I am a big fan of month-long challenges. A month is just about long enough to create a lasting habit (such as creating art every day, or keeping my kitchen clean). Last year, I did a “30 Pieces in 30 days” watercolour art challenge in September, where I created 30 6×6 watercolour pieces based on natural science subjects I collected on my way to the studio, all of which were made available for sale.
This was a great challenge for me, as I wanted to practice a variety of watercolour skills and techniques, and I had a strong tendency to get caught up in details and take a very long time finishing work. Having to create a “finished”, sellable piece every single day while working a dayjob and renovating my home, I learned to speed up, and really developed my watercolour skills over the course of the month. The challenge also generated a large body of work, and specifically small, affordable pieces, which have been a big hit at studio tour events.
I’ve been eager to do another month-long challenge. Last month was a little crazy with deadlines and travel, so I decided to participate in Inktober instead this year.
Inktober was started by Jake Parker, a character designer/comic illustrator, who wanted to develop his inking skills using brushes and brush pens. Other artists have adapted the challenge to suit their own priorities, doing everything from sketching in ballpoint pen to painting in coloured inks to digital “inking”. I am drawn to the initial concept behind the challenge, but being in a very different branch of illustration from Jake Parker, I’ve come up with my own set of goals and guidelines for my Inktober entries this year:
My Inktober Goals:
Create 31 finished, sellable ink pieces by the end of the month, in addition to other scheduled illustration work
Develop a better understanding and intuition of tonal values
Develop my skills in monochromatic shading techniques such as cross-hatching, stippling and simplified shapes
Experiment with textures in ink washes
Improve my brush handling skills (useful for watercolour as well as ink) by using brush techniques with ink.
BONUS: Start bridging the gap between my detailed natural science illustration work and my interest in urban sketching, see if I can start to discern a cohesive “look” across both.
My Inktober Rules:
All pieces must incorporate some form of liquid, black ink (technical pens, brush pens, ink and brush, etc)
Pieces may be rendered on white or toned paper. White ink and white pencil may be used to develop tonal range on toned paper.
Pencil or ballpoint pen may be used for initial sketch, but the finished lines and shading should be primarily in liquid ink.
No coloured drawing media (coloured inks, watercolors, coloured pencils other than white, markers, etc)
Subjects should be drawn from life/own reference, but no limits on subject matter (natural science, architecture, life drawing, still life, etc)
I’ve done a few pieces for Inktober 2017 already and I’m pretty pleased with the results so far. I will post the complete collection on this site when I am done the challenge, and all pieces will be available for sale. If you would like to see each piece as I complete it, I will be posting them on my Instagram and Facebook Page
I’ve recently started making a very conscious effort to restrict my colour palette (in individual pieces and sketch kits, my overall watercolour studio palette is still a 50+ pigment smorgasbord, my coloured pencil collection is even larger, and I love it).
The goal is both to practice more conscious colour mixing, and to train myself to make more deliberate and informed choices about colour and light interaction. These are more broadly described with the term colour harmony and cohesion, but like many abstract concepts in art, have a strong scientific basis.
Colour harmony is one of these “fuzzy” subjective topics in art that I really didn’t “get” for a long time. Many artists extole the virtues of a limited palette for creating a “cohesive” look within their paintings, but each artist had different and conflicting suggestions for essential pigments. In addition, doesn’t the real world contain all of the visible colours? In a world with all the colours, what is a “cohesive” look anyway? Wouldn’t it be better to have every colour at your disposal?
Reality is quite a bit more complex. The colours we actually see are affected by the colour of light, as well as reflected colour from surrounding objects.
Our eyes play tricks on us – for instance, we know a ripe banana is a bright, middle yellow, but in a dark room, in a fruit bowl surrounded by dark red fruit, the “correct” colour to paint a ripe banana for realism might be a neutralised orange, such as an ochre or Quinacridone Burnt Orange. It took me a while to understand is that in this case, it wouldn’t just be “cohesion” or “harmony” that would be disrupted by painting a bright yellow banana, it would actually not be a realistic depiction of the banana.
Our eyes are actually even tricksier than this – humans actually only have “good” colour accuity in a very narrow cone. We do have a fair bit of peripheral vision outside this cone. Our brain fills in the edges of our vision with colours to match what we see in front of us, then edits our memories to correct any inconsistencies as we look around. Part of the reason a painting with a very bright pop of colour all the way to one side, which doesn’t appear elsewhere, is considered a “bad” or “uncohesive” composition is because this is not how we actually ever see the world.
