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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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how to paint

“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
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Original thumbnail sketch for “Champagne” from 2013 (It’s been a long time!)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

“Just Keep Painting” – July 29, 2016

Without a solid plan, without a sketch to paper, I broke out my paintbrushes to experiment with a few different abstract techniques. I am still trying to discover my flavor as an artist in the abstract realm.

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The artwork basking in the sunshine

Anything can be used to apply paint to a canvas. It can be a blessing that glorifies your painting or some huge mistake that ruins your work. Using unconventional tools isn’t a rule made specific for abstract art; it can be used throughout every style of art and painting.

I didn’t get too crazy this time around, but I did use my hands as the primary tool for most of the following paintings. Utilizing traditional techniques helps create a solid branch to stand on when experimenting with new techniques.

Imagination can be an artist’s greatest weapon, but sometimes your hands don’t always do what your brain tells them to do…

There were a couple of paintings in this group that started out with a different end result in mind. They didn’t look ANYTHING like what I had imagined, but when I started to make mistakes, I kept going, I kept adding, and the results were so much more entertaining than what I had started with. Sometimes, making mistakes is a good thing. Sometimes, when you are trying to execute a solid idea, and it doesn’t come out right, and that is okay! Just paint over the canvas and start from scratch. This happened for me a few weeks ago, when I painted Envy, in the Seven Deadly Sins collection. Sometimes, you just want to keep going to see what will happen. Regardless of what happens, the artist should always keep these things in mind when diving into abstract art: balance, color coordination, and purposeful execution.

I NEED TO ASK A FAVOR FROM ALL OF YOU: Let me know what grabs your attention. Let me know what colors you like/hate, and give suggestions for alternative colors, if you want. Any and all feedback is appreciated, so much! I have a thick skin, so if you hate it, tell me. If you love it, tell me. If you think it is “just alright”, tell me. I don’t take it personal. Art is subjective, anyways.

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24″ x 36″ – Acrylic on Canvas
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11″ x 14″ – Acrylic on Canvas
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18″ x 14″ – Acrylic on Canvas

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12″ x 9″ – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas

 

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30″ x 40″ – Acrylic on Canvas

‘Til next time!

“Lizzie” – July 20, 2016

My sister-in-law, Lizzie, asked me to paint something for her that was “Big!” and “Gold and Black!” and she wanted “Glitter!”  In my last collection “The Seven Deadly Sins” there was one painting that many people gravitated toward and that was “Greed”.  Lizzie wanted something that looked like “Greed” but without the yellow and white.  She just wanted gold…and glitter.

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Nes anticipating everything…2011
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Cabaret set painting, with Nes – 2011

I am not unfamiliar with large painting projects.  In 2011, my dear friend, Nes, and I were commissioned to paint the set of “Cabaret”, which was made up of many gargantuan rolling set pieces.  They were more like walls on wheels.

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Detail work for some “small” set pieces – Cabaret 2011

It was quite fabulous playing around with perspective and house paints.  Nes owns his own photography company, Fragoso Photography, in the San Jose Bay Area.  (You should really check out his work!  He does head shots, special events, holidays, and even product shots!  He is excellent!) 

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All the glitter!
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You can never have too many paint brushes!  (This is a fact…)

 

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The work space, in all its glory.

The canvas that Lizzie picked out was the largest one I had on hand, at 40 inches by 60 inches.  I prepped it with black gesso.

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“Lizzie” – 40″ x 60″- Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 19, 2016

Here is the finished painting!  “Lizzie”.  What looks like black paint on the canvas, in the complete composition, is actually very dark purple.  Using subtle hints of complimentary colors works very well in this type of artwork.  It isn’t something that most people would be able to see, but if I had used flat black and just gold, the painting would have looked like it was missing something.

Small details bring a lot of character to artwork!  Remember, it is all about the little things!

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Detail shot of a portion of the bottom of “Lizzie” – tons of speckles in between a little bit of glitter
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Detail shot of a portion of the top of “Lizzie” – more subtle speckles and some glitter!

