Illustration Master Class 2017 – the painting!

My goodness, I had a marvellous and educational time at The IMC 2017. I’m still processing everything I learned – it was a very intensive week. But here is an overview, with the pieces I worked on.

Pieces. The intention of The IMC is that you work on one large piece over the week. As you will see, mine was more of a personal evolution, but not for that reason a failure or loss at all. I had many epiphanies.

(Note: The prompt I worked to was for Seanan McGuire’s Beneath The Sugar Sky, in which there is a rhubarb soda sea, so I also used a lot more pink than I usually would!)

So: At the beginning of the week, when we were still all at the thumbnail stages, I was being heavily influenced by all the fabulous painters around me. Without consciously considering it, I felt I ought to be very painterly.

01painterly-ideals

I’m not a painter. I learned to thumbnail much more boldly, and came to terms with doing that tonally, but in terms of how I was going to execute the idea, I managed to get myself pretty worked up. Although I still rather like the skull above.

Then we had two lectures close together: Irene Gallo’s presentation on colour in art, which featured many illustrations that were much more graphic in style; and Daniel Dos Santos’s lecture, in which I realised that while I resent the fact that his work looks like magic to me, and want to paint well enough to see the point where it comes together, I do not in fact want to paint like him or even paint all that much at all. Just enough to incorporate the lessons into my own style.

So I went back to my desk, scrapped my plans and went back to the extreme basics: Silhouettes. Having cut those out, I played around with the scrap paper, using it as a stencil and adding in details. I found I didn’t mind doing that. That’s just cheating on silhouettes.

And it turned out the reference photos I’d taken when I thought I’d be painting did feed into the shapes and angles of the silhouettes. One of my IMC realisations was that preparations are seldom wasted (lots of my epiphanies on the trip were obvious, and some I could have parroted before).

02recallibration

I’d decided by this time that what I wanted to get out of The IMC was learning how to be at it: learning how to learn. How to get everything I want from a lesson, drag it back to my lair and process it into my own work.

So, next I just added a bit more detail to that silhouette and began building it up in gouache, remembering the little textures I love in medieval paintings and Pauline Baynes’s illustrations.

Now, I was surrounded by painters, but one of the wonders of that is getting to see how people actually think a painting onto the canvas. Getting to watch John Jude Palencar paint and think, “Oh wait, it looks like a painting when he’s finished, but the process looks to me like cross-hatching and wash. I know that. I can think that way.”

It was also good being able to go up to illustrators with a sheaf of pen-and-ink drawings and have them draw over them on tracing paper, and getting to see and hear how they would have solved the same problems.

03Painting

Another realisation was how much tidier having to comply with work health & safety regulations keeps a workspace. I didn’t spill anything.

I was feeling more confident with the gouache now, but I was worried about losing the liveliness in sketches. So for the next piece I did the thumbnail sketch, took reference photos (which I won’t show, as I haven’t the permission of the models, but they look like the world’s most awkward ballroom dancing lesson).

Then I sat down and drew the picture without looking at the reference. Then I used the photos to go back in and adjust details and accuracy. It certainly helped.

04Dance

And I used up the leftover paint drawing in other people’s sketchbooks.

05Scraps

Here’s a drawing of reference photoshoots happening.06Poses

So! On ot the finished pieces:

Here is a digital composition of the silhouettesSilhouettes cover

(The painted silhouettes on their own for comparison)Silhouettes---pink

A little Cake Queen, painted largely without reference, but with obvious Andrew Hem influences on approaching planes of colour.

Cake Queen

An even tinier pen-and-ink version of the lady.

Cake-Queen---ink

Seanan’s Cora swimming. I like the tiny skull so much (you may notice a pattern here).

Cora Swimming

And the final gouache painting of the walking figures.

WalkingFigures

In the end, they were all vignette drawings, but someone who knows me said “Next you’ll learn to draw backgrounds, and then you’ll be a real illustrator.” He got a multipurpose background in his sketchbook.

Another point Irene made was about the elements fantasy illustrators should be able to handle, like horses, and others which it is good to show you can do, like group scenes. That’s why I ended up painting the three walking figures, to check that I could! And since I rather enjoyed it, I started looking for more crowds to draw: Here are the survivors of the IMC at about 2am on the last evening.

07last-night

A few lessons that resonated for me (there were many more – these are the ones which were still echoing around my head this week):

  • Preparation pays off.
  • Thumbnail using tones.
  • Take good, well-lit, detailed reference photos.
  • Keep caps on bottles.
  • Gradients! Use them compositionally.
  • Go to galleries and look at just one thing: a colour, fabric, use of highlights, etc.
  • Watch how ink lines end, and use lines to echo shapes in other parts of the drawing.
  • Whatever you’re doing (in composition, colour, etc), commit and then push it further. This came up a few times over the trip: exaggerating scale, doubling down on ‘errors’ instead of taming them.
  • Skulls and wigs and gauntlets are things people just own and bring to workshops with them.
  • Always do more than you need to, professionally. Get up earlier, or paint images twice, or…
  • The cheerfulness and generosity of real (apparent) confidence.
  • When watching a demonstration, copy it rigorously, then go back and try doing it your own way. I’ve always skipped the middle step, but it turns out I learn more by watching and emulating before getting creative.

… I just pulled out my notes and got distracted by all the wonderful information, but I will leave this list as it is.

But more: It was amazing to be surrounded by professional, excellent artists, all learning and critiquing, helping, posing, advising, sharing advice on brushes and paints, but never doubting the worth and ability of what was on display.

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