How To Make An Enamel Pin, Pt. 2: Creating the Pin

So we've arrived at the most important part - how do you actually make an enamel pin?

STEP 1: FIND A MANUFACTURER

There are lots of places to get pins made, so you'll have to search the Googles for the one that rocks your world. For my pin I'm going to use Awesome Merchandise because I have some experience with them for my other pins and merch. No this is not a sponsored blog post, and yes I do recommend you research the manufacturer that works best for you. Things to consider when choosing yours are shipping fees, time to manufacture, cost, and minimum order quantities, as well as any "shop local" or environmental concerns you may personally value.

STEP 2: READ THE SPECS

Once you've found the manufacturer you want to use it is EXTREMELY important that you read the specifications they give you for the file you're going to send them. For Awesome Merch, the specs for the soft enamel pin with paper backing that I'm ordering are like this:

Backer Dimensions: Finished Size: 5cm x 8cm

The starting point and most important aspect of a printing job is your design. Making sure that your artwork file is sent across to us correctly is crucial...

Colour Format: CMYK
File Format: PSD, AI, PDF, JPEG, TIFF, EPS
File Resolution: 300dpi

A few tips to get awesome results...

  1. Create your artwork with the resolution at 300dpi - the larger and clearer your file is, the better the end result.  Please note, we don’t accept 72dpi files as they are not usually adequate to create a quality job.
  2. Each colour has to be separated by a line of raised metal, the minimum line thickness is 0.2mm, the minimum colour area is 0.3mm
  3. If you're using text, please set your font to at least 5pt. 
  4. Clearly indicate which areas of your design you would like filling by using the correct colour values along side your artwork - we recommend Pantone Solid Coated guide. 

Note that "Backer Dimensions" refers to the paper backing the pin comes on. The rest of the specs refer to the files for both the paper backing image and the pin itself.

STEP 3: KNOW THE THINGS YOU'LL NEED

To make a pin you're going to need to make nice with technology. I use Photoshop to make my pins because it's the digital program that I hate the least while using, but you can use any software that results in a file format that your manufacturer accepts. You're also going to need to pretend that the pen tool is something you enjoy working with and know how to use. If you're anything like me that's going to require some doing, so if you don't know how to use the pen tool well I suggest looking up tutorials for free on Youtube, or a subscription based place like Skillshare if you're already a member. Yes this is a pain, but it's necessary to make those sweet sweet pins. And pro tip of the day here: once you start making the pin with the pen tool save your file compulsively - you really don't want to lose your progress and have to start over.

STEP 4: KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MAKING

Doodling with the pen tool is no one's idea of a good time, so I really recommend that you draw your pin old school on paper and scan it in, or digitally with a tablet before you start making the pin. You can then trace over your design with the pen tool and save yourself some time fiddling. For my snail pin I was using an old drawing from a sketchbook, so I scanned that in and pen tooled over it. I suggest that you try to keep your drawing/pin idea simple, especially if you're new to the pen tool, because details are hard and pins are pretty small anyway, so use detail wisely. The snail below is the drawing I was referring to for this pin, but I'm only using it as reference for the overall shape of things. It's WAY more detailed than it needs to be, because I didn't draw it with the intention of making it a pin originally.

colored pencil garden snail wildlife illustration animal illustration

 

STEP 5: CREATE THE FILE TO MEET THE SPECS

For my specs I created a file that was 12cmx12cm which is larger than the pin will end up being but close enough. I made sure that my file was set to 300dpi and the the color mode was set to CMYK for printing. Note that I'm making a soft enamel pin here, not a hard one, and the difference is that soft pins have raised metal lines and the paint/color is poured into the depressed areas of the metal like water filling a pool. So the last thing I did was set the width of the line on my pen tool to 0.6pt, keeping in mind the conversion rate between the 0.2mm minimum line thickness the manufacturer requires and the thickness I wanted my lines to be at the end. I also have to keep in mind while making my design that the minimum thickness required for any area of color is 0.3mm and can't be any smaller. This is basically 1.5 times my minimum line width so I just use that as a guide and eyeball it. I'll show you the layers of pen tool shapes that make up my snail pin in case that helps you visualize what you're going to do.

snail enamel pin pen tool how to make enamel pin

STEP 6: YOU'VE MADE THE DESIGN, NOW WHAT?

