Sometimes I just have to stop whatever I’m working on and doodle with the kid. It doesn’t matter WHAT I doodle, she’ll turn it into something fun. In this case, I started with a simple little head with a helmet–I wanted her to decided: is it underwater or in outer space? Of course, I always have a few preconceived ideas floating around in my head, but I gently wave those away–because I want to see where she takes it.
She very rarely stops to think too deeply about it. She picks up a pen and starts drawing, like she already knows what she’s going to do.
She decides quite confidently that it’s in outer space, and she starts telling a story as she draws (which I’ll tell to you at the end)…
I like to listen and watch her as she tells these stories, because if I don’t pay attention, I’ll completely miss the magic of them, and looking back at it, it won’t make any sense at all. So I listen. I ask questions, and watch the story unfold.
She wanted things painted certain colors, so I got out the watercolors. Not the kid ones, the nice ones, so I can teach her how to use them the right way. She wants it to look “old fashioned,” with only a few colors.
She wants me to finish it by adding more details later, and color the rest “like it’s from a long time ago.”
And this is how it looks so far…
And here is the story that belongs to it: These dragons are blowing a protective force field around the robot woman. They each have special powers. They are a team of good guys, and there are bad guys outside the bubble, but they can’t get in…and if they try, the powerful one that looks like a bird will vaporize it immediately. There are some at the bottom, who have been attacked with arrows. It would usually be sad, except that they are evil, so you are supposed to be glad, only because it means you are safe. Each of the good dragons has a weakness, but it’s protected. The robot woman herself is protecting a litter of alien cats in her chestplate, and it has feeding tubes to feed them. The “boss cat” is a good guy, and has a powerful foot to attack bad guys, and he has joined in the fight. It looks like they’re going to win the battle.
I still have to do my part, which sort of ties it all together. But I’m always happy with it at this stage, just because I could never in my entire imagination come up with a story like that. It’s amazing what you learn when you really listen to a kid unleash her imagination…
So I’ll keep you posted on it!
Before anything, I want to tell you all how very much I appreciate all the wonderful comments I got on my “Pause” post last week. I was sincerely overwhelmed by all the support out there! Each and every comment was like a splash of fresh water in the middle of a marathon. It felt like smiles from new friends. It felt like a hundred hugs through my computer. People can be awesome, and there’s nothing more awesome than people being awesome to someone they don’t even really know.
For me, when the going gets tough, the tough get….drawing. And I have been drawing a lot. I wish I was the type of person that obsessively worked out and got super buff in times of stress, but I’m not. I’m quite squishy….because instead, I bury my head in sketchbooks, custom work, random doodles, and projects with the kid.
Remember those tiny sketchbooks I got a couple of weeks ago? Well, I’ve already filled one completely. And through the magic of the internet and magical blog-incantations (which I just spent some time trying to figure out), I can show you a little video of the sketches it’s filled with:
(Music by Bach)
So I’ve been drawing a lot. I’ve been working my regular job and taking care of my regular things, getting ready for a convention in Austin at the end of October, fulfilling custom portrait orders, and dealing with everyday things, and I fill every space in between with sketches.
So I thought that with my compulsive sketching surge, I’d join in on Inktober. Have you heard of Inktober? It’s basically just a drawing challenge…a drawing a day for the month of October. I usually don’t commit to something like that with the sort of random hectic schedule I keep, but I thought that if I got Myla on board (she’s six years old now), it might be a fun thing to try to stick with and see it through…
Similar to Drawloween, Intober’s subject matter is wide open. Some people have made posts with halloween-related topic suggestions (like “pumpkin,” “vampire,” “frankenstein,” etc), and some of my artist friends have made their own lists of subjects (BreakfastJones puts her own topic out every day if you want to follow along with her).
As for Myla and I, we sort of skip around. Here’s a little show of the first few days of Inktober we’ve done so far…
Day 1: Villain. I chose Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver in Kill Bill, and Myla chose Megamind.
Day 2: Beetlejuice. I drew Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, wearing a shirt of Beetlejuice (from the Howard Stern Show), and Myla drew Beetlejuice with a snake-tail and bugs in his hands (she’s never seen the movie).
Day 6: Edward Scissorhands. From the minute she saw a photo of him somewhere, Myla thought he was just the super coolest. She’s still too young to watch the movie (she’s pretty sensitive), but she gets the idea.
Day 7: Wednesday Addams. Since it was Wednesday, we HAD to draw a Wednesday! Again, she didn’t know who she was, but Myla was digging the idea of a creepy family.
