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Art with Erika

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“The Narcissist’s Family” – November 13, 2017

Note: This article uses male gender pronouns for “the narcissist”.  Both men and women can be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but it is more common in men. To read more about NDP click here. 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a parasitical disease that affects those especially close to the narcissist.  His uses his suave and charming personality mixed with cunning manipulation in order to move around pawns in a game whose only objective is to glorify himself, the gamekeeper.  There are small moments when the narcissist’s mask falls off around friends, acquaintances, and family, usually in a spurt of anger or debate where personal offense has been taken.  But generally speaking, the only people who will see the real narcissist without a mask will be those who are a part of his innermost circle.

Who is in this innermost circle?  They are the people who he believes that he owns (this ownership can be conscious or subconscious).  His roommates and close friends rarely come close enough to experience consistent abuse because he can separate himself and take breaks from his act.  But long-term lovers, spouses, and children become the most valued pieces in his collection because he sees each one of them, especially his children, as an extension of himself.  He interacts with them frequently.

In a healthy household, parents will raise their children to become confident, independent, and healthy adults.  No household and no parent is perfect, but healthy children develop a balanced sense of self and their relationships evolve with the adult figures in their life.  This is not the case with a narcissist’s family.

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A narcissist’s only mission in life is to paint a grandiose representation of himself to the world.  And because the narcissist sees his spouse and his children as an extension of himself he trains them and uses them as a status symbol beneath the guise of a loving and caring family.  The most important thing to a narcissist is to maintain the image of success.  If you are part of his family you will be given a role to play and it will be your responsibility to act your heart out in public. There are only two rules in the house of a narcissist’s family:

  1.  the narcissist needs to always come first
  2. the image of the narcissist and his family must never be limited by the needs of the spouse and their children

Every spouse and child is assigned a role by the narcissist himself.  These roles include the golden child, the scapegoat, and the invisible child.  Over a period of time the children adopt secondary roles that include the hero/responsible child, the caretaker/placater, the mascot/clown, and the mastermind/manipulator.  Children may end up adopting one or more of these roles, and roles can switch multiple times over the course of one’s life, depending upon how the narcissist feels and how he measures that child against the others. He also weighs them with consideration to personal goals at any given moment.

The bottom line is that a narcissist would rather gloat about himself to try to impress a stranger rather than be loved by his own family.  All the while, his children, forever starving for love, bend over backwards to try to scrounge for breadcrumbs of his approval.  In public they wear the happy masks that he has made for each one of them.  

The Roles Cast by the Narcissist

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The Enablerthis role is usually played by the spouse (or a daughter). She does the narcissist’s bidding and plays nice in order to gain approval from the narcissist.  She orbits around when she is not helping him. Her life revolves around fulfilling every need of the narcissist. This is a role typically filled by a codependent individual, who grew up in an abusive home, and whose sense of self revolved around giving up herself in order to win love and favor from people around her. There are many cases where a codependent spouse realizes the error of his or her ways after being married to a narcissist for so many years. She comes to a breaking point and realizes the damage that has been done to the children because of her own irresponsibility and her own brokenness. But when that moment of realization hits, she can do nothing but sit back and watch her damaged children perform for her abusive spouse; she can only hope that her children will discover their own brokenness much earlier than she had.

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The Golden Child she is assigned her role according to her gifts and talents. This role could be set aside for the first or second child but as the narcissist’s children are born, or as his children leave the household, the role can shift to other children. This child is given special treatment and the narcissist seems to value this child the most. He will train this child so that she can act out the perfect masquerade of his perfect parenting. Most of the time the child will become a clone of the narcissist, adopting his beliefs, habits, and if this child stays in this role for their entire adolescence, it is likely that this child will also become a narcissist. But if the role ever shifts and the golden child is “demoted” (even if she is tossed in and out of the role) it is likely that the child will develop codependency, instead. Because the narcissist and the enabler put this child on a pedestal they also form a different bond with her than with the rest of the children.  Her siblings become jealous of the special treatment that she has been given, but in the long run this could be the most damaging role among the children. It will be harder for her, as an adult, to separate herself and find her true self apart from her parents. She becomes an extension of their relationship and the most puppet-like of the children.   Unless she is able to acknowledge the abuse and heal from it she will keep running in unfulfilled abusive circles, searching for love and fulfillment, but always falling short.

The Scapegoatthis child is the one who can do nothing right. They are labeled a “bad seed” and tend to be the most outspoken of the children with a “look at me” persona. The narcissist will use this child as a punching bag, and they will be the recipient of the most abuse among the children. The scapegoat and the golden child seem to be at odds with each other most of the time. The children understand that the narcissist’s affections are given ‘freely’ to the top performing child, so the scapegoat tries to dethrone the golden child in order to win the love and affection of the narcissist, unaware of the toxicity of the coveted role.  The scapegoat is most likely to develop a sense of self and awareness, but it will be damaged. They will probably be successful and independent later on in life, driven by a need to succeed and to prove themselves worthy of love, but they will still need to address the childhood trauma that went on in their household in order to heal from the abuse.