In a way, choosing a very constrained colour palette is an effective way to mimic real lighting/environmental conditions as we might see them. Take, for example, the limited colour palette above, where I chose a magenta (PR122) and two greens – a cool almost-turquoise PG7 (Winsor Green BS) and a warmer PY129 (Azo Green, or Green Gold). This palette produces a surprising gamut of slightly neutralized warm colours from reds to rusty oranges and plums, as well as some eye-poppingly bright greens. It might be a great colour palette for rendering berries or tomatoes shades by sunlit leaves – in fact, I am planning to paint these very pieces using primarily these colours.
And then, of course, there is the matter of using colour selection to draw attention to a specific element within a composition, or to evoke a mood within a collection or body of work. I’ve recently started taking online courses with the School of Visual Storytelling (SVSLearn), and was struck by the strong focus on manipulating colour and light to help with storytelling.
An illustrator who I think has a really stellar grasp of limited palettes for communicating mood and lighting is Ira Sluyterman van Langerweyde (Iraville). Her studio palette rivals or exceeds mine, but she regularly uses a very limited, and fairly consistent subset to create a cohesive, whimsical, warm and natural-looking collection of playful illustrations.
In the field of botanical and scientific illustration, we are somewhat shielded from all of these concerns. Botanical illustrators draw close-up, isolated subjects under bright, white light, specifically in order to communicate details of the individual subject without influence and distraction from surrounding scenery. We don’t have to worry about the colour of ambient light, because we choose white light. We don’t have to worry as much about competing colours with limited subjects, and can manipulate our composition without worrying about impacts on surrounding elements. We use neutral backgrounds and are specifically discouraged from using cast shadows.
Nonetheless, I have found that the most successful scientific and botanical artists and illustrators, and the ones I admire the most make both deliberate and subconscious choices about lighting, colour, and subject selection which are very helpful in creating eyecatching, striking compositions.
This can play out within individual pieces, where artists choose to highlight the unique characteristics of their subject – in my lichen on elm bark image in my header image, I really loved the stark, graphic white look of the cup fungi, and chose my colour balance in a way that would highlight that graphic, almost comic look, choosing to neutralize most of the greenish-gray crustose lichen and tree bark, but pump up the colour in the pops of green, rust and ochre.
On a broader scale, even realist artists develop a colour “brand” or “colour signature” across their body of work. As an example, Anna Mason’s brightly lit, vibrant fruits and florals have a very different look from Jess Shepherd’s dramatic and earthy leaves and vegetables, although they both make large-scale, realistic botanical paintings.
Inspired by Iraville and other illustrators I admire who I have noticed use similar colour palettes, I thought it would be fun to create an earthy, natural triad to try sketching with or using as a base for some earthier subjects (obviously, this will never be an appropriate palette for very bright citrus or purple flowers I used my new paints from Pruche along with Mayan Blue from Rublev, which is bluer than it appears in this image but still very dark and muted. I generally prefer much brighter, clearer colours, especially greens, but I think this is an interesting jumping off point, in particular urban sketching and simple studies.
I’ve been spending a lot of time poring over James Gurney’s book Color and Light, which is fantastically detailed with loads of visual examples about different lighting situation, how they affect colours within a painting, and how they can be used to communicate mood and focus within a painting. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on gamut mapping. In future posts, I’ll be exploring pieces created with a limited palette, and sharing the gamut mapping for each of them.
I mostly blog about art and art supplies. Today is something a little different, so if you’re here for my rambles about watercolour pigments, come back next week 🙂 If you’d like a tour of my pretty DIY kitchen, keep reading.
On April 15th, 2016, Jordan and I got the keys to our first home. It was perfect, except for the kitchen (and also except for all the floors, and the ugly wallpaper, and all the plumbing and electrical, and *that* washroom, and the structural heating vent…little stuff). Let’s talk about the kitchen. Here’s what the kitchen looked like the day we put in our offer:
Apart from a pantry cabinet squished into the corner behind a window, a spice cabinet in the side hall, and a faux-brick wall facing the dining room, that’s the whole kitchen. Zero counter space. No dishwasher. Barely any storage. Ceilings mysteriously 6 inches lower than surrounding rooms. Aesthetically is wasn’t terrible, but functionally, this was significantly worse than the kitchen in the cheap rental we were living in.
We kept our apartment for 3.5 months after getting our house keys, so that we could DIY gut renovate the kitchen before moving in. The moment we got our keys, we came in with a sledgehammer and crowbar and started demolition. Every day after work we came in and did some work on the kitchen so that it would be done by move-in day. We ….(mostly) succeeded.
By the time we moved in, our new kitchen had new walls and cabinets and counters, a working sink, dishwasher and other appliances. I’ve been happily enjoying my lovely new kitchen for the past 8+ months. However, I didn’t want to share a before and after because …we had construction lights instead of real fixtures for weeks. Drawer hardware took months. We finally put up our backsplash tile and grouted last month. And we finally, FINALLY tackled our trim in the past couple weeks.
