Slaying The Artist’s Block Monster

12One of the most frustrating things in the world for any creative person is that tricky artist’s block, lurking where you least expect it waiting to destroy everything that once brought you joy. It is quite literally the worst. I’ve experienced my own bouts of artist’s block on and off over the last year, and hope that some of the things that were effective for me may help other creatives out there. Without further adieu …

  • Get in the habit of daily practice. This first one is pretty standard yet still is, I think, the most difficult. You don’t have to complete something amazing every day. Even if it’s just a silly 5 minute doodle, do something to get in the habit of being creative on a regular basis. By keeping the creative part of your mind engaged daily, you will have an easier time getting in the zone when you have actual large amounts of downtime to work. As cheesy as it may sound, you can even try sketching something that made you happy each day. This is something I’ve done in the past that serves a dual purpose of not only helping me stay creatively engaged but helping me to focus on the gifts I am experiencing when the stuff of life is starting to get me down. Just think, even on your most awful days where you really don’t have much to be thankful for, look around you. Our world is pretty amazing, like a living work of art. We could live in a world where everything is brown and gray but we instead are able to live in a super saturated, colorful environment where everything that surrounds us naturally is so vibrant and intricate – even things many people think are gross or irritating like bugs ;). Ignore the schmaltz factor and just try it, I promise it works.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t meet your own expectations. Just make time to create where and when you can. If you get too legalistic about daily practice or having to work on your art for x number of hours per week without factoring in unavoidable external circumstances, you are just going to get defeated and end up creating the fated Impossible Task for yourself. Don’t discount the smaller moments and tell yourself you aren’t being productive enough. I am a big fan of sketching ideas on scrap paper over a lunch break at work, and then really diving in over weekends. Something different may work for your life and schedule. Just don’t let the fact that you may not have as much spare time as you’d prefer to devote to your craft stop you from doing it at all.
  • The Rush HourDraw from what you are feeling. Sometimes we have these specific  plans of visuals we want to create, but for whatever reason we just can’t get it out of our own heads. In the moment, something isn’t clicking. Creative practice is different from forcing yourself to to exercise or do the dishes … Sometimes not being enthused or inspired can be a legitimate barrier to getting anything done. If you experience one of these blockades, then what I’ve found works is to just roll with it and draw from what you are feeling in that moment. Are you feeling tense and exhausted? Make something about it, which is exactly what I ended up doing when I began the above drawing, “The Rush Hour”. Creativity is such a personal experience that draws on bringing the inside out, so if you aren’t in the right mindset don’t force yourself to make art about something that you aren’t feeling right now.
  • Don’t be afraid to start multiple things at once. As creators there is always that fear of being the jack of all trades and master of none, or being that artist who starts a million projects but never ends up finishing anything. However, I have found that within reason, having multiple things going at once can actually help you to be more productive. Sometimes you just get sick of looking at a project or you get stuck and are not sure how to move forward, and may need a couple of days to plan your next steps. Also, our brains all work differently, and some people simply cannot focus on one thing for an extended period of time even if they desperately want to. If you have multiple creative things going, you can simply put what you are working on away temporarily and move onto something else when you get stuck or lose focus, rather than putting your art away entirely and just turning on Netflix for the rest of the day.
  • 53786370_10156360021179895_3968639679464472576_nCreate challenges for yourself. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I am a big fan of cooking challenge shows like Chopped and Masterchef, and am a sucker for the mystery box challenge. You can do the same thing with art instead of food. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed participating in the ArtSnacks challenges while I have a subscription is because being limited to only a random selection of materials and colors and having to create something from that is a great way to generate new ideas and think of new ways to use familiar media. You can write different materials on scraps of paper, randomly draw 3, and make something amazing using only those 3 elements. This is something myself and other instructors have been trying to do with our Artshop Program students when we notice them getting stuck in repetitive ruts. Another idea is putting one of your favorite playlists on shuffle, and whatever song plays first, the words in that song title are your inspiration for what you are making. These are especially beneficial exercises for project control freaks like me (and probably some of you out there)!
  • 00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190311175233624Get together with other creative people and do silly, low stress artsy activities. For my day job I run an art therapy based program, so I every day I get to see the power art has to inspire joy in both the creator and those around them, and how art has the power to make people feel heard and understood, and lift some of the individual weights we all have holding us down in our life even if only for a moment. Let’s be real though, art is also difficult and like any other skill takes practice and discipline. Make sure you have a balance in your life of serious artistic practice but also creative activities that are just for fun, where the process is more important than the outcome. I’ve recently been getting together with a small group of friends for monthly creative nights, and even if all we do is some silly home decor Pinterest fail project, just the practice of no-pressure creating is so rejuvenating. I’m also working individually on a screaming ceramic baby head paperweight, so there’s that. Ah, therapy…
  • Enter shows and events! Keep an eye out for opportunities to show your work. Sign up for things even when you feel you aren’t ready. To be honest, many of us are never going to feel ready so there’s just no point waiting around. To quote one of my favorite musicians, Amanda Palmer, from her very cool book for creators The Art of Asking, “When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you on the head with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand.” Having clear deadlines will also help you get projects done, whether you are a do-everything-the-night-before creator or someone who plans for months. Also, don’t skip the openings even if it’s painfully awkward and not something you particularly enjoy. Don’t skip out on opportunities to network and talk to other people about what you do. When people hear the word “networking” they automatically associate it with generating business and making money but for me it’s not necessarily about that, but more about building confidence in what you do and being able to explain why you do it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to inspire someone else!
  • Have a visible list of goals. I am a firm believer in the sticky note. I’m old school in the respect that I have to have my goals and reminders and deadlines physically written out with ink pen or I don’t pay attention to them, but digital means are great too, whatever works for you. The important thing is that you have a visual reminder of where you are going and when you want to get there.
  • 54257592_2437512312986061_671208117400240128_oLet other artists challenge and motivate you, but don’t compare yourself. Talking to other more experienced artists and learning from them is fantastic (Though I’d also argue you can learn from those that may be less experienced as well; I learn from my students all the time!), but it becomes toxic when you start comparing yourself to them. Everyone has their own style, and their own timeline. Don’t feel like you have to completely model yourself after someone else to be successful.

