Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mid-Week Check-In: ICAD 25-27

Almost thirty days into the 2012 Index-Card-a-Day challenge!  Whew!  Anyone else feel like it has been a long month! lol!  I am definitely hitting the index card wall (as a lovely commenter called it) and every day, feel on the verge of calling it quits.  I definitely like the end results but many days the process is simply painful.  When I journal, I lose myself and never want to stop.  Whilst making index cards, I often sigh in relief when a card is complete.  However, since I am a firm believer in pushing through when things are the most uncomfortable, I am still plugging away at this challenge.  Can I say for certain that I will have 61 cards come July 31st?  Nope.  But all I need think about is today and perhaps that is the larger lesson here.

Not too much to say about this set of cards except "Thank goodness they're done!" 

I will probably be a bit scarce in the next week or so as I have company coming (sooo very excited Ellen!) but the Wednesday and Sunday ICAD check-ins will continue as scheduled.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Check-In: ICAD 21-24

Here's my index card art for the last four days.  I still feel like I'm struggling a bit with inspiration but certainly less than last week.  Speaking of inspiration, Tammy's mosaic journal pages over at Daisy Yellow prompted my card for this past Thursday.  I've been working a lot lately with color copies of old journal pages which provide an awesome level of richness to my collage work.  (I was so excited by Tammy's work that I tried it in one of my journals as well!)  And then, on Friday, I turned 180 degrees towards the more abstract and graphical look.  Sometimes...OK, a lot of times...I get preoccupied with making something that looks like something and it is nice to give myself permission to just play around with geometrics.
Saturday and Sunday, I was super caught up in other art projects and honestly wasn't willing to tear myself away for a long, involved index masterpiece (they needn't be that anyway) so I grabbed cards from my stack of pre-painted backgrounds and cranked out a couple of cards really quickly - no complex collage layers or cut-and-paste affirmational phrases - just bold, bright color with simple stamping or doodling.  And I'm so glad I did that because the neighborhood index card sparked fresh ideas for using all those house stamps I carved a while back.  Can't wait to explore that concept some more! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tutorial: Layered Color with AquaMarkers

As promised, here's a step-by-step explanation of how I use Letraset's AquaMarkers to color illustrations (you could certainly use this process on stamped images as well.)  This is a super long post so it's probably best to get your coffee ready and settle in...I wanted to be as complete as possible!

First, gather your supplies.  1) One of the keys to success with AquaMarkers is sturdy paper that can take abuse.  I've found that 140 lb cold press watercolor paper works well.  If you're stamping, the smoothness of hot press paper will be necessary.
2) The second thing I've found essential is a slightly stiff brush.  Normally, I keep my acrylic & watercolor brushes separate; no matter how well you clean, acrylic gradually destroys a brush's flexibility.  However, for working with these markers, I need to be able to push that stubborn color around so I pick a brush from the acrylic jar.  And since it is easiest to work small sections at a time, small brushes are nice.  Here I'm working with a quarter-inch angle shader and an 1/8th-inch flat for really tiny areas.  3) Letraset's AquaMarkers of course and 4) a swatch card.  Don't rely on the inserts in the marker's package.  Make a little chart of all the colors so you can compare the hues and intensity rather than having to waste a lot of time guessing.  5) not shown - water & paper towel.

Step 1: Draw something in pencil on your watercolor paper.  You could also color a stamped image; just be sure to use a waterproof ink.

Step 2A:  Determine your light source & choose the lightest shade of the color you'll be using.  Here I'm going to be coloring my little ogre green so I begin with "Citrus."  Apply lines of ink in the areas that would be DARKEST (i.e. farthest away) given the position of your light source.

Step 2B:  With a damp brush, and working from the top down, begin to pull the color out towards areas that would be LIGHTEST (i.e. closest) given your light source.  Typically, I work an area at a time as the longer this ink dries, the harder it is to move.  For purposes of this tutorial, I went ahead and added all my color lines so you could see what areas I targeted.