Now, a year later, I’d love to share what our kitchen is looking like, and some fun before/during/after shots. First, here’s the tour, as our kitchen looks today
Next, take a look through some before/during/after pics. I’ve tried to get similar lighting and angles. However, although the kitchen stayed more or less in the same footprints, the different window and door positions, as well as changes in available light, made keeping consistent angles throughout a bit tricky.
We swapped two windows, removed a section of (non-structural) wall and moved the doorway into the dining room into a new spot in our centreline wall, where the weird hallway pantry used to be.
Before (Hello faux brick)
The moment we got our keys, we came in with a sledgehammer and crowbar and started demolition. We did the demolition, structural framing, cabinet installation, floor, tiling and trim ourselves. We hired contractors for plumbing, electrical, HVAC, sprayfoam insulation and drywall.
Before (Count the roosters!)
When we first saw the house we fell in love with the wood trim. Originally stained a dark colour when the house was built in the 1920s, then painted white, the previous owners had stripped most of it down to a rich orangey brown patina. We wanted the kitchen to fit in with the character of the rest of the house, but feel light and airy and have modern conveniences.
We rescued as much of the original trim as we could. We used similarly coloured beech butcherblock counters and stained pine millwork, and refinished the original white oak floors we found buried under layers of vinyl and linoleum and 3000 wood cleats
Between excavating the floor and removing the dropped ceiling, we gained 7 inches of ceiling height in the new kitchen, which allowed us to put in 40 inch upper cabinets instead of the standard 30, and also raise them up 4 inches higher on the wall, giving us more visual space at counter level.
Building our kitchen has been a long and difficult journey, but we’re very proud of what we achieved! Next up, finishing up my home studio 🙂
Mark your calendars! I’m thrilled to announce my first solo art exhibit. Boathouse Botanicals will be a selection of my botanical art work, which I will be displaying at The Boathouse in Kitchener’s Victoria Park. The collection will include existing as well as never before seen work.
The Boathouse Botanicals exhibit opens on June 8th, coinciding perfectly with the beginning of patio season. Drop into the Boathouse, browse some vibrant botanical art, and enjoy a cold beer or cider on the Boathouse patio overlooking the pond in Victoria Park.
Better yet, join me at the Boathouse Botanicals opening reception on June 8th for a first crack at purchasing one of the new pieces on display. I will be available to discuss my process and answer any questions you may have about my pieces and their subjects.
I’ve been neglecting the blog this year, but I haven’t stopped painting. Last month, I challenged myself by completing 30 watercolour pieces in 30 days. Each piece was a 6 x 6 watercolour illustration of a natural object found on my way to the studio.
I strongly recommend a daily art challenge as a way to practice techniques, loosen up and get painting. I was able to try a number of new techniques in this challenge which I would be afraid to trial on a larger project, and I learned to paint much faster and more confidently.
I also learned a lot about the watercolour pigments in my collection. I found some pigments surprisingly useful throughout the challenge. DS Amazonite Genuine, a lovely transparent turquoise, was surprisingly useful for delicate veining and shadows on leaves, berries and acorns, and mixed with Titanium Buff, was the perfect colour for lichen. M. Graham Neutral tint was very useful for rendering soft shadows on light subjects such as mushrooms and feathers.
This challenge also generated a number of images perfect for greeting cards. I am printing 12 new greeting card designs in 4.25 x 5.5 format, shown below
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about defining my own personal style in art. I know a few things – I strive for fairly accurate, realistic art. However, I do not like my art to be too delicate or technical. I really like quirky subjects, bold contrasts and colour.
The past few weeks, I’ve been working on painting carrots. Orange carrots are boring, so I’ve added in carrots that are purple, green and yellow to make a spectrum – a literal rainbow of carrots. This was originally intended to be an assignment for the SBA diploma course in coloured pencil, but after some initial sketches and colour swatches, I decided to complete it as a personal project in watercolour instead. I think it will look great on greeting cards for spring.
I’ve been focused on showcasing the things that make heirloom carrots unique. I’ve chosen the most colourful carrots. I’ve been drawing them under a warm light and bumped up the colour saturation and contrast just enough to make the rainbow pop. Carrots are knobbly root vegetables, and I’ve spent time developing all of the bumps and blemishes and hairs to make them extra carroty.
The whole time, the sentence “She drew carrots that look even better than real carrots” has been running through my head. It’s an adaptation of a line from an old favourite children’s book appropriately named Purple, Green, and Yellow, by Robert Munsch. The main character, Bridget, collects hundreds and thousands of markers, which she uses to draw “roses that look even better than real roses, oranges that look even better than real oranges”, until she gets bored and draws all over herself.
