Sunday, June 24, 2018

Study Time, Part 1

Green Man color sketch from 1996.
    I moved to a new apartment last June in the middle of the hottest week of the year in Arizona. If you’re a booklover, you know what a herculean task it is to pack up your library of books into boxes. And after a while, it feels like you’re lifting piles of bricks instead.
    Along with all my artbooks, reference and fantasy novels, I’ve amassed a huge amount of sketchbooks and journals, some of which I haven’t looked at in years. In the middle of this move, however, I couldn’t help but open a few of these for old time’s sake—and I found a lot of old prep sketches and color studies for fantasy paintings that I’d done in the ‘90s and early 2000s, which I’d dutifully Elmer's-glued into blank books to preserve them.

    Before I get to the more recent projects that I’ve done over the past year in this blog, I thought it might be fun to take a look back at these early illustrations and the scribbles and messy painted photocopies that led to the finished artwork.

    When I prepare for a color painting, I do several preparatory "studies"—which sounds like an awfully sophisticated way to describe just making photocopies to shade and color. I doodle a rough sketch, then make a cleaner sketch which I then take to a place like FedEx Kinko's to enlarge and make more copies on which to paint.

    I then take the enlarged copy and put it on my lightbox to trace onto the nicer illustration paper. (Usually bristol paper, vellum surface, or hot press watercolor paper, which has a smoother surface—but has some tooth to it, so I can add colored pencils, chalks or pastels to the artwork.) When it's been traced onto the good paper, I usually first make more adjustments to the pencil drawing.

    Now, this next part varies. Sometimes I take one of the other photocopies I've made and use a pencil to shade it in and figure out all the light and dark areas and shadows.



    In later years, 
I've skipped this step and just shade right onto the actual drawing, but my early sketches do have a tendency to look like coloring book pages.

The Rose Fairy, 2005.




    (Hmmm... filing that idea away for later.)                                             

    Ever since art school, I've been doing variations of seasonal fairies, whether as illustrations or just sketchbook drawings. I also like to experiment with enclosing images in box-like frames and decorative borders. 

The Green Fairy, 1998.

The Leaf Fairy, 1998.  
This next one is called
Siren of Warsaw, and I remember the most fun part of it was painting the wave the mermaid was riding on. 

   I think I need to do more circular pictures! In this case, I used a compass with an extension to draw the actual circle, but for smaller circles I use circle templates, even coffee can lids of different sizes. I once used a dinner plate because it was the right size.

Winged Mermaid, 1998.

This (below) is the photocopied sketch for Artemis, which is originally a portrait of co-worker from a bookstore I had worked at in New Jersey. The concept of her as the Artemis was her idea and I took some funny reference pictures of her posing with a yardstick and a dowel-rod that were handy stand-ins for the Greek goddess’ iconic bow and arrows.

The Snow Fairy, 2003.

                                                                      Next up:

You'll see more early sketches and some of those color studies that I told you about earlier in this post. You'll see my messy painted photocopies and how I came up with the colors for these old illustrations.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Rescuing My Old Paintings

Baron Munchausen, 1995, was done in watercolor and colored pencils,
with some blackboard chalk to add softer, more "airbrush-y" areas.
It's gone through some renovation for this version of  it.

The cover of my Redbubble calendar. 
    When I decided to make a calendar of older fantasy paintings to sell on Redbubble, I wanted to spruce them up a bit with my limited Photoshop abilities. I will always use traditional methods, I think, but Photoshop is an excellent tool for enhancing work for publication. 


    A lot of this older artwork is mostly from the ‘90s which I don’t physically own anymore, mostly because they were done for commissions, favors—or sold to buy food. (It happens) The only records I have of some of them are photographs I took with my old 35mm camera, long before I owned a digital camera, long before they even made them! A lot of these old photos… well, they really needed help, so I thought I'd show you some of the  newer, cleaner versions.