So there you go. And there I still am, face-first in my sketchbook, getting through things the best way I can. Just like you are. Just like we all are. And it’s so, so good to know we’re not all alone…
I just thought I’d share a little update on the fun time Myla and I had at Jerry’s Artarama in Austin this past weekend!
If you’re in the Austin area and you love artsy art supplies, you probably know Jerry’s. I sometimes take the hour-and-twenty-minute drive to Jerry’s JUST because they know their stuff. It’s such a fantastic thing to be able to talk to people who are familiar with the art supplies they’re selling, have actually used them, know what they can do, and if they’ll work for your project. Maybe you’ve always had an awesome art store like Jerry’s nearby, but I haven’t been so lucky…
So when we spoke to Jerry’s about doing an art demo there, I was so jazzed! This would be unique in that I have often kept Myla away from events, but now that she’s a little older, I asked if she’d like to help me with the demo, and she was super excited. It would also be unique in that I have given little online talks on our collaborations, I have interviewed about them via video and in emails, and I have done a TED talk telling our story…but I have never done a demo. So this would totally be a learning experience for me.
Myla and I got there pretty early to set up, and I started to worry (as I tend to do) that no one would show up because:
- the SXSW festival madness was in going on,
- it was spring break, and
- it was pouring down rain.
But thankfully, all the seats filled. Yaaaayyy! I started off by telling the story of how Myla and I collaborate. This was weird because Myla was right there, and also because I wasn’t sure how much anyone already knew, and I didn’t want to talk too much, or bore anyone to tears–especially after trekking through traffic and rain…
And then I started to worry because I wasn’t quite sure what people were expecting…. Did they want ME to draw? Did they want Myla to draw? Did they want me to shut up and let THEM draw?
People have messaged me over the years these wonderful stories of how they’ve done collaborative projects based on our doodles with their classrooms and families and friends, and I’m always so blown away by how much goes into it, and how beautiful the results are, and what a great time they had all around. I wanted people to have a good time and still get the experience of collaborations.
So I thought it’d be fun to sort of replicate that same idea by having printouts of some of the heads I had drawn, and having them add an outlined body to the head, and then if they were very brave, they could switch with other people and let them finish their work.
People had a lot of fun switching back and forth with other people in the room–Myla would pass the papers around to whoever needed a rotation. Some just switched with the person next to them (which ultimately gave them more say in what the outcome was….which was TOTALLY cheating! Hahah). For the full experience of enjoying the process instead of focusing on the final piece, one attendee suggested I should have set a timer and made people keep passing it to the person next to them. That might’ve been pretty fun!
One woman even brought some of her kids’ drawings with her to have people add onto. Myla joined in on a little of that, as did a couple of the other attendees.
I’ve had fairly decent success teaching a class on something specific. I have also given speeches. This being my first demo, it was a little awkward to have a project going, still share with them the ideas and thoughts behind it, and not have everything be so unstructured it falls apart. In any case, it at least gave me an idea of how to better do it next time!
I’d love to do demos more often! I thought it’d be fun to do weekend demos at children’s hospitals or elderly care centers. I need to look into that, because even if I was awkward, and wasn’t exactly sure how to interact, it was a lot of fun seeing people having fun and mixing their ideas up with other peoples’, not holding on so tight to their own work, and really breaking out and trying new things. I hope people at least had a good time–I know Myla and I did!
So, thank you SO much to everyone at Jerry’s Artarama in Austin for letting us come play and doodle with you! We had so much fun!
Sometimes I get asked if Myla and I still draw together. My answer, in short, is that YES, we do…but that it’s sort of changed a bit.
The collaborations we did were fairly simple, and happened–as I described in the post–pretty spontaneously, at first. Now that she’s a little older (she’s five ANDAHALF now), she’s not so interested in just simply adding a body on to a head I’ve drawn. While she does still enjoy it now and then, her interests (and mine) have changed quite a bit. So while our past collaborations were a such a wonderful and fun experiment, and we still do enjoy doing them from time to time, we find so many other ways to share our artwork with each other.
I started the new year with some new supplies, anxious to try some new things. Recently, I tried out some mixed media board, drew a picture of her sleeping, and wondered if it would work if I asked her to draw what she might be dreaming…
So she added onto what I had drawn, telling me what each thing was, and what it might mean. I asked her questions about it, had her tell me dreams she might’ve had in the past, and if she could draw them.
I later added on some pen detail, to sort of clarify what I thought she was trying to convey (based on what she had told me), and give it some decorative, dreamlike imagery.
And this is what we made. She dreamt of rolling toys, and the Shcar she had created. There’s a dragon in the top right, who carries her babies in fire. Most of her dream is protected by a unicorn with a shield-horn that wraps around her as she sleeps.
