Start Drawing Amazing Eyes!

Eyes have always been my absolute favorite thing to draw, and I tend to accentuate them in all of my artwork. They can also be one of the most difficult things to draw, and it takes a lot of practice to get them right. There are a lot of picky little details to pay attention to. When we begin drawing an eye how we “think” we should, without really observing an actual eye’s appearance as if we have never seen one before, we tend to end up with a drawing like below. Generic football shape, outlined individual eyelashes, harshly contrasting pupil and highlights, and those pesky little lines jutting out all around the center like a kid’s drawing of the sun. In reality, an eye’s darks and lights are much more subtle and blended, each person’s eye is a completely different shape, and unless we are drawing a huge zoomed-in eye filling an entire 18×24″ piece of paper, you wouldn’t actually see individual eyelashes. I’d like to share my tricks of the trade with you. Grab a piece of paper and follow along. It will be fun, I promise! Don’t worry about doing everything “perfect”, just enjoy sketching. Every artist does things slightly different, and the more you practice you may discover some of your own “tricks” that work for you.

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  1. Lightly outline the contour of the eye. Don’t just draw an oval with half circles above and below it. Pay attention to the exact curvature of the unique eye you are trying to draw (photo references are always good.) Is it wider on one side than the other? Does the eyelid dip down drastically or does it curve more gradually? Are the curves of the eye and eyelid soft and smooth, or more angular? Is the eyelid rounded or more flat on top? Is the fold under the eye parallel to the bottom eyelid, or does it droop diagonally? Sketch lightly, as you don’t want to see harsh outlines through your shading.
  2. Shade the outside perimeter of the eyeball. The darkest shading is always at the two corners of the eye, and gradually fades as you get closer to the iris. There will also be a deeper shadow underneath the eyelid since the lid overlaps our eyeball, blocking the light from reflecting as much up top.
  3. Shade around the iris, again with slightly deeper shading closer to the top eyelid. Even if you don’t explicitly see shadows near the iris in your photo reference, the white of our eyes are never really pure white, and you will get a much more realistic look if there is a gradual transition between the iris and the white of the eye, rather than going from fully colored in iris to stark, clean paper in the white of the eye. This step helps the iris look “settled” into the eyeball rather than looking as if it is “hovering” on top if it.
  4. Add your darkest shading on the top of the iris. This should be a shade darker than your darkest value that you used previously underneath the eyelid when you shaded the white of the eye. Think of a crescent moon facing downward, with the thickest shading up top, getting thinner and then altogether disappearing as it trails down around the edges of your circle shape.
  5. Add in your pupil and reflections. The reason we do this next is because we want to have the reflection areas mapped out before you get to shading the rest of your iris. You can go in with an eraser and add highlights by removing shading afterward, but this can be messy and end up smudging work you don’t wish to be smudged. I find it easier to just leave the highlights white to begin with. The location varies by light source if you are using a photo reference. Without a specific reference, it is safe to add two highlights, one on top and one on bottom at a diagonal to each other. Fill the pupil in dark black. This will be your darkest value.
  6. Shade around the pupil using the same value you used to shade your crescent moon around the top of the iris, one step lighter than black. Again, this anchors the pupil inside the iris so it doesn’t seem as if it is floating on top. This gradual gradation from dark to light makes the separate parts appear as a whole.
  7. Fill the remainder of the iris with a medium value. Again, we want all our value transitions to be gradual, so get a little lighter when you begin shading around the edges of your highlight areas.
  8. While we don’t want radial stripes circling the inside or our iris, we don’t want to smooth all the visual texture out of it either, as the striations of dark and light we see are part of the deep beauty of eyes. Literally “scribble” some slightly darker shading shooting out from the pupil in the two areas between our highlights. Again, please scribble though it may seem odd and scary; we don’t want neat, individual lines extending from the pupil.
  9. Add the tear duct by simply finishing the shading around your eyeball, cutting off the little teardrop shaped dip in the inner corner.
  10. Shade your eyelid! Shade the darkest in a thin line over the crease you originally outlined. Don’t just trace your line darker, shade by moving your pencil back and forth swiftly in short strokes over this line. Above this, shade a touch lighter to again make a gradual transition from dark shadow to white paper. Shade darkly also over the curved line directly above your eyeball, the edge of the eyelid. This will provide a foundation for the eyelashes, which we will add later. Shade along the bottom eyelid like this also.
  11. Shade the bottom crease under your eye. This is not a direct “fold” so it should be lighter than the shading for the eyelid since it is less in shadow. Shade deepest along the line you originally sketched, and shade lighter around this line on top and bottom. Extend the shading up to the outer corner of the eye to really show the skin curving. Add some light shading under the dark crease of the upper eyelid.
  12. We’re going to scribble again! Add some jagged shading pointing out from the top and bottom eyelid where the eyelashes will go, more so on top than on bottom. Do this in a medium value.
  13. Now, you can go over and add some individual curved darker lines sticking out to add some detail to your eyelash area. Don’t make them all the same length, and try to curve them – no straight lines poking out! Add a bunch overlapping each other using swift, light strokes with your pencil. They should be dense and close together.

