Drawing A-Z Week 1

I didn’t want to stress myself out too much as I begin my attempt to form better drawing habits, so I just did a quick sketch for the first drawing. Hopefully as I progress in this project I’ll feel up to spending more time on shading and accuracy.

 

A: Abacus

No, I don’t have an unhealthy obsession with abacuses, why do you ask? I got this abacus at a flea market in Japan. BTW, World Abacus day is coming up on August 8th. Mark your calendars!

abacus sketch

I’ll try to get more done next week. I hope to do at least one that’s more than a quick sketch.

Back on the Horse

Hey guys, just checking in for now. Sorry that I’ve gone silent. It’s been a rough few weeks.

I want to start a project where I draw A-Z objects that I find in my house, since my A-Z stories have helped me play around with my writing and I’m hoping to do something similar with art.

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll do it, since my art routine is even worse than my writing routine, but I hope to start in time to post something for you on Sunday.

Until then, have a good weekend!

Worldbuilding My Fantasy Series

First, sorry this is late. And that it isn’t Whimsical Whatnots. I’ll do that next week; I just want to give myself a chance to edit it at least a little.

 

I’ve been busy worldbuilding for my new series, and I find I like it more than I thought I would. Of course, I draw heavily from other sources, for reasons which will become clear.

 

an old English painting of yggdrasil
Yggdrasil, one conception of the world tree

The story takes place on another world that is located near ours on the world tree. The worlds are spirit linked, and ideas pass between worlds easily, and the closer the worlds are the more ideas seep through. Things pass more rarely, though it is known. In fact, humans inhabit nearly all the worlds, as they are very adaptable and curious, and our platypus originally came from the world my series is set in. Plants are more or less the same on all worlds, as they are all given life from the world tree.

Since ideas pass easily, we have many myths from these other worlds. Most are from the world my series is set in, since it is the closest to us, but others come from other nearby worlds and a handful have made their way from far-off worlds.

Since the worlds are spirit linked, that means that where the ideas (not just myths, but cultural stuff and many inventions too) end up in our world is the equivalent area of where they came from in that world. So chupacabras inhabit that world’s version of Latin America. Each of the books in the series will be based in a different mythology which, as the author, I’ll learn about as I travel to those places. I’ll pick up books of legends and myths and take pictures of plant life, buildings, etc. and pick up some things about the culture as I go for research. I intend to have people from those cultures read them to make sure I didn’t say anything incredibly stupid or offensive before I release them.

The first book will be set in Welsh mythology, however. I haven’t been there, but I wanted to start with something that will be at least somewhat familiar to Western fantasy readers. The main character will be Anabelle, who is from our world. She’s set to be a recurring character in future books, but only the protagonist in the first.

 

The worldbuilding process is made a little more difficult by the fact that I’m doing it on two levels. I’m trying to figure out what this world’s equivalent of Wales is like (not an easy task; Welsh myth as we know it has a LOT of Christian influence), but also to figure out what the world as a whole is like. Since the idea is to be as true as possible as many myths as possible, I have to consider that when I’m creating my magic system or deciding how death works, for example.

Of course, I know that I can’t be 100% true to everything. I’m aided by the fact that there are other worlds than ours where I can stick myths I don’t want to deal with or that conflict with the world as I’ve already presented it. I’ve already decided devils and demons aren’t from this world. I think they’re from a world of black and white morality where I’ll stick anything overwhelmingly viewed as good or evil. Black and white morality bores me, unless it’s exploring the concept in the form of a character who thinks that way.

Otherwise, I can always just hand-wave it as the myth being misunderstood or misremembered. But I’d understandably prefer to minimize that.

 

So that’s the major project I’ve been working on in between my short fiction. I don’t plan to publish it for a couple of years, when I start travelling. But I’ll try to occasionally post about it (as well as the other books I have planned once I start working on them). I’m still figuring out this blogging thing and what people are interested in. What sorts of things would you like me to post about my books? Character profiles? World mechanics? Plot points? Something else?

Echoes of Eden

I took a week off, but it’s finally here: the continuation of my a-to-z stories! I’ve decided that I’ll continue to write them the day I post them and only editing minimally. In fact, I changed the title of this one right before writing it, since I didn’t know what Elephant Earrings was about. With them I’m exploring myself as a writer and what I can do. Perhaps I’ll edit and compile them someday, but for now I want to get them written. Here is letter E.

 

Tim adjusted the rear view mirror for the fifteenth time, moved his pennies from the cup holders to the armrest compartment and back again, then sighed. Nothing left to do. He entered the house.

