Pet Portraits in progress

Pet portraits are something that I have had bouncing around in my head for a while now. One of the little side projects that pop up to keep life interesting. I could have used images of my cats but thought it would be a greater challenge soliciting images from others. I had a couple of goals in mind. To take a photoshop brush set for a test drive and see which brushes would be useful and which ones to discard. Also, to find a way of eliminating pencil lines from my drawings. This would be a step in learning to create in a different way.

Reference photo of Figaro

When I started on the black and white cat I didn’t want to just posterize Figaro. Although that would have been a nice effect. I still wanted to have the fur highlights. There are no shadows on a black cat. The separation between black and white is very pronounced so I was able to erase the pencil lines quite easily on this cat. This image had a nice balance and I was happy with the color combination.

Figaro black and white cat

Reference Photo of Izzy

I struggled on this one. You would be surprised how very little “white” there is on a white dog. Izzy took me three tries to get it right. My first attempt still had too many pencil lines. Although I came pretty close on the first drawing, I felt there was still something off. At this point, I wasn’t sure what it was. The eyes, the fur direction? I was still working it as a drawing and Izzy needed more painterly fluff. I tried adding more shading and larger areas of fur for fluff but this second version was still falling short.

So, I started over. No pencil this time. I blocked in the main colors and started shading and contrast. It took a while to figure out how to use the brushes but persistence paid off. I did a lot of experimenting which resulted in some aha moments. The brushes started making sense. I am very satisfied with the final outcome on this one.

Fluffy white dog

Reference photo of Phyllis

The third drawing was of the dog in the snow. Phyllis was a challenge also. There was a point about halfway through that the drawing was becoming a bit of a train wreck. That is when I had to go back and study the reference photo and figure out what I was doing wrong. I erased a section of snow on her nose and started over. Draw what you see and not what you think you know. I may have been trying to wing it a bit. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.

I am still getting used to the new brushes. Hopefully, at some point, I will pick up speed.

Dog with snow
Phyllis enjoying the snow

So now I have three pet portraits under my belt. I have already learned a lot that I can apply to future digital drawings. It will be interesting to see how the pet portraits evolve over time. Three more portraits coming up. Feel free to leave a comment.

Photoshop – My Step by Step Process

I enjoy drawing in Photoshop as it gives me the freedom to experiment. The composition can be changed fairly easily in the beginning and adjustments can be made. I can try out different color schemes for the best effect. Photoshop is a great tool but it doesn’t do the work for you as some people think. There is a steep learning curve. However, it is worth putting in the work. Even though I have been drawing digitally for some time I feel I am still just scratching the surface. I would describe my digital images as having an illustrative style.

This was a recent drawing based on the first stanza of the poem “Symphony in Reverie” by Gail Galotta

A shaft of winter light
Disturbs my reverie,
The house becomes a stage
For haunting symphony.

My Drawing Process

I start with a rough sketch and the general idea. I then refine the sketch and make adjustments.

A shaft of light - Sketch
Initial sketch
Refined sketch
Refined sketch

The basic colors are mapped out and the overall shading is added.

Color fill
Color fill
General shading
General shading
My Finished Drawing

I finished by adding highlights and lighting effects. I would normally add more detail but had time constraints with this project. All in all, I would say it was a successful drawing experiment. It is my first attempt at this type of lighting. I find lighting can be a challenge. Although a fun challenge.

Lighting effect
Lighting effect

I am satisfied with this illustration, although there is much more that could be done with it. The shading could be pushed further and more textures added. I used to obsess over what wasn’t polished. There was always something that could be improved or changed. I will let that go this time as the overall effect works. I have found that I learn more when I take chances and don’t try to make a drawing perfect. Another bonus is my speed has improved – I am very happy about that. I have learned to get out of my own way when it comes to art. Stop overthinking it. Just enjoy the process.

No matter where you are on the curve. You will find there is more to learn. Above all, have fun.

How I Wrote 2 Children’s Books by Accident.

“Hamsters After Dark” and “Field Trip to the Alpaca Farm” are two children’s books where I was the author and illustrator. In both cases, I had not originally intended to write a book.

Book 1 – Hamsters After Dark

The hamster drawings were inspired by true events. We did indeed have 6 baby hamsters that kept escaping their cage. The summer of hamsters was also a summer of insomnia and I did a lot of random sketching in the middle of the night. Those sketches later turned into a college project. Drawings done for the college project were rough but a good roadmap to what would eventually become the hamster book. Quite a few years passed before I pulled out that college project again. Images were revised and refined, then recreated with pen and ink, acrylic wash, and colored pencil.

