Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sketching Comics for Children's Stories

One of my nephews, a college student, studies children's and young adult literature.  During a family vacation recently he proposed an idea:  let's listen to an audio version of some super short stories meant for kids and while we listen, draw comics versions of them, as fast as we could.

That sounded like a whole lot of chaotic creative scribbling fun to me.

He picked a story by Johnathan Rand called "The People of the Trees" from a collection called Creepy Campfire Chillers which you can find here.  And yes, this story was creepy!!

Anyhow, the story lasted only a few minutes, so we were drawing our comics versions at the speed of light!  Even with the painting later, the whole four-page spread took under twenty minutes.

I also chose to do them in that interesting sugar cane paper sketchbook I've written about recently.  I just wanted to see how it would do with speed and lots of small lines.  Plus, I really like the tan color and the odd effects I get from paint.  I felt like it would fit nicely in a scribbly comic about something creepy.

So, here is the comic:

Of course, the original short story packs a creepier punch than this dashed off comic.

Still, I like the comic results.  I mean, I drew this in about 10 minutes while listening to a story I'd never heard before.  I had to pick out the main points, structure the pages, and try to create images that were basic and quick, but recognizable.  As a drawing game, I really enjoyed it.

I liked working on this paper too--though because ink and paint sits on top of it for a long time, I had to be careful about smearing.  You can see in a few spots where that happened.  But, what the heck.  Just a scribbled exercise after all.

However, I have to share one of the unexpected wonderfulnesses of this little game.  When we finished our drawings, my nephew and I compared.  And what a fascinating thing to see how different our comics were from each other!  Not only because as different artists we, of course, had different styles.  But because we selected very different things to include in our quickly captured versions of the story, and structured our "camera" views so differently.  It led to an interesting conversation about all of that.

I think this would make a great exercise to do with children--young or old.  It focuses your brain because you have to pay attention in order to draw.  It challenges reading comprehension.  It forces you to listen and then translate what you've comprehended from the spoken word back out into a visual representation.  And then after the drawing is done, you can compare and celebrate the differences in what people heard and captured.

Really interesting thing to try!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

More Scribbling on Sugar Cane Paper

I've continued to scribble in this odd little sketchbook made of sugar cane paper.  Such interesting results.  I really like what it does, but not for everything I want to capture.  So I'm probably going to have to start another journal of more traditional paper to keep in parallel to this one.

I try not to keep multiple journals at the same time.  That's the subject for a future blog post!  Nothing wrong with it, of course.  Just not the way I prefer to work.

Anyhow, here are some recent pieces in the sugar cane sketchbook.

In this first one, I wanted to see if I could saturate the paper enough to take solid blocks of color.  I'd had trouble getting the paper to do this when I first tried it earlier (see previous post on that).  Turns out, I could, as long as I scrubbed the paper with a watery (or watercolor-filled) brush.  It was a good opportunity for me to do a plant sketch, capturing one of my favorite wild flowers from the Spring woods around my home.

By the way, I have no idea what these flowers are actually called.  I just call them "seven-pointed star flowers."  I should look it up some time.

Next, I did a sketch of a bag of candies some friends of mine had begged me to purchase and bring them them.  I had several bags on my kitchen table and decided it would make a nice exercise in observation.   Plus, I wanted to see if I could do smaller lines and details on this sugar cane paper, or if it would lack precision because it doesn't absorb.

You can see the paint floating on the surface again, especially in the smaller shapes where I couldn't saturate it.  Again, personally, I really like the look I get from the paint drying on top like that.  

The last one I'll share for today is something I copied from a photo I saw in Entertainment Weekly.

Here I felt like I could use the properties of the sugar cane paper to get the effects I wanted.  I let the color break up and float for the shadowing.  I saturated it for the hair and lips.  And I used a Uniball Signo white pen for highlights, which showed up nicely on the tan tone of the paper.

A fun little book with a great challenge for scribbling.  Since I still am not sure I now what the paper will do, it tosses a little bit of chaos into each drawing.

I find that the uncontrollable and the unexpected keeps my sketchbook experience lively and fun.  And it keeps me from getting too tight in my expectations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Testing New (to me) Paper: Sugar Cane Paper by Too Little Trees

A long time ago I picked up a lovely little blank journal made of sugar cane paper by a company called Too Little Trees.  I'm not sure why I didn't test the paper out before this spring, but I'm glad I did.

The paper, as you'll see in the scribble sketch below, has a light coffee and cream cast to it.  I wouldn't even call it off white.  It is definitely closer to a light khaki color, but not as dark as kraft paper.

The paper is very thin and quite smooth, like some of the high end fountain pen paper I've encountered.  I thought that probably meant that it would stand up well to media bleeding through it.

But you never know until you find out.  So I gave it a go a few weeks ago, while I was watching the finally of The Voice and pretending to clean the house.

Such an interesting result.  The paper took the ink from my Uniball Vision fine pen perfectly.  And it took the opaque white from my Signo pen perfectly.  And nothing bled through the very fine paper.  YAY!