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The Lost Child/Invisible Childhe receives no praise and no blame from the narcissist. In the narcissist’s eyes, there is “no use” for him.  The lost child becomes very independent, isolated, and lonely. A lot of the time they do become self-sufficient but they fall prey to emotions of unworthiness and they constantly feel unloved throughout their lifetimes. These children are most likely to develop depression or substance abuse addictions.

The Secondary Roles Taken by the Children

The Hero/Responsible Child – most of the time this is the older sibling, but not always.  This child takes on a perfectionist nature at a very young age and develops a “responsible parent” role.  She is a true mask of a narcissistic family. She suppresses her emotions until she cannot feel them at all, she is extremely insecure, and she drives herself compulsively from one achievement to the next.

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The Caretaker/Placater – she is the emotional rescuer of the family. She manages and shuffles around the ever changing moods of the family by listening, supporting, nurturing, and counseling. She is a very sensitive creature, calm, and understanding in nature. Although she tries to fix everyone around her, she seeks no emotional support for herself. She doesn’t know how to take care of herself, she only knows how to focus on everyone else. She is a people pleaser. Her self-worth is defined by what she can do for others. She gives love but she doesn’t know how to receive it back. She is only comfortable giving she is not comfortable receiving and as a result she will push away love. As she grows into adulthood she finds that her job is to fix and save people from themselves. She turns into a ‘grade A’ codependent person, whose relationships become one-sided, toxic, and abusive. She becomes a doormat for people and will usually choose a career in the caring profession.

The Mascot/Clown – this role is usually adopted by the youngest member of the family. He is responsible for the emotional well-being of the family but through the use of humor as opposed to care taking. He puts on a comedy show to divert the pain in the family. He is usually a happy-go-lucky person and a very likable individual who can make others laugh but who finds it difficult to make himself genuinely happy.  He will usually suffer from depression. Because he is constantly putting on a show he doesn’t really develop any sense of authentic self and he struggles with feelings of emptiness and loneliness.

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The Mastermind/Manipulator – he is sinister, selfish, and abusive. Paired with the golden child the role, the mastermind and manipulator will turn into a narcissist. He is driven by entitlement and coerces people through manipulation.  He is sneaky enough to operate just below the radar and he uses the dysfunction and the rest of the family to his own benefit. He intentionally creates conflict among family members to get what he needs and what he wants. He knows how to put on the charms and can manipulate even the adults in the family. He can also take on the quality of a sinister jokester, echoing the words “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?”

“The Narcissist’s Family”

My piece is called “The Narcissist’s Family” and it was important to me to try to capture the feeling of being a game piece in a narcissistic family unit.  Children will grow up not being able to measure feelings in a healthy manner, or they develop a numb persona.  Sadness and depression will develop later when they are aware enough to piece the abusive puzzle together.  The golden child is brought into the limelight alongside the narcissist, with help from the enabler whose eyes are finally starting to see the truth of her lifestyle and her role in the abuse.  She wonders if it is too late.  She wonders what will happen to her children and to herself.  She wonders if there is any hope for healing and happiness.  The rest of her children will shuffle around in the shadows and wait for the beckoning calls of the game-keeper narcissist that shift at a moment’s notice.  As long as his family plays each part perfectly they will be okay.  They just need to avoid any action or phrase that will tarnish the image that he works so hard to maintain.  

It is rare for a narcissist to raise another narcissist. There have been theories that have been thrown around about narcissists breeding people who are equally as abusive, but studies show that if you have been raised by narcissist you’re much more likely to develop codependency. A narcissist’s upbringing is centered on the idea of selfishness, and in his adult life he will search for people to aide him in building his grandiose pedestal.  A codependent’s upbringing is centered on the idea selflessness, and in her adult life she will search for people to pour out her love to, in hopes that she will be loved in return with that same sacrifice that she so foolishly gives.  When the two get together, it seems like a perfect partnership at first glance.  To onlookers they are glorious, beautiful, and perfectly balanced.  But, when one partner only gives and the other only takes, the fairytale love story falls into the cauldron and transforms into a poisonous apple…

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“The Narcissist’s Family” – 2017 – Digital Drawing – Photoshop – Erika Robertson

“The Narcissist” – November 11, 2017

Narcissism is a term that has been loosely used to describe celebrities, people who are over-confident, individuals who are proud or full of themselves, and even a whole generation of young people called Millennials.  While many teenagers and youngsters can go through a ‘narcissistic’ phase, it doesn’t make them narcissists.  And some people can be a little too confident in whom they are, but it doesn’t make them narcissists, either.

Every person has some narcissistic qualities, and it is healthy to have confidence and a SOBER minded view of yourself that is in balance with the world around you.  People who accomplish amazing things do have a right to claim greatness among people, and others with a crap load of talent should weigh themselves accordingly, though it is more palatable for the rest of us if they are a little more humble than boastful.  Realistic acknowledgement of accomplishments and who one is and isn’t doesn’t make them a narcissist.