From the first hamster sketches back in the summer of insomnia to the date it was finally published took nearly 10 years. This is one of the first images I had come up with and the silly rhyme that went with it.

Rufus is my name and I like to take a dare.
I tip-toed to the neighbor’s once and gave them quite a scare.

Hamsters After Dark - Idamae
Mixed Media – Hamsters After Dark book project

Book 2 – Field Trip to the Alpaca Farm

This book is based on Rainbow’s End Alpaca’s in Norway where I knit on occasion. The alpaca’s have a sweet expression, almost a smile. I was thinking they would be fun to draw. It was coming up on shearing time and this image came to mind. I really don’t know where the whimsy images come from but they are entertaining.

Alpaca Book page - Barber
Digital Drawing – Alpaca Book project

When I wrote both of the books I didn’t start at the beginning and write through to the end. They started out as random funny visuals with a rhyme or sentence or two describing each one. For me, the image usually comes first and then the words. The idea of writing a story would come much later. Once I had enough images, I laid out the sketches and determined the order. Sometimes there were additional pages drawn or changed to improve the flow of the story. The two books are different in the fact that Hamsters After Dark is in rhyme and the alpaca book is more story form. Both were fun and I learned a lot each time.

Book 3 – Silly Birds

I have another book in the works. It does not have a title yet but it’s a rhyming book that will feature these bird characters. This will be the first book I will be creating “on purpose”.

Silly Bird series - on the fence
Acrylic Painting – Silly Bird series

I began mapping out the pages on what I had originally envisioned as the story. Then I hit a speed bump when I realized that if I added the winter section I would need to rearrange the order and possibly swap out a couple of pages. It works two different ways but changes the rhythm. I am not sure which version I like better. Always best to set it aside for a bit and come back later and take a fresh look.

I always learn things from previous projects that I can apply to the next book. Even though it may get a little easier in some aspects, each book has its own unique set of issues to work through. I’ll be working on this book in my spare time. I have a new series of paintings I am working on and I am trying to keep a better balance this year. Will keep you posted on my progress.

Art Shows – Where do I go from here?

I live in an area where it sometimes seems that the only people that care about art are other artists. Art is the first thing cut in schools. Art is something you can do after you get home from your “real” job. To be an artist here feels like an uphill battle since there aren’t a lot of opportunities locally to show and sell art. There are events that pop up through the year but they are geared more towards crafts. I’ve done some of those shows. Selling mostly books and cards while wedged in between the guy who sells local honey and a doTERRA Vendor.

I have worked on a variety of paintings over the past few years. My work has both improved and become more consistent. I’m encouraged by my progress and very happy with the fact that I won Best of Show at two different art fairs. My plan had been to build up enough inventory to travel outside my area and start doing larger shows. Unfortunately, that plan isn’t going to pan out. My work is good enough to get into them but even doing local shows takes too much of a toll on my body.

Show Day

Getting up at 4 a.m. to travel to a show, spending hours putting up the tent and staging the booth, a long day in the sun, or wind, or rain, it’s not for the faint of heart. Art For All is a local show held late June each year. It is on a Saturday. Another show, also called Art For All, is held the next day a little over an hour from us. Many artists do both shows and we had entertained the thought of doing both at some point. In my dreams, it would be possible … and then there is that thing called “Reality”. It takes me nearly a week to recover from doing an art show. Shows would not even be possible without George, my partner in crime.

George with tent frame top
George – setting up the tent

It is kind of a joke each year when we say maybe next year we will add that second show of Art For All on Sunday. Then Sunday morning comes around and we just laugh because we both feel like we were hit by a truck. We aren’t going to be able to leisurely drive over and walk through the show let alone be in it. Recovery time takes longer when you are older. Plus, I battle some autoimmune issues that don’t play well with activities that push my limits. Powering through is not an option … as that can quickly turn into falling apart.

Paying the Price

So why do I do shows at all when I pay such a high price? Sales are great but it isn’t just about sales. It is because I get to meet such cool people! I think of the young girl that loved my whimsey art. She likes to draw cartoons and wants to be an illustrator when she grows up. Also, the 10-year-old boy that stood in my booth studying my landscape paintings and asking me about different parts of the paintings. How do you make it look like that? I enjoy talking to young artists, they are very special people. Winning awards is also pretty cool.

Brady Nelson and Kathy Kuczek
Brady Nelson and Kathy Kuczek – Best of Drawing and Painting Award

The question for 2019 is “Where do I go from here?” If adding shows is not an option for me then I need to try something new. Promoting my work online will be a whole new ballgame with new opportunities and new skills to learn. Every day’s a school day and apparently you “Can” teach an old dog new tricks. I am looking forward to this new challenge.