She was happy when she saw it finished, although it didn’t come without critique…she said I had forgotten to color the eye of the Shcar white (I later amended it for her), and that in her mind, the unicorn was actually supposed to be BLACK….but that one she was willing to overlook.
Another time, I wanted to draw her from a photo I had. When I showed it to her, I said, “I want to make a drawing that tells a story about creativity, and how your mind thinks of wonderful things. do you have any ideas?” She grabbed the pen right away, and started drawing…
She included dragons playing with her hair, dreaming of Legos. She’s imagining the Shcar she designed. She gave herself wolf ears, for fun. There’s a peacock on her shoulder, disappointed because he thought her hair was worms. And a sleeping mermaid, resting peacefully on her shoulder. I don’t know what any of it means. But I don’t HAVE to. It’s her creativity, it’s her mind. It doesn’t have to MEAN anything.
Again, she gasped with delight when she saw how I had finished it, but again, she had critiques. The mermaid was initially colored wrong. It’s apparently a toy she has (I had misunderstood which one), so I corrected it.
She asked why I drew circles around her eye, and I told her I was trying to draw the idea that artists see things in a different way than some people do. That it’s almost like having “special eyes.”
She asked me, “why do I look so sad?” I showed her the reference photo I used, and said, “In the picture I used, you weren’t sad, just thinking. I didn’t mean for it to look sad, I just meant it to look like you were thinking.” I told her that when I was younger, people often thought I was mean because I would quietly stare off at nothing while I was thinking, and that (along with my squinting because of bad eyesight), it made people think I was annoyed when I wasn’t. That made her laugh. She loves stories of when I was younger…
Speaking of when I was younger, Myla once said to me, “I wish I could play with you when you were a kid. We would have so much fun.” So I thought it’d be interesting to draw the two of us, around the same age, playing…
Before I gave it to her, I said, “if we were kids, what kinds of things would we do? I used to like to catch bugs, I liked dinosaurs and robots, aliens and animals. I bet we’d ride bikes together.” She thought that was awesome. But the first thing she drew was the “loves” above our heads.
(Awhile back, she asked me what my “love” would look like, and I drew a heart with BIG BIG arms. Hers was an envelope with wings to fly with you wherever you go.)
She drew our Donkey to the right, since we both have loved him for YEARS (I got him when I was around 8, and she’s had him since she was a baby). There’s a spider catching a fly in a web below us, which we’d probably both be fascinated and grossed out by. On the bottom left, she and I are riding bikes. You can barely see (as my hand is nearly covering it) that she is pouting on the bike, because even as a kid, she imagines I’m probably still the boss when we ride bikes…
Here’s the piece nearly done…
And the final piece: Myla and me, roughly 4 or 5, playing. And she’s right….we’d probably have been the COOLEST of friends. (..And I’m pretty sure I’d take turns on our bikes…)
She smiled a big smile when it was done, and had only one thing to say: “Perfect.”
Aside from my regular face studies, in my drawings and paintings this year I’ve decided to make more of an effort to try to tap into illustrating a message, or a meaning, or a feeling. I don’t mean a STANCE–I’ve not got any political or legal or religious statement to make in my artwork (there are others who excel magnificently in that), but more of something that means something TO ME.
I find (as an illustrator) that it’s one of the defining differences between “commercial illustration” and “painting”–I know I take things way too literally. There is not often any deep, hidden meaning in my work, and I’m totally okay with that. But this year, I’m going to try to tap more into what I’d have to SAY (if anything) in a painting….something I’ve never really done, unless it was a melancholy, depressing image when I was upset, like pitiful gothic teenage “woe is me” poetry.
And that’s exactly what happened with the first one I tried. I was in a hormonal funk I couldn’t get out of. Everyone has “down” days, but this one seemed neverending. I had no motivation. I wanted to cry all day FOR NO REASON. It felt like someone handed me a huge boulder to carry as I went through the day, and it weighed down everything I did. I had trouble really describing how crushing this feeling was. Instead, I tried to see if drawing it might help.
It felt like pointy-beaked birds nesting in my hair. It felt like ribbons of tears. It felt like a dark cloud. Still, drawing it still seemed to trivialize it a bit. It still felt like bad teenage poetry.