When looking at this composition straight on, you can’t really see the small speckles of different shades of gold paint.  The glitter almost hides the “speckle” effect.

I was a little hesitant to add the glitter.  I was afraid that it would take away from the natural speckle effect of the painting, and a part of me still feels that way, but the glitter is a very fun effect.  I might try it out with some other pieces in the future.

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One more “painting” shirt to add to the collection!

With speckling comes a mess, and another ruined shirt, but it is welcome!  Sometimes artwork can be messy, which is why it should be done outside.  The natural light that you get from being outside in the sun (not direct sunlight, but overcast light or in the shade of a tree) really helps with color blending and the color choices that you make.  There are light bulbs that you can purchase that help with indoor painting.  But, many lights have a yellow tinge, or aren’t strong enough to project enough light throughout the room to reflect the true colors that you are painting with.  So, if you are picky about colors, make sure your work space is flooded with enough natural light…or just go outside and enjoy the air!

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“Greed” and “Lizzie”

A week ago, I was convinced that my “Seven Deadly Sins” collection was painted on fairly large canvases that measured 24 inches by 36 inches.  They were large, but the canvas that I used for “Lizzie” was HUGE!  It really put size into perspective.  I found out that I really like painting abstract art on a grand scale.  Truly, it makes me want to re-paint the “Seven Deadly Sins” collection on these large canvases so that they engulf the viewer.  I’ll think about it…

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I could barely fit this canvas in my car!  How am I going to transport anything larger than this?!

I am about 5 feet 9 inches tall.  Here I am standing next to this monster!  And I feel like it should be even bigger!

Ody thinks so too…

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Contemplation…look at that intense focus…
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His eyes match the painting so well!  Good job being the epic cat that you are, Odysseus.
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DO THE ART!!!!

‘Til next time!

“Abstract Art: Part 2” – July 17, 2016

The Seven Deadly Sins ALL PAINTINGS

***The titles for the collection and each painting are listed below.  The end of this article also contains “behind the scenes” photographs.  Enjoy!***

This is part two of “Abstract Art”.  You can read “Abstract Art: Part 1”, here!  

The only requirement of an abstract artist is to make people feel.  An artist might touch a white canvas with shades of misty purple and powder blue to invoke the feeling of calm, or the thought of peace, or emptiness.  These critiques are welcome and subjective.  At this point, the artist has done his job:  their work is “good enough” to absorb into the public eye, so that they may “feel”.

If “White Fox in a Snow Bank” is deemed the title for the same piece then the interpretation changes.  The free-floating composition that was once left to graze the mind is placed in the artist’s mental gate.  It is a part of the experience that the artist wants to guide you though.  There are large debates in the art community in regards to titling works of art, and it is even more relevant in the abstract world.  I think that titling artwork has its place.  Sometimes, it is less appropriate.  But, this decision should be made by the artist and accepted as an element of the art itself.

The artist should title their piece if they do believe that it will “open the eyes” of observers and guide them, so that they may see clearer, and so that they may be able to further melt themselves within the piece.  If the artist believes that titling their work will hinder the excitement of feeling what is on the canvas, and if it is not specifically associated with any other relevant outside items, the work should not be titled.

In the case of my first abstract collection, I have decided to reveal the titles.  They are a group of actions and feelings and each one is a part of our lives, in one form or another.  The planning process was difficult, because researching the theme hit so many emotional nerves.  Focusing on the goodness of people can be refreshing.  Diving into the worst characteristics of humanity is gruesome, and those laced in what seems to be goodness makes one reevaluate their own nature.  Trying to create art that represented and embodied these feelings and actions was a challenging feat.

The only tangible pieces of research that were obtained for my collection were the assignment of colors and the order of their display.  At the time of their “creation”, each feeling had an official hue assigned to it.  Their order is from least to greatest.

I hope that revealing these titles will enhance your understanding of the collection, and maybe lift the curtain back so that you may be able to see.

Enjoy!