But it got interesting when I applied the water color wash.  The watercolor not only sat on top of the paper, but collected into beads and sat there until it dried.  It never permeated the paper, or saturated in such a way that I could lay down a smooth block of color.  You can see that most clearly along the left edge of the background wash in the above picture.

This intrigued me so much that as soon as it dried, I had to try again.

On the other side of this same sheet of paper, I did a quick sketch of my hummingbird feeder.

All that lovely  mottling in the gray and red?  I didn't do that in any way.  The paper strongly resisted any regular laying down of water color.  I did get a few bigger blocks to stay this time by brushing over and over a few spots--I think that finally saturated the paper enough to hold color in bigger areas.

I know the paper wasn't working with watercolors the way it should, but I really really liked the way the color looked on the paper.  I've never seen this effect from watercolors on any other paper I've used.  And the ability to draw on both sides of a sheet with no bleed through--bonus!

So, I tried one more time (anything to avoid cleaning!).

Here you can really see the funky, uncontrollable beading from watercolor on this paper.  Only by now I was starting to understand how I could use brush strokes to control and shape patterns in the beading.  Very very cool.

You can also see this page buckled a little bit, probably because of all the water I applied.  But as I've mentioned before, I don't mind buckling.

I'm very excited to do lots more in this funky little journal.  It is small, lightweight, takes pen well, gives some fun energy to watercolors, and just changes things up a bit!  Keeps my sketching fresh and lively and challenging!  I like that!

I even got online to try to order another one, but so far, I'm failing to find any place where I can get one!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Testing New (to me) Paper: Rendr by Crescent

I've wanted to try scribbling around in the Rendr sketchbooks by Crescent for some time, but just haven't gotten around to buying one.  However, not long ago I found one on clearance at my local art supplies store, so I snagged it!

Rendr sketchbooks supposedly allow you to use any media you want and it will not bleed through the page.  You can read more about them on the Crescent page here.

I tried a quick scribble of my left hand using the most likely bleed-through culprit I know, a regular Sharpie pen.  Then I colored it with Pitt brush pens, which are nowhere near as bad as a Sharpie, but which have bled through plenty of pages in my other sketchbooks.

Here is the result:

As you can see, I laid the marker on pretty heavily, and even used a fairly vigorous stroke for the big blocks of color.

To my delight:  absolutely no bleed through!  YAY!!

Now I feel like I can dig out the markers I have hidden away and really give them some good use in this little notebook (this is the pocket size). 

This is a paper I am glad I know about.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Testing New Paper: Apica CD15 Notebook

Recently I've picked up a few new sketchbooks to try out the paper!  I still love hand-making my own sketchbooks, sure, but sometimes it is fun to buy them and try out new surfaces.

This week I did a first sketch in my new Apica CD15 notebook (11x7 inches).  Apica is a Japanese brand and I gather they are made for calligraphy work.  As a result, though the paper is quite thin, ink doesn't bleed through the pages.

The pages of these notebooks are lined (I couldn't find any blank for sale anywhere), which makes sense for practicing writing.  I'm not partial to drawing on lined paper, but I thought I'd give it a whirl anyhow.  I've seen interesting work done on lined paper by lapin, and I wanted to try it again.

I decided to do a sketch of a sea turtle, based on a photo I took on one of my snorkeling expeditions.

I used a Uniball Vision fine pen--the black is waterproof and quite inexpensive.  I also used gouache of different sorts.

You can tell from the photo that the paper buckled a bit, but that didn't bother me.

All that paint and water and ink and not one iota of anything bled through the page!  That really was quite a surprise to me.

These are interesting notebooks that come in a variety of sizes.  You can find out more--including a few very informative videos showing sizes and colors at Goulet Pens.

There are other Apica notebooks as well.  I don't know if they all perform the same way, but I assume not because the paper is different.

Worth noting:  painting this turtle took me straight back to the many wonderful encounters I've had with them while snorkeling in the Virgin Islands.  I need to sketch more from my underwater photography!  I feel so terrific and relaxed afterward--just like I've had a swim.

Looking forward to trying out more paper soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Still Practicing Portraits in Black and White

I'm still practicing portraits in black and white.  I've talked about doing this with vintage photos which are in black and white, because those photographers knew what they were doing without color.  It has helped me learn a lot.

But the other night, while watching one television, my spouse had to run to grab the phone.  I stopped the playback of the show and when the screen froze on a close-up of one of my favorite actors, I jumped up, grabbed my sketchbook and brush pen, and did this quick portrait.

Here is Funkhauser from the show Battle Creek.

This character is played by an actor named Grapevine (honest, you can Google it).

This portrait took me fewer than five minutes, and it actually looks like the actor!!  I know I could not have drawn it even a few weeks ago, if I hadn't been practicing with so many black and white portraits.

What a delight to capture this quick portrait.  It made me feel terrific about the improvement of my skills.  It reminded me that I can draw even in the tiny chunks of time between life's events.  And it will remind me in the future of this terrific little show which I really enjoyed... and which, sadly, has been cancelled.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Meaning in a Century-Old Mugshot

I've been working with black and white photography as inspiration during my self-directed learning about contrast and scribbling portraits of people.  Only recently did I discover the excellent collection of vintage photography (much of it free of copyright restriction and labelled as such) at the Flickr stream of the U.S. National Archives.

