June 2021 Calendar — Dragons

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 was originally planning mermaids, for the Mermay illustration challenge, but we just had mermaids in February

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).

There’s a printed grid under this sheet of paper, which I used as a guide — all the dragons take up 10 squares.

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.

Hunt Crowquill 102 nib and Winsor & Newton black ink, on Canson illustration 250gsm paper

I’ve also wrangled it into a repeating pattern, which is now up on clothes, stationery, prints & etc at Redbubble! I will put it on Spoonflower, too. Oh, and the February mermaids are now up on Redbubble, too.

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-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.

Illustrations: a wedding, a kite

Tiny pen and watercolour painting of a young man and woman flying a kite on a hilltop in a strong wind, and being lifted off the ground.

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 Flyaway art 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.

Paper stuck to a drawing board with purple masking tape, a picture partly painted with masking fluid still showing, and a narrower tiny pen and watercolour painting of a young man and woman flying a kite on a hilltop in a strong wind, and being lifted off the ground.

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.

Art Process: Chain of Iron silhouette portraits

Cover of Chain of Iron, with a girl with long red hair and a yellow dress
Chain of Iron cover art by Cliff Nielsen

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.

Silhouette portrait of a man tipping a hat, with an oval frame surrounded by flowering vines, a spear, a newspaper, a dagger, and a bottle

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.

Several tiny pencil drawings of head-and-shoulder faces in profile, with scribbly frames and a globe pendant, etc
This is actually one whole 4-page sketchfold pieced back together after I scanned it

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.

4 photos, cutting, tracing and drawing in an oval template

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.

Four tiny pencil sketches of framing arrangements, very scribbly

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.

Illegible stack of scribbly lines

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.

I put white graphite paper in between the drawing and the black paper. I used Royal & Langnickel white graphite paper, which smells like a drawer of tailor’s chalk, if you’re into that.

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.

9 photos of stages of positioning, tracing, and cutting silhouette elements

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.)

Front and back of Anna & Ariadne picture (woman in dress on balcony, woman in suit reaching up to her, with frame of ivy, roses, necklace, top hat, sword, snake). On the back, white tracing lines are visible.

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.

4 photos of a hand holding silhouette elements: spider and web, cogs among geraniums, old-fashioned car, skull

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).

Portrait cut out of black paper (so it is white on black) surrounded by thorns, a coffin, comb, sword and 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.

Pencilled and inked loopy writing of character names

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.)

Let me know if you have any process questions!

You can get Chain of Iron through all good & usual bookstores.

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).

Sketchbook colours: blue and gold

Three Pitt Pens

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.

sketches of architecture and skeletons at the Museum of Natural History, Oxford
Museum of Natural History, Oxford

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.

Sketches of people in medieval and hobbit costumes
Costumes at the Arthurian Festival at Château de Comper

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.

Sketches of people sketching in Boston MFA, and in transit at Penn Station
Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Amtrak Penn Station

But since I liked both the blue and the yellow for this purpose, I kept using them together.

Sketches of people browsing in Book Moon Books
Book Moon Books, Easthampton Massachusetts

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.

A sketch of people browsing in Avid Reader
Avid Reader, Brisbane

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.

A sketch of four people at a table talking
University of Queensland — Defence Innovation Bridge

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.

A sketch of an army officer talking about a bulldozer

So! Here are a few benefits/uses of very limited colours, especially for fast sketching:

  • Speed
  • Portability
  • Shadow (and shape and direction of light)
  • Warmth and cold
  • Tone and more colours than you’d think
  • Separating elements
  • Separating styles
  • 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
  • Echoing particular printing styles (I love, for example, what Evaline Ness could do with two colours.)

Writing/Illustration activity

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
    1. 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).
    2. To pick out as much of the original colour as you can.
    3. To distinguish between a figure and the background.
    4. To show warm and cold areas.
  4. 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).

March Calendar — Rondels

An ink drawing on a mottled blue background of 12 floral wreaths/rondels, colouredin pale beige and white, including stars & moths, grasshopper & dandelions, heron, crown, bees, spiderweb, goblet, fox, moon, cat, bouquets, and a snuffed candle.

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: paypal.me/tanaudel — I’m extremely grateful for all your support.

I was cutting it fine on this month’s timing, so I decided to do the most complicated of many ideas (the other main contender was a simple repeat of dandelion flowers and leaves).

