Artist Explains the Backstory of a Drawing
illustration is a rejected design for a book cover. The author
went with a bright digital image better suited to her book. (I
think I'd've made the same decision.) But I went ahead and did a
final version because it made me happy, and I thought you might
enjoy an explanation of my process.
- I start with a
bad, bad sketch, done on paper I extract from my trash can,
something I do to trick myself into thinking I can't go wrong.
Shown here, and drawn on the back of an insurance envelope.
- I translate the
bad, bad sketch into a merely bad sketch, this time on graph
paper, shown below, to keep everything upright. Junk paper,
graph paper, help me think.
- I get my client's
approval on the idea in the bad sketch, and proceed to final
art, sometimes with an intermediate sketch or two. (I make
sure my client is familiar with my style and my work before I
send a sketch as nasty as the second one shown here. No sense
scaring off a customer. ;) )
a photo of the kind of pen I use. See the tiny wire on the nib
in the picture? This one is about three times THICKER than the
wire on the pen used in this drawing. Maintaining my technical
pens is a fixed portion of my artistic life, and is my reason
for never bothering with manicures, as I usually get ink under
my nails. See illustration.
In the case of this
art, I inked the major outlines with a slightly thicker line. I
seldom draw from life, so everything here is made up from an
idea in my head, and I use line weight for emphasis more than
for resemblance to real life. I can see the air of unreality in
this piece, but I excuse it, saying it's unreal in the sense
that it's idealized. It's my Platonic ideal of a desktop.
- As I go, I start
thinking about what else I'd like if I were using this desk.
At this point, I add the tulip pattern on the planter, the
house bookend, the apple. I add the cat, and hope the client likes it.
Turns out to be moot, since we didn't use this drawing, and
the kitty got to stay. I'm still trying to decide
what other book titles I should include. It's a little like
the thinking that went into the preparation of an Egyptian
tomb: just as they included what the dead Pharaoh would need
for his afterlife, I include everything my fictional writer
would want at their desk.
- I correct an
accidental M.C. Escher mistake on the window when I notice the
frame is parallel to the viewer at the bottom and at right
angles to him at the top. A little extra shadow at the base
allows me to fix the line. I've learned not to panic at
mistakes. In my old graphics office, we used to say, "There's
no mistake you can make that we can't fix." (This motto
pertained to art. We made no claims about fixing your bad
romance or your tendency to binge-watch Law and Order.)
- With the outlines
in place and corrections accomplished, it's now smooth
sailing. I take that tiny pen and do the shading, listening to
anything from podcasts to Patsy Cline to Prokofiev. I'm a very
- I let the drawing
rest, like bread dough, overnight, or for a week or a month,
depending on the deadline. When I return to it, I notice
places that need emphasis, places where I failed to go dark
enough. My revered painting teacher, Frank Liljegren, was
famous for touring the room, exhorting students to "Go darker,
darker," because he knew if we didn't, nothing in the light
would stand out. I notice it's my tendency to hesitate to get
the dark tones dark enough. When I studied with Frank, it was
in a class largely composed of Bible students, and we all had
to be exhorted to go dark enough, as if we had some inner
doctrinal imperative to keep everything bright and cheerful. I
still fight that. I also fight the fear that I'll darken an
area beyond what will work with the rest of the drawing, and
everything will be ruined, ruined! In art, as in any
occupation, your inner issues and doubts need to be swatted
down or they will eat your endeavors.
- When the values
are adjusted rightly, every part of the drawing has an elastic
connection with every other part. As the artist, it's my job
to be the viewer's tour guide, leading the eye around the
picture without visual speed bumps or road blocks. If I've
done my job as the artist/illustrator, the picture will tell a
story, and the viewer's eye will feel at rest.
Well, that's the
process that went into the art at the top of the page.
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