“Honey?” He called out to his wife.

“In the kitchen.”

Tim followed her voice and, having arrived, pecked her on the cheek. “What’s for dinner?”

“Spaghetti and meatballs, your favorite.”

“Not mine. They were—” He stopped himself and glanced at his wife.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to blow up on you.” She chuckled.

He laughed too, high-pitched and hollow. “How was your day?”

“You know, the usual. Cleaned up a bit, did some knitting.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I’m making a scarf. Dinner’s ready.” She shooed him towards the table

As they ate in silence, Tim examined his wife. Her face sported many well-earned lines, but she was just as beautiful as the day they met. He smiled, remembering the look of complete joy on her face when he proposed.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Just remembering something. I love you, you know.”

“I know. Me too.”

After dinner, Tim’s wife did the washing up and he went to their room and took his box of photos from under the bed. Looking at them made his heart ache, but they reminded him of what could be, of what had been, so he looked all the same. Lost in thought, he didn’t hear his wife sneak up behind him.

“Where’d you get those?”

Tim started and felt his muscles tense. “I didn’t think you’d be done for a while longer.”

“I told you to get rid of those.”

“They comfort me.”

“Well they mock me.” She took the picture from his hand and glanced at the grinning visage of a young boy. “Look at me, I’m so happy, life’s so perfect. Ha!” She threw the picture against the wall and, with a clunk and a tinkle, shattered glass covered the floor. “As if.”

“Maybe we should go to bed.”

“I’m going for a walk.”

The next morning when Tim woke he was alone. He fetched a bowl from the kitchen, noting his wife pretending to sleep on the couch, and carefully picked up the broken shards. He reached for the photo, hesitated a moment, and picked it up, clutching it to his chest.

A minute later, or an hour, his wife entered the room behind him. “This isn’t working, is it?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“I want to hold on to the happy memories, not make these new unpleasant ones.”

“I love you.”

Hot tears streamed down Tim’s face. “I know. Me too.”

Creating My First Comic

As many of you already know, I’ve been working on a comic in the past few weeks. I’ve been doing this for a Coursera course: How to Make a Comic Book. It’s from the people that run the making comics website, and I’d recommend it to anybody who is interested in trying out comic making. Even if you can only draw stick figures or snails, you should give it a go if you’re even a little bit interested. I know a lot of my readers are writers, not artists, but comics are as much about the writing as the art. The making comics website has a lot of good resources as well, although I found it lacking in some areas. I particularly like their podcasts. And I almost never have the patience for listening to or watching things more than 15 minutes long.

 

Today I’ll detail the process I went through to create my comic. If you don’t care and just want to see the final product, skip down to “Inking.” 😉

 

Story Idea

The hardest part was coming up with a story idea that could fit into four pages. My recently found love of flash fiction was a great asset here. However, looking at the final product, I’m not sure how successful I was. I think I ended up leaving out some important bits. I knew them as the writer and I tried to imply them, but I think I could have benefited from spelling things out a bit more.

When I was trying to come up with an idea I thought fairy tales are nice and short and soon started thinking about how some folk tales explain why something is how it is. Then I thought, there should be a folk tale to explain why sometimes you feel a prick in your shoe but can’t find anything causing it. And I started imagining that it’s caused by a tiny elf in your shoe and was soon filling in all the details. I did brainstorm some other ideas, but for once I liked my first idea best so I ran with it.

Scripting

I was scripting the comic in my head the first night after I had the idea and woke up with a pretty decent feel for how it would play out.

When scripting, especially since I had a limited length to work with, the first step was deciding what was absolutely essential to the story plus anything that wasn’t essential, but that I really wanted to keep if possible.

Then I thought about how those events might break up into pages to flow smoothly. I didn’t want to end the page in the middle of a scene if I could help it. Then I broke the events down into individual panels and tried to fit them into the page divisions. I tried to consolidate or expand rather than move events to a new page because I’d chosen those page divisions for a reason. At this point, I also started considering what size each panel would be because I knew that I wanted different sized panels.

Once that was pretty well figured out, I wrote it down. I described the panels with some detail and added dialogue and narration. I tried not to put too much dialogue or narration in any one panel because I knew it would take up a lot of room.

Since I had everything figured out in advance, I ended up with a pretty clean script. I’m sure a lot of people end up with messier scripts, especially if they work on longer comics.

My Script

Thumbnails

The next step was thumbnails. This was an important step because I changed my panel layouts a few times at this point. If I’d gone straight to penciling I would have had to erase a lot of hard work to make that change.