    You can see some of the untouched photos of these illustrations in my earliest posts here, such as Watercolor—You'reDoing it Wrong and Gouache and Pez Dispensers.

    For instance, in the case of Baron Munchausen (above), I brightened up the colors considerably from the original. And for Autumn Harvest (below), I added a new sky and digitally redrew my signature that was partly cropped out of my old photo of it.

Harvest Fairy was done in 1994, in watercolor and colored pencil, when I was still trying to teach myself to paint, and the original was sold years ago. I always loved seasonal themes for my fairy pictures and the leaf-haired Autumn Fairy would return many times after this, most recently in my still unfinished painting of poet John Keats!

    Similarly, these following old watercolor pictures from the mid '90s also went through  some enhancements.

    Another of favorite theme of mine is... fauns! I love fauns and when I was a teenager I wrote a story about a faun named Ramsay, who leaves the safety of his enchanted valley in search of adventure and people who might respect him better, based loosely on the old Genesis song "A Trick of the Tail."


    The old notebook that contains this story still exists and one of my dream projects is re-writing and illustrating it. So this is why you'll see so many pictures of fauns from me: practice for Ramsay when he makes his re-appearance.


    This particular painting was also done in watercolor and colored pencils (1995) and is based on the Arthurian story of the Fisher King. The simplest knight finds the most precious object on a quest without trying to look for it because he only wanted to give an old man a drink of water. Like the Spring Fauns picture above, I brightened the colors up and "despeckled" the original photo. (I love the Photoshop "despeckler.") 
    This original of this painting currently hangs in my mother's house.

      The graphic shapes tool in Photoshop is very useful to help make an object rounder, even when you've used a circle template for drawing. I used the circle graphic many times to fix my planets, moons  and suns. (See my fan art.) Case at point: the sun in the background of my Samurai picture here looks so much better now.

        By 2002, when this was done, I'd already been working primarily in gouache for several years, still mixing it with chalk and colored pencils for effects. For this new enhanced version of Samurai, I smoothed out the sky and saturated the colors. This is another picture that I only have a very small photo of and I was grateful I could restore it.

    Kitsune is another Japanese-themed picture which I did on a rough-surfaced illustration board. I wasn't really satisfied with the grainy way the colored pencil looked on it and this is another picture where I smoothed out a lot of the rough bits in Photoshop with the brush tool.

    I always feel guilty about doing something like this because I don't want to lose the integrity of the original art. (In other words, I feel like I'm cheating!) But I can't argue with the ability to hopefully make the picture look better.

    Foxes are another of my favorite subjects, as well as my favorite animals. A kitsune is a shapeshifting Japanese fox fairy and I collect books on kitsune mythology, as well as their Chinese equivalent, huli jing.  

    While we're currently in Japan, here's some fan art I did of Mothra vs. King Ghidorah, from the Godzilla movies. (I've always been huge Godzilla fan and yes, I even have toys.
    A friend has the original painting and I have (as usual) a tiny photo that was actually cropped in a weird way making it necessary to try and fix it. This is another painting that had some parts redrawn with a mouse! (I really, really need to get a tablet and stylus one day...)
     I also re-worked the sky while I was at it and used the graphics tool to make the boxes of kanji-text a little neater-looking. I also saturated the colors of the original photo big time.



    Here's some other older seasonal fairy paintings from the mid-'90s that were also done before I made gouache my favorite medium, so the colors in these paintings are a bit more pastel. 


  I tried to saturate and smooth out the tones again here. Bear with me—I'm still a Photoshop novice and I'm still learning how to use it more effectively—but hopefully not too much!

    I'll leave that for the superb digital artists who are much better with this medium


    I'll leave you with the Tooth Fairy as my last "rescued" picture featured here in this post. (The usual, gouache, 2000.) I have many more old paintings that I'm still working on rescuing, and some that I'm convinced would be much better if I started new versions of them.

    In my next post, you'll see some more of the ones that I've restored a bit, along with some old "making-of" sketches from the '90s and early 2000s that I forgot that I had. I thought they might be fun for you to see.