What makes a person a narcissist is GRANDIOSITY.  It’s when a person thinks TOO highly of who they are, what they have done, what they deserve, and what they can do.  More importantly, their image comes at the expense of those around them.  They do not have the ability to look at themselves with clear eyes and see where they fall on the scale of life compared to other people.  It is a heavy and dangerous psychological disorder.  It effects more men than women and it is estimated that probably about 1% of people have NDP (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

The wonderful thing about narcissists is that most of them are fun-loving people and they blend in with the American culture effortlessly.  The stereotype that society has formed features a good-looking, selfish, business man who rambles on about himself and shoves backhanded compliments in people’s faces.  But, most real narcissists are not the people who you would expect.  Not all of them are attractive, most of them aren’t rich, many of them aren’t famous, and not all of them dabble in business.  They are charming and witty, and start out as good friends who seem to care.  Their charm is what makes them dangerous, and you can hang out with one for decades and never know who they really are because of the ever-changing beautiful and intricate masks that they switch out for you.

A narcissist is a master manipulator and an expert at discarding or shuffling people around in his life in order to suit his needs.  His innermost circle of pawns will be the only ones who really see him with his mask off and these people usually only include spouses or long-term lovers, and children or his most immediate family (family that he currently lives with).  Friends (including roommates) and non-immediate family, though seemingly close from an outside perspective, will usually be placed at a far enough distance so that they don’t experience the genuine intimacy, and eventually the abuse, that stems from the carelessness of a narcissist at close quarters.  It is because of this distance that a victim’s outreach for council from friends or family is corroded with statements that echo the words “are you sure he is a narcissist?  He doesn’t seem like one.  I think he’s a really nice guy.  I’ve never seen it.  It doesn’t sound like him.” Well, he is a nice guy, until you get to know the real person.  It can take months or even years for the mask to finally slip.  No one can wear a mask forever; there is a breaking point with every narcissist.  And once that breaking point is reached, the mask that was made specifically for you starts to crumble quickly, and abuse runs rampant behind closed doors.

Diagnosing narcissism is difficult because of the character of the narcissist himself.  He doesn’t like to be told that there is anything wrong with him (God forbid) and it isn’t unlike him to start gaslighting the psychologist herself.  The result is that she feels that SHE is the crazy one who has been wrong about him all along.  Narcissists make excellent crooked lawyers and politicians, and are amazing at making you think that everything that comes from their lips is gold and that everything that comes from your lips is pure crap and lies.  Even if a narcissist were to cooperate in a therapy session, he wouldn’t have enough genuine insight into his own mind, or the proper emotional analysis of his friends or family, in order to heal.  He is a living and breathing catch-22, which means that his narcissism cannot be cured.  But those around him can learn how to create healthy boundaries so that the narcissist doesn’t rule over their lives, and they may find a semblance of sanity and balance.  If this seems depressing, believe me, it is.  A narcissist will forever be stuck in his patterns and ways, but will be somewhat content.  Those surrounding him are the ones who suffer for lack of genuine intimacy, and the need to stay distant or even disconnected from him. 

It is not certain how Narcissism is formed, but one pattern that has been present in every Narcissist in my life has been their upbringing.  I don’t believe that anyone is born a narcissist, but a person is groomed to become one.  The narcissist child is usually raised with a sense of entitlement whose every need is catered to and who is taught to believe that they deserve and can have whatever they want, without regard to anyone else.  On the other hand the child might be given special treatment, or might have been allowed to do things, break rules/skip punishment, or have things that didn’t fit the status quo.  This was allowed to happen because of the lack of something else in his life (usually the presence of loving adults is lacking).  This in turn creates a sense of entitlement in the child that follows him into adulthood, and he ends up using coercion and charm to get what he wants from the people around him.  He is never taught how to properly love people, but only exchange with or take from people.

Our childhood patterns ALWAYS follow us into adulthood until they are broken.  At the root of every Narcissist’s heart is probably one of the most damaged and insecure individuals, though initial reactions with them would seem to prove otherwise.  As much as they have been a thorn in my side, I feel bad for them, because I know that they are damaged, but, on the other hand, they will never know it.  They can’t take criticism very well, but they also think much too highly of themselves to even think twice about the criticism.  (And they will never let you forget about that critique for as long as you live, either, so choose your words wisely).  Narcissists feel pretty good about themselves, because they think too highly of themselves to even know that anything is wrong, even if every scrap of evidence is thrown at them.  If you do decide to fight or fix him, you will be gaslighted, and it will be thrown back in your face, and you will feel like you are insane, and he will confirm that theory, and you will briefly question what just happened as he turns around and gives you the silent treatment for however long he thinks you deserve it.  He needs you to be obedient to him and he will punish you if you fall out of line.

Diagnosis for Narcissism is rarely official because they “know more about psychology than psychologists”.  But, those around him who have been through therapy, who see common patterns of abuse, can piece together his unofficial diagnosis.  Most narcissists are verbally and mentally abusive as opposed to physically abusive (but some can be physical, too, especially with significant others).  A person needs to embody five of the following traits in order to be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  These are not to be taken lightly:

–          An exaggerated or grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized without achieving said achievements)

–          Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

–          Believes that they are “special” and unique and that they can only be understood by, and should only associate with, other special people or high-status people or institutions.