As for this design, of stars & moths, grasshopper & dandelions, heron, crown, bees, spiderweb, goblet, fox, moon, cat, bouquets, and a snuffed candle — oh, I like self-contained worlds, and objects that could belong to tales, and old endpapers, and a sense of being watched, and silver-and-bronze, and blue brocade, and arrangements that could be the best sort of game… There are a couple call-backs to other illustrations I have done, including for Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, and Angela Slatter.

Pencils vs final

Edit: It’s also up as a print on Redbubble.

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 through the tip jar at paypal.me/tanaudel.

Observation Journal — things that tell you what they’re doing

This observation journal post was an exploration of a pattern I’d noticed in some things I liked and in recent conversations — looking at where I saw it, and what it did, and what I liked about it, and how I could use it. In this case, it was the question of things that tell you what they’re doing.

Double-spread from the observation journal. Two densely hand-written pages. On the left, a page with five things each that I had seen, heard and done, with a picture. On the right, a mind-map thinking through projects that tell you what they're doing.

Left-hand page: Writing in a second-hand shop where someone kept gradually increasing the volume on “MMM-bop“.

Right-hand page: I’d been thinking about things (movies, books) that tell you what they’re doing, and show you what they are — also talking to Helen Marshall about “books that teach you how to read them.” So on this page, I simply pursued some of those thoughts, and the patterns and links between them.

In particular, it was prompted by two then-recent trains of thought: I’d written the post Making Things Manifest — mock-ups and outlines that morning, and I’d just seen Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears (cinema experience illustrated here). It also tied to earlier thoughts on staginess (Observation Journal — chasing patterns with digressions on the appeal of staginess).

As is often the case with the observation journal, watching the process itself is often the useful thing. In this case, it confirmed to me that this approach was a useful way to think more about what might otherwise have been fleeting interests. Even if, as here, I didn’t reach some overwhelming conclusion, the process of shuffling through my thoughts was valuable, and it helped me clarify some actual interests, and find intriguing new questions to pursue in future — it also underlined a difference between thinking-as-a-reader and thinking-as-a-writer, something I’m still learning.

Observation journal page, densely hand-written pages with a mind-map thinking through projects that tell you what they're doing.

Some key points:

  • There’s an honesty and generosity to things that are very frank about what they are doing, even (especially!) if that’s experimental. I can be overly coy with drafts, and don’t particularly like highly signalled plots, so this is a useful course-correction.
  • It honours and unifies books-as-objects (and other physical creative activities-as-objects).
  • Strongly genre-specific books are often very up-front about what they are. This also means that if you’re doing something different, it can pay to be explicit. (In fact, if the common trend is strong enough, people still might not even notice the flags you were waving.) This was a common element in the Australian Gothic books I looked at for my MPhil, and when I was writing Flyaway: a reliably beautiful Gothic aesthetic often leans heavily and explicitly on a robust declaration of that beauty wherever possible. (I’m planning a post about that.) There are many reasons to be subtle, of course, but sometimes it’s simply a function of acting too clever for my own good, which can sometimes be mean.
  • That honesty about boundaries and limitations also gives a really useful structural framework to swing around in.
  • A clearly-stated structure, like a clearly stated aesthetic, has a strong gravitational pull. It attracts story to it.
  • And in fact a vivid aesthetic can get a story a long way, if not the whole way (see e.g. Guillermo del Toro).
  • For me, a strong aesthetic sense is one of the sparks that can bring an idea to life (see Observation Journal — a tremor in the web for the process of working that out). So I pushed a little further in that direction, thinking about structures in terms of their relationship to a clear aesthetic — specifically through Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a movie which is very clear about the sort of movie you will be watching!
    • My first note on it was:
      curiosity/hope –> confirmation –> delivery –> reminder and clincher –> satisfaction = never distracted by expecting it to be some other movie
    • But I realised that this was very much me thinking as a viewer/reader rather than as a writer. I was looking at my reactions/interest rather than why I had those reactions.
    • So I broke it down again, looking at where the story signalled and anchored its (extravagantly gleeful and ridiculous) aesthetic/tone (there’s an overlap between those):
      HINT (before inciting incident)—play—ESTABLISH—play—EXTRA—business—(after denouement) FLOURISH

I hope to tie this to some current interests. One is how narrative time interacts with space and landscape and time (Intermultiversal interview). Travelogues, being literally vignettes from trains in motion, obviously connects to that. But Travelogues is also very up-front about being explicitly descriptions from trains in motion, with no secret subtexts.

