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.

Coloring Books & Event Prep

Being an illustrator isn't always about making illustrations - a lot of time gets spent running the business side too! And that can make for the occasional week where there aren't a lot of finished new paintings to share with the interwebs. So even though I don't have any masterpieces to show you today, I thought I'd take you along with me as I begin to create my first coloring book, and continue to prepare for my booth at Crafty Wonderland this May 5th.

 

I FREAKING LOVE THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

I'm a tad obsessed with it actually. I've never been there and it's a major bucket-lister for me. So I had an idea that I could imagine that I've already gone to the reef, and that I kept a sketchbook while I was there. I'd write down notes of things that were memorable, sketch the animals that live in the reefs, and draw scenes from my dives that I could keep with me forever. Hence my the idea for the coloring book was born! I've already done the rough drawings for about 9 pages of it, so here are some pics of the (really) rough sketches.

I'm honestly stoked about how it's been coming along, and I dare to hope it will be ready and available in time for Crafty Wonderland. But even if it's not ready by then, it's definitely coming soon and I'm really enjoying working on it. Any excuse to look at pictures of the Great Barrier Reef is a good enough one for me! More updates and behind the scene shots are surely to come so stay tuned for it if you like that kind of thing.

 

MERCH ARRIVAL!

Last thing I'll share today is that some of my merch for the fair has finally arrived and I think everyone is going to be very happy with the way it all came out. I'm delighted with the quality of it all and can't wait to unleash it upon the world as phase one of my plan for world domination. Just kidding about that last part, but the excitement is real. Here's a sneak peak of some of the stuff I've gotten this week.

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A couple of prints, a couple sticker packs, some individual stickers, and a bundle of notebooks that I'm pretty sure are adorbs. I'm anxiously awaiting the delivery of some more very cool stuff, including two enamel pins I can't wait to get my hands on. All this and more will be coming with me to Crafty Wonderland at the Convention Center this May 5th, so be sure to stop by and say hi if you're coming to the fair! I really would love to meet you. Until next time, stay crazy wild.

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! 

Crabs, Fish, Turtles & Birds

This week I have lots of lil' bits to share, so let's get right to it. I hinted in my last blog post about a delusional crab I'm going to paint, and I can now share with you the concept sketch for the painting I'll be doing.

Boxer Crab and Fox Skull Painting Concept Ink Sketch

Why is this Pom Pom Crab delusional? Because he thinks he owns the little plot of skull-land he's standing on, and is vigorously preparing to defend it with his filched anemone Pom Poms. However, below him are some octopus eggs, evidence that a lady octopus is living beneath the skull, and there are some tiny fish hiding out in the skull's nose that call it home too. He's a deliciously inglorious crab, and once I thought of his oblivious character I knew I had to make this a painting. 

I've already done some color studies in Photoshop for this piece, and am currently waiting for the gesso to dry on my wood panel to start the actual painting process. I'll share the stages of this crab with you in an upcoming blog post as I complete it, which should happen next week. 

In the meantime I've been working on creating a series of notebooks that are dear to my heart. This is where "growing as an artist" comes in. For whatever reason I've always tended towards a degree of realism and felt compelled to put lots of detail into things. So I decided I wanted to see what it's like to draw the simplest versions of animals that I could, fighting my inherent tendencies for the sake of stylization.

I decided to do this experiment on a series of notebooks called Land, Sea & Sky with each notebook having an animal representative for their respective space on Earth. For Land I decided to draw turtles, for Sea I drew fish, and for Sky I'll be drawing birds. I wanted to have fun with shapes and colors, and to practice making simple things that have personalities. At first the struggle was real. So my mantra was "keep it simplest", and I tried to imagine each animal I drew in sunglasses for attitude. After I finished drawing the fish I felt like the turtles came along much easier, and now I'm really looking forward to giving the birds a go. Here are some of the fish and turtles.

Illustrated Fish Notebook
Illustrated Turtles Notebook

Aside from the fact that fish, turtles, and birds are uniquely important animals to me, these notebook designs are special for me because I learned that I can keep it simple and enjoy myself making something without obsessing over details. The notebooks themselves will be made available in my online shops at some point in the near future, so keep an eye out if you'd like to get one. Until next week, stay tuned and stay wild!

Paintings and Stickers of Slugs

I've two more Nudibranch paintings done this week. Here's how they turned out!

Nudibranch Animal Art Painting
Nudibranch Animal Art Painting

I particularly enjoyed painting this one above with the floral patterns behind him. I don't know why I enjoyed painting him as much as I did, but I was pretty stoked about it. I was inspired by my own composition apparently :) 

Obligatory plug: If you like these slugs and want prints of the two above, or stickers of any of them, they're up on my Society6 page here. May they bring a tinge of undersea flavor to your home.