–          Requires excessive admiration (doesn’t need to be genuine)

–          Has a sense of entitlement.  Has unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

–          Is exploitive of others.  Takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends.

–          Lacks empathy.  Unwilling or unable to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

–          Is often envious of others or believes that they are envious of him.

–          Regularly shows arrogant, haughty, patronizing, or contemptuous behaviors or attitudes.

A narcissist is a beautiful creature, at first glance.  His mask is intricate and distracting, his words are silky and charming, and he is exactly what you think you need.  He has made this mask especially for you, because you are special, too, and he wants to add you to his collection of desirable people.  You don’t realize it, but he has turned himself into your perfect person, and all he wants in return is for you to do whatever he desires, no questions asked.  But, he is a black hole, a broken creature, and a parasite.  A narcissist will never know his real, insecure, and abused childhood self, but he knows what he wants right now.  He will manipulate everyone around him in order to play out his perfect façade to the rest of the world, and he will crush anyone who tarnishes his image or anyone who gets in the way of achieving his desires, especially his family…

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“The Narcissist” – 2017 – Digital Drawing – 18″ by 12″ – Photoshop – By Erika Robertson

“Champagne” – June 15, 2017

Not long after I moved down to Los Angeles, four years ago, I broke out my sketchbook and walked through some evolving ideas that turned into the “Women and Wine” collection.  As I was doodling page after page of crappy thumbnails, my brain stumbled upon the idea of collaborating women, fashion, and cocktails.  My first scribbles were of women standing next to over-sized glasses of alcohol wearing beautiful dresses. The thumbnail sketch for “Champagne” featured a woman whose dress turned into bubbling liquid in a shimmering flute. From there, the collection of three women named for white, red, and rosé wines took shape and was finished in the fall of 2016.  I decided to revisit my original inspired sketch so that I could bring “Champagne” to life.

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I enjoy the idea of collaborating my old profession, costume design and fashion, into my artwork. Over-exaggeration, extravagant elements, and lots of little details thrill me to no end.  It’s an unfortunate thing that I don’t have the finances or the time to create costumes, as many of them cost well over $1000 in materials to create – and I am an all or nothing kind of person with those projects.  But, my newfound love of painting in Photoshop has proven to be more than satisfactory.

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I enjoy painting and drawing in raw media but more often than not, a lot of very tiny detail is lost within pen scribbles and paint blotches, unless the canvas is over-sized. (And I don’t have room for that in my 200 square foot tiny space.) What I love most about Photoshop is that I can achieve an incredible amount of fine detail that would have been impossible to achieve if I had tried to paint the same thing on the canvas. A lot of my costuming in the past was consumed by rhinestones, bead work, and the tiniest of details. In person, you could see the fine elements on the costumes themselves, but the artwork that went along with them (the concept sketches) were not as exciting. (At least, not to me).

“Champagne” features an abundance of small detail. From her strands of hair, to her delicate jewelry, and the shimmer and glimmer of champagne and chiffon, this painting embodies a subtle strength and definitive elegance.

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It is a wonderful feeling to be able to see the improvement in my artwork as I complete each piece. The digital learning curve is starting to straighten out, and I feel that each project that I take into my hands becomes a new favorite of mine.

Above is a video featuring a slideshow of stills from start to finish for “Champagne”.  Below are select step-by-step stills and close-ups along with walk-through descriptions and notes. (You will be able to see the detail better on this blog post, as opposed to the video, but the video is fun, too!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog!  I hope you enjoy reading about and watching “Champagne” as much as I have enjoyed creating her.

‘Til next time!

 

 