I debated showing it to Myla–I didn’t want to worry her or upset her. But when she saw it on my art desk, she asked about it. I told her I was doing a painting about feeling sad, and was trying to show how it makes you feel. She asked if she could add on, and why not? She drew a dragon tangled in the hair, trying to hold on. There are x-rays to “show what’s inside.” And little wind-up mice, crawling all over–into the heart, chewing the hair, chewing at the bones. She hesitantly asked if it was okay if she drew something creepy (because there’s a time and a place for creepy things, and school isn’t one of them..and also because it was my drawing and she wanted to know if it was okay), and I said of course–that it was what the drawing was about, that I was trying to show things that bother you, that upset you. She drew the thing that creeps her out the most–zombies (which she only knows about courtesty of the halloween sections at the grocery store, and the game “Plants and Zombies,” and from a few kids at school).
So she helped me with this one. And to me, it seems like a stereotype…a morose self-indulgence. Maybe I’m just uncomfortable with negative feelings. It must’ve helped, though, because the horrible funk passed not long after.
But every new journey starts with just one little step, and that’s my goal this next year…to try to see (from time to time) if I can start with very simple, little ideas, and get them on paper, without it being all melodramatic and serious. Not because it’s a “new year” and I have to “make a resolution” (I’ve mentioned how I feel about that)…but because I love trying new things, and it just happened to coincide with the new year. SO there. 🙂
And while I’m taking my own little journey, I’m wondering how it’ll influence Myla’s views on her own drawings. She is VERY literal (like me). She has an AMAZING imagination, but she’s not sure (spatially) why I have made things float around in the paintings above. I’ve told her the idea behind why I did it that way (that I’m illustrating dreams and ideas instead of THINGS), and she’s nodded, deep in thought. I can tell she’s mulling it over.
But I don’t think this means my artwork will get more “SERIOUS”–I think humor is a big part of what I enjoy (and not taking yourself too seriously is EXTREMELY important to me)….I just think it’ll be fun to see where digging a little deeper takes me. Where it takes us. Because as long as it’s fun and it’s making us happy, who CARES what it means, right?
…So what new things are YOU trying?
Or: “Why We Have a Dead Horse Taped To Our Window”
Here’s a quick little story:
Recently, we watched a show on PBS called “Animal Odd Couples,” about unusual animal friendships, which Myla loved. She especially loved the story of Charlie the horse and Jack the goat.
Charlie was a 40-year-old farm horse who was blind in one eye, and very near to being put down when the family noticed that their 16-year old goat, Jack, had begun walking with Charlie around the farm, standing on his good side to lead him, making sure he got where he needed to go. As the horse got older and blind in both eyes, the goat began leading him in front so he could follow his sound.
The show is very sweet, and you can watch the story of Charlie and Jack here:
Later in the story, they talk about how Charlie passed away. In tribute, Myla grabbed a paper plate and asked me if she could draw Charlie after he died (she has learned to ask about potentially inappropriate images after some “artistic mishaps” at school), and I said it would be okay.
I don’t think she meant it in a morbid way; to her mind, it was more of a tribute. The “x” eyes and the tongue sticking out are merely a way of telling you visually that the sweet horse that was part of this amazing story died. She wanted people to know about Charlie and Jack. She asked me if I’d write the story around it, and I took dictation on the words she wanted me to write. She asked if we could get a big stick and put it in the front yard so that everyone could see the story, but (thankfully) I convinced her that the weather might be an issue, and we compromised by taping it to the window in our kitchen nook.
So, we have a drawing of a dead horse on our window. But it’s sort of…sweet, actually?
And that’s the story of Charlie and Jack, and how Myla loved them.
I’ve mentioned before how inspiring Instagram has been for me (and I am extremely grateful to Diane from Design Recharge Show for talking me into it). One of my favorite things about seeing artists’ work on IG is getting to see the behind-the-scenes process.
Sometimes when you look at the final piece from an artist whose work you love, you are so inspired by the end result that you start to get frustrated with your own style. Some artists make it look so effortless! And if your own road is a little bumpy, you might have the urge to not even bother.
But no one starts & finishes in the exact same spot–even the old painters had a process! One very strong memory for me was visiting the Musee d’Orsay in France. I saw a room where on the wall was posted a small paper where an artist had doodled a simple man with a scythe. And then another of the same figure. And another. And another. It was like he was obsessed–to my memory, every wall in the room was FULL of rough painting studies and drawings, little sculptures, and sketches of this same figure, until FINALLY, at the very end of the room, was the painting–a very simple farm scene, called Paying the Harvesters, by Léon Lhermitte. And the thing was, the man with the scythe wasn’t even the only figure. I was blown away…not so much by the painting (which was amazing), but the amount of work that was behind it.
I don’t have the kind of patience for that level of detail…but I do know that art is a process. Personally, I paint as if I am rushing to save the life of a dying emergency room patient, and I don’t even have CLOSE to the level of detail that Monsieur Lhermitte had. For me, there is a magic world between rough sketching and overworking a piece…and sometimes you can work a long time on something and it just still doesn’t look right.