Step 2C:  Here's the first layer of color complete.  Now here's a big tip: LET THIS DRY COMPLETELY IN BETWEEN EACH STEP.  AquaMarkers perform more like a dye than traditional watercolor so if you add color when the paper is wet, the color gets down into the paper's fibers and is MUCH harder to move around.  In addition, you'll damage your paper more than desirable trying to get that color to move.  As far as I can tell, there's no way around paper pilling with these markers but you can keep it to a minimum by letting each layer dry.

Step 3A:  Repeat the previous steps with the second darkest shade of green, "Spring Green."  Here I've laid in the color, with slightly smaller strokes than layer 1.

Step 3B:  And here's that 2nd layer of color pulled OUT OF THE DARK areas TOWARDS the LIGHT.  Again, be patient and let it dry.  (I usually work on multiple illustrations at once.) 

Step 4A:  Here I'm working with the darkest shade of green, "Fern Green."  Again, lay in the color but just using fine lines.  You can use the bullet tip for this or use the brush tip with a light hand.  Think of that color you put down as a little well to draw from as you pull from it with your brush.  You don't want the darkest layer to cover up previous layers.

Step 4B: Here's that Fern Green completely brushed out and drying.  At this point, I felt like the tummy was losing some of its light so I wet the area a bit and used a paper towel to lift out some color. (See Step 5A for the results.)  The ultimate goal is an illustration with multiple, identifiable layers of color so each time you add a color, add a little less than previously so your lightest shade doesn't disappear.

Step 5A:  I like to add in another color to deepen shadows and make them more visually interesting.  Any of the really light colors in the AquaMarker palette will work but I'm partial to "Frost Blue."  Again add the color in areas farthest from the light source.  Brush out that shadow color just enough to feather its edges and prevent it from looking like a hard line.

Step 5B:  Here's the Frost Blue shadows complete and drying.  Look at the difference in those shadows with that fourth color added...so much more dimensional!

Step 6:  Now our little ogre gets his hair colored in the same manner as the body but using only two colors: "Cherry Blossom" and "Rose Carmine."

Step 7:  AquaMarkers are transparent so they can be layered to form new colors.  Here I've taken the "Citrus" marker and added stripes.  Again, let each layer dry before proceeding.

Step 8:  Here I've outline the ogre with a black Micron.  (Obviously, this is an unnecessary step if you're working on a stamped image.)

Step 9:  Sometimes, after the outlining, I see little areas that need a little more shadow like under the arms, under the eyes, and the soles of the feet.  I deepen the dark areas a bit further with thin lines of the darkest green, "Fern."  Again, I use a slightly damp brush to soften those hard lines just a bit.  If you let each layer dry, you can continue to push the depth of those shadows and the more you do so, the more three-dimensional your illustration will look.

And the little ogre's all complete!  There's no doubt that AquaMarkers are a labor-intensive tool but with practice, it does get faster and the results can be very luminous & interesting.  I actually use this exact process when working with traditional watercolors or colored pencils.  And speaking of colored pencils, when you are done with the markers, you can use colored pencils on top to add additional details and shadows.  Just don't try that until you know you won't be using markers again because the wax in pencils repels water!

Please let me know in the Comments if this tutorial is helpful and if you have any questions, just ask!  Now go play!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mid-Week Check-In: ICAD 18-20

Well, only 41 more index cards to go! *sigh* I've reached card #20 which is where I bailed last summer and sure enough, I struggled this week with inspiration and motivation.  I used to be ahead of the game but now I'm slogging along making a card a day on the day it's due and for me, that is no fun at all.  I need to try and get ahead or I predict this challenge is going to fade off my radar.

I do like making the cards though once I get into the moment so that's enough to keep me going for now.  Thank you to all for the cheerleading!  Every time I put one of these blasted index cards in front of me and wonder what the hell I'm going to do, I hear your kind words and I wait out the panic so an idea can break through! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Check-In: ICAD 14-17

Today's wildly varied index cards (from Thursday Jun 14 through Sunday June 17), offer a little snapshot of my health & inspiration level over the last four days.

The robots arrived on a day with great grip strength, a clear head, and lots of intense focus.  (And really, what is Index-Card-a-Day without a trio of naughty robots!?)