 

The Seven Deadly Sins ALL PAINTINGS

The Seven Deadly Sins
July 2016 – Erika Robertson
Lust
“Lust” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Lust

Color:  Blue

A sin that is the perverted love of good things

Lust is extreme yearning.  Because it is the only sin that is shared with animals, and it is a sin of the flesh, it is labeled as the least of all sins.  It is more often labeled as a sin of perverse sexual desire, but it can be applied as a yearning for almost anything: lust for money, power, food, the latest iPhone, and so on.

It is the movement of lust, and the feeling of lust, in all of its smoothness and sensuality.  It can be the silk sheets of two lovers, or the smooth finish of the next unneeded electronic gadget.  Lust is the calm movement of desire, or the supple air of breath from a kiss that is wrong “but feels so right”.  Sleek, comfortable, and often described as beautiful.

gluttony
“Gluttony” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Gluttony

Color: Orange

A sin that is the perverted love of good things

Gluttony is overindulgence.  It is consumption to the point of waste.  Society often pinpoints gluttony as “eating”, but the sin covers so much more ground.  Overeating, under eating, and purging, can all be labeled as gluttony.  It is hoarding money, wasting material goods or non-material items.  And as a whole, putting your desires and your needs above everyone else and their well-being.

It is too much.  It is abundance.  It is waste.  It is no coincidence that most food companies use a combination of yellow and red in their business logos.  Most fast food chains use these two primary colors because when they are seen together they trigger hunger on a subconscious level.  It is also no coincidence that gluttony’s color is the combination of yellow and red: orange.

greed
“Greed” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Greed

Color:  Yellow

A sin that is the perverted love of good things

Greed is a sin that is linked to material possession.  People think of money, gold, wealth, and over-indulgence.  It is a sin of desire and cupidity.  A person can also be greedy in love, feelings, and actions.

In its purest form I saw greed as wealth.  It is yellow and gold, it is diamonds.  In our society wealth is beautiful.  More is better.  Greed is the finish line that no one will ever reach.  Greed only spends on  what it wastes.

sloth
“Sloth” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Sloth

Color:  Light Blue

A sin that contains no love or is the deficiency of love

Sloth is to be “without care”.  It is the ONLY sin that revolves around a LACK of action.  It is the absence of interest.  Boredom, apathy, slow responsiveness.  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

I do think that “Sloth” was the most curious and disconnected from the collection for the people who saw them face-to-face.  When displayed side by side, left to right, it is the center of the display.  It is also the most blinding with its foggy color, and confusing in its lack of movement.  It sits there, doing nothing, as if wandering through a mist.  The brush strokes are boring, lacking, lazy.

wrath
“Wrath” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Wrath

Color:  Red

A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.

Wrath is unbridled feelings of rage, anger, and hatred.  It is seeking vengeance.  It is the “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite”.  Anger, in itself, is not a sin.  Anger is a natural feeling, but it becomes a sin of wrath when it is directed toward an innocent person, when it is abnormally strong or enduring, or when it fancies overindulgent “justice”. (punishment).

It is decay, rot, death, and blood.  It is unfounded war.  It is unjustified death.  Wrath is an abundance of spilled anger.   It is the slitting of the throat of a lover, and it is the pools of blood in fields that were once green.  She yells at him.  He hits her.

envy
“Envy” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 2016

Envy

Color:  Green

A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.

Envy is the second worst sin.  It is the result of pride, the greatest sin, becoming wounded.  Envy makes good things feel bad.  It lowers another person’s reputation.  It finds joy in another person’s misfortune.  It grieves at another person’s prosperity and causes sorrow and hatred.   “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” – Harold Coffin

If you want to know what your greatest desires are, pay attention to who you envy.  It calls into question everything that you think you are.  It exposes what you value and where your heart is.  You experience joy in another’s sorrow, and sorrow in their joy.  It is a never ending whirlwind of suffocation and destruction.  If you cannot prevail, and become better than the person who you envy, then you try to bring that person down to your level.  Envy is the great leveler.  It is wanting something you never had.

pride
“Pride” – 24″ x 36″ Acrylic on Canvas – July 2016

Pride

Color:  Violet or all of the colors

A sin of unnatural love that is directed toward a person in order to harm them.