               And I will get that Keats painting done eventually!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

It Lives!

Well, hello again! I’m back.

    It’s been more than two years since I’ve posted here in The Watcher Tree. I’ve been busy, to say the least, and I’ve missed updating this blog. I want to fix that.

    Sorry for the long, long, long absence. If you’re still following The Watcher Tree after all this time, I thank you so much for hanging in there with me. This blog has mostly been an informal place for me to share my projects, working methods and my continuing progress as I muddle through being an illustrator/writer/cartoonist. Occasionally, I’ll lapse into geeky posts without warning, going on about such subjects as Doctor Who or Doctor Strange or Blake’s 7 or the Pre-Raphaelite artists or Romantic poets or...

   Despite my professional illustration work and commission work, I still hold down a full-time day-job at a bookstore, as well as Saturday part-time job to help ends meet. I still do this for a steady paycheck and health insurance, which I most certainly need. This often makes me wish I was more prolific as my artist, but there are late nights and early mornings (with lots of coffee for fuel) and lunchbreaks in the bookstore for creative time.   

    Around my job(s), I’ve managed to keep making stuff (always, always making stuff) as well as practicing my story-writing techniques. (I’ll confess right now, without shame, to writing pseudonymous fanfiction. It’s good practice—and fun!) As far as my progress as an illustrator goes during the past few years, I’ve been able to post quick snippets about my projects on Facebook, Twitter, DeviantArt and Tumblr, sharing sketches and finished pictures to whomever wants to see them. My longer, more in-depth posts about projects have mostly been on Patreon these days, where I have some wonderful supporters who help keep me in gouache and brushes. In return, they get artwork and commissions from me as my thanks. (You know who you are: you guys rock and I can’t thank you enough.)

    But, sadly, I haven’t had a lot of time to come back and update the The Watcher Tree. I hope to remedy that now.

    Looking back at my own posts here, I see how much I’ve grown and changed since I first began it back in 2012. And I’m still learning.

    People have asked “What’s happened to Pre-Raphernalia?” 
    A lot of the work I highlighted early on in this blog was from my cartoon series Pre-Raphernalia, which is currently on hiatus, waiting grumpily for me to get back to it. I’ve been so busy with (paid) assignments that it became difficult to do any new work for it, despite many cartoon ideas for it left unfinished in my sketchbooks. Despite it being comprised mostly of these sketchbook drawings, the Pre-Raphernalia blog took quite a long time to put together, especially with all the added historical liner notes.

     However, I love the work I put into Pre-Raphernalia and I hope I will eventually be able to return to it again in the future. My love and geekiness for the Pre-Raphaelite artists is undiminished.

    My novel Heaven and the Dead City, which I posted about quite a lot in the earlier days of The Watcher Tree, had become a monster of work that I realized was beyond me as a graphic novel, so I made the decision to turn it into an illustrated prose novel instead. Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I’ve been writing for as long as I’ve been drawing. I have as many filled notebooks of writing as I do sketchbooks, and that’s a bookcase and a half. It’s always been my dream to combine my two loves into a single format. However, painting an entire graphic novel by hand had become impossible with my current schedule. Perhaps writing it as an illustrated book instead—while is still a tremendous amount of work—is a more attainable goal. I’ll certainly let you know. 

    So, what have I been doing in the past two years since I last goofily posted about Avon from Blake’s 7 and all my Doctor Who fan art? Things that have surprised me.

    Once more, if you’ve been with me this long, thank you! And if you’re new to my blog, please bear with me. As a middle-aged woman finally finding my artistic stride after all these years, I hope I can also help inspire creativity in others by writing about my attempts. It really doesn’t matter if you’re eight or eighty, if you’re using crayons or acrylic gouache, just do your thing: creativity has no expiration date, art is NOT a competition and we NEED more artists in this world.  

                  Sorry for being so long-winded. Future posts may be a lot shorter. 

                                                        Here we go!