How To Find Your Art Style

I'm not going to give you a style magic secret in this post, because I don't think there is one. But sometimes we find permission for ourselves in the lives of others, so I want to share with you some of my long and winding art journey and talk a little about why I made things and why they changed over time. I don't have any art from my childhood, or even 8 years ago, so I'll start with the oldest stuff I've got.

MAKE ART IF YOU FEEL LIKE IT

cake.jpg
peek.jpg

Here are couple drawings from a sketchbook I kept about 5 years ago. It's REALLY weird to look at these now! At this point in time, I only drew as a way to enjoy myself. As you can see, in these drawings there are people (after a sort), and lettering (kind of), and it's all ink and colored pencil and sharpie. I used those tools because they were what I had.  To this point in time I'd never painted anything - I think back then painting sounded like something only "serious artists" did, and I wasn't serious so it really never occurred to me to try. I specifically didn't want to be a "serious artist" because drawing was my stress-relief, not my own private Fight Club like it sometimes seemed later on. I'd work a job all day and doodle in the night to chill out. 

MAKE ART THAT CELEBRATES THINGS YOU LOVE

wonka.jpg
heart.jpg

I started at some point not just to draw for fun, but in order to celebrate something I wanted to spend time with. It wasn't a conscious decision, it was something I noticed myself doing. A lot of "developing a style" is just taking the time to notice what you're naturally doing and how it makes you feel. For example, this "Pure Imagination" lettering thing is something I made because I love the original Willy Wonka movie and the song these words come from hits me in the feels. The part of me that loves that song is the part of me that remembers what it was like to be a kid and feel like everything was possible and that every decision was a valid and exciting one. That's a part of me I love, don't want to lose, and that I helped to nourish by spending time drawing out these lyrics.

The goldfish piece next to it was something a friend of mine said to me and it made me really happy because of how wonderfully weird and heartfelt it was. So I drew it and gave it to him and then he was happy, too. 

DEEPLY EXPLORE THINGS THAT INTEREST YOU

ginger.png

Let's suffice to say I am seriously passionate about food.  I adore fruits and vegetables and so I started drawing them. I was still using colored pencil and pen at this point, but the way I used them began to change. Because I wanted to churn out multiple drawings of different but related things I began making decisions about how I wanted things to look before I'd ever put pencil to paper.  This wasn't something I'd done before and is something I do literally every day now. Because I love food so much I really wanted to delve into it more than anything else I had done to that point and the experience of making my first series of drawings taught me a lot about stylistic decision making and consistency.

MAKE THINGS YOU WANT TO SHARE

sole.jpg
calenda.jpg

After I started drawing food and had a taste for what doing a series of things could teach me, I wanted to do another series of food. So I decided to make drawings of ingredients from recipes from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". This was because I adore Julia Child as much as I adore food, and was also teaching myself to speak French. I eventually had the idea that I could share my love of Julia by taking the drawings I was doing and making them into a calendar that I imagined hanging in like-minded kitchens around the world. And so I did make all the drawings for the calendar, but I never actually made the calendar.

By the end of drawing all the things I realized that I didn't feel like my art was good enough to invest in having calendars made because I didn't think anyone would buy them. This was an important realization at the time because I could have taken this feeling two different ways. I could have made it mean that I sucked, would forever suck, and should stop doing the thing I sucked at. Or I could have decided I wanted to do it better next time and try to learn how. As I have always drawn and will always draw, the first way wasn't an option. So I took the second route and decided to try to get better at the things I wanted to do.

LEARN FROM LOTS OF REALLY DIFFERENT PEOPLE

searace.jpg
hedgehog copy.jpg

I'm a fan of learning from others because it's faster. Once I decided to really become a proper student of art I looked to online communities and teachers. I decided to try the 52 Weeks Illustration Challenge because I thought I could learn a lot from the critiques of the other people there. The two paintings above were based on word prompts, and they're really different from stuff I'd done before, both because I I'd started trying to learn watercolor painting and because the group I was in leaned heavily towards a children's book style of art and I was trying to fit in. I envied how easy it seemed for other people to tell stories with their art because that's never come naturally to me. So I started trying to imagine stories and characters for things. The painting below is the most successful I was at story and character creation during that time.

lighthouse copy.jpg

I was enjoying trying a different style but ended up feeling severely out of place in the 52 Weeks group. At first I thought my restrictions on style were self-imposed, not iron-clad. But after deciding to do a piece that expressed a different vibe which REALLY didn't go over well in the group I moved on to find a different crowd. These are the legs that really pissed some people off, which I'm still kind of proud of :)

gods.jpg

I then tried a different prompt-based group with a different style and tried again to fit in there. I was doing things that were less children's bookish but still based on telling a story, like this drawing based on the prompt "Stallion".

