I’ve called this piece Number Three (for obvious reasons).
I wanted to play on the whole third child thing by using my wife’s preggo silhouette as the 3. That led to adding in the other kids, and then I felt left out so I added myself to it.
These three process shots, and the final image, show you some of my process. Redrawing, value studies and colour palette have become my standard for working, and usually come out successfully (it’s all relative).
Also – OMG!!!! NUMBER THREE!!!!!! I am so freaking excited and in love and happy-happy-happy. Life is amazing. 🙂 (Coming September 2018 – what is it about us and September? I’m the only one who wasn’t born in September!)
It doesn’t matter how disciplined you are. Sometimes, life has other plans.
This past week was one of those weeks. I work from 5-6am on my art and writing passion projects, and I usually work from 8-10pm on commissions or carry-over from the morning. I’m also knee-deep in report card season, a less than exciting time in the life of a teacher. That alone should have slowed me down, but I am disciplined. I work hard, because I know what I want. No one is paying me to work on my passion projects (yet), but I show up and do it anyway.
Except for this week. The boys caught some viruses. Nasty bugs. My wife had special work commitments, so I took 3 days off in the end. Report cards or not, I was at home working on those little humans instead of everything else that I had lined up. (Um, for the record, I am completely okay with this, because I wish I was a stay at home dad anyway.)
The usual nap time break, where on a weekend I would slip away to the studio to work on something creative? Nope. Magnus coughed himself awake and spent the rest of the time slipping in and out of coughing and crying fits on my chest. Kingsley needed to cuddle and be hugged most of the day.
Putting them down for bed early to get extra rest, I thought, might give me some extra time. Nope. Even though they went to sleep, I couldn’t slip away to work. I was too drained. I watched TV instead. I read a bit. I thought about some art I’d like to make. I worried about report cards and if my students were doing okay with different supply teachers every day.
Reflecting on it is peculiar. A year ago, I’d have seen the week as a huge success. I completed and mailed out a commission. I finished six pages of a picture book dummy revision. I wrote 102 personalized report card comments. Yet, I have become so accustomed to
producing and progressing so much more, that my bar is now set higher. This is discipline in action.
So how do we balance our work, family and creative lives?
Well, we don’t.
We are disciplined. We work hard. We set tangible goals and lofty-big-idea goals. We track progress. We keep trying. We shrug off the rejection letters and tweak our projects. We get up at 5am and work. And then, we forgive ourselves when we don’t. Because sometimes, we can’t. We must live happy lives in order to be creative, and that does mean that every now and then, we forgive our lapse in discipline and we watch TV, and day dream, and let our babies drool on our shirts, and clean the toilet even when it doesn’t really need to be done. We are human.
Forget balance. I believe in harmony. At the end of the day, if my soul feels happy, then I have succeeded. I check in with myself. I ask myself if I really deserved the break I gave myself, or the push I gave myself. I take stock of every bit of pressure and expectation coming in from others and coming from myself, and then I let myself breathe, because I know that once these boys feel better, I will return to my projects. It’s not over because I took 4 days off/did less creating than I would have normally & liked to have done over those 4 days. I will complete that picture book dummy revision. I will complete the line of illustrations I’m working on. I will write something new.
How do we balance it all? We don’t. We harmonize it. We make it feel right, and we forgive ourselves when it doesn’t.
In my parent’s basement, throughout my entire childhood, my mom had a Norman Rockwell print pinned to the wall. Beneath it was the caption, “Patience is a virtue.” I never really understood.
Then, I started teaching. I found, after a few
years, a deep patience that I could access. This was a skill. It had a lot to do with breathing.
Then, I had kids. I started to understand the expression a little bit more.
It has made its way into my art, too.
Patience is a virtue. The reality of making art is that sometimes – no, oftentimes – making art is really hard. It’s the most joy-filling, happy-making, soul-calming experience, but it isn’t always easy. It doesn’t just flow. What most artists know, that most non-artists don’t, is that making art is a skill, and not a talent. It isn’t a faucet to turn on, and it isn’t always waiting for you to access.
What I have learned, over the years, is that letting it simmer is really important. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “I’m done!” when a piece isn’t really finished. It’s equally as easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “It’s terrible! I’m done with it!” when a piece isn’t cooperating.
There are a limited number of outcomes that I have found, and letting the pieces simmer almost always leads to a more favourable outcome. They include:
disappointment with a piece, when jumping to conclusions
a missed opportunity with a piece, when jumping to conclusions
a fresh view when revising a piece that has simmered for a day or week or month
the acknowledgement that the piece was a learning experience, thus thanking the piece and moving on without feeling the need to fix and finish it
a settled feeling upon revisiting a simmering piece, which ultimately leads to the feeling of completion without actually have to touch it
The last one is my favourite experience, but more often than not, I find that with fresh eyes I can see what needs to be worked on, and with a fresh state of mind am able to do that. Knowing when to breathe and walk away requires as much artistic skill as knowing how to balance and coordinate the colours, or any other aspect of building a piece of great art.