The taking of reference photos

Inktober and triangulation, or: Nature LOVES a vacuum

Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a hen looking at a radio.
“Radio” plus “The cowardly hero deceived the hen.” (This was VERY TINY and also a birthday card for my father and something of a riff on His Master’s Voice.)

I’m probably grossly misusing the word “triangulation” but it fits because it’s a process of navigation AND an indirect way of approaching something AND this is about using three elements.

So:

  • A structure can be used to attract a story (see: Narrative Theory 1).
  • External input — something from outside my own head — is very useful when creating my own work.
  • Limitations (e.g. of materials, format etc) are hugely useful for pushing against creatively — they enhance the creative force.

I find that two constraints can suggest starting-point ideas, but using three together fairly reliably creates things that feel like stories. It holds open a space for things to fill. (See also: Observation Journal — A Tremor in the Web for more feeling-my-way-towards-ideas and Observation Journal —improbable inventions for another three-things approach).

Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a thief sitting on a tree root and looking into an enchanted mirror.
“Radio” plus “The evil thief sighed in the deep dark forest.” The “radio” here turned into a pair of enchanted communicating mirrors.

Which brings us to Inktober. I’m repeating my approach to it last year, using three main boundaries:

  • Prompt: I use the main/official prompts (there are many others), because that’s simple, and because where they don’t fit my personal tastes/interests (i.e. “radio”) it makes me work harder to come up with something that pleases me. I like using and fighting against external prompts and timeframes, and having to incorporate something that’s not entirely from inside my own head — that was the appeal and lesson of Illustration Friday way back when (and that tag is a deep dive).
  • Technique: Ink, obviously, but I further limited it to silhouette brush work because I want to get better at brush work and silhouettes seemed simpler (why I, of all people, would think that, but here we are), and incorporated imitation-gold leaf (because it’s pretty and I have a lot to learn).
  • Second prompt: I’m using tweets from Fairy Tale Fragments (@fairytaletext) on Twitter. This pulls everything into my preferred fairy-tale area, but involves some mental acrobatics to incorporate e.g. “radio” into that sort of setting.
Sketches for possible illustrations.
“Rodent” and the process of feeling out that day’s @fairytaletext tweets looking for things I wanted to draw
Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of a mouse on a wine bottle drinking out of a thimble.
“Rodent” plus “Once, there was a drunken thief who lived in a tall tower.”
Brush-and-ink and imitation-gold-leaf illustration of rats in a coat riding on the back of a wolf and pretending to be human.
The creative process illustrated, or: “Rodent” plus “The ugly servant saved the wolf.

Note: It’s tricky getting good photos of the foil, and impossible to scan usefully, but it’s got a lovely buttery-gold gleam under lights.

Sketch before story

Just a few tiny sketches for various projects.

Sketches for illustrations for “Undine Love”

I enjoy the relative simplicity and speed of this style of sketch — whether as a way to plan a final illustration, or as a finished picture, or as an element to play around with when developing stories, or even just an idea to hold in the mind, which could turn into any number of things when it’s eventually pinned down in words.

I am gradually (eternally) relearning that sometimes it’s simplest to put down in sketches (visual or written) the known images I want to work with, shuffle them into order, and then work out the story.

Notes for a presentation for the Australian Fairy Tale Society

I also need to remember this approach when planning an image-heavy presentation. The temptation is to write a detailed talk and then track down all the images mentioned in it and put them in order. But dropping all the art into place first and then jotting down the talking points is faster, more fun, and allows for more chatty spontaneity.

Art/writing exercise

  • When working on a story (written or drawn) resist any drive to get the story nailed down immediately.
  • Instead, concentrate on the key images you feel should be in the story (visual or at least with a distinct aesthetic).
  • Sketch them very quickly on cards or sticky notes. Keep it loose — I like to concentrate on movement in drawn sketches, and colour/texture/aesthetic quality in written ones. (So, for example, for a Cinderella story I might use sketches like the ones from Viewpoints, while a written note would be something like “someone watching from amidst the deep marine-blue night/shrubbery in the palace garden, star-flecked, a sweep of descending balustrades backlit by distant candlelight, and the hint of a silhouette of a girl descending them — mystery.”)
  • Try to get down at least 5 moments that feel like they could be key to something. I like to push until I feel there are enough points to balance a story on, and for the little stories I do for Patreon 5 is often a nice number. (Alternatively, draw 5 images from something like Dixit.)
  • If the order isn’t clear (and even if it is), rearrange the cards until they make sense for the spine of a story — the set-pieces.
  • Then outline the rest of the (written or drawn) story in dot points, aiming to get very quickly from one key scene to the next.
  • This can be the framework for a larger project (see Illustrating Flyaway). But if you can distill the notes to just a few telling sentences, it can also be the basis for a very short story.

