In about a week and a half I'll be on my way to Iceland for two weeks of traveling, sketching, and taking lots and lots of reference photos. I'll be joined for part of the trip by Wylie Beckert and we're brewing up a little sketchbook/travel log collaboration for our return.
Why Iceland? I haven't left the country in four years and recently my wanderlust has been fed by Iceland showing up everywhere. First, it appeared in books I was gifted. Then, Cory Godbey posted about his experience. I stumbled across Rovina Cai's amazing Iceland sketches, and then people I came across kept mentioning the country in passing conversation - so I shrugged and assumed I would probably end up in Iceland within the year; It seems I never quite plan for travel - it just happens. Finally, I'd had enough convincing so I bought some tickets and asked Wylie to come along. I decided to go during the winter months because of the aurora (during the summer months the sun doesn't really set, so it's really impossible to view the aurora), the lighting during parts of the winter is apparently amazing (because the sun sticks close to the horizon most of the time), and everything is cheaper with less tourism.
I'm excited to take a bunch of reference photos, which I'll be sharing for free once I return (possibly on gumroad). The sketchbook/travel log is a new venture for me, but we're thinking of doing a free digital version and then kickstarting a physical copy with lots of extra content.
I could use some help to be sure this trip goes smoothly and is as productive as possible (especially since my car decided to self destruct last week and I spent a huge chunk of Iceland funds to fix it). I've already covered a rental car and a good amount of the lodging, but if I'm able to afford it, I'd like to go to a few places that require you to hire a guide for safety (like these ice caves - can you IMAGINE the reference photos I'd be able to share?).
I'm making for 3 commissioned paintings inspired by the trip to Iceland (they will be painted and shipped once I'm back in April). These open-ended commissions are always the most enjoyable for me to create and I've produced some of my best work this way. Past open commissions include "Tender" (which got into Spectrum 22) and "Turn of the Tides". If giving me some loose guides, receiving a beautiful painting, and helping me spread inspiration to other artists sounds interesting, let's talk more details! Email me at email@example.com.
If you'd like to help but can't commission, I've made an etsy coupon for my shop (ICELAND16 will get you 15% off) and I have original paintings for sale here (If there's anything you've seen, but don't see on the original painting listing, don't be afraid to ask if it's available). And of course, you can share this! I can't wait to spread all the inspiration around when I return.
To follow our iceland explorations, follow me on instagram (@samguayart)!
The first month of the year is already gone, so allow me to recount some things I accomplished:
I've also accomplished a bunch of stuff in preparation for cool things happening in the next two months. If you want to learn about my dark secrets, sign up for my mailing list and you'll be one of the first to know.
In other news, February means it's time for Month of Love! If you don't know what Month of Love is, it's an art event organized by the wonderful Kristina Carroll in which each week has a theme that artists use a springboard to make new art. Fresh work is posted daily, all month, and it's an inspirational even to participate in. I'm excited to have been invited back as an official artist for another round, my first post is tomorrow! However, you don't need to be chosen to participate- you're welcome to join in, and here's how.
If you haven't been convinced yet, here's a lovely article on Creative Bloq about Month of Love/Fear and its many benefits for participating artists.
Here are my personal favorites from the past two days for the theme "Heroes". "Lisbeth Salander" by Ashly Lovett and "The Lioness" by Elizabeth Alba.
I would get harassed sometimes. People would yell at me from their cars. "Get a job!" And I'd be, like, "This is my job." But it hurt, because it made me fear that I was somehow doing something un-joblike and unfair, shameful."
Amanda Palmer has been floating in and out of my life for a long time. The Dresden Dolls created some of the music that got me through high school. Senior year I skipped classes to sneak into the auditorium where I'd bang on the busted old piano and sing "The Perfect Fit" until I decided I could handle people again. A few summers ago I had a month of dreams where she'd be in town and I'd play music with her on crazy instruments that don't exist in the waking world. A few weeks ago I finally read "The Art of Asking" and somehow Amanda Palmer has gone from being a distant source of emotional support in my personal life to a source of emotional support for my creative career.
