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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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children’s books illustration

“The Mighty Mini Marshmallow”- June 28, 2016

***A walk through tutorial for “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow” is below!  Enjoy!***

mini mighty marshmallow final
“The Mighty Mini Marshmallow” – Photoshop – June 27, 2016

It’s about the little things…

My first pen sketch was of a single tree branch.  I used black to emphasize the shadows of the branch and twigs, red to emphasize the shadows of the berries on the branch, and a touch of green on top of the red for a little more shadow.  From a distance, it looked like a simple branch scattered with berries.  It WAS a simple branch scattered with berries.  But, when my college teacher took a closer look, he asked me, “Do you know why this is so good?”  I shook my head.  I didn’t really think about why I did certain things in my artwork at that time, I just did them according to what I felt was right.  He continued, “It’s because of the eye candy.”

‘Eye candy’ was a term that my teacher used to describe the subtle and unnoticeable elements of a drawing that brought it to life.  Without these elements the piece would be good, but it would fall flat and taste stale; Eye candy gave the composition a playful and entertaining aura.  It was the “random” swoop of purple in the shadow of a golden pear, or it was the messy hatched bundle of lines in the shadow of Superman’s face.  Eye candy gave the drawing personality, but not in a distracting way.

There were dots in my branch.  From a distance these dots looked like solid lines.  In reality, they broke up into pinpoints that came together to form a “line”.  Green pen created shadows on the edges of the berries; they were also made from dots, and from a distance, they looked like brown lines.   If I had used brown or black to shade the berries, instead of layering the green within the red, the berries would have lost their vibrancy.  If the dots had been drawn as thin lines they would have been too harsh, the composition would have lost its delicate flavor, and an observer would probably look at the drawing and think that it was nice, but that something was not right.

Eye candy is what separates good artists from great artists.  Being a great artist is about detail.  It is about listening to your intuition when it says that something minuscule is missing.  It is about shading that strawberry with a swoop of purple, green and yellow, and not just black or brown.  It is about dots that don’t seem to matter, layer upon layer of colors that don’t even look all that different, and the tiniest textures of paint that only a few people will be able to point out – if they take the time to look up close.  Most of the time, they won’t, and that is quite alright.  It’s about the little things…

I hope you enjoy the walk through for “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow”!

drawing1

Sometimes the biggest surprises come in the smallest packages.  My sketching started with the tiniest, squishiest, and most unassuming of characters:  a mini marshmallow.  It was not just a regular marshmallow, but a mini marshmallow.  It was tiny, and cute, and the smallest of all of the marshmallows.  I like cute…

drawing2

I thought it would be ironic if he was a super hero.  He seemed to be the opposite of everything that a super hero embodied, and he could be a great foundation for an uplifting children’s picture book story!  (It is the field I am aiming for, so I ran with it).  I added a cape and an “M” symbol for his costume and drew a scribble of light beaming from behind him.  I would pretend that this was the cover of the picture book.  Because he was a superhero, he needed to be more than just a mini marshmallow, so his title leveled up to “The Mighty Mini Marshmallow”.

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I started with a fresh Photoshop document at 300 dpi and worked with a blue pen to sketch out the rough drawing of the marshmallow.  It was important that the first sketches had solid proportions and that the movement was what I wanted in the marshmallow and the cape.  It was at this stage that foundation for the rest of the drawing would be built.  If the foundation was bad the final drawing would be bad, too!

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I lightened the opacity of the blue sketch and created a new layer so that I could draw my clean black outlines.  I wanted thicker lines to surround the cute marshmallow because he was my main point of interest.  (My secondary points of interest were the cape and the “M” symbol.)  I also wanted to emphasize the placement of the shadows using different line weights on the marshmallow.  I made the lines just a little thicker around the backside of his lower body.

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Once the boarder was drawn for the “M” symbol, I used the blue pen, on a separate layer, to sketch out the rough lines for the “M” in the center.

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This project was a good exercise in simple line weight logistics.  Foreground objects, such as the front section of the cape, would have thicker outlines than objects that were in the distance, such as the back section of the cape.  I also used thinner lines to de-emphasize certain elements, like the “M” symbol; I wanted the focus to be on the marshmallow, initially, not his costume.  Once I was happy with the line weights I started to color him in!

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I used the wand tool and filled in all of the colors on different layers, so that highlighting them and shading them would be easier.  These base colors were the “medium tones.” (Not the brightest and not the darkest shades).  If I wanted a bright red cape, I would use a handful of shades darker than bright red, so that I could highlight it and make it pop with the bright red, later.  This technique gives a little more depth to the drawing.

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Before I started shading and highlighting the marshmallow, I dropped some color into the background so that I could weigh out the true tone of the marshmallow’s colors against something other than white.

