I’ve been sketching when I watch TV with my housemate in the evenings. Currently, that means I’m sketching Midsomer Murders. This is in the service of (a) having something to do with my hands and (b) test-driving Procreate on an iPad Pro I’ve hired for a month. (It turns out this is an option! I searched for business equipment hire places, and hired it along with an Apple Pencil — they rent Cintiqs, too, and I was planning on trialling both, but the iPad Pro is already very promising and considerably more useful than the very old one I last used.)
This time I’m using it for speed-sketching characters (since I’m watching with someone else, I can’t keep pausing). It’s an effective way to watch a fairly familiar show. I definitely notice certain demographic idiosyncrasies more than usual, for good as well as ill — there are lots of great character actors with interesting faces in episodic murder mysteries, and they skew older so there’s more to work with in terms of visible structure.
Also, while people don’t hold their poses, they keep reappearing, so you can try the same person again from different angles.
It was also very good practice to draw people in the act of speaking, the different ways they move their mouths, and how their teeth fit into them, which comes up less in some fields of illustration than in others.
And of course the ongoing reminder that the faster the sketch, the more happy I am likely to be with it. Here are two of my favourites.
Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel.
Dragonlets for the June calendar! Wriggling all over the place. You will notice distinct design homages to Smaug (as depicted in Tolkien’s drawings), particularly the tiny wings with a single anchor-point, and the three-pronged tail. It turns out tiny wings are MUCH easier to manage for decorative purposes. Others are more in line with my usual dragons.
Here’s a glimpse of the project’s beginnings in my notebook, where most calendars begin.
I drew these to a grid, which was a puzzle, getting them all to fit — especially since I wanted some to go off one edge and back on the other (to better repeat).
Once I’d sketched out the dragons, I used that set of dragons as the base for another set of sketches (each dragon filling the same space as its twin, but facing the other way. I put those together and darkened the sketches on the computer, then used a lightbox to ink the finals on clean paper before tidying and colouring them on the computer.
And here (for personal use) are the printable versions. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.
Earlier this year, I drew a set of little people (below) for a good friend’s wedding. I’ve known Shayna a very long time, and she and her sisters have shown up in illustrations more than once, and behind cameras (her mother took my current headshots). When we can, we get together for art evenings, and she’s always saving me on technical things — she’s a graphic designer, and did the early mock-ups of the Flyawayart placement for me, too, when the illustrations were just an annexure to a dissertation. If you’ve ever visited and seen my beloved The Wolf Man painting, that was by Shayna.
I drew several stacks of ballpoint sketches (nb — not portraits), to get them sketchy enough for the invitation. Here they are in parts of Shayna’s layout (the full invitation (pdf here) was a single large sheet that folded into a pamphlet/poster).
Her wedding was then cancelled by a short sharp lockdown, but in the end it was able to go ahead only two days later than planned, high on a cloudy mountain with wedge-tailed eagles circling below us.
For my card to them, I wanted to tie it back to the invitation, and put both characters together. I folded an A5 piece of Canson illustration paper in half, then taped it down with masking tape. Process: Light pencil, ink lines with an 0.05 Staedtler micron (I think), erase the pencils, put down masking fluid, colour with (Daniel Smith) watercolour, remove masking fluid, touch up with pen and a tiny bit of white gel pen.
You will notice this is not quite the same illustration as at the top of this post! I was seized by self-doubt at some point, and painted that second card just in case. I love them both — the figures below, and the hill and path in the squarer painting — and in the end I took both of them all the way to the wedding and made up my mind when I got there.
Last month, I sketched a matrix-game workshop at the University of Queensland — a type of roleplaying game designed not to be “won”, but to create & identify problems inherent in (or that could affect) the scenario, for later investigation.
The workshop was part of the Defence Innovation Bridge — a joint project between the UQ Business School, the UQ Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Australian Defence Force, and several startup companies in very interesting fields. The workshop was run by Dr Helen Marshall and Professor Kim Wilkins.
The scenario being played through involved an evacuation being conducted in diplomatically awkward circumstances, with an eye to raising questions about systems, strategies and limitations to do with communication technologies (among other things).
I was (always!) looking forward to some documentary sketching — complicated in this case by the physical people mostly just sitting at tables (no dramatic poses, I thought) and some technical things happening into the situations they were describing (for which I might not have mental reference).
Of course, the combination of physical presence and stories being told turned out to be delightful to draw. People got invested in characters and situations, which made their movements interesting.
It was also enjoyable considering how groups related to each other at tables.
Or moved between tables.
I also discovered that it can be fascinating watching what people do with their feet when sitting for a day — not as consciously communicative as hands, but definitely expressive.