"The Art of Asking" gave me an honest and emotional insight into making a connection with your audience and the importance of trusting them and allowing them to support your creative work. In college there was a pervasive attitude of art being somehow impure or lesser if you were supporting yourself with the artwork. Personally, I think this is a ridiculous idea. Our culture is full of creativity and art, and expecting people to create without support until they run dry is sadly romanticized. Lucky for us- the internet exists- and it's opening up all sorts of new opportunities for artists to make a living on personal projects.
Patreon is a valuable platform for independent artists who are otherwise not being compensated for their creations- people don't always realize the amount of time, skill, emotional/mental energy and money that goes into creative work. On top of that we often feel our work is unimportant, unworthy of support, and has no value- and this is repeated to us again and again throughout our lives (why don't you get a real job? why are you wasting your time? why don't you do something useful? I'll help you pay for school but not not if you want to study art!). Patreon allows us to ask for help on our personal projects, and it makes it easy to give extra thanks to our most enthusiastic supporters.
I recently saw some criticism suggesting that crowdfunding was greedy, awful, and otherwise taking advantage of people by making them pay to view any kind of art production. This is not only a misunderstanding of how crowdfunding, and specifically Patreon, works- it's also a very harmful mindset to new artists trying to make a living. Regardless of what level your art is at, or how wide your audience is, there will always be enthusiastic people who want to show their support because they connect with what you're sharing. Patreon gives those people a medium to support the artist in a direct and meaningful way and in return the artist can give those supporters extra thanks for helping. It's not begging, it's not swindling people. It's an exchange. It's letting yourself be vulnerable.
I wanted to reach out and tell my fellow illustrators- those new to the craft, those lacking confidence, those afraid of failure or rejections- you're worthy enough to ask for support. Don't let anyone try and shame you for trying to make art, or for asking for the help to make it. Be supportive of others in your art community. If you love someone's art and don't know how to support them- share the art! I'm sharing this book for just that reason, I hope it can give you the insight you need.
And the media asked, "Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?" And the real answer is, I didn't make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I'd connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It's kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don't want to ask for things. But it's not easy. It's not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.
I spent some time last spring, paint brush in hand, logging hours of plein air studies on the coast of Maine. While passing through Portland I met up with one of my college professors to share a drink and talk art. During our discussions I brought up my painting studies and he lent me a book about a watercolorist I'd never heard of before: S. P. Rolt Triscott. There's isn’t much easily accessible information available about him, yet many well known American watercolorists (Winslow Homer, for example) studied under him.
Samuel Peter Rolt Triscott (1846-1925) was born in England where he studied both civil engineering and painting. Being the middle of five sons and unlikely to receive any inheritance, he sought his fortune elsewhere. He wound up in Worcester, MA at age 25 where he worked as a surveyor until he'd established himself as an artist in the Boston area.
"During the 1870s, Triscott's surveying duties took him throughout New England, and he surveyed a good part of Massachusetts for road maps. Triscott seized upon this opportunity to paint from nature in locations ranging from Pomfret, Connecticut, to the Saguenay River in Quebec. One of the earliest Triscott paintings discovered to date, Merrimac River Near Franklin Falls, is in the traditional English acedemic style. The amount of detail in this 13- x 18-inch painting of a New Hampshire scene is surprising. All the Triscott trademarks are there, including the finely detailed luminous sky with its oncoming storm, the silvery sheen of the water in the winding river, the use of light and shadows, the dark greens of foliage contrasting with the lighter green of the fields, and the minor role of figures in the foreground."
Flipping through the pages of Triscott's work I was impressed by the quality and clarity of his watercolor landscapes. Triscott had such control over the medium it's hard to believe, at a quick glance, that some of it is truly watercolor. In the words of artist Susan Hale, "I think he has... gained so much ease in handling his materials that he can turn his attention to special effects of light and atmosphere, and that having this skill he has the good fortune to be able to perceive rare moods of nature and express them on paper..."
