MJ, how did you know that you were like, okay, I'm ready to move on to color. What was that in your mind?
So, for me what happened was, in this little sketch, I suddenly felt like I'd resolved the story in a way that you know what's happening here. You can tell this is a character, and it's interacting with something else, and you can kind of intuit what the storyline is. So it felt more conclusive to me. I also just like the silhouette shape, I like the expression. This one feels like what I want to draw and finish and, you know, to analyze why, I'm not really sure. It feels like the best one to me, and the one that speaks to the story the most. So I'm like, okay, I like the drawing, the storytelling is working, I love the silhouette shape, I wanna know what colors these characters are and how I would resolve this as an illustration. The other thing, too, is I could leave it open to the page or I could frame it and block it out like where's the picture ending. Either way, it's total...
ly fine, there's no right or wrong way to do that. Sometimes it helps me to see where the image will end, and I might sketch that out, I'm not sure, I haven't decided. Again, those are the kinds of things that you do have to trust your intuition, there's no right or wrong answer for that, but I think, for me, I just liked this drawing, and I was ready to color it. The hardest part is when you have a drawing that you, in a book especially, it's not your favorite drawing, you've resolved it the best you can, and you're not that excited about painting it. And it happens sometimes, really like, aw, this scene. Usually it's one where there's so much to draw and paint that you're like, it's overwhelming, it's not 'cause you don't wanna draw, it's just hard to enter, and my go-to thing to do, when that happens, is give a secondary source of inspiration. It can be music, it can be listening to a book on tape, it can be something like, listening to Big Magic, I listened to that while I was drawing. And it helps your brain get occupied in something else in the side of the brain, the monkey-chattering that's talking all the time, telling you, giving your information. It kind of keeps that part of the brain occupied while you're trusting your intuition and just moving through the painting or the picture. So now, I'm so glad they're all thinking about colors, so I'm gonna think about color as well. And it's a fox, I think it will be a reddish tone. And because it's a winter scene, I think I'll put some snow in there, actually. The snow is still falling. One trick about rain or snow, if the rain or snow shapes are super symmetrical, like the same exact size or distance, one little flake or thing from the other, it doesn't look believable, it doesn't look real, so I try to vary the sizes. I'm gonna very the sizes, the snowflakes. Maybe there are more up top than there are on the bottom. Okay, more dots, there. Okay, so maybe a little more erasing. You have to, when you're drawing with pencil, if the pencil's super soft, it can be a challenge to color over it because you pick up that sort of gray tone. It's another reason why I sort of like, if I'm thinking through sketches, I might have a softer lead, but when I'm ready to really do my final sketch, I tend to work with a harder pencil, where it won't move and mix with the color because gray, gray pencil will neutralize or make the colors less vibrant. So I always think about that, too. And if it's a real problem, you can use what's called a spray fixative, which holds the pencil line or the charcoal down on the surface of the paper, it holds it there so it won't move when you paint or draw on top of it. I want that more fluffy, I gotta get that tail right, I want it to be super fluffy. So I'm gonna erase it. I think that sometimes people draw on the tablet, but most people that I know draw with traditional materials and then scan and put it on their tablet, a Wacom tablet or a Cintiq. I have a few colleagues who go right to the Cintiq or the tablet and draw, but it's only because they've drawn traditionally for so long, they bring that fluidity to the sketching on the tablet. I think that's a really important thing to me, if you're beginning, just take a pencil and a piece of paper, and don't worry about the expensiveness of the tools or using a tablet or getting too worried about the tools that you're using. But just use traditional materials to start. What I see with my students is the ones who don't draw enough with traditional materials, and they just rely on the computer, their sense of feel for the pressure of, if I'm drawing, and I'm pressing, it's darker, if I'm pressing lightly, then the pencil mark is lighter, they lose that rhythm with the material, and the line gets really flat in their drawing. I think one of the worst things you can do when you're drawing is for everything to be the same weight all the way around. If you have a line weight that's dark, and then it gets lighter and it darkens, it moves in a way that makes us believe that the form is living in a space, and it's just more interesting. It's the reason why a coloring book feels really flat 'cause the line weight's even all the way around, whereas a drawing that also has line has that fluidity of line weight, and it's a little thing, but it's actually really, really important, and I'm trying to remember that, too, as a draw.