Drawing what was happening in the game was more difficult than in other role-playing games where each person controls one character — this was groups and interests and technical details, and a fairly high-level view of the situation, and all being discussed and refined and changed.
I solved this by drawing the scenarios and fragmentary suggestions into speech bubbles, which at least amused me. However it also had the effect of creating rough time-stamps, capturing attitudes in the room around particular points in the game — an unusual but intriguing record alongside the more traditional formal note-taking.
The notebook is a pocket Moleskine sketchbook, and the pens are all Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens (I posted more about the colour choices here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.):
Small Black Fineliner 199
Sky Blue brush tip 146
Green Gold brush tip 268.
6 solid hours of live sketching is a lot. Especially after a year of doing very little out and about.
Documentary/reportage sketching involves rather intense alertness. Not just the drawing, and the noticing what you’re drawing, but noticing things to draw, and patterns, and so on. It burns up a bit of energy.
I do like documentary sketching, though! It’s very useful for other work, of course, but there’s a liveliness and immediacy and plausible-deniability to drawing in the moment, picking out flashing fragments of the day, sharing things that charmed me, or jokes, or fascinatingly human gestures. Also, sometimes it’s nice to just draw a thing, intensely, and then be done with it.
Feet are surprisingly expressive.
Drawing conversations as speech was a lot of fun, and has worked its way into some projects since.
The blue and yellow combination feels very effective — a hint at colour difference, warm/cool separations, delineating areas. It’s starting to feel more naturally and flexibly communicative. I posted more about that colour combination here: Sketchbook colours — blue and gold.
Note: This post started as a post for supporters on Patreon. If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel(and I get through quite a bit of coffee).
Chain of Iron is out in stores! (These photos were taken in Where The Wild Things Are, because my copies are still somewhere in the international postal system and also it’s a great bookstore.) You can get Chain of Iron through all good & usual bookstores, and see all the illustrations in the Collector’s First Edition.
This edition has 10 silhouette portraits by me. It was a really lovely commission to do, and interesting — trying to work spears into circular compositions and distinguish flowers in silhouette and hint at bottles when working in cut paper… and that was just this image.
To begin with, I had a wish list from Cassandra with all the characters and a selection of moods and elements. I got out a stack of folded drawing paper (I cut A3 paper in half lengthwise then make it into little 4-page accordion-fold A5-sized booklets).
I began with some very preliminary sketches, sorting through some of the possibilities for combining a silhouette portrait and a frame. This stage is just me thinking through the pencil, watching what happens on the page, getting a feel for what is interesting and plausible.
At that point I was pretty sure of the rough dimensions of the frame, so I drew a template on the computer, printed it out, cut it out, and used it to trace little page outlines that I could use for my thumbnail sketches.
Here I was working through several different frame treatments for various characters — flowers growing from a central oval frame, from a rectangular outer frame, various patterns of growth, etc.
Once the appropriate style was decided, I enlarged the chosen thumbnail sketches and developed them into clean pencil drawings. I scanned those in for minor adjustments, and so I could send them for approval. Here they are all stacked on top of each other in Photoshop, before I flipped them for printing.
I printed each sketch larger than my original pencil drawing (I work small!). Then I printed them again because I forgot to flip them! Because I’m working on the back of the black paper, everything has to be reversed. Then I taped each printout to a sheet of 80gsm black paper. I have to be careful to make sure the tape doesn’t go over the area that will be cut! Especially here, where the image runs nearly to the edge of the paper.
As you can see here, the line is a tiny bit fuzzy because the copy paper diffuses the pressure of my pencil. Also I’ve used the graphite paper before, and the white has worn off in some places. All to the good! Everything gets refined further as I cut.
Then I work around each image, section by section, until it’s all cut out, and then I lift the excess paper away (carefully cutting little threads and sections I missed).
Here is the back and front of an image before I cut it out. (I actually cut this design twice — there were some composition issues that only really showed up once it was actually in silhouette, in spite of all the pencils and emails and tracing — possibly I could have corrected it in Photoshop but it was in fact easier this way, and good to have another go at some of the more complicated sections of e.g. necklace chains.)
They are quite fragile once freed from the backing! I put them in plastic letter sleeves for scanning. Then I clean up minor corrections and run it through a vector program — this preserves almost all of the little wobbles and angles and personality of the hand-cut line, but it gives a really strong, clear, neatly resizeable silhouette that the publisher can wrangle into position.
Most of the individual silhouettes were separate from their frame, for this ghostly one we reversed the centre, to give a ghostly/negative effect (and funnily enough, keeping the centre of the flame solid seemed to effectively change a regular silhouette candle into a silhouette of a black candle).
