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.

Field Trip to the Alpaca Farm

Field Trip to the Alpaca Farm

This was the most involved book I have done so far and it had the most repeat characters. I definitely got attached to the characters while I was drawing them and they took on a personality of their own. Funny how that happens. I look forward to sharing my creation with you.

Field Trips in elementary school, as any teacher or volunteer knows, can be a little like herding cats. Join Miss Sutter’s class as they tour the local alpaca farm. Adults, children, and teachers will all recognize Wyatt and his antics. You will find yourself smiling at Wyatt’s imagination throughout the book … and you may just learn a thing or two about alpacas as you go.

The book was released the first week of October and I have done many local book signings in addition to the Holiday craft shows. Field Trip to the Alpaca Farm / Hardcover 32-page (9″ x 11″)

Available locally:
Norway: Rainbows End Alpaca and The Drug Store
Iron Mountain: GreenWay Books, The Savage Mane, TDS Pharmacy/The Drug Store

Also Available online: Here and on Amazon. Kids and adults are giving it great reviews.

So what exactly is Plein Air Painting?

I joined a group of Plein Air painters last spring. I am pretty happy with my latest attempt.

Gendron Farm
Gendron Farm

What exactly is Plein Air?

Well according to Wikipedia: En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air” and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, which is also called peinture sur le motif (“painting of the object(s) or what the eye actually sees”) in French.

To me that definition is correct but a bit bland. My definition from my experience would also have to include this list: Camaraderie with friends, challenging your mosquito or gnat threshold, battling mother nature, sun, rain, wind, too hot, too cold, constant changing of light and shadows, having aha moments, juggling all your gear, and the pure joy of painting in nature.

This year I am making some progress. I am getting a little faster. I am understanding the medium of working with oils a little more. I was more familiar with Acrylics, and oils had a learning curve for sure. I find it interesting how you can have a plan of how to paint a scene, but once you get started sometimes it turns out totally different. Sometimes a happy accident and it works. Sometimes – not so much.

Every painting is a chance to learn something new and to build on your skills. There are Plein Air groups all over the country. Grab your paints and tag along – you will be hooked before you know it.

Would love to hear your comments …

Acrylic Painting … or Illustration

I take a lot of reference photos and once in awhile I will get a shot that just needs to be put on canvas. The Barn was a photo I snapped a couple summers ago.

Waucedah Barn
Faithorn Barn

When painting my whimsical characters like silly birds I tend to be methodical, finishing one area before going on to the next.  When painting landscapes I am trying to get an overall feel for the color and then come back in with detail.

I am also trying to loosen up my painting style and be a little more “painterly” as opposed to illustrating with paint.  I envy artists that have a loose style and can paint quickly with lots of expressive strokes.  So far I have been able to speed up the amount of time it takes to finish a painting.

The Barn – Step 1
The Barn – Step 2
The Barn – Step 3

I am happy with the way this painting turned out but it definitely has an illustrative style and not the painterly style I had first envisioned. More practice – more experimenting – more painting fun.

This design is available on Cards, Prints, and Canvas.