Better still, Triscott was also a photographer and took many of his own reference photos while traveling around New England. Many illustrators today use reference photos to improve the accuracy of their work; it's easy miss out on many of the natural mechanics of the world when painting purely from imagination instead of with reference to observe.
I have more reading about his work to do, but from what I've seen and read so far, his use of thin, transparent washes is confident and precise. If you're interested in studying watercolor and learning a thing or two about the medium, there's plenty to learn from observing his work. The pieces I found cataloged online are a bit washed out, but if you want a better idea of his work I would highly recommend buying Rediscovering S.P. Rolt Triscott, or borrowing it from your local library.
I recently finished reading Mortal Love which I'd recommend to anyone looking for something strange and fae. I found myself inspired by a mixture of beautiful and disturbing imagery, so of course I had to paint something. I managed to go through this process in about one day (the sketches came the night before).
I knew whatever I ended up painting needed to be lush and green, so I settled down and mixed a handful of greens and earthy colors to reference later while painting. My first thought was to do a watercolor under-painting with acryla-gouache on top, but I wound up sticking with straight watercolor.
I had a few sketches of the character I wanted to paint, Larkin, so I scanned in my favorite of the bunch. I spent some time arranging a basic composition before printing it out and making a new drawing on vellum so that I could stick my sketch beneath. When that sketch was complete I scanned it in, printed it on watercolor paper at the small size I wanted, and prepared it for painting. Since it was such a small piece and I wasn't going to load the paper with much water for washes, I simply taped it down to my board.
I decided to do some quick watercolor studies to get an idea of how the colors would interact and to see if there would be any unexpected results I would want to avoid or use to my advantage. In the top left I loved the glow of the eyes, the bluish tones in the lower left, and the addition of pink in the others. I laid out my swatches and color studies for reference and began painting, slowly building up layers of green.
I used a few different greens I'd mixed along some pink and gold. My pigments include: Perinone Orange, Perylene Green, Hookers Green, Serpentine Genuine (which I accidentally thought was sap green because my pallet is a mess), Quinacridone Gold Deep, Rose of Ultramarine, Van Dyke Brown, and a tiny bit of Cobalt Blue. Once I'd build up the painting with watercolor I used some white acryla-gouache for highlights and added some spots of metallic gold and duochrome green, which you can only see if you see the painting in person.
I thoroughly enjoyed making this little painting... and there are plans in the works for more small paintings in February.
2015 was a year where I tried many new and potentially crazy things: running a kickstarter, driving a full 24hrs to Kansas City for Spectrum Live, participating in Month of Fear, and plenty more. All of that went well and allowed me to feel out what was working for me as well as what was making me happy.
Now 2016 has trampled in to kick 2015 squarely in the pants. I'm not going to dwell much on the past year for you, I want to think about moving forward and some of the tools I'm using to reach my personal goals.
I like to start off my year with a tiny pocket sketchbook that stays in my jacket pocket and is on my person everywhere I go. I use this for thumbnails and visual ideas that I scan in and stick in a giant computer file of ideas- just in case I'm ever stuck for a solution. I manage to capture a lot more of my fleeting ideas when I have a reliable place to collect them.
Attached to my sketckbook is a bulldog clip (for any stray paper, and to attach writing/drawing utensils). In the back pocket of the sketchbook is my list of yearly goals. If you're going to make a list of goals, don't shove it somewhere you'll never look at it, keep it somewhere handy or pin it up by your desk.
I have 5 main goals on my list, for this post I'll share just one: "Finding My Voice". That is a pretty intangible goal, but I made myself a list of ways I might get closer to it. If you're curious about how to make a list of tangible goals, there's a great post on Muddy Colors as well as some useful exercises in "The 4-Hour Workweek".
It's a useful practice to analyze the work of artists you love, as well as your own work. I've done this occasionally, and my notes are completely scattered in various sketchbooks and notebooks which is not entirely helpful to me. Inspired by an episode of One Fantastic Week featuring JAW Cooper (an artist I adore), I decided to be more conscious of my analysis of work and dedicate a notebook solely to that purpose. I have a list of questions I ask myself about the art- and try to end my notes with a few new questions, specific to the artist I'm examining, to think about.