So you set up you file, you traced over your drawing with the pen tool, and now it looks like a pin. The next step in an ideal world would be to whip out your Pantone Solid Coated Guidebook, visually compare the colors to what you see on the screen, jot them down on your pin file as notes for the printer, and call it a day. But because Pantone guides are expensive and I don't have one, what I do here is look up a free PDF of it online and compare that way. THIS IS NOT IDEAL, and the reason is because CMYK colors for printed materials and RGB colors for digital viewing display differently and don't always match the way your eye thinks they will. As an example of what this can lead to I will show you the file I sent for my shark pin, and the result I got back after it was printed.

great white shark enamel pin design nature wildlife illustration how to

One is pastel and the other is a shark flavored candy corn. Much sighing occured. Alternately I used the same method to match colors for my Orca pin and it turned out swimmingly, as you can see on the before and after for that pin below.

orca killer whale enamel pin design how to nature wildlife art

So until I can get my grubby paws on a Pantone Guidebook I'm going to do my best to visually match things on the computer, and I'm going to ask Awesome Merchandise to send me a proof of the pin (fancy printer words for getting an example of the pin) before making the entire order of them so I can see how it looks and make changes before I end up with 100 messed up looking snails.

STEP 7: SEND IT TO THE MANUFACTURER

The last thing you'll do is send the file to the manufacturer, taking care to make everything as clear as possible for them and meeting all the criteria they gave you in the specs. With Awesome Merchandise I make sure to check my email frequently because if they have any questions or issues that come up with my file they'll reach out to me and I'll have to correct it before the printing can continue. So that about covers it from start to finish on how to make a pin and I really hope it helps if you're new to it and want to get started building your own pin empire. If you haven't seen the first part of this post which covers how I made the paper backing for this pin you can find it here.

How To Make An Enamel Pin, Pt. 1: Negative Painting Technique

Enamel Pin Design Process

Greetings all. Today I wanted to begin sharing the process of making an enamel pin, starting with designing and painting the paper backing the pin will come on. If you're unfamiliar with negative painting, I'll show you the steps I took and recommend some great videos that show the process in depth if you want to try it on your own.

As for making the pin, I know I'm ordering my pin through Awesome Merchandise, so the first step was downloading their art template so I knew the shape of the paper pin backing I should design for, and then thinking of what I wanted to put on it. I decided on a leafy wonderland for the snail I'm making into a pin and then got to painting.

What Is Negative Painting?

Negative painting isn't about painting in a bad mood. It's actually about painting the space around the object you're trying to show. For my example here, I painted a leafy, leafy world for my new snail pin to live in. So instead of painting the leaves themselves, I painted around the leaves, darkening the empty spaces to leave bright leaf shapes behind. Here are the pics I took of this painting at each stage.

botanical watercolor illustration negative painting

As you can see, I first laid down a wash of color that covered the whole paper, then drew some leaves on it. I then painted a darker layer of paint around those leaves. I repeated this process 5 times until I ended up with my finished leaf painting.

Designing Your Background in Photoshop

Next I took the finished painting into Photoshop to lay some experimental text over it and see how it would look as a pin backing for my snail. I haven't actually made the snail pin yet, but because I'm basing it on a snail sticker I've already made, I used the sticker as a placeholder for the pin to see if I like the direction it's going in.

enamel-pin-background-design-watercolor-negative-painting-snail-illustration-botanical-watercolor

Learning Resources For Negative Painting

Here are some links to some great videos showing the negative painting process on Youtube. These videos are by great artists with fantastic channels and I recommend checking out their work.

  • Video 1: PearFleur painting a girl and her fish squad
  • Video 2: PearFleur painting lilypads
  • Video 3: Iraville painting a snowy town
  • Video 4: Iraville painting cheeky bears

Next time I'll be sharing the rest of the pin making process, so stop in to see the finished snail pin! 

