Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Loosey Goosey with Ben Clanton

My favorite part of the book making process is when the book first starts to take shape. I love drawing character sketches and creating that first dummy book. For me it is the most creative part of the process and it is when the book with all its potential has the most life. But then comes final art (a.k.a. FARTS) and I find myself wanting to make the book perfect and struggling to keep the art alive. I tighten up because I want it all to be just so. I imagine this is something that will always be difficult for me, but there are some tips, tricks and general tidbits that I have learned. These are the ones that come to mind . . .


And now I have that song stuck in my head and because I mentioned it you probably do to. You're welcome! This is the hardest advice to actually apply. I treat it as a sort of mantra. It can be easy (at least for me) to get fixated on trying to get a line just so, that wing or eye or whatsit to match up with the other perfectly, and making sure everything is consistent. While a degree of this is needed when creating final art it can stifle the work. Finding a balance is the tricky thing . . . allowing what you might think of as a mistake to remain and to embrace happy accidents. I find it helpful to step away from my desk. I'm far too good at butt in chair. And so I try to keep a mindset of letting things be and while not entirely avoiding reworking . . . avoiding overworking. I'm definitely not good at this. I post little phrases on occasion above my work such as "keep moving forward" as reminders.


Some of these tips definitely don't apply to all styles but I've found this one helpful. I try and avoid media that give me too much control. For many years my go-to for doodling has been the micron pens. I think I gravitated to them early on because they did give me more control and I already felt I had so little because I didn't have much muscle memory for drawing yet. But the line from such pens is very consistent and not that dynamic. I often use a 6B pencil or colored pencils for line-work now and have been dabbling in dip pens and bamboo pens. 


A trick I learned from fellow Whatsit Jennifer K. Mann is to render the line-work at a smaller size. Jen works as small as 50% and then scans at a high resolution in order to get a larger looser line. I've often worked at 75% or 85% since Jen told me about this. Look how wonderful these wiggly-ish lines of Jen's are!


Recently I've discovered some brushes for photoshop that I can use to distress the work. There are many grunge brushes too that can help add character and texture. They can be great for forcing yourself to lose a bit of control over the piece.


It can be easy for me to zoom in on a detail or spot of an illustration and spend too much time trying to fix something that doesn't look quite right to me. When I then zoom out I often find that for starters that detail didn't matter quite so much and that by actually "fixing" it I actually took something away
from the piece when seen as a whole. 


I've got to confess I often add mess. I'll do splatter paint or splotches of ink on a paper scan it in and set it on top of my illustration. It adds in some of that frenetic aspect of the initial sketch. What is ridiculous is that I then sometimes might move a splatter because I'n not happy with where it landed. 


I've noticed that there is a trend toward having the color of a piece purposefully offset. I'm all for it! And also for allowing bits of paint and color to generally go outside the lines. Any way to keep the human hand present I think helps to keep a piece alive and interesting. Again, I realize this doesn't apply to all styles but I've been trying to apply it to my work recently and finding it effective.


I find my work suffers if I dive right in. If I allow myself a doodle or two before working on a piece for a book I start out much looser. Also, breaks can be super helpful. Taking a moment to stretch or step outside and then reproaching a pice helps give fresh perspective and can force you to reevaluate. 


Perhaps a sketch can be integrated into the final art? Perhaps not all of it but maybe a piece or two can be collaged in. I've also started to sometimes keep my sketch layers in photoshop and just reduce the opacity with the final art on top. 


I went to a talk by Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet) and he talked about how he did the paperback Harry Potter covers all on one layer in photoshop. He treated it as a physical canvas. I think this can be helpful in forcing yourself to live with the marks you make. Though, I do appreciate how being able to get rid of a layer or tamper with just one part of a drawing because it is in a separate layer can be freeing.

Got any tips or tricks? I'd love to hear about them!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Satellite Offices

by kevan atteberry

As creatives—writers and illustrators specifically—most of us work from our homes, and by ourselves. We've commandeered a tucked away niche off the kitchen, a large closet shared with winter clothes and ski equipment, or a corner eked out of a spare bedroom. We’ve created a place that is ours, exclusive from other house inhabitants. Some of us even have an actual room dedicated for writing or a studio for illustrating. I'm lucky, I suppose, to have a space (barely) big enough for both a writing/digital art area as well as a place for working in traditional art mediums.

Still, like so many of my solitary compatriots, when I have work to get done, I will often pack up my laptop, sketch book, pencils and pens and abandon the distractions of home. I’ll head out to a coffee shop, the library, or sometimes even a pub—my satellite offices. There is something stimulating and comfortable about the busy hum of the default world as I submerge myself into whatever world I’m trying to create.
I have only recently been able to do this regularly due to changes in my life and responsibilities. And I am still searching out the place—places—that work well for me. I don’t know if others have one special place they go or a collection of places. I have found several different spots where I like to work. And I try to switch them up. I’ve found if I have a particularly productive day at one location, it will become my “favorite place to write,” or “draw.” And I’ll try and duplicate it the next time. Which is a mistake. It rarely happens.
The next time the “busy hum of the default world” may be fractured by a loud talker, 

a loud laugher, 

or a loud squealer.

The next time, the table you sat and created so proficiently and abundantly at may be occupied. Another table probably will not have the same magic.

Sometimes people are too friendly or curious.

But there are some distinct advantages to working off-site or remotely. I am more likely to keep my butt in my chair in front of my laptop, or with pencil in hand. I am less likely to be distracted or hop up every ten minutes to attend to some banal task. Not that there aren’t distractions, there are. But distractions away from home can be different. They can have their own curious value. Call it observation. And/or unintended eavesdropping. I’ve dashed off quick sketches of fashion or characters I’ve seen and used them later in illustrations. I’ve developed ideas and learned things from what I’ve heard. I remember a particularly emphatic discussion between 3 women sitting behind me one time on hair removal. Who knew there were so many options! I don’t know how or where or if I’ll ever use this, but it was fascinating. The animated delivery was funny and I learned a new girl’s name that I may use in a story someday. And no, I am not sharing it here.

I should also mention that working off-site I’m often faced with a distraction that is far less helpful. That is the distraction of seductive pastries.

We’re lucky as writers and illustrators to be able to switch up our venues, work remotely. Other artists—musicians, dancers, ceramicists—might find it difficult to decide to go “work at Starbuck’s this afternoon.”

I have had some pretty good luck working offsite. And I truly enjoy it. It is not automatic, and sometimes working remotely leads to remotely working. This may be caused by not finding the “right” place, having distractions that are compelling but not helpful, or maybe Mercury is in retrograde. At these times I know enough to head back to the “home office.” Because if I am going to waste time, I might as well waste it doing banal tasks.

Full disclosure: this may be another reason why I work remotely. This is my studio right now. I can’t seem to get much work done here because it is such a mess and I can’t seem to clean it up because I have so much work to do. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

kevan atteberry