55FINAL
“Champagne” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – Photoshop – 2017
01
Original thumbnail sketch for “Champagne” from 2013 (It’s been a long time!)
05
First sketch following the flow of the original drawing.  But it isn’t looking too great…I need to change the angle of the body.
06
Much better positioning of the body, but some adjustments still need to be made.  The flow is really sloppy right now.  It needs to be more straight forward and confident.
07
This positioning is much better.  There is also a great balance of straight and curved edges which makes the foundation interesting.  I love the straight line on one hip that contrasts with the heavily curved hip on the other side.
09
I re-draw the left arm to bring a little more life and purpose to the angles of the arm.  I didn’t like the way the hand cupped over the hip.  The fingers grazing the waistline give it a little more tension.  I also adjust the size of the figure and the glass flute.
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The background is black, so I lay the color down.  I know I will love the contrast of the glitter and champagne colors against the dark background.  I also change the color of the lines of the figure to something closer to a flesh tone.
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I play around with the idea of draping fabric that circles around the glass, as well as arm jewels.  All of these elements mimic the shape of the champagne glass and I work with trying to find a solid balance of all of the accessories before moving forward.  It’s important to plan out your steps as much as you can before proceeding, otherwise you will have to edit TOO MUCH later on.  Plan in the beginning and save time later on.
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Since the glass is a solid object that doesn’t move, and since the figure is emerging from it, I finalize the outline of the glass right now.  It will not change at all, save some minor reflections, and this way I can build the rest of the painting up around it without worrying about it.  I start to lay down color for the figure.
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Shading and layering the basic lines of light and shadow.  The main light source is going to come from above.
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I add the facial features, as I think they are one of the more difficult parts to balance out.  I try to do the more difficult elements first, so that they don’t weigh on my mind and seem so daunting.
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I smooth out the skin and adjust the color to make it pop a little more.  I want a darker skin tone, but not too dark.  Something that will look beautiful against the gold of the dress.
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One of the last things that I do, before trimming the boarders of the figure, is to highlight the skin with a white light brush.  It makes everything pop a little more, and it is nice to have that reflective look of the light bouncing off of the skin.
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I erase the edges and make them crisp!  But, I trimmed off a little too much and made her TOOOOO thin….I don’t like it.  (She is already skinny enough and I don’t want her to look unbalanced)
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This is much better.  Now, I need to work on the hands….One of my least favorite parts…….
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I haaaate drawing hands and feet (which means I should probably draw them more…)  They just take a long time to do, and I used to actually draw blocks for hands or hide them behind the figure.  But, they are so expressive and such an important piece to most of my work, now.  They can add or take away so much in a painting.  I highly recommend them, even though they do take a long time to draw.  🙂
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I lay down the color for the hair and placement for the bun.
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I paint color upon color, and strand upon strand, layer after layer.
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I add more detail and a splash of light to her hair.  I think I used about 10 different shades of brown and black to get the richness that I wanted.
34
I thought I wanted a “light-filled” champagne liquid in the glass, but it looked like it was too much, so I decided to go with a “see through, against the black” look, instead.
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I add just the slightest hint of champagne color to the edges of the glass, and add the bubbles.  I had always been fascinated by champagne bubbles, as a kid.  I loved how they started out so tiny and concentrated only to float straight to the top of the glass in little lines.  (Fun fact:  Champagne was my favorite smell when I was little.  I used to ask my mom if I could sniff her glass of champagne when she would order it on that rare occasion.)
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The dress is going to be a see-through jewel-encrusted chiffon.  I add the base layer of the dress to the figure and blend it into the champagne.
40
I was going to draw the shawl in the same way as I drew the figure (layering and then erasing the edges), but I decided to change my method…
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I referenced the original rough outline of the chiffon fabric that was sketched out in the beginning.
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On a different layer, I start drawing the back half of the shawl.
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I want the shawl to be very very see-through, so I start taking away color until I find my “happy place” and am satisfied with the see-through effect.
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On a separate layer I do the same with the front of the chiffon fabric.
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And I erase the layer until I am happy with how it looks.
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Jewels are so satisfying to paint.  Thousands of little dots give the illusion of chains or jewels draping from her arms.  The design isn’t planned out, but an art deco theme emerges with each strand that I add.  I usually let intuition lead me with details like these.  I feel like I am summoning Erte.
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I finish the other jeweled sleeve.
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The longest strand in the back was a little too wide and it didn’t look like it was falling properly, according to the weight of a chain of that size, so I fixed it.  I also added four more strands to the back to balance out the area.  I want the busy work to be on the arms, though.
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The rest of the gold shimmer is added to the dress and the chiffon fabric.  Hair jewels wrap around her head and connect to the back of a simple minimal earring.  (I really love this element)
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White shine is added throughout the painting on the jewels.
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Finally, the shine of the glass is added along with a sparkle on her lips and eye.
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
55FINAL
“Champagne” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – Photoshop – 2017

“Faith, Hope, and Love” – April 1, 2017

“And now these three remain:  faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

It’s been a while since I have finished something a little more complicated, but I’m so happy with this piece.  I’m still trying to find my style, which is a frustrating evolution, but I know that over time something will solidify.  I love drawing realistic people, but I am working on simplifying my fashion ladies and experimenting with “flat” brushes.  I had to re-draw this one, because the first time around the skin was so detailed with highlights and shadows that it overwhelmed the piece.  The flat minimally shaded women stand out a lot more and blend in so well with the rest of the piece.  It’s just so colorful and sparkly!

Faith is blue.  Hope is green.  Love is pink.  Each lady holds two jeweled strands that belong to her, highlighted by either pink, green, or blue jewels.  If you look carefully you can see colored stones throughout each strand that are shared with the woman beside her.  For example, Love (pink) and Hope (green) are sharing two green and two pink jeweled strands; in this way all of them are connected to each other.  The height of each lady is representative of her hierarchy; Love is the greatest of the three.   Wisteria represents eternity and drapes itself around stone pillars.  The purple of the wisteria matches the amethyst stones that hang at the end of each jeweled strand which promote peace and balance.

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“Faith, Hope, and Love” – By Erika Robertson – 2017 – Photoshop Digital Painting

 

Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

Have a wonderful day!