At this point, I was trying to solidify the flow of the comic. I used a few techniques, such as text placement, character placement, the directions of the paths, and properly staggered panels to try to guide the reader so that they didn’t have to do too much work to figure out where to look next. I’m not sure how successful I was, but I do know that this is more important than people realize. I’ve stopped reading comics in the past because I kept reading the wrong thing first.

I also made some notes about choices I was making and things to fix in the final drawings. I didn’t refer to them too much when I was penciling, but writing them down helped me work out my thoughts.

My Thumbnails They’re a little hard to read, sorry. The camera picked it up better than the scanner did, I promise.

Lettering

After much consideration, I decided to do my lettering a. freehand and b. in mixed case. The mixed case was an easy decision. Traditionally, comics are lettered in upper case for a lot of good reasons, but many of those reasons no longer apply and I decided that it wasn’t right for my comic.

Lettering freehand was a harder decision. These days, people usually do it digitally, and if they are lettering by hand they use a lettering guide (one reason for upper case was that it’s easier with a lettering guide). I definitely wanted to do it by hand, and I didn’t want to find a lettering guide, so I decided that I would give freehand a try. I have a  hand lettering workbook, but I haven’t gotten far into it, so I just went with my regular handwriting. I think the results were decent, but if I were doing something that wasn’t just for fun like this was I would at the very least measure out guidelines (and for that matter measure out the panels). This was all for fun, though, so I just tried to write neatly.

Lettering was probably the most frustrating step. I wanted to make sure my text was readable once scanned, but small enough that I had room for my art. On reflection, I probably could have gotten away with half the size, but it turned out okay in the end.

(I don’t have pictures of this, sorry.)

Penciling

I did the penciling at the same time as the lettering, and it was nearly as frustrating. I’m still slow at drawing and not very good, especially when working from the imagination. Even looking up reference photos, I found myself stretching my abilities to the limit. I tried to draw lightly, but sometimes it ended up dark, especially when I had to redo something a lot.

I did two panels a day, so I took longer than the week we were supposed to take. Hands drove me crazy the most often, closely followed by hair. I found that I was adding details that weren’t in the thumbnails to fill space, and occasionally taking out details so that the panels weren’t cluttered. After the first page I had a better idea how much I could fit into a panel without crowding it, especially when it came to text, and I changed the panel layouts of some of the other pages from the thumbnail versions.

(Again, no picture. Sorry.)

Inking

For the inking, I decided to use and old watercolor brush and some cheap ink I already had. For the finest lines (hair mostly) I used my fountain pen filled with the same ink and afterwards I erased the pencil marks with my art eraser.

all the things previously mentioned
My tools

Why a brush? Even though it’s harder to control than a marker or artist pen or something like that, I like the lines I make with it. Possibly if I did some shading I would choose something else, but I had chosen an outline style, so this worked pretty well.

I made a few mistakes at this step. The hardest part was small details with the brush. It did small details well, but only when I was careful about it.  If I were doing something more professional I would correct the mistakes with white paint or something. And use better paper and a brush that holds more ink and waterproof ink that doesn’t lighten when erased. But this was just for fun, so I didn’t do any of those things. Still, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

The final product

Optional: Coloring

I didn’t color my comic, but if I did I’d make it on watercolor paper with waterproof ink and color with watercolors. I don’t like doing things digitally if I can avoid it. With the regular printer paper I was using I could have colored with colored pencils, but I decided to leave it as is.

 

 

All in all, I’m very happy with how my comic turned out, and everybody in the course was very kind and supportive. I’m not sure that I’ll make many comics in the future. They’re pretty time consuming, and I have other projects. But I’m glad I tried it at least once.

What do you think? Have you ever created a comic? Would you?

Juggling Acts and Productivity

Some of  you may have noticed I’ve been better about posting the last few weeks. In fact, I’ve been better about a lot of things! I have my ups and downs, and I’m sure I’ll be unmotivated again. In fact, I was a bit today. But this time feels different. I’m consistently getting doing productive things every day. Most days I get a lot done, but even on days when I’m not feeling well, either mentally or physically, I get one or two things done. I’ve been writing more, drawing more, showing up on twitter, and blogging on time. I’ve even started studying languages and reading for fun again.

The downside to this newfound productivity is that it’s a huge juggling act. Every day things get pushed aside because something else is more important. That’s normal I suppose. It’s just frustrating because I have so many plans (mostly writing related) and I still have to add some other things into my routine (one at a time), such as other social media sites and networking for my other blog.