I also know that art doesn’t “just happen.” Ask any artist you love to show you their work from their younger years, and you will see the full spectrum. You may not see the hours and hours of time they’ve spent lovingly delved into their sketchbooks, but it’s there. You don’t magically “become” good without lots and lots and LOTS of practice. It’s not the supplies. It’s not the paper. It’s the not the medium. It’s the passion that fuels you to practice and practice and practice. Even my namesake, Michelangelo, once said, “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” as well as, “If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”
And even the best artist you know? They will have a different process in a year. If they are worth their salt, they most likely will know that the saying, “Ancora imparo” (most often attributed to Michelangelo), meaning “I am still learning,” is so very, very true.
I am no master, by any means. FAR from it. I am ALWAYS learning. But after years and years (I am practically ancient), I am fairly comfortable in my process, so I thought it would be fun to walk you through a painting. This is not “How It Is Done.” This is how I do it. And this is only how I SOMETIMES do it, because I am always trying new things.
I decided to draw my best and longest-time friend, Christine. I have known her face for around…WOW. NINETEEN YEARS. That’s major (especially since I move around as much as a traveling circus). She and I have been through it all and back, and have STILL stuck around, even though we’re so often miles and miles apart. The last time I painted her, I was in college, and she still has it hanging in her living room.
So, with a photo for reference, I sketched. I always sketch in ballpoint pen (I may have mentioned that I love ballpoints). I used a photo I took from when I visited her right after she had her daughter Lila. I am aware that a better likeness might be obtained from gridding or tracing of the main shapes, but for the most part, I like the personality that jumps in there when I don’t try to go for 100% realism…
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with it yet, but I added the decorative Polish flowers around her and wanted to use the negative space in an interesting way. I usually go from a sketch to acrylics, but this time, I thought I’d try something new, and used my Prismacolor markers to block in the main color. By this point, I didn’t like the curly flower swirls at the top, so I decided I’d get rid of them somehow.
Here’s the funny part about Prismacolor markers…..they are SO good at blending…but they sometimes react in a funky way to ballpoint pen. This process used to terrify me, but I am used to it. I use this process with the collaborations I do with our daughter…I just had not yet gotten comfortable with it on a portrait of a beloved friend. GAH! She’s PURPLE!! –Calm down. Don’t worry. The ink soaks into the page, and if you push through it, it spreads, and you can blend it all in fairly well. Those of you thinking “why not just skip the ballpoint?” you have a valid point, but I just can’t because: BALLPOINT.
Thankfully, I have learned to follow where my wonkiness takes me, and after a bit more blending, the colors start to settle and soak in, making them finally look a little more natural.
I darken the hair to sort of hide the swirls, but at this point, I’m still not sure how I’m going to handle them, so I work on the background, which I wanted to be a flat sort of teal.
So I am a big fan of Bokkei (Maria Björnbom-Öberg)–she even did an art trade with me (which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)! She works in both marker and colored pencil, and gets AMAZINGLY realistic detail. So I wanted to give her process a try, and dusted off my old Prismacolor pencils (I swear, they don’t sponsor me). Me and colored pencils have a love/hate relationship. I WANT to love using them, but I just CAN’T. It’s not them, it’s me.
So I tried and I tried and I tried some more. And I finally decided to go back to my trusty ol’ acrylics to finish it off. Aaaahhh, acrylics. You always KNEW I’d be back.
So there you go. After much struggle, after all the hassle of the variety of tools I used, I finally went back to my old standby. It’s by no means perfect. But you know what ? I tried new things. I also covered those head-swirls, changed up the background color (I have a MAJOR thing for light blue and red, probably because of this). I tried new things–some worked out and some didn’t. And that’s totally fine.
The thing is, if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. You’ve got to jump in with no reservations. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes–mistakes are INTEGRAL. They’re part of the whole process! They’re NECESSARY. If you do something and mess up, what’s the worst that happens? You waste paper. You waste time. But if it is something you love, it is never a waste. The main thing is this: no matter how good you are, no matter what your skill, you will be fine…as long as you ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING.
Me and ballpoint pens go way back. I love them.
When I was younger, I carried a ballpoint pen and a sketchbook wherever I went. I liked ballpoint because I was too clumsy for pencil–I didn’t like that I could accidentally smear what I’d drawn in pencil with a single careless arm motion, because that’s how clumsy I am. I pressed too hard for pencil, and still didn’t like the coverage it gave. And I didn’t like the scratchy feeling of rough pencil or charcoal or pastel on paper.
