Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Maybe I should take up drinking?

When I signed up for Making Art That Sells, I thought it would be just what I needed at this point in my art licensing career. I have my Silhouette and Timeless Treasures licenses, and client projects, but my work felt sort of stagnant. I've been wanting to bring in some more hand-drawn imagery especially into my fabric designs, but am not sure quite how to combine it with digital. I was hoping the class would help sort it out.

I thought it would teach me a lot and be a lot of work (it is both)… but I had this notion that it would be tons of fun. Strangely and surprisingly, I'm finding it difficult and frustrating, and in classic melodramatic Jen style, it's having me doubting my talent and ambition and feeling discouraged and mopey.

The first week was bolt fabric… fun and easy, right? Nope. It was like my friend's husband in his bowling tournament: I crashed and burned. Fun sketching… but frustrating coming up with a print I was even sort of happy with.

I was slightly nervous about week two (plates), which I have no experience designing for…. again I had lots of fun sketching, but the final assignment was the same kind of thing as week 1.

Then last week was children's books, which I do have a bit of experience with. I really enjoyed creating the week's assignment -- I was excited to work on it! -- and thought the final result was a bit better than weeks 1 & 2, but it has the same stiff, uncomfortableness as my other two assignments.

This week it's wall art. I'm feeling even more anxious about it.

It's probably that I'm putting too much pressure on myself to come up with something super awesome. If I was still 21, I might try drinking a few beers and working on my assignment.

Once semester in college, I took a figure drawing course with a very colorful professor. She always wore black clothes, patterned knee socks and black Chuck Taylors. I remember us giggling over her artwork when we found out she created sculptures of giant phalluses (we were only 20 or 21, after all!)

One night some friends and I imbibed before starting in on our homework, which was drawing each other in charcoal. The next day we hung up our work in the studio. Judy came in and studied the drawings. She commented on mine, not knowing whose it was. "Such freedom, so loose and wonderful! Whose is this?" "It's mine," I replied, "but not my best work. I had a little to drink before I drew it." She said, "Well, I'd say you need to drink EVERY time you draw!" Everyone laughed.

I've never forgotten that. It was said jokingly, but there was a real lesson within: lighten up, have fun, stop taking everything so seriously! Tap into your humor and quirkiness!

Art has always been fun for me, and if it's not, like these past couple weeks, I need to figure out how to make it fun again. So, with that, here's what I want to accomplish during the rest of MATS:

- HAVE FUN and enjoy the process; play lots.
- Remember this is NOT a competition.
- Remember that everyone's taste is different & everyone is at a different place in their art.
- Play with combining hand-drawn / hand painted stuff with digital.

Okay? No big deal. Calm down. It's all good. Everything will look better in the morning. I can so totally do this. Yay team. Breeeeathe. Go into the studio and make some great stuff!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bellydancing badly

At least that's what it felt like this week. Last week's Make Art That Sells assignment was deceptively simple -- design a set of  2 to 4 bromeliad-themed plates -- and I thought it would be a piece of cake (slight pun intended.) I love plants and I can draw them pretty well. I predicted I'd have lots of free time this weekend because I was going to be done early.

Ha ha.

Surprisingly, I felt all week like that time I got the bright idea to sign up for a new-mom bellydancing class. Kids as young as infants were welcome, so I brought my 5 month old and 2 year old.

I was uncoordinated and uncomfortable during every class; didn't have a clue what I was doing. Plus, as I was trying to remember where to put that damn scarf so I didn't trip over it or slip on it, I had to keep a close an eye on my wild older child who would dash out the door and run free, screaming down the hall and outside if given the slightest opportunity.

That bromeliad assignment was really, really frustrating. Sadly, I didn't enjoy about half of it.

I started out studying bromeliads and drawing very detailed and realistic studies. They were nice, but I'm trying to loosen up. So then I did some fast sketchy drawings and used some different tools: dip pen & ink, and watercolor, drawing with the brush. I liked the drawings, but what to do with them???

One of my favorite looks is when sketches are combined with more finished illustrations and everything is done in a range of mediums. That's what I tried first: a cluster of multihued plants growing vertically, pen, pencil, watercolor, vector all on one plate. But I hated it. It was NOT working.

Then I tried a simpler, one color layout using just the sketches. That didn't work either.

Then I tried a simple multicolored border just on the edge of the plates. It was delicate and pretty but a little too Grandma. I definitely wasn't going for Grandma. I kinda felt like crying out of frustration.

Then I tried using the same sketches but changed the layout to more of a messy wreath / border type design around the edges of the plates, with the plants going every which way, and with a bird hidden in each design. It was better, but nothing like what I originally wanted. That's what I settled on, though. Maybe it'll grow on me.

The most frustrating thing was I couldn't figure out WHY the layouts weren't working. I still don't know. Maybe it's my inner struggle: traditional, realistic renderings vs. retro mod stylized sketches. Maybe it's my use of color. Maybe I should spend more time on my initial sketches, or on cleaning up the scanned-in drawings. Maybe I just need more practice designing something other than fabric and single diecut designs.