Other goals to help me "Find My Voice" include reading on subjects within the art field- but outside of illustration. I feel that within a community most ideas tend to be passed around and recycled, so I'd like to pursue some of my other interests and see if I can bring some fresh ideas into my work from outside of the community I'm already involved with.
Finally- sketch and write daily. This goal is the most tangible for helping me "Find My Voice", there can't be any growth or discovery without the work.
Watercolor Tools: Daniel Smith Watercolor 238 Dot Chart Chart
Here are my results from the basic watercolor paints on the dot sheets that I purchased. There is almost an entire other page of duochrome and iridescent colors that are not included here- I chose to leave them out because, although they're fun, they're a bit too flashy and sparkly for everyday use.
If you’re into watercolors and want to try some out, $25 for a set of “try it yourself” color charts is so worth it. It’s hard to spend a lot of money of a tube of paint when you can’t test it out yourself and see it in person. Even if you live by a shop that has color swatches for each pigment, when you have the chance to lay the paint down yourself you can get a better idea of the color along with the other properties of the paint: it's transparency, granulation, color variation, etc. The color chart is brilliant from a marketing perspective too, because now I want to drop $500 on all of these beautiful new paints (so beware, and prepare your self control).
Many of the Daniel Smith paints have unique characteristics- there’s interesting separation (see: moonglow, cascade green, rose of ultramarine, etc), granulation (see the lunar series), and some that shimmer (several of the prima teks as well as the specials I don’t picture here). I was a big fan of the Quinacridones, they’re smooth, luminous, and very lightfast. The Perylenes were some of my favorites, dark but saturated. The Perylene green is delicious, and highlighted on my wishlist… lay it down heavily and you get an almost black, earthy green, but light applications reveal a dark green-blue that reminds me of thick pines on a cloudy day.
I’m expanding my collection of paints (since I’ve barely purchased any new tubes since college), and if you’re serious about doing the same, these dot sheets are wonderful. You can find the perfect pigments for yourself, and you’ll know what not to spend your money on (even though it might have looked tempting online).
Hope you find this helpful!
I’ve been looking for a pen that is my “dream pen”. I suppose everyone looks for different characteristics in their “dream pen”, so I bought a handful of pens to test out and review.
I’ve been using this for a while, and it’s my go-to pen for quick, loose, expressive sketching. It’s portable, provides a huge variation in lineweight, and has dark ink that’s water resistant. Sometimes the ink flows a too heavily for me and it’s harder to get the thinnest lines, but it’s a great starter if you love brush pens and easier to control than the Kuretake.
I found this pen obnoxiously difficult to control as far as lineweight goes, I had to press the flat edge pretty hard to get a thicker line. I can see how this might be useful for writing, and I do love writing with the sharp nib on this pen, but if you need the variation in lineweight for sketching this wouldn't even be close to my first choice. It may be good to fill in little details with, the line is pretty thin, but it is not water resistant at all. Overall- not my favorite for drawing.
This is great if you’re looking for a thick consistent lineweight with dark, water resistant ink. Variation in lineweight doesn’t come easy with this pen, you have to have a really light hand to get a thinner stroke. It fills space easily, smoothly, and again, the ink is nice and dark. Not what I'm looking for, but probably a useful tool for the right person.
This pen is surprisingly pleasant. I wasn’t expecting too much from it, but it’s nice and smooth, providing the thinner end of the lineweight spectrum, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally splotching your drawing with a shaky hand on the bigger brush pens. You can’t get as thin as the Kuretake, but it’s easy to control if you want a bit of line-variation without having to master the control of a brush pen. Also, this one isn’t the worst when it comes to being water resistant, but it certainly isn’t the best either.