There will be more Nudis to come, and I've also begun working on a personal piece featuring a delusional Pom Pom Crab that I look forward to sharing with you soon. Stay tuned and stay wild <3

Show at Townshend's & More Nudibranchs!

I'm happy to say the show at Townshend's Tea House on Mississippi Ave. is finally up and available to be seen by the peoples. Here are a couple shots of one of the walls.

crystals_the-curious-wild-aoede.JPG
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At home, the painting continues. I have two more finished nudibranchs to share for now, with more still underway. Pictures will be below. But before I share them, I'm also excited to say that I've applied to be a part of my first art fair. If you read my list of goals for 2018 a couple blog posts back, you'll know that doing my first event was a goal I'd set for myself this year. I'd imagined that it would be farther in the future than this, but I suppose when the right opportunity presents itself it's better to hustle than miss it. So I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed that I get in to the one I've applied for. If not though it's okay - there's an entire year left ahead of me to keep trying. Alright, now on to the sluggos.

Cadlina Luteomarginata. This piece is titled "I've Become One With The Wallpaper".

Cadlina Luteomarginata. This piece is titled "I've Become One With The Wallpaper".

Acanthodoris Lutea. This piece is titled "Podcasts All Damn Day". Because that's my life.

Acanthodoris Lutea. This piece is titled "Podcasts All Damn Day". Because that's my life.

Sea Slugs and Café Shows

Hey everybody! I'm delighted to show you some scans of the first two Nudibranchs (sea slugs) I've painted for a series I'm doing right now. The sluggos will eventually be made into a taxonomical print, the originals sold, and stickers made, etc. Here are the first little guys!

Elysia Ornata a.k.a. the Ornate Leaf Slug. This piece is titled "This is gonna be a good year."

Elysia Ornata a.k.a. the Ornate Leaf Slug. This piece is titled "This is gonna be a good year."

Jorunna Parva a.k.a. the Sea Bunny.&nbsp;This piece is titled "I sometimes pretend my life is a TV show."

Jorunna Parva a.k.a. the Sea Bunny. This piece is titled "I sometimes pretend my life is a TV show."

I really only needed to paint the slugs for my project but I decided to have a little fun and make mini paintings out of them. I'll crop them out of their surroundings for the taxonomy when I've finished painting them all. They will all be painted with acrylic gouache like these two were.

These Nudibranchs, along with many original paintings I've completed over the last several months, will be up on display and for sale at Townshend's Tea House on Mississippi Ave. here in Portland, OR through the month of February, so if you're a local feel free to stop by. See you next time, and in the meanwhile stay wild!

Baby Turtles and 2018 Goals

Hey everyone and happy new year! I'm off to a late start this year, having come down with the flu of death a few weeks ago and only recently recovered. But I'm better now and have recently finished my first painting of 2018, a little Burmese Star Tortoise that I'll be hanging in Townshend's Tea House on Mississippi next month along with some other originals and prints. If you're in the PDX area, please stop by and take a look!

burmese-tortoise

I made a process video showing the stages of painting this turtle that will be up on my Instagram later today if you'd like to see the steps I took. I painted this guy in acrylic gouache, a medium I have yet to comprehend and have much to learn about.

2018 Illustration Goals

I really appreciate hearing other artists share their goals for the year, so I thought I'd share mine with you.  These are just a few, but I'm sure that I'll be adding more to the list as the year kicks in!

  • Participate in my first Art Fair. I've never gone out and gotten a booth at a fair or convention before and this year is the year I want to take that step.
  • Start accepting commissions. I want to start accepting commissions from individuals as well as editorial work. 
  • Maintain a better work/life balance. I realized this last year that I wasn't making enough time for myself and my wellbeing in my schedule. So this year I'm trying to take weekends off, get back into some yoga classes, and make sure to get out into nature more.
  • Sketchbooks! I really want to up my sketchbooking game this year, and instead of only using sketch time to study anatomy, or practice values, etc...I want to just stop thinking and sketch for fun. I like to imagine it like stream-of-consciousness writing - I don't care if I understand why I'm drawing a pigeon, I want to just let myself draw that pigeon without caring if it's anatomically accurate. I can worry about those things later, I just want to get the sketch down and play with things for fun. Yay for self expression.
  • Requisite art goals. The ones we all have. Improve my color choices, push my gestures, emphasize values and relationships, get loose where I should be loose and tight where I should be tight. And so on and so forth - far too many things to mention that I want to improve in my craft.

So those are a few of the more important goals I have this year. I'd love to hear what goals you have for your creative life this year so please feel free to let me know in the comments. See you next time!