Of course, the rather random photographs cataloged there do not have the artistry of a photograph by Molly Malone Cook or Vivian Maier, but they do have their own sort of charm.

I had a chunk of time the other day, and after lots of practice lately with the brush pen and big chunky lines and broad areas of black and white, I wanted to do a slow, fine-lined portrait of someone.  It felt like a nice change for a sunny, lazy afternoon.  I floated through dozens of possible resource photos until one completely captured my imagination.

This is my drawing of a mugshot of Lizzie Cardish who in 1906, at the age of 15, was sent to Leavenworth to serve a life sentence for arson.  This was later commuted to confinement until the age of 21.

What struck me about this photograph?  I mean, the Flickr stream holds loads of interesting images to work with.  Well, I just couldn't get past the hat, with its complicated straw wave and the many-folded bow on top of her head juxtaposed to the criminal identification number resting across the tender and vulnerable part of her neck.  Fifteen years old.  Sent to prison for life.

I've mentioned earlier how juxtapostion--the placing of two unrelated things near each other--fascinates me.  I always appreciate it in poetry, fiction, film.  Now I'm learning to appreciate it in visual images.  I just love the energy and tension that vibrates in the gap between the two things.  That gap seems the sort of swirling chaos where new, interesting ideas and understandings can arise.  I'm curious about using it as a new perspective to take on life as well as art.

I'm not sure how long I'll stick with mostly black and white drawings.  I miss my watercolors!  Maybe I'll try to carry some of my new thoughts about contrast and juxtapostion back into my colored sketches.

But this recent interlude of studying high contrast scribbling has certainly been fun.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Practicing Portraits in Black and White

I've done a bunch of high contrast portraits in the last bit of time, mostly using the brush pen.  I like that style and I am going to do more.  But I decided to try using a fine nib fountain pen to do a portrait, to see what I've learned from my brush pen exercises.

For inspiration lately, I've been studying the photography of Vivian Maier.  You can see her work and learn a lot about it at this website. What a story surrounds that woman's life and work and the discovery of it!  

Though my brush pen portraits have all been quick, the lines thrown down in a minute or two or three, I allowed myself a full twenty minutes for this one. 

This is after a photography found on the website linked above, by Vivian Maier, numbered 19XXwoo577-01-MC.

Do you see what an amazing thing she did there with the X shape between the shadow and the man's extended arm?  I didn't see it until I had drawn it.  Which probably says a lot about who poorly I see things!  But that is why I keep my sketchbook--to help me see things better!!

I have no doubt that the quick brush pen portraits I've been doing have helped me begin to understand the basic shapes and shadows of faces and bodies.

I find I'm looking at people a little bit differently!  It's kind of entertaining to be standing waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, watching the person in front of me unload her cart and think, hmm, how would I draw her in black and white?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bringing out the Brush Pen for High Contrast Portraits

Lately, I've been interested in drawings that use larger blocks of black, or thicker lines of black, than I usually work with.  I think I'm interested in the look that comes with the juxtaposition of dark and light--the contrast differences.  I also read Roz Stendahl's blog pretty regularly, and her recent portraits using her brush pen inspired me to dig out my Pentel Pocket Brush pen again and begin to use it in my scribbles!

I used to do creativity training for corporate types, and I often had them play with the notion that creativity and innovation comes from putting together two things that don't normally go together.   I try to do that in my own life, when I'm stuck on a problem, or when I'm thinking about what to draw, or when I'm writing new materials for my classes.

So I was walking through my house thinking about what else I could practice my high contrast drawings on other than buildings and my dogs and cats, when my eyes lit on this book which is currently living on my coffee table.

I just adore, Our World, by the luminous poet Mary Oliver, with photographs by Molly Malone Cook.  I have owned this book a long time and often study the images of people which Cook created throughout her life.  I so admire the book as a creation of both text and image by two different people--again, I am fascinated by juxtaposition!

Anyhow, I know that it is pretty obvious to some people, but it honestly hadn't really occurred to me that I could learn and practice drawing in black and white by looking at fantastic black and white photography.  [Head slap.]  So, for me, that was putting two ideas together for the first time and heading somewhere new with it.

Anyhow, with my head full of Roz Stendahl's portrait style and inspired by Cook's photography, I tried to do a high contrast portrait.

This is W. Eugene Peterson inspired by a photo by Molly Malone Cook, printed in the book Our World, also inspired by the style of Roz Stendahl.  I used my Pentel Brush pen loaded with Platinum Carbon black ink (waterproof) and a wide tip blue acrylic marker (by Liquitex).

I drew the man in under one minute--just a quick capture with thicker black lines.  I really like the results.  To me it feels a bit more lively than many of the portraits I labor over.  There's something quite magic about the results from the brush pen.

I also like the notion that I could draw many of these in a short drawing session, and practice practice practice my portrait skills.  Kind of like doing blind contour drawings--fast and loose!

I highly recommend that everyone pick up a copy of Our World to see more of Molly Malone Cook's spectacular photography (along with the always miraculous writing of Mary Oliver).