Setting Up A Watercolor (or Gouache) Palette

 Hey my peeps, just a quick spotlight on your palette today. How do you know what colors to buy, how do you save money trying new kinds of paints, how can you store the paints you have so they’re accessible? I’m combining tips for watercolor and gouache palettes here because they go so swimmingly well together they’re often used in conjunction.

 

TIP #1 - YOU ONLY NEED A FEW COLORS

If you’re new to painting, or just trying a new medium like gouache instead of your usual acrylic, buy the highest quality paint you can afford but only the primary colors and an opaque white (if not using watercolor). If you want a dark you don’t have to mix from scratch every time I’d recommend a Paynes Gray rather than a black.  Paynes Gray leans towards the cool side but maintains a lot more vibrancy than any regular black will when used straight or in mixes. Alternately you can skip the dark, and mix the three primary colors together to make your own dark and save some money. The color wheel is your best friend and you can mix literally everything you need from the three primaries.

 

TIP #2 - SINGLE PIGMENT PAINTS V.S. MULTI-PIGMENT PAINTS

When you decide to expand your color range with new paints, try to avoid buying paints that are made from more than 1 pigment unless you know you are madly in love with the color and will use it all the freaking time. Paints can be made with 1 pigment or more, and multi-pigment paints can be really beautiful. The problem is that they tend not to mix as well and get muddy when combined with other colors much more easily than a single pigment paint would. If you combine two multi-pigment paints it’s the same as having combined four or more single pigment paints, so you can imagine that could get wonky looking real quickly when mixing stuff together.   On artist quality paint tubes, the pigments used will be listed so you can tell what it’s made from. They’ll usually also tell you how lightfast (fade-proof) and opaque or transparent they are. With watercolors they’ll also say if they granulate or not which is something you should keep in mind if you don’t like texture in your paintings.

 

TIP #3 - MIX HONEY INTO GOUACHE

This one is specifically for my gouache squad out there. I adore painting with gouache, but having to keep tubes of it out to use can be really limiting if you want to paint outside or are just lazy like me. If you’re lazy like me you may have already tried leaving gouache out to dry on a palette and tried to re-wet it, and may have already discovered that most gouache brands don’t take to this well. Gouache cracks and crumbles as it dries and can be hard to impossible to re-wet to its former glorious consistency and opacity. Here’s a hack for that if you want to have it all, like I do.  Mix a tiny amount of honey into your gouache thoroughly before putting it in a pan to dry (you can also use liquid glycerin for this though I haven’t gotten to try that personally yet). This little bit of honey will stop the cracking and drying out that usually happens, and leave your gouache incredibly smooth and re-wetable on your palette.

*Note: Some brands of gouache like M. Graham already have honey in them because they use it as the binder for the pigment. I personally really dislike the sheen and sticky texture this leaves behind. So I use non-honey based brands of gouache and put WAY less honey in mine to get the best of both worlds - my colors still dry matte and aren’t sticky but are super palette friendly. 

 

TIP #4 - MIX WATERCOLORS WITH GOUACHE

Another gouachey tip is for those of you who already have some watercolors but want to try gouache out too. To start only buy a white tube of gouache and mix your watercolor pigments into the white paint. It pretty much instantly transforms your watercolors into gouache and you can get a feel for the qualities gouache has, like the opacity, fairly intense shift in color as it dries, layering capacity, and the consistency of the paint you need to mix to get the coverage that you want in any given situation. 

 

TIP #5 - PAINT FROM TUBES OR PANS

For watercolorists, I suggest you experiment to see whether you prefer working from tubes or from dried pans. I know some people are tubers for life and feel they get the most vibrant colors that way. For me personally I NEED my pans - they save so much money in wasted paint over time and are incredibly convenient. I wouldn’t trade them for all the tubes in the world.  So I buy my paint in tubes, but squeeze it out to dry in pans and I’ve never felt like I’ve lost any color vibrancy doing things this way.