I hope this is helpful to other creative people out there, and if you have other things that work for you please feel free to share! Now get out there and make things happen :).

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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!

8 Interior Essentials For A Happy, Interesting Space

When I finally got a dependable, non-commission-based-or-freelancing-big-person-job last year, my boyfriend and I talked and decided after 4 years it was a good time to pull our resources and find a place together. Unfortunately, fall and winter got super busy and then it was the holidays and then it was march and we had visited ZERO houses. So, in order to not make a hasty decision about something super important, we decided I could chill in my one bedroom apartment a little longer and keep saving money until we found somewhere awesome to live. I have to say, the place has its benefits. Though extra space is not one of them, it is:

A) Within walking distance of Mooney’s Ice Cream. I don’t need to explain what an asset this is. In a list of cohabiting concerns, not being close enough to 30+ delicious varieties of ice cream  cones at whim was right up there with having stinky socks piled on top of my reading chair. So basically, a pretty big deal.

B) I’m on the second floor and have a fun little balcony that is just excellent for drinking wine upon at night on summer evenings. We call it the veranda … what are delusions of grandeur again?

I am very much a visual person, and can tend towards being as much of a perfectionist in the decoration of my living space as the creation of my art. I always worried with a space that was not-so-much-space, and with the fun apartment restriction of being stuck with stark white stucco walls, always stucco, I wouldn’t be able to truly express myself with my home, or get it to look as awesome as I pictured in my head. Add to that the fact that I studied Interior Design in college, and I place pretty fierce expectations upon myself. However, I found there are plenty of easy things you can do to bring together a small area and make your space stand out. The essentials are …

A teapot with personality. 

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Going back to the apartment thing; in a one or two bedroom apartment, it can be hard for your kitchen to really feel like a kitchen when it’s about 15 square feet. Oftentimes this space gets ignored. A brightly colored or fun patterned teapot sitting out on the stove top can wake it up a bit and make it a little more inviting, which is a good thing when you have just had the longest day ever and know you have to go home and cook ;).

Art from different times and cultures.

Another simple way to add interest is to mix in some vintage here and there, and add elements inspired by cultures different from your own. The collection above are all pieces I have up in my apartment. I have always loved retro 1960s illustration and art nouveau, and have been interested in asian culture since junior high. Your inspiration may be different, but either way including vintage and multicultural design will make any space more intriguing and inspiring to live in.

Glam lamps.