These are not hard and fast “rules”, and once you’ve practiced the basic guidelines you can twist them to create entrancing eyes in your own unique artistic style, both realistic and more comic or stylized.

Speaking of eyes, I just designed a new pattern for Redbubble covered in glamorous eyeballs for your enjoyment. Check out all the cool new products featuring my digitally drawn pattern Mascara Tears here!

Feel free to throw a comment my way if you have any other drawing questions, I’m always open for giving tips. Any best practices other illustrators out there have found helpful? Don’t hesitate to share!

Art and Advocacy

I’m sure even non-American readers are aware of the contentious election America just experienced. We as a people are more divided than ever, individuals from every side of the culture wars are feeling more wounded and misunderstood than ever whether they have reason to or no, and no one seems to be experiencing any degree of peace – even the side who “won”. Basically, everyone is super freaking pissed right now for one reason or another.

Our two 2016 candidates were the least liked and least trusted candidates in all of history. However, one in particular seemed to have a larger issue with flat out verbal diarrhea, managing to isolate women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and non-heterosexuals all in one fell swoop. His win caused a lot of fear and resentment among those who fall under any of the aforementioned demographics, leaving them feeling like their concerns and even their very existences literally don’t matter in this country. I’ll admit I was very angry after the election; angry for women who have been assaulted or sexually harassed and been told to get over it, angry for my non-white friends, for my gay friends, for my students who all have varying disabilities and health issues and depend on affordable health care.  At the same time, those Trump supporters who may despise the things that mindlessly fly out of his mouth, but voted on policy only are fearing being lumped in with his supporters who actually are sexist and racist simply because of who they voted for. Families aren’t speaking to each other and friendships and marriages are dissolving due to voting differences. However, as Jon Stewart so eloquently puts it in the interview below, “I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country – with all its grace, and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength and resilience – exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama.”

Compassion and grace can still exist and thrive. Check out these artists who are using their visual voice to combat ableism, sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Ableism.

Chinese artist Jody Xiong developed a project, called “Mind Art”, through which individuals with disabilities could send electronic signals through their brain to activate detonators which would release bursts of paint, resulting in expressive abstract creations. Art, creativity, and innovation are not limited to those with traditional abilities.

Sexism.

I’ve written about Carol Rossetti before in a previous “Artists To Know” post. She tackles sexism, gender stereotyping, and societal expectations of women through her illustrations that tell real personal stories.“Everyone is entitled to self respect”.

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Racism.

I remember Mary Engelbreit being the illustrator in the 90s. I would always buy my mom one of her calendars for Christmas as a kid, and loved her colorful patterns and cheerful, whimsical style. Her children’s book style art always communicated kindness and positivity, but in more recent years she decided to use her art to communicate a more overt social statement. She illustrated the image on the right as a tribute to Michael Brown after his death, and received a lot of backlash for it. She responded to haters via the second illustration on the left, only saying, “The artwork speaks for itself,” and refusing to comment any further. It shows class to not take the bait when being insulted or criticized for your message.

Homophobia.

Akira the Hustler’s charming sculptures are inspired by the Chinese “Red String” belief that the gods tie an invisible red cord between two people who are destined to marry. What is revolutionary about his project is that he does not portray same sex couples as revolutionary at all. Viewers are not being hammered over the head with any heavy-handed political message. The sculptures are simply happy and whimsical depictions of love, each with their own unique story, each story given equal weight.

I illustrated the watercolor and ink piece below, titled “Adjoining”, a little over 5 years ago having no idea that it would actually resonate with me more today with everything going on than at its original inception. We have to break down our internal, self-imposed barriers and actually talk to people, actually hear them when they talk back. It’s hard, and it’s messy, but it is necessary.

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No one has lost their voice. No matter who you voted for, if you can’t see any good in the world right now then be that good. If someone around you makes bigoted comments, let them know you don’t appreciate that sort of talk and politely ask them to can it. If someone is being mistreated because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, gender, ability, or orientation then stand up for them – be their friend. Our president is not responsible for how we behave. We are.

 

 

 

 

Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece. Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill,  we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really, really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time  I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