I remain optimistic, however. I’m slowly chipping away at my list of Things I Want To Do. For now, here’s a list of writing-related plans for this blog:

  • Resume Whimsical Whatnots on the first Thursday every month (this is set to happen next month!)
  • Resume my A-to-Z stories every other Tuesday starting July 5th
  • Start serious world-building and characterization efforts for my fantasy series and occasionally share them here
  • Sometimes write about poetry, which I’m currently trying out
  • Possibly a long term interview exchange project with other writers (it’s being set up; we’ll see.)

So it’s been a good month so far, and I feel optimistic going forward. I even taped a list of things to focus on (writing, twitter, art, etc.) to my wall and every day I go through it and start with whatever category has something time sensitive and then try to hit the categories I didn’t hit the day before.

Does your life often feel like a juggling act? What are your favorite tools for handling it?

When Vision and Ability Collide

I’m currently taking a course centered around making a comic (more on that next week), and one of the outside sources linked that most spoke to me was this comic on taste vs ability.

You see, I’m in this phase in most of my hobbies, but especially when it comes to visual arts, and as I’ve been working on the penciling for my comic this past week that’s become more and more apparent.

Not only am I having trouble bringing my vision to life, despite using reference photos, but it’s taking way too long!

two elves sword fighting as a third looks on in excitement
The most difficult panel to draw

So what do you do when your vision and your ability are in conflict like this? Too many people quit. Too often, I have been one of those people. I’m still figuring out how to fend off that discouragement, but, for now, knowing that this is universal and that I’m getting better helps a lot. In the meantime, I’ll keep practicing.

I also recently came across a book, currently free if you sign up for the author’s newsletter here, on my twitter feed geared towards writing faster. I’ve just started using it and it looks pretty good, although I’d be happy just to average 1,000 words an hour, since I write painfully slowly at the moment.

In the same vein, one of the first exercises in my comic course was a 5 minute sketch, during which I produced the koala sketch that I shared here. I think that my art could also benefit from deliberate attempts to speed it up, although I want to work on my skill a bit more first.

The upside is that I’ve been practicing my art more than ever before lately in what I hope is a sustainable way that doesn’t overwhelm me too much. What have you done in the past when your ability wasn’t enough to bring your vision to life? Are you still in that stage, struggling along with me?

I Was a Late Reader: Lessons Learned from Childhood

We often dismiss children as immature and unimportant. We even dismiss our own childhoods as simpler times when we had fewer responsibilities. But childhood is a time of major growth and there are a lot of lessons to be found in it.

 

Lesson 1: It’s not too late

A child reading by the window
A familiar scene

When I was in first grade learning to read with all the other first graders I was lagging behind pretty badly. Granted, I had a summer birthday and was therefore one of the youngest in the class, but considering many kids learn to read at age five or even earlier it was pretty late. In fact, I learned many things later than most. However, by second grade I was a voracious reader, devouring books and always hungry for more, a trait that lasted until adult responsibilities slowed me down a bit. And I learned all those other things too.

Today I still come to things late. I didn’t really have any idea what I liked or wanted to do until high school and I didn’t truly flourish until I was an adult. Sometimes this discourages me, since people my age who started earlier are already excellent at what they do, but I have to remember my childhood and know that I will get there and it’s okay to be a late bloomer.

Lesson 2: Practice is key

kids practicing baseball
Baseball Practice

It is said that children learn languages faster and more easily than adults, but that’s not entirely accurate. They take years of frequent practice to master their native language, and it’s hard work that frustrates them sometimes. Older children moving to a new country may pick it up faster since they can transfer some things over from their native language, but again that’s with lots of practice. When schools give them separate classes in their native language they take longer to learn and sometimes never fully reach a native speaker’s level.

Nobody can instantly learn new skills. Natural talent exists and can be a big help, but it can only get one so far and somebody with average talent who practices will often surpass the highly talented but lazy person. This is something I have to remind myself of often, especially when it comes to drawing, which I’m not at all naturally good at.

Lesson 3: Embrace your curiosity

a toddler reaching towards a bubble
This kid knows what’s important

“Why, why, why why, why?” It is many a child’s favorite question. Certainly it was mine. Children want to know everything about the world around them and they won’t be deterred in their single minded quest to find answers.

When we grow up we often become concerned with day to day survival and forget to look at all the wonder that’s around us. Curiosity and inquiry can open new worlds. I never would have found my love of writing or art if I’d stuck with the familiar, if I hadn’t though “I wonder if there’s something to this thing,” and my life would be a lot duller if I didn’t intentionally seek out information on whatever comes to mind on a regular basis.