Especially in an apartment, you don’t get to choose your major lighting fixtures, and the ones that are up are usually pretty bland and unassuming. So, you have to express yourself with your lamps. You can’t always have a chandelier or some other eye catching fixture on your ceiling, but you can have it on your end table :). I had to include that unicorn one on the end just for fun.

Fun rugs.

When you have a small space with an open floor plan, rugs are awesome for visually dividing your space into “rooms”, different areas of function so that your space doesn’t just look like a jumbled sea of furniture. They can also add a bold design element, like art on your floor!

Neutral Pattern.

For someone like me who likes to change things up every other month, it’s a good idea to keep your main staple pieces a neutral color. Plenty of fun contrasting patterns keeps it from being boring. My houndstooth and zebra print accented sofa purchased at an employee discount makes my full year of misery working in sales totally worth it.

Colorful Vintage Glassware.

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I love vintage glassware. I’m an antique store addict, and swear I have accumulated enough retro goblets and wine glasses to open my own bar.Everyone needs a contingency plan, right? My favorite antique glass is LE Smith’s Moon and Stars design, shown above. Glass from the 20s through 80s comes in nearly every color under the rainbow so there’s something to match everyone’s favorite color.

Kids Stuff (Whether You Have Kids Or Not).

When we’re a kid, we dream about the day we will have our own place. We envision building a slide that takes us from one floor to the other, and an entire room that’s just a gigantic ball pit. Then we grow up and become boring. I am a big believer in injecting a bit of fun into the place you’re going to go to sleep in at night, and have no problem paying homage to a favorite cartoon character here or there. I have a spider-man plaque hung up in my bathroom, and for awhile even had his and hers matching spider-man loofahs (I was Spider-man, he was Venom.). Finally, he complained that they were too small and made for children and can he please have a normal cleaning apparatus for when he stays over! They shot water out of their mouths when you squeezed the vinyl character sitting atop the fluffy cleaning part, that is an important point to be made. His loss.

Attractive Storage.

I don’t know if these fun little patterned boxes have an official name, but all I know is they make having piles of crap look chic as hell – enough said.

What are some of your go-to’s for an intriguing living space?

10 Ways to Make Your 2D Art More Interesting

I have always been a 2D based artist, not for lack of trying to branch out. I can make a 2-dimensional plane on paper look 3-dimensional, but when it comes to actually constructing a 3-dimensional object … my brain just does not work that way.

vernacularvillageroofI studied interior design in college, and I remember dreading the 3D model portion of each semester-long project. This is the one and only photograph I have of any of my models, and it is taken in aerial view because that was literally the only acceptable angle I could manage. At least this one wasn’t cut out of a Lucky Charms cereal box. Yes, I really turned in a model covered in pictures of colorful, Leprechaun themed marshmallows. Yes, it was sad. Now they have 3D printers for this crap.

For other artists out there who only travel in the world of 2D, it can be easy to feel stuck in a rut materials-wise. After all, you can make sculptures out of anything. 

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No, really, I mean ANYTHING …

 

If you think outside the box, “flat” art on paper or canvas doesn’t have to be limiting. Here are 10 ways I’ve found that can spice up your current drawings or paintings, no matter what style you enjoy working in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Add Text
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Transformation, 18×24 Mixed Media, Do-All of Bay City’s Annual Art Clash Award Winner

Adding pattern based text, small print from books, magazines, or the newspaper, automatically adds not physical but visual texture to a piece. It is a simple, intriguing way to add the appearance of greater detail to your piece, whether it is ripped and layered in the background or cut into shapes to fill in focal objects in the foreground.730a10c1435c579f6052846f164896a9

The meaning of the words don’t have to be important. Or, you can choose theme appropriate text and emphasize certain words to add to your piece’s meaning. This is a popular technique borrowed from art journaling and found text poetry.

 

2. Include Texture
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The Dance, Awarded Best 2D in Creative 360’s Piece By Piece Exhibition 2015; 18x 24 prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

2D doesn’t have to mean completely smooth and flat. Oftentimes painters paint with a palette knife, slathering on thick layers of paint to create an uneven surface that raises and dips to create visual interest. Gesso can also be used to build up an uneven surface on canvas. Another option is applying mixed media elements to paper to create a textured surface. In the piece above, I crumpled white fabric and dipped it in glue, applying it to the surface for the ground. I crinkled and rolled strips of book pages for the raised texture in the tree trunks and branches.