1 Year At Artshop

So, I have that goofy little timehop app on my phone, and as I was checking it the other day a text popped up in the “1 Year Ago Today” section in which I was telling my boyfriend, “I have an interview scheduled for tomorrow!” It’s been almost a whole year already since I started at what is basically my dream job. I became interested in art programs geared towards individuals with disabilities and mental illness after picking up the book It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini at the library (Before I knew it was also soon to be a movie. As always, the book’s better). The role that drawing his “brain maps” plays in the main character’s recovery as well as how he uses his drawings to bring joy to others was something that stirred immense inspiration within me. I knew I wanted to work with something like this, but all I could think was … crap. I just finished an interior design/art degree. I will not accept that I endured 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears to go into the wrong field. And … I tried to push the thought from my mind. After some weird forays at furniture stores and hardware stores being promised by prospective employers that I’d “really get to do a lot of designing!” yet ending up as more of a sales clerk, I received a mass email through the Midland Artists Guild mailing list calling for instructors for a new art program offering instruction to adults with physical and mental challenges at Creative 360. I had zero teaching experience at that point, but knew I could make art so decided to go for it since I needed a job. The rest is history. This post title isn’t quite accurate, as I’ve worked with Artshop as an instructor for 2-3ish years before becoming Artshop’s Program Coordinator, but it’s been 1 year as an “official” employee. This date a year ago was my interview, and even though I already knew everyone who I’d be talking to, I was freaking out. Artshop is truly such an important part of my life. Yes, it’s my job, but my students feel like friends and family. I want to share with my readers the first full year of my new adventure.
december

December.

I was kind of eased into the job by happenstance because I officially started right around the holidays, which means there was a lot of fun activities going on and of course, parties. Basically, maximum events, minimal drudgery, and everyone was in a really good mood all the time :). The previous coordinator, who was quite an awesome lady herself, came back for a visit for our Christmas party.

 

January.january

I know I’ve mentioned my Art Clash buddy Heather-Dawn Deogracia before (psst! She’s pretty much Midland famous with her recent front page story. Next – the world!). Our artistic styles are pretty in-sync so we’d always clicked, but I had the opportunity to get to know her even better as I was around Creative 360 more often. We started sharing drawings with each other and giving critiques from time to time, and currently we are even working on a collaboration together.

february

February.

My dear friend Heather-Dawn again! When I started as coordinator, I was still teaching 3 of my previously 6 classes. With so many other things going on now I’m down to 1 fine arts class, and I do miss doing fun, crafty, pinterest-esque projects with students. A heart wreath made out of puzzle pieces covered in iridescent paint, what? I find myself sending other instructors lesson plans sometimes being like Do this! …. Or wait, I mean if you want, it is your class now but …. seriously do it. Luckily, most of them don’t see it as bossiness and actually appreciate the suggestions … at least I think ;).
march

March.

One of the things I’ve always been passionate about is empowering artists to get their art out into the world through selling it to the public. It’s not about the money, it’s about having the confidence to say my work is worth something. We opened our Virtual Gallery on facebook, and had our first “live” art sale at Dollar Daze. The guy in the blue Artshop T-shirt is Doug. He is our top salesperson, no joke. Like, I should tip off my previous employer Art Van about giving him a job.

 

april

April.

Our Artshop Redbubble Store is another opportunity to get students’ work out there. We sold a ton of these Easter cards. Look at that adorable pink bunny, how could we not?

 

 

may

 

May.

Everyone knows those wine and canvas or painting party things are all the rage and have been for quite some time. They’re super fun but can be pricey for those on a tight budget, and aren’t really structured for one-on-one assistance. I began teaching Creative Canvas Workshops for Artshop following the same format, and it has been a blast. The workshop in May was tiger day! What has been the coolest thing about these workshops is that a large number of participants often aren’t our usual Artshop students. There is a lot of research coming out now about the benefits of inclusive environments. I love getting together to paint with people of all abilities, and seeing how they encourage each others’ work and learn from each other.

june
June.

Summer is the season of outdoor art fairs. This time, I got to be a vendor not a looker in setting up a booth with the students’ creations. The temperature was in the record highs. I was hot, I was tired, and I realized that for my own art I am only doing indoor art fairs around Christmas, if I ever do any for myself at all. Did I say I was hot and tired?

july

July.

Another month, another art fair. The things you do for love … There’s Doug again! What did I tell you?

 

 

 

 

 

august

 

August.

This wonderful lady would come every Wednesday with a different animal she wanted to paint, and complete a piece start to finish without fail. Seeing what she would come up with next was seriously a highlight to my week. After the summer, she unfortunately had to move to an assisted living facility out of the area. Suffice to say we will all think of her for months and years to come. Her talent and cheerful spirit is simply amazing.

septemberSeptember.

The fall brought our long awaited showcase. Artshop students were able to show their work in a gallery setting along with pieces sent to us from VSA and Do-Art. There were also monologues, musical and choreographed dances performed. It was a celebration of joy, expression, and accomplishment.

october

October.

What’s this? Another art fair! I asked for more opportunities for students to show their work, and I got it. This fair right at Creative 360 was nice because it was indoors and also students had the option of setting up their own table so they could be there with their work throughout the day. The variety and skill level of the handmade works shown was incredible, as was seeing the excitement and pride on students’ faces, many of whom had never had the opportunity to participate in something like this before.november

November.

All in all, I am so glad I get to spend my the majority of my day around people who bring things like this into the world … yes, it’s a fierce looking hot pink and lilac unicorn. Things aren’t always perfect, and there are days I’m frustrated and just want to stay home like any other job. But overall, I love what I do and not everyone can say that. I’m thankful that I can.