I was so excited, because I already had a slight learning curve in my shading technique!  For my first digital drawing “Going Fishing” I used the shadow colors as the base colors for the cat and fish.  I took an opaque white brush and brightened up the whole drawing in a multitude of swoops and layers.  I wanted to try something a little different for the marshmallow, this time around.

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For each shaded section, I grabbed the base color and made it a few shades darker.  I colored everything that had a hint of shadow touching it.  I repeated this but picked out a slightly darker shade and colored the darker parts of the shaded areas.  I never used black, but only dark colors, and only with an opaque brush at about 15% most of the time.  I used this same technique for the highlights but transitioned into lighter colors.  The background was layered with more color and an opaque “off-white” brush added bursts of light behind the marshmallow.  A halo of glory, in the slightest tinge of orange and yellow, was added around the outline of the Mighty Mini Marshmallow.

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At this point, I saved my drawing as a jpeg, and brought him into Illustrator.  Photoshop was wonderful for drawing, but it was a horrendous program to use for anything related to fonts and text.  (If you ever have to add text to a photo project, do it in Illustrator, lest your letters be pixilated.) I typed out the title of my would-be children’s book, and set out all of the different fonts that caught my eye.  Once I found a few, I looked at them on the drawing to see if the feel of each one matched the feel of the composition.  Fonts tell a story all their own.  Picking the wrong font (or combination of fonts) can make or break your product.  Picking the right fonts can bring closure to a piece.  Once I found one that was the essence of what I was aiming for, I tested out some colors

Color can be just as important as the font itself so be aware of the balance of the anatomy of the text, your product, and the message you want to convey.  Because this font was for a would-be children’s book I decided to go with something that was cute, but strong, like the Mighty Marshmallow, and I chose a color that emphasized the marshmallow, and not the font.

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Red is an eye-catching color, which is why so many magazines and companies have red labels and titles.  When “The Mighty Marshmallow” title was red, I found that the eye went to the title of the book cover, first, and not to the drawing of the marshmallow.  When the title was blue, my eye went to the marshmallow, and then scanned the rest of the space to see what this marshmallow was all about.  It’s the little things that make a big difference, and if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.  That being said, a publishing company might want to use the red title, because it does draw so much attention and catches your eye while it floats in a sea of children’s picture books throughout Barnes and Noble.  For this project I liked the blue a lot more because it wasn’t distracting.

I surrounded the blue font with a boarder of “gold” that matched the marshmallow costume, and rearranged the letters and font so that they weren’t so static; it needed to be fun!  I played around with the size of the words.  I made “The” (an insignificant word) small, and “Mighty” large, next to a smaller “Mini”, and separated the “Marshmallow” from the adjectives to bring a little more emphasis to the rounded composition of the layout.

I had so much fun whipping up this little character, and as I did, I could see this a small glimpse of this cute story come to life.  Maybe I will have a chance to work on developing it, later on.  We shall see!

Thank you for visiting!  I hope you enjoyed my mini marshmallow walk-through! 

mini mighty marshmallow final

“Going Fishing” – June 26, 2016

***A walk through tutorial for “Going Fishing” is below!  Enjoy!***

going fishing final
“Going Fishing” – Photoshop – June 25, 2016

A year ago I started to explore the field of digital art.  Comic book cover artists and cartoon animators made a gateway that had the possibility of using my artwork on a fresh, more vibrant, and true platform.  It was a perfectionist’s medium that combined the cleanliness of pen with bold colors, and the flexibility to hit the delete button without a trail of evidence.

When I was young, my father taught me how to draw in basic pencil.  We started with lessons in shading and perspective.  He crumpled up a piece of white paper and drew every bend and fold of the white ball. It was the ultimate test in still life.  I learned to hate still life, because there was no life.  There was an undeniable beauty in luscious landscapes and vibrant bowls of the most delicious fruit, but still life left me feeling drained and dull.

Three-dimensional cubes and circles learned to stack together and turned into cheetahs, Shamus, and people.  Everything that I drew revolved around movement and life.  I liked animals and people.  I liked adding eyeballs to inanimate objects so that they became creatures with stories to tell.

Pencil upgraded to the prism of colored pencils, with the occasional vacation to water color and oil paint, and even pain-in-the-butt dry pastel – but only once because it wasn’t pretty.

In college, one of my first art courses was taught by a seasoned animator, who introduced me to the extreme value of black and white.  I experimented in charcoal, but found serenity in the detail and absolute commitment of black pen.  The dim gray lines of my pencil started to evolve into black ink on the plaster white paper and made the perfect foundation for colored pens, vibrant pencil, watercolor, acrylic, and gauche.  All of my fashion sketches, throughout college, were a compilation of pen and watercolor.

Art school didn’t teach me how to draw, but my instructors hammered out my shortcomings.  Before, my hands that I drew were always too small, my people were stiff and my movement wasn’t fluid.  They taught me how to bring life to my art.  More important, they taught me the ins and outs of Photoshop and Illustrator.