So ballpoint it was. In college, it was implied that ballpoint pen was NOT an art medium. That it was a tool for writing, not drawing. So I tried my hardest to master other tools, only to retreat back into the comforts of my room after classes, with my trusty old ballpoint pen and sketchbook at the end of the day.
Over time, I learned to sketch pretty comfortably with pen–to ease up and add pressure where I needed it. I got more comfortable with accepting that pen was my very favorite tool, fine arts be damned. I drew in ballpoint pen so much, that after tons and tons of practice, I could get a fairly good and smooth sketch that people often mistook for pencil. Primarily, I sketched in black ballpoint–plain ol’ Bic or Papermate pen.
After awhile, I started adding color and shading and highlights in either watercolor or acrylics. I used the black ballpoint as a sort of underdrawing. I like the sketchy feel, seeing the structure underneath. Sometimes I paint on top pretty monochromatically…
And other times, I nearly completely covered the initial sketch with acrylic…
But it just doesn’t feel like me whenever I’ve tried leaving out the ballpoint pen.
Did you know there are different types of pens? There are inky smooth rollerballs and spotty ol’ gel pens… but it took me YEARS to realize that the ones I like to sketch with are “officially” called BALLPOINT pens. Easy enough, right?
Ages ago, I hadn’t heard of anyone using ballpoint as a fine art medium. I was a little uncomfortable with the fact that it was my medium of choice (but not enough to give it up). Ballpoint quality was so bad that the paper I used would yellow around my drawing, or the pen would turn purple or blue. These days, I’ve seen TONS of artists creating wonderful, beautiful things with pen. There’s the hyperrealistic work of Samuel Silva, the amazingly smooth work of James Mylne, and ballpoint pen art cheerleader Jerry Stith, who has EXTENSIVE resources on ballpoints and art. (Those are only a few–there are also a ton more, a few of them listed here).
But one of my VERY favorite ballpoint pen artists is Jim Rugg, whose work is both amazingly realistic at times, and also hilariously funny (like this Divine Wonder Woman, and this Playboy Barbie). He has a sense of humor about his work that I can appreciate. He enjoys drawing, and it shows…but he doesn’t seem to take himself so gosh-darn seriously.
I used to think it would be awesome if ballpoints came in tons of other colors…but when my mom sent me a set of Ink Joy colored pens a few years back, I thought they were awesome, but I wasn’t sure how to make them work for me. My work wasn’t as detailed and realistic as those other artists who had mastered the ballpoint pen.
Until a few months ago, inspired again by Jim Rugg’s work, I realized I could still do my own wonky style while using the colored ballpoints…and I gave it a try.
The first one was Napoleon Dynamite (which I realize I’ve posted before)…
I moved on to other fun faces I enjoy….Like the drag artist, Divine:
This scene with Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction:
And this character from the movie Delicatessen (Myla helped me with the hands):
Since then, I’ve had a lot of fun, really playing with building color.
The process (for me) starts with laying a basic foundation, usually in orange, and building up the reds for color in the cheeks, nose, lips and eyes. (I still think my technique is a little soft–I’m hoping to get a little more bold with the color and text)
Then I build up with the brown for darker areas.
And it isn’t just a one-shot kinda thing–I keep those three or four pens handy, and switch around between them all, building up colors, adding colors in another area. I like this whole process, because there is PLENTY of wiggle room to get the shapes right. If something’s off, and you’ve started lightly enough, you can adjust it by the time you start really building up the darks.
And the final doodle: Leeloo (Milla Jovovitch) from the movie the Fifth Element:
Funny thing about ballpoints, though, is that they glurp. Those blobs of ink on her face and in the background? Those are glurps. I don’t mind them all THAT much, but they’re a little tough to work around sometimes (I don’t even know HOW those other guys keep the glurps away). To avoid the glurp as best I can, I am constantly wiping the ballpoint pen (which I SHOULD do on a napkin, but I don’t, so if you were to look very closely, most of my clothes contain a cluster of small dots, usually on my right shoulder or pants, from twisting the glurp off of the pen before drawing). Still, glurps happen…and that’s okay. They’ve kind of grown on me, even. Gives them a bit of gritty character.
“Goodbye Sweetie” (In-progress, from Dr. Who):
Professor McGonagall, in progress, from Harry Potter:
With darker skin, the process is pretty much the same, except that you can use even more of a variety of colors to really build up the skin tones. (Again, I still think I’m too soft in this area. I’m working on filling out more of the white space)
RubyRhod from Fifth Element:
Recently, because of a long-standing back problem that has been misdiagnosed for SEVERAL years, I have begun a series of injections to help with what they’re now calling “spondyloarthritis.” (Which, from what I understand, just means “chronic localized sacroiliatic pain that we can’t figure out and don’t really know how to treat.”) This means I need to sit at their offices for at least THREE hours, attached to a IV tube full of mutant medications and such.
