Thursday, December 30, 2010


Its December 30, 2010. Kimberlee and I are both caught up with the usual year's end and holiday season distractions. Family, children home all day on midwinter vacation, Christmas aftermath, work related year's end projects. Working from home when family is also home all day is daunting. One may close the door to one's studio but everyone knows the artist /writer is in residence. Doorbells, telephones, the pressing concerns of family members, such as:

1. When are we eating?

2.What are we having?

3. Can't we have something else?

4. Where are my jeans (shirt, flashlight -you name it) We are supposed to know by some sort of feminine telepathy where everything is at any given moment...and to then go get it for them because, of course, the questioner has 'already looked there.'

5. 2 many treats = heavy duty pastry+ cookie binging = serious sugar/carb overload.

6. Loving family members and visiting friends want us to 'take a break' and join the fun.

7. Cooking cooking cooking

8. Shopping for groceries

9. Cooking cooking cooking

10. Laundry and more laundry. Time spent outdoors in melting snow and rain means muddy wet clothes.

11. Finally, Kimberlee and I love creating but we need a break too, and this is a good time of year to take it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Beatrice Gets Her Wings Day 3

At right you see the art as it looks right now, at the end of the day. A layer of pigment has been applied to each wing segment. Im using the following pigments:

1. Sennelier's Aquarelle Extra Fine

2. Winsor & Newton

3. Dr. Ph. Martin's Hydrus Fine Art Liquid Watercolor

4. Danial Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

And these brushes:

Blick Master Natural Pure Squirrel Round #8
Winsor & Newtons Artist's Kolinsky Sable Round #5

First fill in the small area with water, then flood in a drop of dense pigment at one end. This color flows the puddle and depending on the pigment, may or may not plume. While its still wet float in a different color at the opposite end, and allow them to flow together. If a stain is forming around the shape but isn't desired, gently apply a small, dry natural hair brush in order to wick excess liquid and color right out. In this instance the stains are desirable and I'm deliberately creating them as a way of delineating the veins outlining each segment. Areas that should stay white are simply painted around. After the entire wing area dried I used a wet brush to float in a pale wash of cerulean, applying lightly and avoiding contact with the paper surface - this way the first layer of color is not disturbed. Note that in the larger wings, this wash has been brought right over some of the areas that were initially left white.

Colors used in the wings include: burnt umber, burnt sienna, alizarin, French ultramarine deep, Winsor & Newton's neutral tint gray, and yellow ochre and thalo green and blue.

Just for fun I began painting in a few of the violet and pink wild flowers that will eventually cover part of the background.

Beatrice Gets Her Wings Day 2

This is how the painting looked yesterday, late afternoon, when my indoor lighting began to alter. The late afternoon light is shining through the blinds at right. I use studio lighting that mimics daylight, but when working with the cool colors find it best to work in the same block of hours every day, to maintain a similar degree of intensity. This holds most true when working with ultramarine and thalo blues or greens. If painting in the evening its apparent the following day exactly what areas I was working on the evening prior. Values are too intense and the blues/greens are over saturated.

As you can see, the body is considerably narrower. To keep the colors bright and clear I'm not using washes. Instead, I paint in small section by section, as if piecing together a stained glass window. Every now and then I stand back and evaluate; modification may be needed. If one wing was too large or oddly shaped, this is the time to balance and adapt.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Something to Strive For

I know well enough not to end in a preposition, but I just found this blurb on the Cybils (see the blurb at the bottom right of the blog) and think it is a good goal for us to set. I really want to produce something of quality, that is a child's favorite book, something they learn from, want to read over and over, something with a message that resonates within them about it. One of my favorites is The Lorax. I thought how could people be so blind to pollute, to take away and not beautiful our world. And now it seems there is nothing that can stop that path. We are destroying the rain forests at a phenomenal speed. We seed clouds for our benefit. What are we doing to Mother Earth. There is no Lorax to speak for the Earth. What will it become for our children? Days of wearing 200SPF? I still think that maybe my true path is to go be the Lorax and speak for the Earth. 