stallion copy.jpg

Unfortunately there wasn't a lot of community in that community, more people just sharing and leaving without critiquing others, and I was tired of "trying to fit in" places. So I basically gave up on group directed learning and moved to individual online resources like Youtube, Skillshare, SVS Learn, and Schoolism. As I learned from different instructors I still tried different things, but didn't try to make those things look any certain way to fit a group's aesthetic. I learned that trying different things is really important, but trying to fit in is a real bummer and you shouldn't do it.

FIND YOUR OWN SUBJECT MATTER

beluga.jpg
bunbun.jpg

Around this time I gave up on drawing people because I realized I don't enjoy it and usually I only drew them when I had something negative I wanted to express. So I just stopped drawing them. Animals are more interesting and expressive to me, and have featured more prominently in my life in positive ways than people have. So while I continued learning from different artists, and trying things like the character designs above, it all became animal based. The Beluga Whale character on the left is an attempt at anthropomorphization that helped me realize I don't generally feel good about anthropomorphizing animals. And the bunny on the right is a self portrait if only I'd been born in a bun-bod.

FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

inkdolph.jpg
inkshark.jpg

Once I decided I was going to focus on animals I decided to do an Inktober series all about animal exploitation. That way I could practice combining storytelling with more realistic looking animals. I thought I would be the personal champion of animals everywhere by learning about every horrible thing that happens to them and making people look at it and that I'd still somehow manage to have people like what I was showing them. In retrospect it was incredibly stupid but sadly I had to learn that by doing it. And despite how depressing those ink paintings are, I still can see how much I learned and grew in doing them.

FIND YOUR OWN MESSAGE

I learned a lot from that Inktober, but the most important thing was that people aren't going to want to look at things that bum them out, and there aren't enough anti-depressants in the world to support me while I learn more about animal abuse. Anyway I paint animals because I completely love them so I wanted to learn how to keep it positive and share the goodness. I started trying things like this Hammerhead, which was the first legitimate watercolor painting I ever attempted.

hammerhead copy.jpg

When I finished this painting I struggled with what should be interesting to people about it. Of course, I'm an animal nerd and just inherently find the symbiotic relationship between Vagabond Fish and Hammerhead Sharks interesting, but how many people even know about it? Would this painting mean anything to them if they didn't? This led me to the idea of becoming an educator with my art and my first attempt was going to be a coloring book that taught people about rare animals and showed them scenes from their lives. Here's an example from that.

okapi1
okapi.jpg

I did a couple of animal spreads for that coloring book before I realized that being an educator was really boring. So if I wasn't going to be a champion of animal rights or an educator, then what was I going to do? Enter surrealism.

amaze.jpg

For me personally, I've found that surrealism is a way I can use animals to tell stories that are personally meaningful to me, while being vague enough to allow viewers to imbue the paintings with their own meanings. This way everybody wins.

LEARN THE TOOLS OF YOUR TRADE

octy copy.jpg

A lot of the tools I've learned to use were because I had a goal in mind that necessitated it. The "Pure Imagination" drawing from before prompted me to begin trying to learn Photoshop to correct some errors in the original piece. The calendar series made me realize the doing things in colored pencil took way too long and was limiting for me in some important ways. The desire to cover large areas with flat washes of color helped me decide to learn to paint with watercolors. The need to be able to cover mistakes and make changes as well as the desire to paint on surfaces like wood (see above octopus) led me to learn gouache, and the desire to paint in layers led me to start learning acrylic painting. Each of these things taught me how to use my other tools better and so I kept learning. At some point I realized I'd gone a long way down a road of skill acquirement that most people won't go down in their lifetimes and that makes what I've learned valuable as a commodity. So I decided to make it my day job and here we are.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I don't think style should be something you create and then adhere to. I think style should be a reflection of where you're at on your life/art journey at any given time. This post isn't me saying, "Look I've learned all the things and now I do surrealism and people treat me like a rock star". Because I haven't and they don't. A year from now I can guarantee that my work will look really different, and that I'll get there by struggling from here forward without a cheerleading squad by my art desk. It's work you do largely alone, with help from others when you can find it. And if you engage in that conversation with yourself, it's because you feel driven to and you've chosen not to ignore that drive.  I don't think making art, or having a style, or finding an audience ever gets easier, and I don't think it would be a good thing if it did. The last images I'll share here are a picture of a dolphin I painted for a taxonomy just a few months ago, and a shark I painted for a new taxonomy this week. Already these paintings look ridiculously different and I think that's kind of fantastic and kind of a pain in the ass too, but I'm gonna roll with it because the alternative is being stagnant as an artist and as a person.

dolph.jpg
gulp.jpg

Good luck and remember to enjoy the journey, because it's probably going to a really long one. Until next time, stay wild my friends.