…Except, wait? Three HOURS? In a lounge chair by myself? While Myla’s happily occupied at school or daycare? And I can bring my sketchbook and headphones?? Wait. Wait a minute. This might not be so bad after all…
Jack Black in Nacho Libre:
Nicholas Cage as “H.I.” from Raising Arizona:
Awhile back, PaperMate InkJoy was the only colored ballpoint pen set I knew of. Then I learned that my favorite ballpoints, Bic, came out with the Cristal color pack. Woohoo! But the other day, while looking for some replacements should something tragic potentially happen to my newly beloved pens (as I often fear, once I begin to love a medium), I came across the PaperMate Profile.…and I was SUPER excited to find out that the 12-pack has a sort of GRAYISH MIDNIGHT BLUE…which allowed me to simulate one of my favorite colors of all time: Payne’s Gray!!! (it’s a sort of midnight-bluish gray) Not such a big deal for many people, I’m sure, but very VERY exciting for me!
So I’ve become quite fond of my colored ballpoint pens! And I’m having a WHOLE lot of fun building up shapes. It definitely requires a different sort of thought process than just drawing in straight black ballpoint pen. Still, I think I could cover more of the white area. It just takes getting over the timidity of a new medium. But I love it.
So whatever you enjoy, no matter how timid you may be about it, just rock it. Own it. Make it yours. Because the things that make us different are the EXACT same things that make us special.
I once met a very well-known artist who asked me what medium I worked in, and when I quietly said, “ballpoint pen,” he asked (with honest curiosity), after a long pause, “Um…is that even archival?” I was sort of hesitant to respond, washed over instantly in self-doubt–until I realized with full confidence that I don’t CARE. I enjoy it, I am comfortable with it. And the important thing is this: I AM STILL LEARNING.
From time to time, people ask if our 4-year old or I get tired of collaborating together when we draw, and so far, the answer has been a resounding “heck NO!” But to change it up a little so that we DON’T, we’ve done a few animals….and every once in awhile, we’ve started throwing some monsters in there.
Now, I’ve written about the monster doodles before, but since then, we’ve sort of expanded the process a bit. First, they start out with me drawing a monster head, and our daughter (just like with the “people” collaborations) would draw the body & any additional scenery on them.
Several of them end up in the water, for some reason.
Following her art direction, many of them end up patterned and pink.
This one, who needed a helmet before he could hop on his bike…
Or this one, who she insisted be in a rainstorm.
They’re often influenced by her little world, like this creature which came about not long after her first visit to a circus…
This one, which was of a cat-monster tossing candy to her at Halloween (that’s me in the yellow-striped shirt, picking her up)…
Or this one, which happened around the same time we made a gingerbread house for the holidays.
But the process itself REALLY started getting fun when (instead of drawing on the head I had pre-drawn) she and I started taking DIRECTION from eachother. “Let’s make a monster!” she’d say, and I’d get out a pen. “First step: it should have lots of eyes,” she said. So I drew lots of eyes. “Wings for ears. A bird beak.” Each time, I’d draw from her prompts in my own style. Then when it was her turn, and she’d follow my lead. “It should have antennae,” I said. “Pteranadon wings. And a dragon tail.”
Or she’d tell me, “It should have hair like Great Grandma’s (we were visiting her at the time). LOTS of noses. Glasses. Lots of down-pointing teeth, and horse ears.” Then I would tell her, “A snail body with stripes and lots of legs.” And she would add the extra details (like a decorative mouse flashlight and a bed) on her own.
It’s another fun little exercise in collaborating with the kid. And secretly, I know she enjoys practicing the rare moment of getting to “boss” me by telling me what to draw! She is still a bit rigid sometimes, and insists that I “didn’t do it right,” and I insist that when you work WITH someone, there IS no “right.” That you have to work WITH people, share their ideas, and just have fun. It takes some getting used to, because I can see those same perfectionist tendencies in our daughter that I have–wanting things to be “just so.” But it’s GOOD to step out of your comfort zone, and it’s GOOD to share.
So give it a try! Sit down for a bit, take your kid’s direction, and let ‘m tell YOU what to do for a moment–just to see what happens….It doesn’t have to be with drawing; try letting them tell you what shapes to glue down, what clothes to put on, or how to decorate cupcakes. And show me how it worked for you!