I think it's interesting. You mention the digitizing part because Lika Land had asked about you and if you're moving towards digitizing your art, have you found the process, are there aspects where you feel like it doubles your work or just kind of insights on doing this with both hand drawing and digitizing.
So, if you work digitally, and again, whether you work in whole piece that way or just the final result that you work in Photoshop or what have you, I personally have to touch the materials. If I can't do it traditionally, it makes me wanna paint less. So I've been really resistant about shifting to digital. But I also realize that part of it is I'm stubborn, and it's a new material, so I need to learn to play with it. So, I bought myself an iPad Pro and said, I'm going to use this, and I'm going to play with digital materials, and it's sat there for like three months and said, this is a very expensive item, you've bought me, and now you need to use me, this is ridiculous. So what I did was, every time I go on a plane, I bring it with me, and I literally draw almost the whole time I'm on a plane, and it's super fun. Also, what I do is I translate the way I do things here to that surface. I draw with layers, I try to use line weight as I draw with the iPencil, I think it's called, and that helps me feel comfort in moving into this new material. It stretches my mind, and it shows me how my students are working in terms of layers, etc. So, I'm not moving towards digital. I love painting too much with, I like painting with my hands, I'm a messy person, I like that, but I think that you should learn these different skills to feed the core artist of you. Even if it's not the thing that you do in the end or the main thing you do, I think it's important to experiment, experiment with new materials, try what frightens you. So, yeah, I'm not moving towards digital but definitely playing ever more with it, and it informs me about some of the things I do traditionally as well, so they kind of go back and forth with each other.
As an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department at RISD…Mary Jane feels INCREDIBLY lucky; she gets to do all the things that she loves to do
I loved this class. The exercises are fun and inspiring. I was actually doing research to help me develop my own class when I bought this course and I'm thrilled I did. Bonus for me: I am going to work on developing a character and story I've left on the shelf for about four years thanks to this experience. I highly recommend to anyone of all skill levels.
I didn’t pay enough attention to the description so was surprised by the focus of the class — but in a definitely good way. As a member of SCBWI, I’ve learned a lot about illustrating characters by going to conferences and participating in our active local group. Most of the instruction I’ve received, as I suspect is also the case with most formal instruction, has been from the point of view of being given a character from a story to illustrate. This class covers creating a story based on the characters you draw, placing the drawing first and finding the story as you work. Of course there is overlap in the two approaches — overlap that emphasizes important steps.
The creativity process is demonstrated clearly and in depth here in a gently encouraging way. However, while I, like the instructor, believe that everyone can be creative, I also question whether this approach would work for all illustrators: not all have time to write the stories that go with the characters they create, as ours is usually a business driven by clients who already have a story and characters. I’m not saying that this would not be a valuable class for them, just mentioning the different take on the subject. I had expected more of the usual angle of how to create a page of character sketches for your portfolio or how to develop the illustration of a character from a manuscript. Though help with these topics is partially covered in the progress of the class, they are not the main focus.
All-in-all, the different approach is to the credit of the class — encouraging and expanding a student’s horizons. Also, plenty of little gems are thrown in during the lecture and demos, from techniques to the psychology of creativity. The instructor is competent, clear, and pleasant. She conveyed a lot of information that I didn’t realize until I was thinking about it later.
One note: the titles for the breakdown of the demo are not exactly accurate, The demo is of the instructor creating one character as she draws. I understand that the producers wanted to segment it, but really it’s one continuous process, and some of the titles for those lessons are misleading.
Michelle F. Alexander
Wow... Thank you so much, MJ! What an absolute superstar! I really appreciate your artistic transparency in all of your examples of work + your thought process. It has made a HUGE difference to my creative mindset. And for that, I am very grateful. I can't wait to see what I can now create with all of these new skills that you given me. Good things! Michelle -x-