Of the bunch this is my “dream pen”. Great variation, smooth, the longer grip makes it easier to control in my opinion- for others that might make it more difficult. The ink is warmer and has a bit of a shine to it in comparison to the Pocket Brush Pen, and it’s easier to get texture with because the ink doesn’t flow as quickly. I've heard that the No. 13 brush is even better, but it's been a bit elusive. I'm sure this is a great and more affordable substitute if you're on a budget or want to try out a Kuretake brush before spending $30+ on a more coveted model.
If you want to see some of these pens in action, or just want to get lost in a spiral of art supply videos, check out JetPen's youtube channel.
As a bonus round, here's my #2 Sakura Koi Water Brush which I use all the time for watercolors while traveling. All I have to do is pack my small dry palette, fill this pen with water, and go (if you're flying you can empty it and fill it once you're on the plane). I also have some other water brushes that I've filled with different ink washes which is great for quick value studies. Currently one of my favorite supplies, I'd recommend this to anyone who likes to paint on the go.
I recently finished a new painting, "Turn of the Tides", something I'd been churning over and over since the summer. I'm happy with my final painting, but it wasn't my first go at painting this piece.
It took quite a bit of work to finally reach a sketch I felt pleased with, but there was some nagging doubt in the back of my mind. It felt like it was lacking something and I assumed that it'd all work itself out in the painting process, so I went right ahead to the fun part. That was a mistake...
It wasn't long before everything fell apart. The palette, despite doing studies, ended up unappealing. My initial composition had a lot of empty space in the center of the image, and all the elements surrounding it seemed to sweep your eye right off the page. I tried to make up for this lack of focus by adding more lines... but the fabric began to look goopy, the sky looked overworked, and the more I threw myself into the painting, trying to convince myself that I could work through the ugly stage, the more I doubted that this was an ugly stage. Eventually I was forced to accept that this was a failure.
Around the time that I was working on this, I got my hands on two wonderful books: Spectrum 21 and Rebecca Guay's Evolution. These two books were a very effective kick in the pants, though it came along with the alternating emotions of a negative, "I will never be good enough" and the positive, "How can I be better?". I was talking to my gentleman (or more realistically, sobbing) about how absolutely stunning and beautiful all the paintings in Evolution were, and I couldn't wrap my mind around it until he told me, "Sam, you do realize these are only the beautiful paintings? No one is going to publish a book of all the failures it took before being able to make those beautiful paintings." I was shocked at this, partially because he's gotten really great at artist pep talks (seriously, put your hands together for this man), and partially because he was absolutely right. If I want to get better, I have to fail. And I'm going to fail a lot.
So I went back to work, all the way back to the sketch stage, determined to take the extra time to get it right and not simply assume that it'd all just work out. A pile of tracing paper later, I had a much better composition and some more thoroughly fleshed out value and color studies. The lesson to be learned here: You're going to make mistakes, you're going to fail. It's a fact. But instead of letting that run you down, learn from your failures, and work your way to making more beautiful art.
Or in the words of a silly picture I keep in my art folder, "You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried."
This year seems to have passed exceedingly fast, but when I take a moment to examine everything that's happened, time seems to stretch out before me and I can see all my struggles and growth with new clarity.
2014 was a year where my spontaneity was met with unexpected rewards: A "drop everything and go" trip to New York lead to new opportunities and meeting some awesome people. A whole string of chance meetings, luck, and risk taking landed me at the IMC... a goal that I thought would be impossible. I spent a month living in a barn loft gathering cicada skins, learning to ride horses, and having horrifying port-a-potty experiences (I renamed it the port-a-plague due to spiders, large insects, and frogs that had no concept of personal space). I spent another 3 months in a tent working at ren-faires, which gave me plenty of experiences for inspiration: helping to train camels, having elephants for neighbors, seeing so many interesting characters, and ultimately donning a suit of armor to duke it out with my friend who happens to be a six foot lady-jouster.
Due to traveling so much, I did a lot of sketching. Here are some sketches from the past year, and here's your reminder to be brave and take some risks this coming year, you never know when you'll be rewarded for it.