Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sunday School Drawings

I have been asked by my bishop to make some drawings for a Sunday school curriculum that he wants to make available to the diocese. This has been an interesting job because I have both the original scripture references to work from and the author's take on them as well. So I don't necessarily have to do a straight illustration of the text. So far, I am about 1/3 of the way through making drawings for all of the lessons.

My initial preliminaries involved lots of digital coloring. Bishop loved it, but we both agreed the time commitment was way over the top. FEAR NOT! This is the moment when Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him the he will have a son, John.

These watercolors are the direction we decided to go. They look good (I think, anyway) and they are quick to do. The first one is the parable of the Good Samaritan and the one below that is the parable of the lost sheep.

It turns out that the job requires a designer as well. My wife was a perfect fit! I make the drawings and she makes them look good with text all around them. I normally hate having text foul up my pictures. But I guess there's no way around that when you are illustrating books. BUT, she does a great job and I love the way the finished work looks.

By the way, it's a joy to work with your wife. I really recommend doing it if at all possible!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Alchemy of Drawing

Many of you out there wonder how it is that an artist takes a blank page and turns it into a fascinating drawing*. Simply put, it's magic. Actually it's alchemy which is a branch of magic. Mostly I just spill some pink or watercolor and wave a few pencils and pens around to make my drawings.

Or something like that. I really do believe it's alchemy, however and don't want to remove any of the magic by explaining my process.

But I'll go a head and explain anyway. I start out with a pencil drawing, but not too tight; I leave plenty of room to improvise later. After the structural details are done, I do all the value stuff directly in pen.

I tend to finish section by section when doing pen and ink work. This is not how I do watercolor or straight pencil drawing.

This close-up is to show how I do hatching and cross hatching. I love hatching to an unreasonable degree. It may be the perfect method of showing value. It builds value, gives texture, and adds interest all at the same time. It's the swiss army knife of drawing.

After the pen work is done, I go in with watercolor. It goes down in transparent washes (as watercolor should) so I don't usually have to touch up pen work after painting over it.

I erase any stray pencil marks and add a few touches of opaque white ink here and there and then I'm finished.

This is how I do a big chunk of my drawings - especially in Dreams and Visions. Now you know.

*"Drawing" you say? Isn't this a painting? Here's the thing, whether a piece is a drawing or a painting is pretty arbitrary. Since I spend far more time on the drawing part than the painting part, I just call it a drawing, or a colored drawing at most.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dreams and Visions

I think I have settled on Dreams and Visions as the title for my current drawing book. (If you don't know what a drawing book is, read this.) No, I don't think I am an artistic prophet of the Romantic 19th century variety. It's just that I have spent the better part of the last year looking over the drawings that are manifesting themselves in my book and I am noticing patterns that are developing.

What patterns you ask? Well, for one thing, all sorts of stuff is leaping out of my head:

These images are in the order in which I made them. You may be noticing how there is a progression here; it's not just things popping out of my head. Well, it's at least things popping out of my head; but I believe it's more than that.

The first image is a pretty straightforward dream image, there's even a speech bubble to clue the viewer into that fact. This is cut and dried.

The following image has things literally splitting my head open and exploding out. I have a "speech" bubble telling the viewer that these things are all to be found in my books (that's a drawing of a drawing book - a sort of meta-drawing book).

In the third image, I have a flip top head. The speech bubbles are gone and the thoughts just stand on their own.

The fourth image has the things in my imagination not splitting open my head; rather, they are melding with my head as if they all have equal substance with my mind.

And then there's this two page spread. I suppose the one on the left could be a surrogate for me - it's not exactly a self portrait as it doesn't look like me. Anyway, I think it's a toss up as to wether this is a drawing of a dragon and a fish with faces on them or if it's a drawing of two faces with a dragon and a fish hitching a ride. I'm not sure myself. The visions have an equal presence as the heads. They are both concrete.

I have not shown you everything - not by a long shot, but I hope you get the idea of how what it is a particular book is about begins to reveal itself to me.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

More Gyotaku... sorta

Gyotaku literally means "fish rubbing" in Japanese. So what I have here isn't exactly gyotaku properly speaking; it's more like plant-taku. (All of this taku talk is making me think of gyotacos, which would be delicious right now... a little of that sour cream-type sauce that my wife makes with some cabbage over some seasoned grilled tilapia all wrapped in a warm tortilla. Have a little dirty rice on the side.  Mmmmm.) Anyway, I have made some plant prints from some of the trees growing just outside of the school where I teach.

This first one is an oak sprout. These are harder to do than you would think. At least they were for me. I had to fiddle around with the pressure on the press so that it was high enough to get a good, clean print, but not so high that it crushed the stem and sent plant juices squirting all over the paper. I tried hand printing as an alternative, but I could not get any good impressions that way. I'll just have to keep trying.

Here I tried to approximate the colors in the leaves from the oak twig I picked for this one:

And this one. Hmm. A lot of people smile and say "weed!" for this one. But it's actually a leaf from a castor bean plant. It's towering over the school garden where no one seems to remember planting it. And don't worry, I've done due diligence on researching just exactly how poisonous this plant is and the internet assures me that we're all safe. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

On the Making of Books

I make drawing books and have been doing so since high school. Way back then, my drawing book was just a repurposed day planner. All of my drawings had lines, numbers, and dates through them. At the time, it didn't bother me too much; in fact, I kind of liked the idea of having all of my drawings dated. I stuck to the dates pretty strictly, in fact, if I wanted to draw on a page that I skipped, I would feel compelled to make note of it so that years later I would know that the date of the drawing and the date on the page did not match. It's probably related to a weird obsession I have with systematizing, organizing and taxonomy.

Anyway, I evolved from the primitive date book user into an Australopithecus spiralboundus sketchbook user. I filled two of these books. While there were no lines or numbers to be found in these books, I railed against the flimsy construction and poor quality paper. There is no way to construct the spiral in the spiral bound book that doesn't make for a lousy book experience. They get all wonky, the covers won't open properly, they won't lay flat, the paper rips out easily. Whatever. I was discouraged because I certainly didn't like the hardbound books I was seeing any more than the spiral bound. I didn't know if my sketchbook experience was to become extinct!

Then, while I was in college, I descended from the trees, walked upright and discovered book binding. I never looked back*. The idea of making the book with my own manly, calloused opposable thumbs in addition to making the drawings in it was irresistible to me. In fact, I refuse to call my books "sketchbooks" because I think that the word "sketch" implies something done quickly with very little value attached to it. Most of my books take years to finish and I care about them deeply. (In fact, I sometimes dream about my books, but those dreams are not for this post.)

I usually approach a new book with little or no expectations for how it will look when finished. The drawings seem to suggest themselves to me as I work on the book. It's interesting to me how each of the books have their own logic to them. They all look similar to each other in the way that family members resemble each other, but you would never confuse them. There are no identical twins in my book family.

Titles for the books usually suggest themselves to me around the time I am 3/4 of the way through. By this time, I have been looking at the drawings that I've done for about a year or so - give or take - and usually a theme begins to emerge in my mind. This is when I begin to decide on a title for the book. The drawing books seen above are, from the bottom to the top: Natural History; Concerning Religious Affections; Planetary Ambassador; Family Resemblances; Sins Committed, Sins Remitted; Drawings Done in Worship (or Heads and Arthropods); The Sleep of Reason; and my current drawing book Dreams and Visions (this last one is front and center).

I have no plans to ever stop making books. After Dreams and Visions, I am very excited to see what comes next.

*Except for once. The tiny little black book near the top of the stack is the evidence that I gave in to an empty temptation to devolve. I will talk about that some other time.