I began to research comic book cover artists, and absorbed their techniques in line work and coloring.  I watched hours of tutorials on YouTube, and embraced the flexibility of drawing from scratch and improving the cleanliness of my art.  Here is a walk through of my first computer composition:

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To start, I opened a new file, in Photoshop, that had a resolution of no less than 300 dpi.  My canvas was 11 inches by 8.5 inches (standard size of a piece of paper, just to make things easier for me to print, if need be).  I started a layer titled “rough sketch” and worked in a blue pen color so that when I traced over it with black, the color didn’t blend into one another.

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I didn’t know what I wanted to draw but had started with a little cat body, and it morphed into a cat squatting next to a fish bowl.  I brought the idea further. I thought it would be cute to have the cat use his tail as a device to try to catch a fish in a bowl.  The basic body and anatomy of the little cat was built beside a fish bowl and dragged to the corner of the canvas so that I could start sketching out the fish.

I like cute and animated.  I love fish with big eyes, and I wanted this fish to be surprised at the sight of whatever was dangling off of the tail of the cat.  I didn’t want the fish to look directly at the cat, but I wanted him to have a “What the hell is that thing? It doesn’t look good,” expression.  I gave him big eyes with small pupils for surprise and fear, and drooping fins for a sense of limp shock and hopelessness.

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I had a difficult time sketching out the anatomy of the tail.  I wanted the fins to be an extension of the feelings that were dawdling through his little head, but I also wanted the tail to float.  Trying to find that perfect balance took a little time because there were so many options.  Body composition tells a lot about a character.

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After I completed a rough drawing of my fish, I shrunk it down, and placed it in the bowl.  I added foliage, a little castle, and the base for the sand and rocks.  At first, I had the fish facing the cat, looking up at the hook, but something didn’t feel right.  Sometimes you have to dive into the psychology of your characters.

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If I had been this tiny fish, I would not have been looking at the hook dangling above, I would have been scared out of my mind and staring into the two huge eyeballs that were looking at me from outside of my bowl.  Screw that hook!  Who cares about the hook?!  But, if I had no clue that the cat was there, and my back was to him, it would make sense that I would look at the dangerous shiny thing that started descending into my fish bowl.  For this reason, I flipped the fish around and changed the placement of the pupils.

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Once I had my foundation rough sketch finished, I created a new layer titled “final outline”.  I sketched out the final lines for my drawing, and changed anything that needed changing along the way.

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Line weight can bring a lot of life and depth to the composition of a piece.  Traditionally, skinnier lines are used in the background of cartoons, and thicker lines are used in the foreground and around the main figures.  Because my cartoon was all one layer, I didn’t have to worry so much about line width except to accentuate certain materials, such as the glass of the fish bowl, or the fur tufts of the kitty cat.  When I finished the drawing, I found that the lines for the fish were too thin compared to the cat, so I thickened them up slightly.

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I printed out the drawing and took a look at it with fresh eyes.

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I made sure to sign it and date it.  — So many artists have incredible signatures in the comic book world – they are like little pieces of art.  I need to work on mine and make it more personal.  (My real signature looks worse than a doctor’s… that isn’t an exaggeration; one of my teachers lectured me in college for my shitty signature.  I’m working on it.)

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I made new layers and mapped out the base colors.  I used the darkest shade of the color that I was going to use for each section.  If the fish was going to be a light orange, I would find the darkest shade of that orange and color him in.  Rarely is white ever used in its purest form and black isn’t used except for pen work.  For the fish’s eyes I used a khaki/tan color for the base because I wanted this color to be the darkest shadow of his eyes.

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Here is a screen shot of all of the base colors, without light.  Again, these were the darkest parts of the characters and objects.  The most important part of this step was to make sure that the colors balanced well with each other.  It was time to bring some life into this cartoon!

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The only color I used to bring shade and light to this drawing was white.  That’s it.  I went across each section and made each color brighter and brighter using the white pen tool.  I wanted the fins on the fish to be transparent, and I erased a small section of the bottom of the tail to make it look like it got thinner.  Here is a detail shot of the fish!  If there had been a background you would have been able to see it a lot better.  It really is all about the small details, though.  I added texture and lines to the eyes of the cat.  This was the only time that I used any additional color, and not just white.

Print

After I finished highlighting the drawing I added a little sparkle to the central elements of the drawing.

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I wanted people to focus on the hook, the eyes of the fish, and the eyes of the cat, so I brought a little light to these areas, and I also added some white whiskers.

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The finishing touch was to add a little reflection on the fish bowl.  There is the slightest hint of blue within the fish bowl, to give the illusion of glass and water.  The addition of a little of the cat’s reflection, as he pushed his face against the bowl, gave a little breathlessness to the piece.  I think it might be my favorite element.  It is barely noticeable, but it gives so much in a subtle way.

‘Til next time!

going fishing final

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