What happens when you’re “just doodling.”

The other night I couldn’t sleep, so I pulled out my iPad and began doodling, with nothing in mind. At first I wasn’t feeling it and almost gave up for the evening, but the insomnia had kicked in by then, so I kept going.

Somehow I hit a zen moment where suddenly everything felt so easy and natural, and I wound up with a pile of cute little animal sketches.

They’ve received a warm reception from my online groups and various Facebook friends, all encouraging me to turn them into something. Nursery decor? Kid’s t-shirts? Fabric?

Great, right?

Yeah, not so much, because as mere sketches I created all of them at about 50% of the size I’d need in order to upload them to a POD site for production. I’m going to have to make them again from scratch at a bigger file size.

While playing, I got lost in all my fun brushes and textures, and have no idea what I used in order to create these pieces. I’m sure I can figure it out. That’s not what worries me, though; I’m dreading the loss of that zen feeling I had when I wasn’t “trying.” I dread ending up with a series of lifeless, wooden drawings, as so often happens when you switch from a study to a final piece.

ARRRGH.

Gonna do it anyway. 😌

Character design

I’ve been developing a character for the SVSLearn June contest—the brief asks for a furry mammal character, around the size of a 5-year-old, to be used in an animated children’s show, a picture book, as a plush toy, and, I dunno, a blockbuster Pixar movie, maybe? One can dream.

Here is my interpretation of the brief for Albert, the “kid” who comes to live with a human family and must learn a few manners along the way.

Bandwagon? Or Zeitgeist?

I’ve noticed lately there is a new illustration “trend,” for lack of a better term, that I’m seeing out in the world, mainly on Instagram. It may have more to do with the tools (Procreate on an iPad) than a zeitgeist or accidental copying or just, I dunno, that thing that happens among human beings where spaghetti and noodles both get created thousands of miles apart, or where people who can’t possibly have met are all exploring cubism simultaneously. There are numerous examples of this phenomenon, and I’m referring to historical instances, pre-Internet, pre-information age; even before we had cars or boats or any realistic way to transmit what was capturing everyone’s attention at any given time.

Collective unconscious? Is that the correct term? I’m not sure it explains how lithography, say, swept through Japan and also France at roughly the same time. How did every nationality invent a kind of dumpling? Why are there donuts and zeppole?

Getting back to the original topic, I find it somewhat distressing that I am seeing so much sameness on Instagram lately. It’s gotten to where I am now trying to guess who the artist is, and the correct answer could easily be any one of dozens of illustrators who, it would appear, are tripping over themselves to mimic each other. I mainly focus on kidlit art, so perhaps it’s not as widespread elsewhere, but in recent examples of picture book illustration, all the eyes are shaped the same way, the flowers are identical, the hand-lettering is ridiculously derivative and uninspired, even lazy. The brushes all look the same to me, in that greasy, goopy way that Procreate brushes can look if you don’t customize or enhance them. Remember when Photoshop took over illustration and suddenly everything looked Photoshoppy?

My recent attempts to bring back an organic feeling to my work are partly my own natural desire to hold onto traditional tools, partly a reaction to the Procreate-y Goopy Look I am seeing every day. I have a long way to go, but I crave that leaky pen, that drippy watercolor, those happy accidents that can’t happen digitally, and more to the point, using traditional tools forces you to slow down and be in the moment, carefully applying paint, waiting for things to dry, going fully zen. If you can just undo or erase a mistake—while essential when on a tight deadline—you lose some of that zen.

I don’t mean to suggest a return to Wite-Out. I absolutely love my iPad, and Procreate is a brilliant app. But it’s time to start pushing its boundaries, the same way we collectively pushed Photoshop and Illustrator’s boundaries these past thirty years. Bandwagon Style is a puzzling phenomenon to me generally, because I can’t imagine copying someone else and enjoying the process. I’m sure my influences can be spotted in my work (by others, not so much by me), we’ve all got those; I’m not talking about influences. I’m talking about a cynical ripping off for the purposes of selling the work. Is it art directors pushing this bandwagon thing? “I like it, but make the eyes look like So-and-So The Famous Illustrator’s eyes.” I ask this because it was my personal experience with a few ADs: “Make the colors more like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and we have a deal.”

As I’ve said previously, I attempted to do this, to “brighten” my palette at the behest of a Grande Fromage at A Big Name Publisher and the experience was such a disaster that I abandoned my book. That’s on me, of course. Not anyone else’s fault but my own, but I was much younger and so, so wanted to get published that I compromised my essence. It’s one thing to change a wombat into an otter, or tweak the copy, or even redo half your spreads. Compromising what is essential to your aesthetic, what makes you you? Never do that.

So I guess my original question stands: is it Zeitgeist? A bandwagon? Is a donut the same as a zeppole? They’re both delicious, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

Color Palette Rehab #2

I’m relatively new to the iPad Pro as an illustration tool, but since I can’t be the only one, I’m excited to share a super-cool feature I discovered by accident yesterday. It’s so incredibly simple, but if you don’t know it’s available, you might not think to look for it.

Creating a new palette in Procreate, the painting app, is straightforward. You just click the plus sign and a new, blank palette appears, ready for you to add swatches. Here’s the fun part:

There’s a pull-down menu that allows you to create new palettes using photos or files from your smartphone, on the iPad, or stored in the cloud. And the results are amazing.

I picked a random selfie of mine from a few years ago, one I’d taken with my SLR and enhanced in Photoshop. I always liked the combination of warm and cool tones, but when I chose the photo as a source image for a new palette, I was kind of stunned at how lush the colors were.

I also created a palette from the album cover for Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. Gorgeous. I’ve got a pile of delicious midcentury jazz album covers saved on Pinterest that will all be getting the full treatment.

I love the notion of working in the method of the Old Masters, creating tone from existing tone, but with a 21st-century machine. Best of both worlds.

Bookshelf

Just received my copy of What They Don’t Teach You in Art School, by Will Terry, and wish it had been around when I first graduated. Thought-provoking, well-written and fully illustrated by the author, this is a worthy addition to my bookshelf.
I’m also waiting for my (used) copy of the 15th edition of Graphic Artists Guild’s Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, a book I’ve purchased in the distant past and never had the chance to implement as a designer charging an hourly rate.Simpler times, but also less interesting; the pursuit of greatness requires risk.


Also on my nightstand:
It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, by the brilliant Julia Cameron
Make Your Art No Matter What, by Beth Pickens
Illustration Workshop, by Mary Kate McDevitt
Making Comics, by Lynda Barry
Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire


What are you reading, artwise?