Paint Da Sharks

As promised I'm back today with some painting process stuff. I'm painting a series of sharks to make a taxonomy of them to sell alongside my dolphin and crystal prints at Crafty Wonderland. Even though they aren't conceptual pieces, I'm trying out some different painting techniques than usual and thought I'd share the joy. Today I'll be focusing on a Thresher Shark I've painted. Here's the initial sketch I spent all of 5 minutes on.

Thresher Shark Sketch Painting Process

You can see I just focused on the form of the shark and made a couple lines to note the curves of the form, meaning that the top is lighter then the middle or bottom, etc. Okay, so now for the good stuff. I heard somewhere that if you tend to use desaturated color you should make your underpainting really saturated and have decided to start trying that. For this series I also decided to play with hue by using whatever color I felt like, reality be damned, and only concerning myself with the saturation of the color to make the shape of the shark make sense in space. So here is a pic of my first hideous layer of paint for this guy.

Thresher Shark Underpainting Painting Process

I know, it's like "shield your eyes" right? While I painted this layer I looked at shark reference photos to determine what colors I could find in their bods, and then threw in some hot pinks and lime greens because I felt like. As I layered more gouache over the shark, I continued to focus on making shark body parts that were farther away from me less saturated and maintaining a soft lighting scheme. A few layers later he looked like this.

Thresher Shark Painting Process Layering Gouache

So by this point the shark is starting to make a little more sense I think. I've already made a lot of notes with my colors and have pretty much stopped looking at any reference images by now. Now I'm just working on making my shark seem dimensional. So I paint paint paint until he looks like this.

Painting Thresher Shark in Gouache Process

By this point a lot of the work is done, but detailing becomes really important. For instance the eye and face of the shark needed more definition at this stage. And I wanted to be sure to add highlights to make him look more fishy. I also wanted to darken his belly a bit to make him seem rounder. So I addressed all the things and here's a pic of the finished shark as he actually looks, as well as a picture of him after I took him into photoshop and played with hue until I found out it would have been better if I'd made him red.

Gouache Painting Thresher Sharks Illustration

The above infographic is brought to you by The Curious Wild, proving once again that hindsight is 20/20 and that red is better. Thanks for stopping by and, until next time, stay wild my dudes.

The Crafty Wonderland Diaries

If you read my last blog post you'll know that I've been accepted to vend a booth at the Crafty Wonderland event this May 5th. What this means for me is that I have SO MUCH stuff to do, and a lot of it is really unsexy by Instagram standards. So since I'm doing a lot of work I can't really share on social media, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write a blog post about making things for my first booth at an event.

SAY YOU'VE BOUGHT SOME ART FROM ME...

I want to make sure that you get the red carpet experience, so I've designed some stamps I can stamp on the bags you carry your new art home in. I want you to know who you got your art from, that I seriously appreciate your support, and in case you miss me at the event and order online I want to make sure the postman knows not to break your shit.

The Curious Wild Stamp Design

IMAGINE A BOOTH

Most of what I've been selling has been through print on demand services like Society 6 and Printful, so I need to order merch! Which means I need to design merch! So I started by thinking of the kinds of things I want to offer at my booth and came up with this list:

  • Enamel Pins
  • Art Prints
  • A Coloring Book
  • Notebooks
  • Stickers
  • Original Paintings

The original paintings thing is in the bag, so that left the rest to go about making. I decided to focus on the Mineral and Dolphin taxonomies as the art prints, so I wanted to spend some time with them and update their look to match my evolving aesthetic. This is what they look like now.

Mineral Crystal Taxonomy Art Print & Dolphin Taxonomy Art Print

For the notebooks I wanted to do a pack of 3 notebooks themed Land, Sea, & Sky so I designed these patterns for the outside covers of the notebooks, featuring turtles, fish, and birds.