Anyway, plate week is all done. I'd like to revisit it someday because I do like that stuff... I just had no idea how difficult it was to do!

This week is Children's Book Illustration, which I feel much more comfortable with. Character design I can do in my sleep (evidenced by 2,129+ of these wacky little drawings)! I just *know* this week will be better.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


As I wrote in my last post, I decided kind of at the last minute to sign up for Make Art That Sells, Part A. It's now one week into the class and I've finished our first assignment, creating bolt fabric with a vintage Pyrex-style casserole and berry theme.

Going into the class, I didn't expect week one to be particularly earth-shattering for me. I've been designing fabric for a couple years, took two fantastic classes with Michelle Fifis (Sellable Sketch and The Ultimate Guide to Repeats) and have my work licensed (although the majority of it is in the scrapbooking market, and just one print is licensed in the fabric market...), so I thought I had my style and method figured out, although maybe it just needing some fine tuning.

As it turns out, I was totally wrong. I realized I'm bored, bored, bored with my work and need to do something new. It was kind of tough going this week!

I started out the week sketching in my usual style (realistic) and with my usual mediums (Pigma Micron pens, watercolor, colored pencil). Then I drew directly into Illustrator the way I usually do, stylizing the forms so they weren't too stodgy (because in my mind, realistic = stodgy and stylized = retro cool.)

I put together a retro style print as I usually do, and hated it. It was fine, but I had no motivation. Part of the point of this class is to grow, which means trying something new and taking chances.

So I scanned in a bunch of my sketches, tweaked them a little, traced and colorized them in Illustrator. The final print was more exciting than my usual stylized vector stuff, but not quite there yet. It wasn't really vintage kitchen; it was more sketchbooky floral. It wasn't Pyrex/casserole dish enough; I enjoyed drawing berries and leaves so much more than dishes, so it had mostly botanical motifs.

It was hugely frustrating and I felt like I put in hours and hours and got absolutely nowhere -- pages and pages of sketches and no fabulous, professional print collection to show for it.

But the final print was more "me", a little quirky, and had much more of the hand of the artist in it, which I love seeing in others' work. It's a stepping stone in the direction I've wanted to go for a long time, but never knew how to get there or even begin. So I call it a success. Kind of.

Next I think I'll try sketching larger, with less attention to the details, and with a different tool (watercolor paper / brushes) and see where that leads. I'm excited to get started!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Maybe taking myself seriously, for once...

I'm an artist and a mom. I've wanted to be both things as long as I can remember.

I know the mom part of what I'm doing on a daily basis is really important -- raising my children to be good humans, to care about others, be kind to animals and the Earth, to learn and read and grow. But oh boy, they are draining!

I never feel rested, no matter how much sleep I get. I haven't finished a magazine in one sitting since before my six year old was born. It's rare I have a chance to write an entire blog post or email (my husband is entertaining the kids in the other room as I write this.)

My children make me feel old. In good/bad news, I never get carded any more when buying beer, but I finally look my age.

On the art side of things, in recent years I've discovered the world of art licensing and have been lucky to be able to earn a real living from it. I feel amazingly lucky every time I sit down to draw something, knowing that someone will want to buy it.

I'm always thinking, what can I do to do more art? How can I make my work better? How can I better balance the mom/artist thing?

One problem is the ever-present mommy guilt. That nagging voice that tells me anything I do for me, alone, is taking time away from my children and is selfish. I should spend every moment with them, spending time with them, being present for them.

Then I found a babysitter (yay!), and suddenly have six hours a week completely kid-free. It's October... Part A of Make Art That Sells is also held in October...

Hmm, mommy guilt versus the chance to figure out how to make my good art really great, maybe even figure out how to combine drawing and watercolor with digital, and rectify it with my retro-mod vector Illustrator style... What to do??

It was a big decision. It's a time commitment; how big, I didn't know. I do have the babysitter, but will I need/want more time? I do tend to be a nit-picky perfectionist. Can I afford it financially? Will I have enough motivation? Can the kids survive for five weeks eating cereal for dinner, watching TV 24/7, and driving themselves to school? (kidding!)

I've tried lots of stuff over the years, and nothing got me as kid-on-a-Christmas-morning excited quite like art licensing (fabric design, pattern making in general & illustrating digital dies, in my case). I know I never want to go back to the world of corporate design (that is, a "real" job), if I can help it.

I decided, the heck with the pro/con list making, what better time than the present? Jump in, see what happens, what's the worst case scenario? I create some new work that I otherwise wouldn't? I try some new mediums or some old, forgotten ones? The timing is just right, the kids will be fine, it'll all work out in the end. So if not now, then when???

Like having a baby, there's never a perfect time. Just jump in and take it one step at a time! So here we gooooo....!