Pride is the father of all sins.  It was known as the devil’s most prominent trait and is viewed as the “anti-god” state.  All other sin acts out because of pride (which is why purple is used in all of the paintings – what looks like black, in some of them, is purple).  It is the abundant admiration for one’s self.  It is failing to acknowledge accomplishments of others, and the twisted belief that one is better than others.  It is disconnected from people and reality.  Pride honors those that the WORLD sees as worthy.  It is hungry for attention, respect, and worship.  It searches for fault in others.

Pride is deceiving.  It is best at hiding beneath good qualities, such as humbleness.  It is the donation that you give that flaunts your name so the world may see your generosity.  It is the shy individual who is preoccupied with how the world views him, and what he will do when the spotlight is flashed on him.  It is the voice inside your head that says “I’m better at that than her”.  You don’t even have to speak; it is there.  It is self-centered love that sparkles and gleams behind tainted humility.  It is all about you.

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A short glance behind the scenes:

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A collection, like this, starts with notes and sketches.  What looks like random spots and lines and colors are planned movement and a combination of elements.  There should be cohesiveness in the painting.

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Here is some of the aftermath of Wrath.  The trees suffered a little with all of my gashing and slashing movements.  (It was a lot of fun though.)  I might have shared a hand-full of orange paint with the neighbors when I was working on Gluttony, too…woops….

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Here they are sitting out to dry, with Greed.

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I struggled the most while trying to capture Envy and Pride.  I wanted their flow to relate to each other more than between the others.  Envy is pride that has been broken.  And pride is the root of all evil and all sin.  It is fitting that when most people look at Pride, they see the universe.  And isn’t that the point?  I was very happy with the response to the piece.  I felt like I did my job, as an artist.

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Envy was the most difficult.  It’s okay to make mistakes!  How many times was the Mona Lisa re-painted?  (too many!)  I scrapped the first version of Envy, and painted over it.  The flow wasn’t right and the colors were not what I had envisioned, and the texture I wanted was non-existent.  When it comes to artwork I rely heavily on instinct.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

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Envy – the one we won’t talk about……
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When all else fails, start over!

I had to sit down and try to revamp what I had wanted.  I tried salvaging it, at one point, but it got to be too much.  When all else fails, paint over it and start over!

ody
This fat!  Odysseus.  Aka: Ody

Sometimes you need a little helper to motivate you and keep you going.  This is one of my helpers, Ody.  (Short for Odysseus).

envy
Envy – the final version

After all was said and done, I was very happy with the result.

Thank you for joining me on my first journey through abstract art!  I hope that you were able to open your eyes a little, like I did, and expand your understanding of the strange and subjective art style.  I hope that you pick up a paint brush and try some, yourself!  I promise that you will have a lot of fun!

The Seven Deadly Sins ALL PAINTINGS
“The Seven Deadly Sins” – Erika Robertson – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 2016

‘Til next time! 

“Abstract Art: Part 1” – July 13, 2016

***My first abstract collection is below!  “Abstract Art: Part 2” will contain the tutorial and titles for the compositions.  Enjoy!***

I FUCKING HATE ABSTRACT ART!

I was never certain when my loathing for the style started.  It had always been the primary scent of who I was as an artist: anything but abstract.  I do know that my hatred solidified when I was in college and I remember the precise moment in all of its disgusting and jealous glory.

One of my teachers had the class travel to the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in San Francisco.  Our assignment was to evaluate our favorite piece of art and our least favorite piece of art.  I couldn’t tell you what my favorite piece of art had been, but without taking a millisecond to recall, I could tell you what my least favorite exhibit was.

One would think that the ordinary plaster-white toilet would have taken the prize for first  worst place, as he basked in the museum lights, and grinned with pompous arrogance.  Fuck that toilet!

toilet

I walked into a huge room, and looked to my left, and to my right.  The canvases were about five feet wide and eight feet long.  Two were spaced the same distance apart from each other on all four walls, and all of them were painted a familiar elementary school crayon color:  pumpkin orange, cherry red, cobalt blue, lemon yellow, royal purple, emerald green, fucking black, and fucking white.  (The last two aren’t even colors!)  I walked around with my mouth dangling.  They were PLAIN SOLID COLORS!  No texture.  No hint of any character, except maybe in their massiveness and hue, or lack of hue…did the artist even PAINT the white canvas?!  This artistic experience got so much better, though.