Lesson 4: Relax your inhibitions

a blanket fort made of many sheets
Teenaged me didn’t care either

Children don’t care that they look stupid with their toilet paper roll unicorn horn or that their blanket fort is structurally unstable (okay maybe they should care about that). They’re too busy having a good time.

Inhibitions are good for some things, like safety, but too often they stop us from doing what we want. We worry what people will think or, worse, we judge ourselves for liking something so “stupid.” Take time to have fun and do what you love!

Lesson 5: Surround yourself with love

two girls walking together
Treasure your friends

Growing up I was unpopular and lightly bullied. I learned early the value of a true friend, as I suspect many do. To this day, my close friends are precious to me.

Critique is a good thing.  We (especially artists) can even get frustrated when those close to us only give us praise but we want something more substantial. But it’s also incredibly important to have an inner circle that’s supportive for when we get too caught up in the negativity. People to lean on when everything else is too much.

 

What lessons have you taken from your own childhood or from children in general?

Early Attempts at Art

I’m sure that, like most people, I must have enjoyed art at some point during my childhood. However I only ever remember hating it.

a very mishapen, multi-colored cat
A cat

After elementary school I stopped taking it. Almost everybody in my middle school took art, shop, music, and PE every year- two a semester on alternating days. However, there were some classes, such as band, that would take up two of those slots so that you only took PE and one of the others. Guess what I took? If I had taken art in middle school I might have decided I liked it, since the teacher was the same one whose class made me realize I like it as an adult. Then again, maybe not and I don’t regret taking band and I loved shop.

In high school I would sometimes doodle when I got bored (snails and ducks were my favorites) and a project I did for cooking class suggested I enjoyed design. However, I remained convinced that I hated art and wasn’t and never would be good at it.

However, everything changed a couple of years after high school when I took an art class on a whim. It was a sampler class of different media and I have no idea what possessed me to take it, but I’m glad I did! Here are the few pieces I have left from that class:

After that I took a painting course, choosing to use oil paints over acrylics. Some of what I did there is better than what I do today since I’m a little out of practice and not always at my best (plus watercolors frustrate me more even though I prefer them).

I never finished that class or any future art classes I tried to take because my depression got the better of me, as did my frustration with others in the classes being more skilled. However, I retained my newfound love of art and these days I’m doing online lessons and trying to practice more regularly. Plus, I try not to compare myself to other artists anymore. I remind myself that many of them have been practicing much longer than I have and even if they haven’t that I’ll get there eventually.

 

Do you occasionally like to look at your early art (non-visual included) attempts?

Recent Sketches (Part 1?)

I’ve been behind this week, but I want to really try to get out an art and a writing post each week, so here’s a quick update on what I’m doing with my art!

 

I’ve been trying to draw more. Out of all my hobbies, visual art is probably the one that frustrates me most easily, so I don’t always do it as often as I should. Lately I’ve been trying to do outline sketches. That way I don’t spend too much time obsessing over details, while at the same time I have to try to determine which lines are important to distill an object down to its essence. Since those sorts of things are a weak point for me, it’s a great exercise!

I’ve also been going over my drawings with a brush and ink because I’m trying out comic making and, after trying out a few different things, I’ve determined that that’s how I’d like to ink them. At least for now. So I’m practicing that. Here are a few of my sketches from last week:elf standing in the doorway of a mushroom home, grass on the side

This was a first try at imagining the world of the comic I’m working on. I actually timed myself for this one and didn’t have time to worry about things like what hands are supposed to look like. I’ve always had trouble drawing proportional hands, especially on a small scale.

sleeping cat curled up

Sleeping cat. This was very challenging, but fun and I’m going to have to try drawing her in all sorts of positions in the future!

stuffed koala, sitting

My stuffed koala. I always enjoy sketching him because he’s challenging, but not so much that I get frustrated. The hardest part is when I try to color him. I haven’t gotten that down yet.

crocodile skull outline

Crocodile? skull. Or something. I’m not sure; I got it at a garage sale. I’ve never tried this one before and it was easier than I expected except for the eyes. The one on the right in the picture above in particular was difficult because it was facing away from me and only a bit of the actual eye was visible. I also didn’t draw in the teeth and just winged it with the ink and messed that up. Oops!

 

All in all, definitely an exercise I’ll be continuing in the future. It’s especially good for when I don’t want to do something more involved because I’m tired or busy or just being whiny. I can always spare 5 minutes for something like this.

 

Which is your favorite? Do you enjoy quick sketching or doodling?