Then, WHAM!  Hello, full-blown migraine and no grip strength and really no desire to do art of any kind (day 15). (Bad grip strength days often follow great grip strength days as I always over do it when the good health fairies align.)  For the butterfly card, I literally did nothing more than glue down a few scraps that had collided on my studio table.  It really helps to have backgrounds already painted.

Yesterday, my grip strength had recovered a bit but I had post-migraine brain which means I was up & moving but sort of foggy and unfocused; hence, the hot mess of an index card that is #16.  I actually hated this card for a while but after some tinkering and time, I kind of like it.

And this Sunday morning we have number 17 which represents my bright hope for a good day and a need to ease into the day's activities so I can get as much done as possible without overdoing it.  I do need to try and get ahead again with the index cards so I can relax on those less-than-stellar days.

My personal policy for coping with chronic illness is to keep pushing forward, no matter how small the steps.  Even when my head is throbbing or my hands are screaming for respite, I take enough time to complete a little something in the studio before giving in to my body's demands.  I never really know from one day to the next how I am going to feel in one body part or another so I constantly adjust my process to squeeze the most I can out of the day's circumstances.  Giving up, or worse, not making an attempt, is not an option.  Please remember, that this how I approach chronic illness.  You always need to do what feels right for you and that will always be the right thing to do.

Take care, loveys!  I'll be back next week with a look at some recent journaling, more index cards, and an in-depth tutorial on working with Letraset's AquaMarkers. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Product Review: Letraset AquaMarkers

Update:  See Part 2 of this post for an in-depth tutorial on using AquaMarkers to color an image...

I rarely go "all in" with a new-to-me product and purchase the entire color range without first doing some research and/or preliminary testing with a small sampling.  However, I had encountered more than a couple mentions of Letraset's AquaMarkers in my blog travels and the concept was appealing: water-based pigment ink in a marker that can be smoothly blended even after the ink has dried.  So, in a moment of weakness, I jumped right in and purchased four sets.  At first, I was extremely frustrated but after much experimentation and practice, I have to say that these markers rank as one of my very favorite illustration tools.  The following is a summary of the pros & cons of AquaMarkers from my perspective.

Product Details:

AquaMarkers have two tips: a soft, thick, "brush" tip and a hard, bullet nib.  Currently, they come in 39 colors and are available open stock or in sets.  There are two sets of 6 and two sets of 12 and all four sets have different colors.  If you were to purchase all four sets, you'd end up with 36 out of 39 colors available. (Teal, Peacock Blue and Grape are the three remaining colors you have to purchase open stock to say you own the complete color palette.)  The 12-marker sets also include a clear blending marker.

The markers contain a water-based, water-soluble pigment ink that is archival and alcohol-free.  This means they are non-toxic and have no perceptible odor.  This also means that you can blend this ink with water just like you would traditional watercolor.

Pros:

* Convenience and portability:  I love traditional watercolor but I don't always want to drag out everything required to paint so these markers are an easy way to get the watercolor look without all the set-up.  They tuck right into any travel journaling kit; just add a water brush for watercolor-to-go.  The ink in AquaMarkers can be beautifully transparent so you get the ease & control of markers with the radiance of watercolor.

* Price: These markers are affordable, especially in comparison to some other markers on the market.  Open stock AquaMarkers at Dick Blick will cost you $2.30 each.

Left sample on watercolor paper; right sample on gesso
*  Color Options:  With 39 colors in the AquaMarker palette, there is a good mix of pastel colors and brights.  This means I can work from the pale colors to the more intense colors, layering bit by bit and producing a nicely shaded illustration.  And since these are designed to be blended and are transparent, layering two or more colors one top of one another will create a new color.

* Smooth Blending:  In reality, you can thin any water-based marker with water to produce a faux watercolor effect.  However, often times you will get permanent lines in your blending or layering where two colors overlap.  Note in the above chart how the AquaMarkers perform in blending tests compared to other products.  AquaMarkers can blend seamlessly IF you follow certain guidelines for use.  I'll discuss that in a minute but first...