In the center of the room sat a lazy cement block.  From the top of that lazy cement block a thick metal rod grew like a flower stem that was on the verge of wilting.  A natural sponge, the size of a small watermelon, had been dipped in cobalt blue paint.  It was quite apparent that this poor blue sponge had lost all faith in life because he decided that he had no choice but to impale himself on the top of that metal rod.  Thus, the art exhibit was complete.  Fuck that blue sponge!

Needless to say, the nature of my essay was not uplifting.

My next huge run-in with abstract art punched me in the face two years ago at the Getty in Los Angeles.  I walked into a room that hosted one of Jackson Pollock’s famous compositions.  It plastered the museum wall and beckoned all living creatures in the general vicinity to come and share in its narcissistic breathing room.  My first thought was “it’s so big!”  My second thought was “why do people think that this is good?  It’s just paint that’s splashed and twirled on a board.  Yeah, it’s big.  But, why do people like this?!”  I wandered through the rest of the museum and left in a rage as Pollock pricked his untalented needle fingers into my brain.  FUCK FUCKING POLLOCK!

pollock

WHY IS ABSTRACT ART SO GREAT?!

During my journey in “all things art”, I made the decision to explore the abstract world; I tried to figure out what made this sloppy, child-like, finger painting so lovable and mesmerizing to millions of people.  There had to be something that I was missing.   As I absorbed the characteristics and commonalities that the most famous abstract pieces were composed of, my respect for abstract painting started to take shape.  When I started to paint, I understood and appreciated the style.

So, what made good abstract art?

Well, “anything goes” in art.  Art is subjective, on all levels.  Just because one person likes one style of art doesn’t mean that the next person will feel the same about that style.  But, what is consistent across the board, for all good art, is the presence of technique. It is the purposeful application of texture, balance, layers, color compatibility, and the formation of emotion.  These categories are all present in good abstract art.  What looks like paint splattered on a canvas is coherent.  Every stroke and detail should be intentional in its thought.  With that being said, famous art isn’t always good art.  There are many famous singers who cannot sing well, but they are marketable. Marketability and talent aren’t one in the same.

What looked like blobs of paint colors on a canvas, in Pollock’s painting, were actually layers of compatible colors.  They were applied with different tools, in different paint weights.  They ended up creating a mishmash of artistic patterns that were executed by the trained, seasoned, and unique movement of Pollock’s arm and body.  No artist can replicate another artist’s work without fault, because so much of the character of an artist’s composition comes from unique body movements.  No two people move in the same way.

When I look at Pollock’s work, now, I can see the glory behind the artist.  He was talented and created with purpose.  I can see which colors he started with, what weights the paints were, what kind of tool or surface he might have used to create that kind of stroke with that specific paint color, and in what way he moved his arm based on the splash angles and how the medium hit the canvas.  What I didn’t know, until a few weeks ago, was that most people don’t know how to dissect a piece of artwork and analyze the details.  But, that didn’t matter.  Breaking down the technicalities of a composition was a great skill to have, but I was missing the whole point of abstract art:  subjective emotion. 

I decided to whip up a collection of seven abstract paintings.  Painting a landscape or cartoon characters that formed a story was talented in one way.  Painting subjective emotion, was talented in another way.

The following collection of paintings is displayed in order.  I would like to invite you to analyze and try to figure out what they are.  In my next article, Abstract Art: Part Two, I will reveal the titles for the pieces, as well as the intense planning process that was built up behind their execution.  There is so much more to abstract art than meets the eye and I would like to challenge all of the critical purists to explore the medium in the same way that I did.  Doing so might end up killing the pride that has clogged your arteries due to your fattening arrogance.  And you might have a little fun in the process.

‘Til next time!