“Balance & the LPH Breakdown” – January 26, 2017

The lady in the fur coat…she was my first lady that I sketched out.  She was supposed to be only a test, but she turned into a finished piece.  I call her “Balance”, now.  But, she used to be “Harmony”, and before she turned into a solo painting, she was the first of a trio of paintings.  At the last minute she would be replaced for my first show, back in November 2016.

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“Balance” by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

She is drawn in black and gray and influenced by Erté and Edward Gorey.  The anatomy of the piece was inspired by the yin-yang, by harmony.  Here is the outline:

PLH – my abbreviation for “Peace, Love, and Harmony” – is a collection that started with this yin-yang inspired painting.  “Love” was pieced together using the combination of hearts, diversity, showgirls, and dramatic feathers.  It was the second completed painting in the collection.  Here is a breakdown of the 5 heart outlines (can you see them?):

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“Love” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

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The last painting in the collection was “Peace”.  I do find that this one is a little harder to comprehend than the other two in the collection.  Many assume that the ladies are lovers, and they very well might be (that is up to the viewer to decide, I am only the artist).  The idea was that their bodies and flowing dresses would create a peace sign.  I am happy with the final product, but do understand that the anatomy of this piece is a lot more abstract than I intended it to be.  Here is the outline for the peace sign:

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“Peace” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

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When I was done with “Peace, Love, and Harmony” I opened the files up, side by side, and felt an instant sense of irritation.  “Peace” and “Love” looked like they were a part of the same collection, but “Harmony” was so dark, she had ZERO color, and she was alone and creepy…I didn’t like that she clashed so much in her solidarity and in her anatomy/color scheme.  So, I decided to re-draw “Harmony”.

I changed name of the black and white painting to “Balance”; she is currently featured as my only solo painting and she is my FIRST painting featuring one of my ladies.  It all started with her:  the lady in the fur coat.  

The new “Harmony” took longer to draw than all of the others combined.  I knew that I wanted to feature two women that were intertwined in some way – one with light skin and one with dark skin, as I wanted to continue the theme of diversity and equality throughout all three paintings.  There were so many overlapping pieces.  The biggest challenge was bringing out the skin tones of each lady against the backgrounds of the skirts.  The hats and feathers helped so that they wouldn’t get lost against the colors of the fabric.  A yin-yang is still used as the base for this piece.  Here is the outline:

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“Harmony” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

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Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog!  xoxoxo

“Women and Wine Collection” – January 25, 2017

Try and try, and try, and try…again, and again, and again…… Ctrl+z, Ctrl+z, Ctrl+z,…Ctrl+z……Dang it!!!

It has been three long years since the concept of “Women and Wine” was doodled while sitting in my first apartment in LA.  What began as an evolution of rough sketches turned into a few years of tedious trials and errors.  Why?  Because I could not find the right medium for what I wanted to do.  Everything that I tried and tested seemed wrong.  Time and time, again, I would visit this project and scrap it.  I started with Photoshop – tried out a new comic book technique -, I moved into pastels, and went back to the computer again, and into acrylic paints on canvas….the cycle was never-ending.  There would be months, and sometimes periods close to a year, where I turned my back on the paints and mediums.  I was frustrated.  Nothing clicked, nothing worked…I wasn’t happy with any medium.  It all seemed unbalanced, the textures were just wrong…

It wasn’t until November 2016 that I was able to put a finished seal on this project, and it solidified my new art medium in Photoshop (and in perfect timing, right before my art show).  Not only was I able to pinpoint the new technique and exceed my initial vision, but I also found my calling in the art world through this project:  embracing the neutral beauty of diversity.  (I will touch on this in a future post.)

This is a collection near and dear to my heart, not only because of my love of wine, but because of the beauty of the physical differences among women.  There are three pieces in this collection; each one features a general grouping of wine (red, white, and blush/rosé – with their proper glasses, of course).  They also feature women of color: Asian, African American, and Persian (onlookers assume that she is white, but she is, in fact, Persian).  I am proud to say that most people had appreciative and very positive (if not, overwhelmingly positive) responses to the incorporation of colored women in the art.  My happiest moment was my last customer, who walked by with her mother, and did a double take.  She came back a few seconds after walking by the booth, and looked at the woman featured in “White Wine”.  “Oh my gosh!  Mom!  Look!  Look at this!  She has my hair!”  She paused, took in the painting, and after taking a breath she almost whispered, “Oh my gosh.”  She took her hands off of her mouth to rest over her heart, “I have never seen my hair in any kind of art, before.  That is my hair!  My hair looks exactly like this!  That’s my hair!…She is beautiful…”

This is why I create art: to touch people, to make them feel.  And it makes me so happy to be able to fill a much-needed gap in the art world that has been lacking for much too long.

Here is the tedious process that went through the creation of “Women and Wine”.  I hope you enjoy it!