3. Accent With Metallics
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The Peacock, Awarded Best 2D in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition, 11×14 prismacolor pencil

Varying the surface sheen in a piece is a way to once again increase the visual interest, thus drawing viewer’s eyes and keeping their attention. Metallics are definitely something you want to use with restraint, but when not overdone they can really elevate a piece. It is harder to tell in a photo but in the drawing above, I used silver prismacolor for both the sleeves on her dress and the streaks in the pattern on the brim of her hat.

4. Include Pops of Color
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Hopeful, Award of Merit in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition. 11×14 Prismacolor Pencil 

Adding elements of color amongst an image of mostly black and white is a technique inspired by photo-manipulation. Photographers have been tinting black and white photos since long before Photoshop was ever conceived.

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Our eyes are naturally drawn to contrast, and including a bright color or two within a sea of black and white provides a “surprise” for the viewer.

5. Draw Viewers To The Eyes

I may be a bit biased because eyes are my favorite part of the face to draw or paint, but then there is that famous saying, “eyes are the windows to the soul”. There are quite a few articles floating around online about a scientific study that found that staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes straight can even cause hallucinations. All this suggests that eyes themselves are something of an intense element. Whether depicting people or animals, using visual elements in your piece that guide the viewer’s eye to meet the eyes of your subject is sure to keep viewers locked on your piece longer, and to create a more dynamic composition.

6. Don’t Ignore The Background.

I used to be guilty of being a huge background-ignorer. Now, you don’t want a fully fleshed out, detailed, photo-realistic background all the time, and in some pieces there is a lot to be said for white space. But, there is a difference between a background looking purposefully understated to emphasize the main focus and a background looking incomplete, like the artist just ran out of ideas and didn’t want to bother. There are two pieces shown above, one from 5 years ago on the left and one from 2 years ago on the right. Notice the difference something as simple as some softly outlined trees makes. The background is still mostly white, but it looks complete.

7. Collaborate With Other Artists

This is a hard one for me, because I honestly hate collaborating. I’m the kid in school who dreaded partner assignments. I always wanted to work on projects alone, even if it meant I had to do triple the work. I have a hard time letting go of control and not getting to make all the creative decisions myself. However, you learn so much from working with other artists, especially if their style is the complete opposite of yours as was the case in the two collaborations above. Do I necessarily like the collaborative pieces above better than the work I traditionally do on my own? To be honest, nope, but that’s not the point. I practiced techniques and styles I never would have attempted otherwise, which has given me ideas in other pieces I’ve done on my own.

8. Carry Around A Sketch Journal
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Devotional Gag Reflex, 2011, Ink

Not only is keeping a sketch journal super stress relieving (the above was me relieving some of my fun relational stress by comically depicting how I felt in the moment), but it provides an arsenal of recorded ideas and references to use and combine in future pieces. Life is busy, and I strongly believe we forget most of our best ideas because they happen spontaneously when we are in the middle of doing something, and we think oh I’ll remember it later and of course that never happens. Making yourself carve out a specific time to sit down and sketch may be good practice, but it isn’t when you’ll get your best ideas.

9. Draw From A Collage
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Oceans Away, 9×12 Ink

One of my assignments in Drawing 101 way back in freshman year of college was to create a collage, and then draw straight from it. This technique is a great way to organize the elements in a piece, and visually construct your conceptual vision. You end up with juxtapositions of disparate elements that you may never have placed together otherwise.

10. Be Purposefully Imperfect
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Wonderland, 18×24 Mixed Media

This comes back to one of those things I learned through reluctant artist collaboration. I am a clean edged, smooth lines kind of person and I always used to look at smudges and drips as mistakes, not a tool an artist could use on purpose. Now, I am in love with it and every piece I create that includes watercolor has dripping or bleeding somewhere in it. For the longest time throughout art history, the purpose of creating a drawing or painting was to fool the eye into thinking what it was looking at was real, especially before photographs. The informality of declaring to the world, “Look! This is made out of paint, see the brushstrokes, see the dripping?” shakes up a piece, and the viewer’s expectation. In this particular piece above, the surrounding world was supposed to look as it would through the eyes of the subject, a child. The sketchy, imperfect outline of the colorful buildings behind help emphasize that.

Step out of that artistic rut and try something new. Other 2D artists out there, what do you do to add interest to your own work? What draws you to a piece when looking at a 2D work?