Notebooks Turtles Fish Birds Pattern Design

I know what I'll be doing with the coloring book, but I haven't made it yet so I can't show you anything of it. But I can share the first enamel pin design I've made because I'm stoked about it. The pin is of Granny (J-2), the matriarch of the Southern Resident Killer Whale's J Pod. Granny was the matriarch of J Pod, and lived to be between 80 - 105 years old (there's conflicting research on this). Either way, she was the oldest known living Killer Whale until her recent loss, and was integral to raising J Pod's young and teaching this amazing pod their unique inherited culture. My favorite part about this pin is that I'm going to be donating a percentage of the proceeds to the Center for Whale Research, a group that's heavily involved in protecting, studying, and conserving J Pod and other whale pods in the Salish Sea who's numbers have been dwindling at an alarming rate. This is what the pin looks like on the paper backing it will come attached to.

granny j pod killer whale enamel pin

There's a ton of work left to do before I'm ready for the event, but I thought I'd share what I've been up to lately, and I'll try to keep you posted as I continue to make more things. If there are things you wish I'd have for sale that I haven't talked about here, please do let me know - if I can give you what you want I definitely will! 

For those of you who are here to see painting process blogs and not event table talk, I do have several paintings lined up to do soon, though I have to prioritize other things before getting to them. I can say that there are more crabs in my painting future, possibly some bearded dragons, and maybe a pelican too, so check back soon. Until next time, stay wild my friends <3

A Crab-tastic Painting Process

This week I wanted to take you through the planning and painting process of my most recent painting. It all started with an idea - *cue dream sequence music and slow fade*...

CONCEPT ART

Pom Pom Crab Concept Art Sketch

Specifically with THIS idea. I've wanted to put a Pom Pom Crab in a painting for a while because they amuse me. If you're unfamiliar with them, Pom Pom Crabs are a tiny creb that snip pieces off of poisonous sea anemones and either bandy them about like short swords in their crab hands, or attach them to the back of their crab bods as a means of warding off predators. So I took the idea of a crab waving an anemone at me and mentally connected it to the archetype of a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Crab was now defending his turf, so I needed to give him turf. For his home I used a Red Fox Skull as a base because I think they look cool and I wanted to draw one. Then I filled the skull with an impossible combination of sea and forest dwelling plants because it's my painting and I do what I want. Then I wanted to emphasize the oblivious personality of the crab so I added some fish trespassers hiding out in the nose of the skull, and some octopus eggs attached to skull which would inevitably come with an octo-mom hiding behind them. Octo-mom's presence is felt but never seen because I wanted the crab to be the focal point. After the hit it and quit it sketch you see above I drew all the elements I wanted in the piece separately and then combined them into this final sketch.

Painting Process

Concept Art Ink Drawing

I scanned this line drawing in and played around with some color palette ideas, as well as painting some tiny little watercolor color comps traditionally until I thought I'd found the right vibe. I also digitally added the lines in the background and the circles near the crab as ways to include a background that emphasized the movement of things in the piece as well as to create additional depth. After all these things were done I printed out my sketch and transferred it using graphite transfer paper to a prepared wood panel that I planned to paint the crab on. Then I started painting.

Acrylic Gouache Painting Process

Using Holbein Acryla-Gouache I started with background elements including the lines behind the skull and circles near the crab, as well as some paint splatter and scribbly bits to even out the space and add some crab chi to the piece. Then I did the skull since it takes up so much surface area and I wanted to get the colors on it right.

crab-painting-process

Next I painted the ferns in the background and for some unknown reason I then painted the succulent and moss, but that was silly and I should have painted the things behind them first.

Aoede Pando Painting

Then I painted and painted for what seemed years until I'd gotten most things added. In a choice I will regret until my death, I waited until last to paint the mushrooms in the front of the skull and completely botched the colors on them. I asked my non-artist husband what he'd do to fix them and he said to "sparkle them up with some purple shit". Taking this sage advice to heart I made them purple and covered them in gold. I repainted the shrooms several times before eventually deciding they had reached an acceptable level and I couldn't look at them anymore.

crab-painting-process-pic

The scan of the final piece is below. This painting is titled "It's Only Good If It's A Weapon" and is currently hanging at Fresh Pot on Washington in downtown Portland. It'll be there for the whole month of March along with a lot of other original pieces and stickers for sale, so I encourage you to stop by if you're in the neighborhood.

acrylic-gouache-painting-process_crab_the-curious-wild_aoede-pando.jpg

Before signing off I wanted to announce I've been accepted to participate in Crafty Wonderland this May 5th at the Oregon Convention Center. I''ll be making lots on fun new things for the event so follow me on Instagram to stay up to date on those. If you're local and plan on stopping by Crafty Wonderland, please come by and introduce yourself, I'd love to meet you!