01
The first speed sketch (estimated sketch time: 15 seconds – if you’re curious, haha!)
02
More concept sketches.  I wanted to incorporate costume and fashion design in here, somehow, but I also wanted to combine the women a little more with the wine, instead of having the glasses and the figures standing side by side.  That is when I decided to put her inside the glass…
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These are the first roughs of the concept of the evening dress flowing into the wine, and possibly becoming the wine…the evolution has started.
04
How much of the wine did I want to be “dress” and how much did I want the dress to be “wine”?  I had to play around with the balances a little more, do get a good “weight” between the woman and the wine glass.  How dramatic did I want the gown, too?…maybe less drama would be more, in this case.  If the dress is too busy, it will distract from the subject matter, and I didn’t want the focal point to be the dress.
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The first breakthrough for “Red Wine”.  This pose would stay relevant for the remainder of the project.
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Roughs of possible layouts for “rose” and “white” wines.  I like the different angles of the women, and the use of the scarf to balance out the weight of the wine splashing from the glass.
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I had to decide if I wanted the ENTIRE glass in the picture, or if I wanted a closeup with the stem cut off.  I really did want to keep the whole glass, but there would have been a lot of dead space at the bottom of each painting.  I could either fill it with background or adjust it and zoom in to focus on the ladies a little more.  Decisions, decisions…
08
The first concept for the collection was very detailed and complicated.  It wasn’t until I started drawing it out on the computer that I decided to scrap it, completely.  It involved three different backgrounds (ocean, vineyard, and city) with three times of day (evening, twilight, and daylight), with the three kinds of wine.  The colors might have played off of each other, well, but it was just too busy.
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Here is where the ethnicity of the women started to come into the picture.  Ultimately, their diversity would be the focal point that would scrap the busy and colorful backgrounds.  Their beauty and strength in just being “them” brings enough energy to the table without the distracting backgrounds.
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It is so interesting to look back and see how I changed out some elements and switched details around.  At first, I had the poses for white and rose wine switched around.  I’m glad with the final decision I made.  There was also debate as to the angle of the wine glass, and if it should stand straight, or come into the frame at an angle.  The slanted glass gives the whole picture more energy.  In the end I propped the glasses upright, and the only movement in the paintings came from the ladies.
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Here are the final quick sketches for the placement and balance of the paintings.  This is where I decided to switch the poses of the white and rose wines.  
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The first digital sketch of “Red Wine”
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Adding more details
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You can see that I didn’t put away the busy background, just yet.  There are some curtains, and a picture of LA in the back.  The picture is used so I can see the balance of the elements behind the window.  There is just so much going on!  TOO MUCH!
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Here are the final base outlines.  You can see why I got rid of the background….Everything gets lost in everything.  YUCK!
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At the end of all of that I was left with this outline!  I loved it, and held onto it for a long time.  But, something was not right…I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  I also didn’t feel good about drawing in Photoshop, so I tried to visit my roots in painting to see if that would turn out a little better.
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I had to figure out the color schemes and what to do with the background.  To the right, you can see the colors of the wine painted on plastic sheets; This is a good way to test the paints and different possible background combinations before committing to canvas and wasting all that material.  A good thing to stock up on are paint chip cards from the paint store.  It makes figuring out color combinations a lot easier when you can see them together to start. Something was wrong with the paint, so I went back to Photoshop…and I couldn’t figure out what to do with the background.
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Revisiting Photoshop…This is a technique used by a few comic book artists that I follow.  You block out your base colors, and overlay it with a shade and then start to highlight and in order to bring the light colors through the dark mask.  As soon as I got the mask on the red wine I knew that I didn’t want to use this technique…SCRAP IT!  NEEEEXT!!!!  I also HATED the background.  It was okay-ish (not really) for the red wine, but the rose and white wine would have clashed with it.  If I was going to do a “plain” background I wanted to make sure to do something cohesive so that the three paintings looked good together, side by side.  I wanted the backgrounds to be the same, also…but figuring out the color scheme that worked well with red, rose, and yellow, on top of the skin tones, was maddening.
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So, back to the outline.  I looked at it, again, and I still wasn’t happy with it.  Something wasn’t balanced and I couldn’t figure out WHY.  Turns out it was the scarf.  (stupid, stupid scarf!)  It was too long, too dramatic.  The eye went to the scarf before anything else, and I didn’t want the scarf to be the first thing people saw.  I spent so much time drawing that stupid scarf only to erase it.  But, I am SO glad that I did.  I also decided to straighten the glass at this point, instead if having it leaning off at an angle.  This way, all of the energy is in the wine, the scarf, and the lady.  
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Once I fixed the scarf, I sketched out the white wine and rose wine.  I printed out the images and took a look at them side by side.  I made adjustments.  “Red Wine” was WAY too thin, so I thickened out her waist, hips, and arms.  
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I gave “White Wine” a little more of a booty bump.  I didn’t want to fill in her hair, yet, because I would be doing that later.  At this point I decided that I was going to transfer these drawings to canvas and finish them in Pastels!!!  I loved the idea of having a “chalkboard effect” on top of a black canvas!  Onward!
24
The final outlines for “Red Wine”
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The final outlines for “White Wine”
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The final outlines for “Rose Wine”
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These are soft pastels!!!  I spray painted a canvas with chalk spray….but this didn’t work out…….DANG IT!!!!  It just didn’t look right at all…..MOVING ON!!!!…..maybe if I paint…..again……………..
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This is as far as I got with the painting….just the bottom coats for each one of them…………then I scrapped it, again…….STILL NOT RIGHT!!!!
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“This just doesn’t look like it is going to be going in the right direction…hmmmmmm…….???  Something isn’t right.”
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“Dang it…this is so frustrating…frickin a…”
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“What am I going to do, now?”
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“Moving on……sorry painting…………………..I can already tell that you just aren’t the right medium for this project…I’ll have to brainstorm, again…”
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BACK TO THE COMPUTER!!!!  Layer, after layer, after layer, are blended and smoothed out.  I used the same drawing technique seen in my step-by-step of “healing”, only with a lot more layers.  I was really happy with the way that this one turned out.  That is, until I did the next one…
34
“White Wine” was the second painting that I finished, and it was the piece where I had the biggest breakthrough with my digital drawing technique.  The skin was smooth and vibrant, the hair and textures were exactly what I wanted.  I moved on to the “Rose Wine”, which was just as vibrant and smooth and beautiful as “White Wine”, but when I opened “Red Wine” again, after having had such a phenomenal breakthrough, I was less than thrilled.
35
She looked like a corpse, especially next to the other two.  I brightened her skin, smoothed it out and re-painted her.  Her hair was darkened and a lot more life was given to the painting.  I was so happy to finish this project!  It turned out even better than I had imagined it would!
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“Red Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
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“Rose Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
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“White Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
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“Women and Wine” Collection – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