You might have noticed something missing! That’s because I hand-lettered the names. I printed the pencilled names all out on one piece of paper, put that on a lightbox with clean paper of the top, and lettered it with a dip pen and ink (Hunt Crowquill 102 nib and Winsor & Newton black ink).
I usually have to do some names several times, to get them to work the way I want.
Then I scanned those in too and cleaned them up, and sent all the art off to the art director (the excellent Nicholas Sciacca).
I really enjoyed this project. It was an intensive process, because the paper cutting is fairly physically wearing. But there were so many beautiful and intriguing images to play with, and technical challenges and new approaches — how to put a spear into an oval frame? How to convey fictional personalities through only head-and-shoulders silhouettes? — so it was both pleasing for the sake of this project and as part of being an illustrator trying variations and solving puzzles.
(The originals for these have been claimed by the appropriate people, but there might still be a few City of Bones and Clockwork Angel drawings available at Book Moon Books in Massachusetts.)
Also, if you’re into supporting artists and art and posts about it: Supporters on Patreon got some sneak-peeks of this and other projects (and process posts) — I’m at www.patreon.com/tanaudel, with levels of support starting from US$1/month. Or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and when cutting out this many silhouettes, I get through quite a bit of coffee).
When I’m sketching, I work in a Moleskine pocket notebook, and use mostly Faber Castell PITT artist pens — often quite vigorously. However, these are three of my current favourite sketching pens (for more on favourite colours, see Loving the tools):
Small Black Fineliner 199
Sky Blue brush tip 146
Green Gold brush tip 268 (note — it’s not metallic, but more of an old mustard colour)
The first time I really started using them as a set was at the Natural History Museum in Oxford — and mostly because it was a very blue-and-gold place.
At this point I was mostly using the two colours to identify the blue and yellow of what I was looking at, as well as using the blue for some shadows.
I’d already been using blue for shading, sometimes — especially when I didn’t have the time to record more detailed colours. It’s more vivid than a grey shadow — I like how it lifts the picture off the page as a little object, instead of making the figures sink into it. (By “shading” I mean both adding actual shadows, and indicating darker colours.) And while the blue is cool, it doesn’t look cold on the warm cream of the Moleskine pages.
I began using the mustard yellow to do the same. It had a much warmer effect than the blue, but I liked its old-school monochrome effect. And neither of them seemed to say This Is What The Scene Is About in the way some other colours, such as green, do.
But since I liked both the blue and the yellow for this purpose, I kept using them together.
In these sketches (above) at Book Moon Books, I used the blue for the figures — for shadow and cold and to make them stand out, and because their backs were mostly to me — and yellow for the books and store, for the warmth and light. I really like how the use of the two colours distinguishes the figures from the background (which doesn’t really happen with the white dress in the grey sketch at Château de Comper, earlier).
By the time I got to Avid Reader for Love Your Bookshop Day last year (context: Queensland, Australia, where that was safe and legal!), you can see the use has shifted again. You can also see that I bought new pens which hadn’t begun drying and darkening.
In the Avid Reader drawings, I’m using both colours on each figure, instead of using them to separate elements. I suspect this was in part because it was daylight, and warm weather — there’s a breezier feeling to these than the Book Moon sketches! But I was also using the two colours to quickly note the direction of light and where shadows fell, as well as to distinguish some areas of different colour, even if they weren’t exactly these colours.
Recently, I’ve been sketching some workshops at the University of Queensland (I’ll post more of these soon — but the art is already up for patrons on patreon.com/tanaudel). Going back over those pages, I realised how many things the colours were doing.
Even just in the scene above, you can see where I’ve used the colours to show shadow, the direction of light, the colour of the background, to separate figures from each other and the table, and to keep the events in the speech bubbles at a remove by only using blue in them. And in the image below, I’ve also used the yellow over the blue to hint at a khaki uniform.
So! Here are a few benefits/uses of very limited colours, especially for fast sketching:
Shadow (and shape and direction of light)
Warmth and cold
Tone and more colours than you’d think
Pulling a sketch together
Anchoring a drawing to or lifting it from the page
Very quickly communicating the most important details
Unifying a group of drawings/creating a consistent style for a project
Choose two colours you like. It doesn’t have to be blue and yellow. Blue and red is another popular choice, and an image search of Risograph prints will give you some ideas of what can be done with a limited palette. Or pull out two coloured pencils at random.
Do a few small monochrome sketches (in words or pictures!). If stuck for ideas, perhaps do 20-second sketches (e.g. this very fast Ramon Casas study) or one-minute written descriptions of some famous paintings. Work in black line or pencil or, if writing, in bare-bones description with no colour.