I decided I was going to be an illustrator when I was very little. One of the first things to spark my interest in illustration were the wonderful illustrations in the children’s books my parents read to me. Robert Munsch took up much of our library, perhaps because his characters reminded my parents so much of our own family. Michael Martchenko‘s illustrations of Munsch and his kids in Something Goodare a comically accurate caricature of my own dad and siblings, from the mannerisms to the eyebrows.
The character who I identified most with was not any of the kids in Something Good, however. I was most like Bridget, the little artist who uses her collection of 500 permanent markers to draw on herself in Purple, Green and Yellow
I’m still that little girl in many ways. I don’t have quite 500 indelible markers (only about 50 Copics) but my collection of coloured pencils might soon exceed 500. I also hoard other art supplies – a few dozen tubes of watercolour paint (including sparkly amethyst coloured paint made from REAL amethysts), pens, watersoluble crayons, ink, graphite…
I don’t often use them to colour on myself anymore, but “carrots that look even better than real carrots” is very much an accurate summary of what I try to achieve with my work. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite hit the mark, but I hope to be able to draw, say, carrots, in a way that makes you want to pick the carrot off the page and bite into it, even more so that a real carrot.
2015 was a very eventful year for me. On reflection, the story of my year can be told through my workspaces.
I started the year working off my living room table. I was just emerging from a year of depression, chronic anxiety and unemployment where getting up from the couch was a trial. Sitting up and drawing was massive progress, and a huge help in my recovery.
Partway through January, I decided to make use of my free time while I was still unemployed. I bought the cheapest plane tickets I could find to Mexico City. I set up a very makeshift studio on my friend Miguel‘s rooftop.
A rooftop in a residential subdivision on the outskirts of Mexico City in the middle of winter makes for a very unique studio, surrounded by sounds and smells of roaming street vendors hawking everything from tamales to water tanks. The weather varies between pleasantly warm and freezing cold with gusting dry, dusty wind. Urban wildlife and neighbour children stare quizzically.
With every passing hour spent drawing on that rooftop, the world seems just a little bit brighter. When one particularly filthy feral kitten adopts me as his mom, and spends several days curled up by my side or trying to “help” me draw, it’s like the whole world is breaking open again.
On my return to Canada, I am delighted to discover a new art studio will be opening across the street from home, and renting small, affordable workspaces.
I am the first to sign up to rent a teeny little studio desk at the Bright Blue Door, just hours after interviewing for a part-time job at Miovision. On studio-opening day, April 1st, I arrive with all my stuff, and transform my tiny desk in the corner into the coziest workspace.
Within just a few weeks, though, I’ve outgrown my tiny desk. I’ve also gotten a quick promotion at my dayjob, so it’s easy to justify a jump to a small booth space with a bit of extra storage. Over the summer, I settle into a comfortable routine – alternating days working on illustrations at the studio with days testing software at Miovision.
However, calm and happy times rarely last forever. In October, just as I was taking some extra responsibilities on at work, I am told that the studio I was renting from will be closing.
Finally, I decided to take a very large gamble. In November, I took over renting the entire 1500 square foot studio I used to rent a desk in. I’ve carved out a large 140 square foot corner of the studio for myself, and am sharing costs with a small group of other artists. Together, we are the KW Artists Co-op. I’ve been working very hard to create a successful and sustainable co-op. We have a lovely little library/snack station/kitchenette, and I have vibrant colour charts hanging over my workspace.
I’ve had to make significant sacrifices to my plans and lifestyle, but I am able to support not only my own rent, but also the remainder of the studio until we can find enough other members for our co-op.
I’m excited to see the changes that 2016 will bring. I hope my studio situation will be more stable in the coming year, but I can’t wait for this year’s adventures.
Earlier this month, I was contacted by Eric Maundu of Kijani Grows. Kijani Grows in an Oakland based smart aquaponics startup. They make Arduino-controlled aquarium-fed gardens for businesses, schools and individuals.
Eric had found one of my early pen doodles online, and thought the style would be well suited to a pyrograph image on some of their new garden kits for schools.
I recently received pictures of a prototype kit printed with my Jellyfish I sketch. The completed prototype came even nicer than I had hoped!
I was also very pleased to see the pictures of the kit itself. It is flat-packed for shipping, and includes easy to follow assembly instructions, which are burned into the wood alongside my illustration and the Kijani Grows logo. Overall, it is a very clever design, which I expect will be very educational in schools.
I look forward to working with Kijani Grows to complete a series of commissions of other sea-life pen illustrations for other units. I have also been promised a kit of my own once they go into production – very useful to grow my own subjects for botanical illustration, as well as some of my own food
This collaboration has been a particularly creative example of how my illustrations can be applied to commercial products. Most of my existing pieces are available in multiple formats to be licenced for commercial use, and I am eager to work with others to develop creative custom product art.