“Healing” – January 22, 2017

A dear friend of mine reached out to me recently, in light of some hardships that she was dealing with in regards to her health.  She asked me if I would be able to draw her the concept of “healing”.  With her humble permission, she allowed me to post a step-by-step process of this painting.

I hope that this picture brings you joy and lifts your spirits, Tori.  I hope that you ask for help when you need it, that you will allow others to love you, and that you will also take the time to love and take care of yourself as much as you love and take care of others.  Trust in God. May he lift you up and comfort you; may he free you from worry and give you peace.  I hope that you get well, very soon.  

                                                                                  Love Your Friend,  Erika

The following is a Photoshop tutorial, using a twist on a new layering technique that I stumbled upon at the end of last year.  I hope you enjoy it.  Thank you for visiting, everyone.  And thank you again, Tori, for your permission to post.

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Sketching the rough outline.  I always start with a light blue brush and sketch out a few layouts and concepts.  This is a very organic process, but once I figure out the general layout, I need to get the lines as proportionate as possible.  This is probably the most important step, because if your drawing is “off” in the beginning, it will be very tough to fix, later on.
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I add a light wash to her skin and change the color of the outlines to match the wash.
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This is a rough hair placement.
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Her beautiful hair needed to be trimmed back, so that it didn’t distract from the balance of the whole portrait.  There will be a sense of “energy” coming from the palms of her hands, so I wanted her hair to react to that source instead of being scattered about the whole frame.
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I add in a background base and shadows.  I chose purple, with highlights of red and blue, to bring out the yellow and orange tones of her hair.  I want the background to be very dark and I want this piece to have a lot of contrast because…
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…I am going to add a focal point of blue-ish light in her hands to represent healing, calm, strength, and peace.  I am testing the color combinations to see if they balance, before proceeding with the drawing.  I also see if this is the exact concept that I want to move forward with.  I need to make sure the elements sit well, together, and sometimes testing is a good thing.
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I take away the blue highlights, so that I can fill in her hair to test its truer color against the background.
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I start to add skin tones and shading.
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Deeper shades and highlights are layered on each other, and facial details are added.
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The pastel strokes are smoothed out.  But, her skin is a little too pink…I need to fix it.  Her hair also needs to be brightened.
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An eraser is used to trim around her hair and body.  Skin and hair colors are balanced out and a lot of pink is taken away.
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The orange vibrancy of her hair is bumped up just a little to give more contrast against the purple/blue background.
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Hair strands are drawn and scattered about.  Texture is added to her hair to give a little more depth.
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A drastic last minute change put most of this piece in the shadows.  Because a lot of “light” is going to be added, at the end, having the darkness will create an intense dramatic effect.  I love that a sense of mystery is brought out in this step, also.  This will also bring the attention to her face and the light, first, as opposed to her figure.
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The light is added to her palms and engulfs her body and hair.
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More shadows, details, and depth are added before the final magical touches.  I love the rainbow of colors that appeared within her hair.  It was unexpected, but so beautiful!  Happy accidents, right, Bob Ross?
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I start with the darkest shade of color that was used in the focal light, which was light blue, and scatter magical dots all around her.  I make sure that the flow is balanced and feels right to me before adding the next layer of magic and healing.
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An off-white is used to highlight the magical pathways even more.  The off-white is still very bright next to the dark colors, but can be brought out just a little more…
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The foreground “magic” is highlighted with an opaque pure white brush, to add extra depth and pop against the purple background.  “Healing” – digital painting – Photoshop.  By Erika Robertson – 2017 – For Tori

“Going Fishing” – June 26, 2016

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

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“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:

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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!

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