Lust

gluttony

greed

sloth

wrath

envy

pride

24″ x 36″ Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – July 2016

Titles of pieces and collection to be revealed in “Abstract Art: Part 2”

 

“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

Happy Accidents – June 21, 2016

The most tremendous obstacle that an artist may have to overcome, in order to start any project, is fear.  The fear of your own perfection and your own expectations, the fear of other people’s expectations, the fear of failing, the fear of success and the trail that you must create to withstand the journey, the fear of not completing anything and the simultaneous fear of completing something so that people may critique you and everything that you are.  An artist’s fears can be the endless fog that hides them from the world and buries their creativity in the catacombs of their mind.

5
I unveiled a graveyard of petrified oil paints from my last canvas painting in 2002.

The last time I touched a paint brush to a canvas was fourteen years ago.  The last time I finished a personal art project was when I graduated from college nine years ago, and most of my portfolio was dictated by classroom requirements.  I knew my capabilities and I knew my weaknesses and strengths in art, but the last time I gave myself the chance to create anything for myself was in high school.

The enemy that I had learned to kill, and would continue to kill, day after day was my pre-perfectionism.  It made up the stitches that held my procrastination together.  Instead of diving into a project, I would busy myself by making plans for the next project; I would sketch out an abundance of nonsense while brainstorming, I would try to pinpoint the perfect medium for the perfect project, and calculate the perfect size canvas.  I would fail to see any of my brainstorming make it to a canvas.  There was always something else to do and something else to finalize before creating the final piece.  There was fear that my own standard would not live up to my expectations; it turned into a vicious circle of doubt that looked like a snake eating its own tail.

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A rough pencil to pen landscape sketch of my work-in-progress children’s picture book.

Two years ago, I started to write the first draft of a children’s picture book.  I wanted to find a way to promote my artwork and maybe dive into writing.  I got stuck in the swamp of the writing process, and I am still stuck.  Instead of waiting for a “good enough” draft to round itself out, I decided to sketch out the world where my story took place.  I had a lot more experience in art than I did in writing.  I only began writing when I was about nine and I have just dabbled in it from time to time.   It made sense to start in a place that was familiar to me.

I started watching Bob Ross on Netflix, a few weeks ago.  He was mesmerizing and it was helpful to absorb his laid-back mindset when it came to painting.  Landscapes were a great place to start because, unlike painting people or animals, the artist could make up things as they went and “happy accidents” could easily turn into the most surprising details of a painting.  Nothing had to be planned out and nothing had to be perfect.  Three days later, I retreated to my room to paint, and everything went wrong.

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My messy pallet for this painting.

The wet-on-wet painting technique that Mr. Ross used was a medium founded in oil paint and not the acrylic paint that I sprawled on my canvas.  At first, my sunset had been dancing around with its bright colors and buttery yellow had started blending into creamsicle orange and blushing rose.  After five minutes, the paint and retardant that I had prepped on the canvas, had started to dry, and my pink haze turned into a streak-infested, blood-soaked, disgusting mess that looked like a massacre.

It was around that moment that my mom hollered at me from the bottom of the stairs and said “Are you painting, Erika?!  Can I see what you are doing?!”

Horror, dread, doubt, and fear took over every millimeter of my face and body.  I took a deep breath, “Uhhh.  Not right now!  I’ll show you in a little bit.”  Happy accidents, happy accidents, happy accidents…

I stepped back and took it all in.  “The Massacre”.  I was going to fix it.  I threw blue and white onto the canvas to see if the sky was even salvageable.  Everything happens for a reason.  In hindsight, a sunset in the sky would have been too overbearing above the colors of the bright flowers that had scattered themselves along the grass and the hills.

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16×20 acrylic on canvas – June 16, 2016

Two hours later, the flowers bloomed on the canvas.  A little beehive from my would-be-children’s-book made a home on an unassuming tree branch, next to a little stream.

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The cute little beehive

This was my first acrylic painting, so I had to give myself credit for that.  After two and a half hours, I had created a landscape that I was proud of.  After a fourteen year absence from painting on canvas, this was the result.  It didn’t have to be perfect.  I had fun.  And the most important thing was that I was happy with it.  Onward!

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