Now, rework each sketch by adding hints of those two colours (coloured pencil, watercolour, markers, digital colour, words…). Here are a few approaches you could try:
Show the direction of light and shadow, or where the highlights are (Dorothy Dunnett does this fabulously in some of her novels, and John Dickson Carr creates lurid effects with green and red in The Waxworks Murder).
To pick out as much of the original colour as you can.
To distinguish between a figure and the background.
To show warm and cold areas.
Bonus round: Change the colours and see what happens.
Note: This post began as a post for supporters on Patreon — if you’d like to support art and posts about it, patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel(and I get through quite a bit of coffee).
On this page of the observation journal, I was playing more with the question of whether (and how far) an aesthetic (in the pop-culture sense of a distinct style/mood/mode) can drive a story.
Left page: Butterflies, neighbours, and forgetfulness.
What I was elaborating on:
I’d been using the observation journal to think through why certain ideas appealed to me, and why certain projects seemed to just work, while others dragged. A point that kept emerging was the sense of the heavy lifting a really clear aesthetic or style could do. Here are a few posts about that:
I chose three elements from the habits and resistance exercise (e.g. “vivid”, “emphasise less obvious part”, novelise picture”). I was just using these as guides to suggest an idea.
Then I picked an aesthetic. In the first case, it was a brilliantly-coloured feverish Victorian setting (the second one was nautical-piratical). I define aesthetic pretty broadly.
I also picked a literary key — something to tune the idea to. In each case I picked a main or obvious reference (e.g. Dorian Gray) and a secondary reference that was either less obvious or contrasted intriguingly (e.g. a line from Milton, “they also serve who only stand and wait”). I wasn’t trying to be wildly original here — the intention was just to ride along with the aesthetic and see how far that got the idea.
Mixing a plot:
Using those elements for the base idea, I outlined a very rough possible plot. (Note: This is almost always faster with a brand new idea I haven’t committed to yet.) I just outlined a few points:
Main Idea (someone who frames enchanted portraits)
Point of View (flamboyant detective)
Turning Point 1 (detective compromised)
Turning Point 2 (trap sprung by unexpected person)
Identifying possible set-pieces:
Rather than (necessarily) scenes, I made a quick list of visual situations and motifs that caught the right aesthetic. (e.g. poetry salon, gilt and glass and velvet frame shop, hothouse of tropical flowers).
I included a contrasting note — e.g. against the overwrought decadence, one “knife-sharp and bare rooftop” scene.
What I learned
This aesthetic framework is a useful way for me to think about stories. It’s also a lens that lets me try out and understand other people’s thoughts about story structure better.
The observation journal continues to be a very useful way for me to chip away at little questions and concerns, and find my way into them.
As with most mix-and-match games, this was both fun and quite fast, but could have used more space (in fact, I tried it again the next day, with more art — I’ll post that soon).
I could feel how the aesthetic picked up the idea and set certain story-gears turning and catching. I’d like to trace more clearly where that happens, but it needed a bigger page.
Having that contrasting secondary aesthetic, like a note of a contrasting colour in a painting, was appealing. I wasn’t sure how much it added to the feeling of the story, but it definitely added to the creation of ideas. Setting up the opposition of an overheated drawing room and a cold roof automatically teases out things that could happen to bridge the space between those settings.
I think I could use this to start working out a story (as here). But even just doing it as a game now and then has made me a lot more aware of what I am doing with the aesthetics in other projects, and which ones I like, and how to use them to come up with or deepen ideas.
Make a list of aesthetics you like, or hate, or have seen recently, or found in a list online, or can invent by hyphenating two things in your field of vision — Regency Romance, Nordic noir, 1970s beachside, Horse & Hound, midcentury Elvish (I’ve seen this in a nightclub), a particular Instagram filter…
Pick two that are fairly different.
Sketch (words or pictures) a quick setting that suits each (a room, a poolside, an arrangement of scenery). You can be obvious, and even cliched, as long as you really commit.
Consider the sort of story which might let you move from one set to the other. What moments or characters or actions emerge to fill that space? What happens if or when trailing elements of one aesthetic brush up against the other?
Some extremely tiny process sketches, collecting my thoughts for the school workshops I taught last week at Words Out West.
These smallest drawings, just the faintest hint of thoughts, are very useful for collecting thoughts, and sorting through plans, ideas, and references it would take a long time to organise any other way. It’s therefore also a good way to condense large and nebulous ideas onto observation journal pages.
The workshops ended up being about drawing tiny things (although not this small!) and collecting favourite parts of stories (because most of my art workshops end up being about stories).
The drawings with the students were much larger than these, but I did show the classes these examples, to demonstrate how low the bar between informative and illegible is.
This post began as a post on Patreon — if you’d like to support more tiny art, patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel(and I get through quite a bit of coffee).