 

TIP #6  - PRE-MADE WATERCOLOR PALETTES V.S. BUYING YOUR OWN COLORS

It’s up to you whether you buy a pre-made palette or buy individual colors and make your own, but my personal recommendation would be to get your own colors. If you stick with the primaries and a white you should be able to afford higher quality paints for the same amount as a pre-made palette with other colors you may not want in the long run, or the crappy paint brush with hairs sticking out everywhere that every pre-made palette inevitably comes with. And as for the actual palette you start with, seriously to this day I use a plate to mix my paints on - you just really don’t need to buy a palette if you don’t want to. And if you do want a palette to store many colors in but don’t want to spend much money on one you can make your own palette really easily. A great video for this is from the YouTube channel In Liquid Color and you can find it here - I HIGHLY recommend this channel for learning more about pigments, binders, color mixing, palettes, brands of paint, etc...especially for watercolor artists, but not exclusively as much of the information crosses over to other mediums.

 

IN SUMMARY

I hope these tips help give you some direction to start a new palette or start with a new medium without breaking the bank. These are all things I had to learn the hard way (I’m talking to you, huge collection of expensive Arcyla-Gouache I have and hate to paint with), so hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes. 

Experimenting With Art Styles

Experimenting with Art Styles

Greetings fine people. Today I want to talk about experimenting with your art style, because it’s my favorite thing to talk about in the world. Art has an infinite capacity for exploration, learning, and expression and that is amazing. Style experiments can help you find your style if you don’t know what it is, improve your art at any stage of skill, and be really refreshing if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. 

This topic could be huge, so I’m going to limit it to the example of some studies I did this week. There will be some tips at the end in case you want to try some style experiments of your own.

Enter the Experiment Zone

For my experiments this week I used a reference image of some free-range sea lions I took in Newport, Oregon. I painted this same image 3 different ways, none of which focused on realism. I honestly dislike all of them as paintings, but I had a lot of fun, learned a bunch, and gained a lot of insight into new things I’d like to explore so it was completely 100% totally super worth it and you should definitely try this at home.

sea lions newport oregon wildlife illustration reference image

Watercolor Wildlife Illustration

For my first attempt I decided to try the old school combo of inked lines and watercolor washes because I’ve never tried it in earnest. I stayed pretty limited on color choices, and didn’t really use the ink lines very expressively which is something I’d change if I were to do this again.

sea lion watercolor wildlife illustration study

Colorful Wildlife Gouache Paintings

For my next two studies I really focused more on color since the first one felt so dull. This second study was all about picking random colors and trying to make them work by fitting them into to places with a similar value to the reference image. I also challenged myself to use an oversized flat brush in straight lines, only to see if I could do it. The brush was hard too work with and I went way overboard on the colors so I decided to change things up for the third painting.

wildlife animal illustration art study gouache painting

This third study was done with a smaller round brush instead of the unwieldy flat one and I tried to mix in some more realistic colors. I also really focused on lost edges in places of condensed shadow.

wildlife animal illustration art study gouache painting

Like I said before, I don't love all of these studies as end results, but they were completely worth doing. I learned SO much trying these different things out and now I have many new ideas of things I’d like to refine and add to my personal paintings in the future. I can’t recommend doing studies like these enough. So if you’re game to try, here are some tips.

Art Style Tips For Experimenting

1. Work small and use the same drawing transferred to multiple sheets of paper. You save drawing time, and learn about the image each time you paint it, which can help you come up with ideas for new things to try next time.

2. Listen to artists teaching core principles for ideas of things to explore, or look at art that inspires you and try to incorporate something you like about it into your painting. These things are easily found on the almighty interwebs.

3. Look in unusual places for ideas. For example, I usually paint in a semi-realistic style but I've been doing a lot of studying in animation art books. Really skilled artists making things that look wholly different than anything you do can still have a lot to teach you.

3. Have a clear and defined goal or focus for each study you do, and write it down on your paper before you start to paint. It helps remind you what your focus should be and what the point of the study is so you don’t get lost or discouraged halfway through it.

4. Use a really ugly sketchbook that you kind of hate and don’t mind ruining. Don’t use anything that makes you feel restricted or precious about painting these studies. Rejoice in the freedom an ugly sketchbook can offer you.

Good luck and stay experimental!