Cons:

* Quality Control:  I had an issue with quality and have spoken to someone else who had the exact same problem so I know it isn't just me.  4 of the 39 markers I purchased had ill-fitting caps and the pens arrived completely dried up.  Check all of your markers when you receive them; the lids should snap on with an audible "Click!"  Make sure you hear that click when replacing the lids after use.  In addition, I have one marker ("Rose Blush") that produces two completely different colors from each nib.  I'm not sure if that is unique to the marker I own but it is annoying because I use the brush tips almost exclusively and in that marker, the ink from one end isn't even close to the other.

Ease of Use:  These are NOT a simple tool to use!  I tested these markers on many different types of paper and found that for best results, a sturdy paper with tooth (i.e. 140 lb cold press watercolor paper) is a must.  Paper labeled "mixed media" just won't cut it and smooth paper becomes a disaster very fast.  Even on high quality watercolor paper, the marker nibs will pull up tiny bits of the paper and make the surface rough if you're not careful.  Blending these markers correctly takes time and a gentle hand.  It also takes a little bit of speed because although they can be blended when dry, it tends to be more difficult to produce a smooth, line-free blend.  Essentially, you need to work on small areas at a time and work fast.  These various concerns caused my initial frustration with this product.  It took some intense trial & error before I found my way. 

Conclusions:  

So, given all that, how do I really feel about Letraset's AquaMarkers?  Personally, I'm really into illustration work that I can do a little bit at a time, "slow art" as I call it.  As I work with these markers, I like the time it takes to get the blending just right.  I like using AquaMarkers as foundation color that I can then accent with other markers or colored pencils.  The final effect is much more luminous than traditional markers and more convenient than traditional watercolor.  Over time, these really have become my go-to tool for my cartooning and illustration projects.

* I am a Amazon affiliate which means that if you click on a product link at my blog and ultimately purchase something with that link, Amazon lets a bit of change tinkle my way.  I only include links to books and products I have personally read and/or tested and that I can recommend.

Mid-Week Check-In: ICAD 11-13

Hello Wednesday!  Here's my mid-week check-in for the Summer 2012 Index-Card-a-Day (ICAD) challenge.  These three cards represent a loose interpretation of three prompts from the weekly prompt list released last Friday.

Although I despise the humble index card as a drawing surface (yes, I'm a paper snob), I wanted to make sure that some, if not many, of my 61 index cards were hand drawn.  Looking back through the cards I've made so far, I realized that once again, collage had seduced and distracted me.  

Index cards are actually a great way to test out little doodles, practice lettering, and audition pens & markers without the pressure of having to live up the potential of expensive paper.  I can always attach my index doodlings into my sketchbooks if I happen to draw something I really love.  For now though, I'm just noodling around with pen & ink, enjoying the process...and that's as it should be.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Check-In: ICAD 7-10

As promised, here's my second weekly check-in for Daisy Yellow's "Index-Card-a-Day" challenge (lovingly known around the Interwebs as ICAD).  My favorite card in this group is the contour drawing of my camera...so simple but also relaxed and fun!  I may have to do more of those!  The "Be Joyful" card comes in a close second as it really comes together for me in terms of design.  I also like using bits of photographs I've taken; that's something I'm striving to do more of in my journals as well.

I also wanted to be sure to shout out a big thank you to everyone for their sweet comments here and at my Flickr photostream regarding my index cards! Your encouragement is invaluable, especially when I think about how many cards I have to go! Staying a couple of cards ahead is the only way I'm going to make it through to July 31!

I'll post another ICAD check-in on Wednesday featuring Monday through Wednesday's cards...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ding! Ding! Round Two Completed!

Since I took the Full Tilt Boogie journal-making class from Mary Ann Moss last year, I've been working in journals made during that class.  The first journal I finished was fat.  The second one (seen here) that I completed this May is downright unwieldly.  Add to that the fact that I embedded three large, decorative brads in the cover and this was a beast to wrangle every morning I sat down to journal.

But sit down to journal every morning, I did...almost to perfection.  There are 226 days between when I started this journal - October 19, 2011 - and when I finished - May 31, 2012.  I managed to log 212 daily entries.  Working in this "daily diary" format has really become a ritual that I feel compelled to accomplish before I do anything else artful in my studio space.  

