The Benefits of Using References

Bunny Love - photo on the right is my rabbit and me
I use photos of friends, family members, and pets to help me draw more realistically.  I also keep a library of photos that I cut out from magazines and old calendars and organize them into categories, ie: Animals, Household Furniture, Technology etc. (categories get more descriptive with the more specific images I come up with). 

*I only use photos as a tool because it is still crucial to know how to draw freehand. 

I also love to use live models and get to see and learn from their expressions, and then sketch their personalities.

*Being an illustrator, is being an observer.  

Aside from live models, I also like to create sets to achieve various layouts and compositions. As a child (even as an adult), I loved to build and play with legos, wood, construction paper, and other various craft supplies.  I really enjoy being "hands on" and even though building anything is an extra step, it certainly helps out with constructing desirable layouts and understanding how light sources reflect on objects and people.

The Benefits of Starting a Piece Over

I cannot tell you how many times I find myself saying "this is a work in progress" or "this could be better" with what is actually a piece of art that I haven't touched in months or even years because the process of adding anymore detail is painful. Painful because no matter what I do, it is not going to end up helping the piece in the long run.  When I get to this point, it is just better to scrap the work and start over.  I will show you with what I mean with fresh starts:
Before Redo
After, receiving desired results

Here is another example, this time I restarted very early on:
Before Redo
Final product

7. Q&A: Why do you illustrate? Why not just make art pieces to hang on a wall?

Illustrations can be
hung on a wall.
A: While I do enjoy making traditional paintings for viewing on a wall, there is something so enjoyable about creating pieces that tell a story.  I enjoy being a story teller and not necessarily depending on words to do it.  Don't get me wrong, I love it when the words and pictures "dance" together but each illustration needs to be strong enough as a stand-alone without being the handmaiden of a description beside it. I also apply this theory when making work for serious subject matter, such as when news articles or educational books call for title or cover art.  The most gratifying challenge is to make an illustration that says everything it needs to and leaves the door open for some interpretation.

FUN FACT: When I was a child I used to read a bunch of stories and then make my own sequels to the stories I read, ie: Madeline goes to the USA!  (I'm sure I have some of my homemade books somewhere in my parents' basement). I also played with legos, action figures and stuffed animals and then would get really excited about the story line I had just created.  I would become so ecstatic that I would basically document what I had just done through a hand crafted children's book. Playing is important! I find it amusing that I can still remember how I felt when I played with my toys and the excitement it generated, leading me to do something creative on paper following my playtime.  It is just as gratifying when others who look at my work express that same sense of enjoyment and delight.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Illustration is a highly collaborative endeavor.  Many of the writer/illustrator teams that have inspired me the most have had long term collaborative relationships, which is another element of illustration that draws me specifically to this field.  More to come on collaboration and crafting your own unique voice within the context of a team in future posts!

6. Q&A: Do you have any routines that help you stay productive and focused?

Coffee, Harry Potter series, music - Ready, Set, Draw!
A: I certainly do have routines to help me stay productive and focused. Some artists have a hard time focusing when it comes to background noises or when their computer is around them.  Personally, I love to have either a selection of soundtrack music or a good movie that I have seen many times before on my computer.  Having something familiar and pleasing in the background brings me to a comfortable and productive place. Another nice benefit of having a movie on the computer, is that it helps me from getting distracted by surfing the web.  Throughout the years I have kept a small library of photo references, but of course there are those times when I do have to surf the web for something specific, but even so, I like to do all my research before I begin my drawing and painting process.

5. Q&A: What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

A: There are quite of few pieces of advice I have been given over the years and I am happy to list a few of them and explain a little about each one.

1. Push Your Darks: I had a high school teacher who passed on this helpful bit of information that was passed onto her as well. When I began drawing and introducing shading methods into my work, it was crucial for me to learn how not to make my work look muddy.  This is especially critical when working in black and white. When beginning to draw it is typical for young artists not to use their full grayscale but rather hang in the middle.  When you use the full grayscale spectrum your drawings will come out much richer.  Because I love to work in color most of the time, it is easy to forget this piece of advice.  I like to sometimes take a xerox copy of my color work and see if it holds up in black and white form.  If it doesn't, then I know I have more room to push my light and dark spectrum. Remember, if you can't push your darks anymore, then push your lights.

2. Don't Use Your Handwriting:  My handwriting is absolutely atrocious and I used to use it all the time when illustrating titles or making text bubbles.  My professor told me and I quote, "Don't you ever, ever, ever, EVER, use your handwriting again!" With this advice in mind, I would have to expand my typographic skills by opening my font list in my computer and learning how to correlate the mood and manner of the fonts to the mood and manner of my artwork. Later, when I was working as a graphic artist, I worked with font books and this enriched my illustration skills even further, especially when scanning in work and applying fonts to it from a computer program such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or InDesign.  Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  One of my weaknesses happens to be my handwriting.  By taking my professor's advice seriously, I was able to avoid banging my head against a wall and wasting time "working on" my handwriting when I should have been working on my art.  Instead, by accepting that weakness, I was able to open my eyes to a great new set of tools as well as to put the focus back where it belonged - on my work, which now includes the element of typography in a more considered and fully synthesized way.

3. Be Able to Handle Rejection:
This was easy advice for me to take because when I was younger I always tried out for sports teams, music competitions and art awards, and I was virtually never selected or even given an "honorable mention."  These experiences helped me learn to push myself and to never give up. Stay positive and focus on the bigger picture.

4. Research, Research, Research: Illustrators need to do research on their projects, especially when working with either realistic or serious subject matter.  For example, typically it wouldn't make sense for certain mammals or birds to be illustrated in a region where they do not live, unless of course it was a crucial element of the story line (ie: a penguin who waddles through NYC).

5. Don't Color, PAINT:
This piece of advice sparked what was to become my "process style."  I used to draw my layout and then fill in the blanks from the outline.  My work was very tight and even though I thought I was mixing colors well, the feeling of the piece was too controlled and I was having trouble executing my concepts in a way that gave my finished pieces the character and sensibility I was going for.  Eventually, through much trial and error, I found that I can achieve these goals in my work better when I start bigger and use multiple layers.