Using Reference Images Artistically

Using Reference Images Artistically

There seems to be some controversy on social media over whether "real artists" use reference images. I'm not going to attempt to convince you either way, but over time I've learned that there are many different ways and reasons to use reference. These ways all come with limitations and the need for creative thinking. But then, so does making art without reference! So I'd like to share what I've learned about using other people's images for reference, taking your own photos, and why in the world you'd want to paint something you already have a picture of. I'll also share some reasons I can imagine not using reference to be a valid choice because you do you boo.

Other People's Photos

I need to preface this by saying: It is SO IMPORTANT not to rip off a photographer's work - they're artists too and it would suck just as much for them to have their images used without compensation or permission as it would for you if someone stole your art so don't do it, it's not okay. If you simply must paint a replica of someone's photo, contact them and ask their permission to license the work. 

All that doesn't mean you can't use other's pics for reference at all though. I use other people's photos to see what animals look like that I've never seen in person, especially when I need to understand their anatomy, or what their markings look like, or how they look in some particularly obscure position. Since I don't own the rights to the photos I use for this, I look at many images by many people and compile bits and pieces together for my own sketch. This makes for my own original composition but also leaves some difficulties when it comes to painting things more realistically. It leaves questions like, "How would that fur look in a warm setting sunlight", or "How would the shadow lie over this leaf", etc... In this case the best you can do is use your artistic license and study of real life lighting and animals to imagine what seems appropriate. Also don't think you need to limit reference to photos. You can take stills from films or live camera feeds and use those too. 

Your Own Photo Reference

Taking my own reference photos is my favorite thing to do, and yet I absolutely never used to do it. I questioned why I would want to paint something that I already have a perfectly sound picture of. I just didn't see anything creative or self-expressive about the idea. But I believe that was a limited way of thinking, and I'd like to show you an example.

Here's a Blue Azureus Arrow Frog I painted this week.

reference image artist use frog

And here's the reference photo I took of this frog and made this painting from.

blue azureus frog reference image artist use

Obviously this photo is terrible, and seemingly useless as an image. BUT. There's a lot of great information in here about the way the frog's skin reflects lighting, the way his color mutes in shadow, and most importantly his personality (which is one of bravery and exploration in my humble opinion). I found this little dude in a local pet store that I specifically went to in order to take reference images, because I realized after ruining two paintings in as many hours that I'd forgotten how to paint and needed some inspiration to help me power through it. I've loved these beautiful frogs from afar for a long time, and had no idea I'd find one in a pet store so it was completely exciting and lovely to get the chance to see one. I went home to paint him immediately. I wanted to imagine him in his wild state so that's what I thought about while I was painting him. The painting process was effortless and helped me feel confident with painting again. Importantly for my point here, the painting isn't a copy of the photo and still required some creative leaps but was definitely informed by the picture I took.

So in summary what I'm saying is that if copying directly from a photo, even your own photo, isn't your thing then don't do it. There's still a lot of room for creative exploration. Taking your own reference is a perfect excuse to get out of the studio and spend time with the things you care about, go to new places, and find new things around you. It's also a great way to make art that's more personal to you, since the things you can take pictures of are quite literally in your life somewhere, however tangentially.

Reasons Not To Use Reference

  1. You don't want to. No explanation required.
  2. You struggle to let your imagination loose and feel constrained by images of reality.
  3. You don't have access to any reference at the same moment that you want to draw something. Draw anyway.
  4. You want to draw something the way that you remember it rather than the way it is. This can be a lot of fun, and for some people it's a huge part of their style.

Reasons To Use Reference

  1. You want to. Still no explanation required.
  2. You're trying to make something that looks "convincing" or more accurate to life.
  3. You have your own reference photo and would like to make the memory into a piece of your own artwork.
  4. You're doing a study to improve your physical drawing or painting skills and want a challenge.

If you do or don't want to use reference it's totally cool and completely valid. Everybody has their own process, which is great because otherwise art wouldn't be as diverse. Do "real artists" use reference? They do if you're making art and using reference. It turns out that real artists do exactly what you do when you're making art - what a crazy coincidence! I hope this has been helpful because it's been a lot of fun to talk about. Until next time, stay wild my lovelies.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 :)

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!