Anyway, we'd love to hear from you. What is one of your favorite books of all times from your childhood? And what impact has it had on you? 

From Jacket Flap: Now in their fifth year, the Cybils are the Internet's first literary awards. The public nominates their favorite children's books. Then groups of bloggers get to work. First, a nominating committee reads ALL the titles in a given category. After nearly two arduous months, this committee winnows the nominees to five finalists. A second committee of bloggers considers the shortlist and, after much debate, chooses the best of the best for 2010.

Working With Faulty Design

Below you see my first attempt, traced from our detailed pencil drawing. The butterfly's abdomen is too dark and wide even though its to proportion for this species. Almost at center, the ugly bray blob dominates the space. One way to circumvent this is by rendering the wings as dark or darker, then shading the abdomen in a way that makes it appear smaller than it really is, blending its contours into the wings. Adding an overall pattern or drybrush texture would make good use of the darker areas, like lace placed over a solid color fabric. Another solution might be washing out the darkest pigment until its a midrange tone and when the art is dry, touching up with opaque white or colored pencil. This particular paper, however, is delicate. Its a vintage, handmade sheet with no sizing, which allows pigment to soak right in without puddling. If the area is scrubbed, fibers unravel and the surface will be damaged beyond repair.

Kimberlee and I want this butterfly to be somewhat true to species, which means darkening the wings is not an option, nor is scrubbing the dark area to a lighter value. I opt for cutting my losses and start over with a modified drawing. I've redrawn the wings but modify the body, making it slender and adding curves. This is not anatomically or correct, but when finished, the art will appear believable to the eye. Look to the left of #1: the new butterfly is placed left of the first, blotched attempt for comparison. There's also an actual butterfly that I found in our driveway this summer (already dead) and an assortment of different wing diagrams, etchings and photos.

Painting #2, below, shows the new painting alongside the original pencil drawing. Since taking this photo Ive painted most of the wing area but its now so dark outside (snow is on the way!) that I wont be able to get a good shot. This is a good place to leave off, and the next entry will show the progress and talk about some of the challenges befor us. The colors are coming out BEAUTIFULLY and Ill talk about the brands and pigments selected, the paper choice, and other technical aspects that might interest those of you who share my fondness for watercolor.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beatrice Gets Her Wings

Okay, for some reason that last entry wasn't letting me load the image but this time all went without a hitch!

At left you see the first layer of wash for one of our illustrations. The day was a bit dark, so its not as clear as I'd like but you get the idea. What I noticed is that the Beatrice, our butterfly, had a thorax that was proportionate to her species. That's fine, but in the enlarged image it will attract too much attention, right there in the center of the art. I attempted damage control by experimenting with some pattern work and varying the values but could see that this was not what we wanted. Also, I didn't like the way this watercolor board was taking the pigment. Soooooo, what next? What do you do when that beautiful drawing flops on the watercolor table? You'll see in tomorrow's installment.

Painting the Art

Kimberlee and I have been balancing family, work, and creative endeavors but this doesn't mean we've forgotten about our book! To keep creative energy cooking, we touch base with scheduled conferences that are part business, part everything else. Mutual support is instrumental in staying on task, and a sense of humor. Yesterday I sat down with one of our drawings and began painting. Almost immediately I saw a problem with with the composition. Sometimes a b/w pencil rendering works great, but translating that drawing into 4 colors often requires reassessment of values and design. The final outcome depends on what the artist is striving toward.

Kimberlee and I want imagery that will appeal to younger children: large blocks of of color and within those areas of color, monochromatic pattern. We also plan on hiding some imagery amidst the foliage and in the borders, to keep things interesting. For example, little ants on their way to work, bumble bees, spider webs or caterpillars nibbling leaves. We want a degree of accuracy but the characters need to be personable, too.

After noticing the problem, I decided to continue painting and see if there could be some adjustment using pattern and tone to distract the eye. Theres a photo of the art at this stage but the' image upload' icon is not functioning. Ill take a break for now and try to figure out why it isnt working.