One day, while my daughter was happily distracted in her own marker drawings, I decided to risk pulling out a new sketchbook I had special ordered. It had dark paper, and was perfect for adding highlights to. I had only drawn a little in it, and was anxious to try it again, but knowing our daughter’s love of art supplies, it meant that if I wasn’t sly enough, I might have to share. (Note: I’m all about kid’s crafts, but when it comes to my own art projects, I don’t like to share.) Since she was engrossed in her own project, I thought I might be able to pull it off.
Ahhh, I should’ve known better. No longer had I drawn my first face (I love drawing from old black & white movie stills) had she swooped over to me with an intense look. “OOOH! Is that a NEW sketchbook? Can I draw in that too, mama?” I have to admit, the girl knows good art supplies when she sees them. I muttered something about how it was my special book, how she had her own supplies and blah blah blah, but the appeal of new art supplies was too much for her to resist. In a very serious tone, she looked at me and said, “If you can’t share, we might have to take it away if you can’t share.”
Oh no she didn’t! Girlfriend was using my own mommy-words at me! Impressed, I agreed to comply. “I was going to draw a body on this lady’s face,” I said. “Well, I will do it,” she said very focused, and grabbed the pen. I had resigned myself to let that one go. To let her have the page, and then let it go. I would just draw on my own later, I decided. I love my daughter’s artwork, truly I do! But this was MY sketchbook, my inner kid complained.
Not surprisingly, I LOVED what she drew. I had drawn a woman’s face, and she had turned her into a dinosaur-woman. It was beautiful, it was carefree, and for as much as I don’t like to share, I LOVED what she had created. Flipping through my sketchbook, I found another doodle of a face I had not yet finished. She drew a body on it, too, and I was enthralled. It was such a beautiful combination of my style and hers. And she LOVED being a part of it. She never hesitated in her intent. She wasn’t tentative. She was insistent and confident that she would of course improve any illustration I might have done. …And the thing is, she DID.
Soon, she began flipping through my sketchbook, looking for more heads. “Do you have any heads for me today?” she would ask me each morning. So I began making a point at night to draw some faces for her (which was my pleasure–faces are my favorite part, anyway). She would then pick up a pen with great focus, and begin to draw. Later, I would add color and highlights, texture and painting, to make a complete piece. Sometimes she filled in the solid areas with colored markers, but I would always finish with acrylics later on my own.
Sometimes I would give her suggestions, like “maybe she could have a dragon body!” but usually she would ignore theses suggestions if it didn’t fit in with what she already had in mind. But since I am a grownup and a little bit (okay a lot) of a perfectionist, I sometimes would have a specific idea in mind as I doodled my heads. Maybe she could make this into a bug! I’d think happily to myself as I sketched, imagining the possibilities of what it could look like. So later, when she’d doodle some crazy shape that seemed to go in some surrealistic direction, or put a large circle around the creature and filled the WHOLE THING in with marker, part of my brain would think, What is she DOING?!? She’s just scribbling it all up! But I should know that in most instances, kids’ imaginations way outweigh a grownup’s, and it always ALWAYS looked better that what I had imagined. ALWAYS.
For example, the filled-in marker of the one above, she told me, was a chrysalis, for the caterpillar to transform into a butterfly. Of COURSE it is. I never would have thought of that. And that’s why kids make awesome artists.
Later, I would show her what I had done with our drawings–the painting and coloring. She seemed to critique them pretty harshly. “That’s silly, mama.” or “you put WATER behind her?” But for the most part, she enjoyed them. I enjoyed them. I LOVE them.
And from it all, here are the lessons I learned: to try not to be so rigid. Yes, some things (like my new sketchbook) are sacred, but if you let go of those chains, new and wonderful things can happen. Those things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little. In sharing my artwork and allowing our daughter to be an equal in our collaborations, I helped solidify her confidence, which is way more precious than any doodle I could have done. In her mind, her contributions were as valid as mine (and in truth, they really were). Most importantly, I learned that if you have a preconceived notion of how something should be, YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED. Instead, just go with it, just ACCEPT it, because usually something even more wonderful will come out of it.
SIDE NOTE: As an idea (mainly for myself) I decided to put just a few of our collaborative prints up for sale on a site called Society 6. I purchased one myself (the space beavers, called “Outer Face”) to see how they would turn out, and I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve done dozens and dozens of collaborative sketches, but I only put a few up as prints. I’m not sure what to do with the others. Maybe make a children’s book out of them? Make poems to go along? I’m not sure, but I love them with a very large portion of my heart, and they need a special place.