. Consider it a picture in a baby book.

Without averting my gaze, I drew an arrow from my quiver, nocked it on the bowstring and waited.

Contest Final

So I did it again, this time on Strathmore 300 Bristol. And I tried to make the hand holding the gun a little less like my fat mitt, which is what I used as a model. I think Maura looks more deadly in the final version as well. There are still issues with the shading being blown out during the scan. Those won’t get fixed until I get a better scanner or a better camera.

"I made a lot of mistakes. I see that now...You understand I can't afford to make any more."

All in all, this was a lot of fun. Just like Maura, I made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t think I’ll respond to them quite as, um, dramatically as she did.

Contest Art round two

As soon as I decided to redraw the art I saw all sorts of things that needed fixing. Maura’s face was too narrow, eyes too big, collar bone in the wrong place. I set about fixing these problems and decided to use a heavier paper as well. I snipped a piece of Fabriano watercolor paper out of my stash and found that it had too much texture. It’s not too bad and I did get much better blacks, but the over all look is a bit fuzzy.

Version 2 on Fabriano watercolor paper

 

Art for Holly Black Contest

Holly Black, fabulous author of White Cat, Red Glove, Tithe, The Spiderwick Chronicles, etc. is holding a contest to give away three advanced reader copies of her new book, Black Heart. All she asked for was something excellent from the Curse Workers series.

So here’s my entry (well, at least my first attempt). A scene from Red Glove in which Cassel is about to get plugged by his sister-in-law, Maura. For those of you who haven’t read these books (for heaven’s sake, read these books!) I won’t say anything further. Just that it’s a visual cliff hanger. I wanted to get the feel of film noir and Raymond Chandler, the stark lighting and shadows. Unfortunately my scanner absolutely fried the black colored pencil. I’m going to try taking a picture of the art and see if that keeps the lighter grays. Also, the paper I used was a lighter weight Rives buff printing paper and I had a hard time getting it black enough.

"I've made a lot of mistakes. I see that now...You understand I can't afford to make any more."