Tools of the Trade: Pointy Objects

Over on Instagram, Battenkill Books asked whether I worked with extremely tiny tools.

My regular set are not so much tiny as extremely pointy. Here they are:

Left to right:

  • standard no.11 craft knife (the handle is a Fiskars Softgrip Detail Knife) — cutting and very occasionally scraping
  • mechanical pencil with 0.5mm HB leads (handle is a Bic Quantech # 2) — sketching, final line work, as a stylus for tracing down sketches with graphite paper
  • dip pen (nib is a Hunt crowquill 102) — nearly all my ink linework (very occasionally touched up with a fine pigment liner if I realise I’ve missed a line and have already packed the inks away)
  • no. 8 round brush (this one’s just an Artist’s First Choice taklon) — I do almost all my brushwork with this or something similar

I do use a few other things — Pitt Artist Pens in the sketchbook kit (I’ve got a post coming up elsewhere about that technique, so photos of those soon), scratchboard tools and some pigment pens with that, Pilot BPS-GP <F> ballpoint pen in the Observation Journal. But these are the main ones.

In the background is a paint tin I filled myself with Daniel Smith paints. After I worked through my feelings on all the sample colours (see Loving the Tools), I finally ordered all the colours I used most. But then I just wasn’t using them as often — there’s a lot more set-up and forethought and commitment involved in using wet paints from the tube.

So I used the time during some Zoom sessions to fill these little empty half-pans (it’s a Meeden watercolour tin), so that I can simply wet a brush and go (in this case with an overused little old brush, outlining windows for the journal).

Observation Journal: Sparks and navigable worlds

Something I enjoy about the observation journal is revisiting different approaches and digging into what does and doesn’t work for me, and why, and what I can do with that knowledge.

Double page of observation journal, densely handwritten. On the left, 5 things seen, heard, and done that day. On the right, a collage of vintage fashion photos with the words: 

Here are the Notorious smiling Women 
What terrific clothes they wear
THEY combine into a sophisticated fashion Code.
the notorious smiling women

On the left-hand page: disconcerting bathrooms and a “definite autumnal feeling”.

On the right-hand page: Every so often I wonder if collage is a thing I can do, and every time I realise that it definitely isn’t. I love the meditative aspect of it, and the recombining of elements, but I prefer that to happen at the front end of the creative process rather than being the final stage. For me it’s the spark that kicks off making a new thing — the making of it is something different. This continues not to diminish my enjoyment of other people’s collage — the reservations are about my enjoyment of various aspects of the process of making things. But while I find my collage hilariously bad, I definitely want to know more about the nefarious but fashionable adventures of the notorious smiling women.

And I wanted to note the summary page for this week, too, because it touches on a few points that have continued to echo through the observation journal.

  • The pleasure of watching other people learn to be competent in their chosen field. In this week, it was prompted by apprentices in the ceiling, but it also resonates with low-drama cooking shows, and stories where a character is not yet a master of their profession, but is taking practical steps towards becoming one. It’s a wonderful place for stories to draw forward motion from, without necessarily having antagonists or obvious conflict. And it ties into staginess and contained worlds, because the “romance of competence” (or fantasy of competence) relies the contained and navigable worlds of genres-of-manners, to which I keep returning (Heyer… in space!)
  • Another is that I’m much happier if there are systems or other people in place to say no to things without my direct intervention — or at least, without me feeling like I’m the one disappointing everyone including the ideal version on myself. I’m still working on what to do about this, or how to frame it so that it works for me. Although I might have just had a breakthrough on this thanks to an understanding reply to a difficult email! Stay tuned.
  • Time and persistence, vs a spark, vs a bright enough spark. Impetus vs the grind. This is an ongoing balance, and when I get it right, everything is wonderful. It relates to the first point on the right-hand page: to push ideas further immediately. I keep forgetting this lesson, because it always leads to SO MANY PROJECTS, and then deadlines and admin and despair, and rediscovery. So, not exactly balance. One of the benefits of this series of posts is that I have a reason to re-review these pages.