I don't write much...maybe two to three inches of thought at most.  I prep each day's section with the date and some scrapbook paper for the background.  For whatever reason, this art journal ended up with a lot more journaling than art and I'm going to try and push my next volume back towards a more visual emphasis: more doodling, more photographs, more painting and so on.  Hopefully, I can tame the binding bulge the third time around! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

ICAD Mid-Week Check-in: June 4-6

I decided to do a mid-week check-in for the Index-Card-a-Day challenge.  On Wednesday, I'll post about Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday's cards while my Sunday blog post will feature Thursday through Sunday's efforts.  That said, here's my cards for June 4 through 6.

Things to know about my process:

1) I am working fast...no more than about 10 minutes per card.  That process is made easier by prepainted backgrounds and a studio set up so that once I sit down to work, everything I might need is immediately within reach.  (For more on how I organize my studio, check out this post & this post from last summer.)

2) I'm not taking the prompts in order.  I posted the list in my work space, glance at it quickly and if a prompt leaps out at me, I grab it and take off.  If, in that brief moment, nothing immediately comes to mind, I just start pushing scraps around until an idea emerges.

3) I am making a conscious effort to create a pleasing composition. However, I would recommend that if lingering on how a card looks slows you down, abandon structure and create random marks.  Often the theme or focal point will reveal itself if you just get your brain moving.  And if it seems as if your card doesn't have a "point," remember this: The process is the "point."  At least, that is how I personally interpret the intent behind this challenge and how I am choosing to approach these little bits of art.  For all whole scoop about this project and lots of inspiration, please check out Daisy Yellow.  You'll be glad you did!

I

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Taming a Lion & Taking a Breath

After I finished up art teaching for the summer on May 25, I encountered a ferocious lion while packing for my Summer Studio Safari.  Well...OK...he's really a Bear but let's not quibble over details.  That and a week or two of migraines will get you a delay in our departure.  Apparently, I underestimated the amount of downtime I would need once my students had been released back into the wild.

So while I gather my wits about me and take a deep breath...or two...or three...I'm going to resume posting gradually.  Once I build up some momentum, we'll start adventuring 'round the studio, hunting for new inspiration in old surroundings.  In the meantime, I'll be replaying last summer's blog series and whipping up some fresh posts on a wide variety of topics: Daisy Yellow's "Index-Card-a-Day" challenge, my recent journaling, a [hopefully] soon-to-be restocked Etsy shop, what's on the easel in anticipation of another big show scheduled for October and more!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Beginning Index-Card-a-Day 2012

Nowadays, given all my unpredictable health issues & my crazy schedule as an art teacher, working artist and the mom of a live-in college student, I am very careful about the online art challenges I attempt.  I have a bit more free time during the summer so I decided to play along with a very worthwhile challenge developed by the inspirational Tammy Garcia of Daisy YellowIndex-Card-a-Day 2012 (aka ICAD).

The directive is simple: Art up a humble index card every day during June and July.  I attempted this same challenge last year but I hampered my efforts with too many self-imposed rules.  Once I fell behind, it was all over except for the "I failed" blog post.  However, I later realized a very important habit developed from my 20-day flirtation with this challenge:  The brief time I spent illustrating something every day actually did blossom into an unwavering daily cartooning practice.  Too awesome!

So once again, I am giving this game a go.  The best laid plan is to post my cards for the week every Sunday so in that spirit, here's my first three cards (June 1 through 3).

For me, the key will be to stay a couple of steps (and days) ahead.  That way, when I have an icky health moment or a day that has to be spent away from the studio, I can relax, assured that I won't get behind.  Now, in truth, it wouldn't really matter if I did miss a card or two.  It is a simple thing to just begin again.  However, it is tough emotionally to yield anything to chronic health issues and I do better if I either 1) power through anyway or 2) provide for a little safety net so projects won't hit the concrete if I am forced to take a break.

This time around, I am actually working on index cards (some lined, some gridded).  I'm lightly prepping the backgrounds in advance, mixing & matching the suggested prompts (if I use them at all), and trying to work fast, following my first impulse to see what develops.
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