Below is an example of a time I felt settled upon revisiting the piece several days later. I believe, when I left it the last time I worked on it, I said to my critique partner, “It’s terrible! I am so annoyed and I don’t think I’m even an artist. Why is his face so terrible? No, don’t tell me because I don’t want to fix it! This will be a learning piece of art and I’m moving on.” I am sure my meltdown included more colourful language. Of course, after revising the piece and looking at the printed version in daylight caused a pause in me, where I sat back and thought, Oh. I was wrong. I actually quite like this. And it is finished.
Patience, whether it be in dealing with difficult humans or difficult art, is most certainly a virtue.
Every artist faces it. That elusive idea disappears, even for the most disciplined, practiced creative. Then what?
It’s impossible to think that a human being can sit everyday and create, pushing beyond the day before, every single day.
I have seasons – we all do. Seasons of writing, seasons of exploring and experimenting, seasons of making and refining, and seasons of letting ideas fester and pester.
If you were too look through conversations with my critique partner, you’d see surges of messages with process photos and questions and “Can you focus on XYZ while critiquing? I am really thinking that my (fill in the skill) is improving/needs work/help because I don’t know what the heck is going on and I think I might be the worst artist ever!” Followed by, “AM I EVEN AN ARTIST?” (You’ve thought it too – I know you have!) And then, you’d see stretches of time where nothing seems to be happening. Maybe we share some photos of art we like from other people, or that we are feeling a bit jealous of. Maybe we are just talking about our day or our kids, or work, or whatever – but it’s guaranteed that these conversations flip into something to do with art, and then we’re back on the hamster wheel again, chasing our dreams of working full time as artists. Of course, we work our butts off, but there are always going to be seasons of rest, reflection, and idea gathering.
I don’t like to get very comfortable in that.
In fact, if it’s been a week and I haven’t drawn, painted or written, I start to panic. Lately, if I don’t do one of those things every day (sometimes twice a day), I start to panic. This is the addiction of creativity. Can you relate?
So when I feel I’m out of ideas, lately I’ve been heading to Pinterest.
I do a search for something simple. It’s usually: “Faces.” Or, “Kid’s Faces.” If there’s something I want to be working on, but I can’t seem to figure out, I’ll search for something about that. For example, “Gypsy Kids.”
And then I am blasted with gorgeous photographs, so filled up with character that I set right to work sketching. I aim to fill a page with faces, not spending too long on any of them. I do my best to work directly from the screen into my sketchbook, filtering it into my preferred illustration style.
There are times I look through photos from my Facebook friends, too. Some of their kids are too hilarious and the perfect jumping off point for my sketch practice.
My end game here is to just be drawing. To be in the art. To not sit and stare and feel like an unproductive failure. Of course, there are times when sitting and staring is perfectly acceptable. But lately, I need a product to push me forward.
In progress …
The final render of Library Girl (as I am currently calling her).
The best part of this quick sketching is that there are the odd sketches which make their way into my subconscious, and I find myself thinking about them throughout the day. This turns into wonders, which turns into more sketching, and often times writing.
You can find me in the studio most mornings, from 5-6am, with a coffee and a candle and a hand toiling away on something that is just for me – my passion projects. And then, you can usually find me here at night, working on something for a client or for a big project or for my passion projects, when they just won’t let one hour a day be enough. (Side note: If you don’t know me, or anything about me, then you should know that I am a full time elementary school teacher and dad of 2! Read about my work habits here.)
This is discipline. This is practice, habit and routine.
What do you do when inspiration is lost? You keep going. (But … what do YOU do?)
To say that I’m excited about this one is an understatement. I’m so freaking excited about it!
I’ve been toiling away at this one with a rare approach to my work: only work when inspired to. This means that the timing, the external pressures, the weather, the paint supply, every single little thing had to line up for me to feel that surge of raw excitement to work on this. Even the moon had to line up with Venus AND Mars! (Kidding. I’m a little weird, but not that weird. Yet.)
This large piece started out as something else altogether. I tried a few different paintings on the canvas, but they never went anywhere. I kept painting over top, and on the eve of Magnus’s first birthday, I was reminiscing about the last year with him. He joined the family as #2, but is a force to be reckoned with. Wild, hilarious, creative, independent, and musically driven. We spent the first two months sleepless as he screamed and it seemed that only loud renditions of Sia’s Chandelier did the trick to soothe him for short bits of time. He’s grown into this unique, incredible person, all his own.
In an attempt to capture his vibrant, bursting personality, I had the vision for this piece. I immediately named it Love! (An Explosive Sound) to honour his energy, his vocal skills, his smile that bursts a room into laughter, and his amazing musicality. He hears any rhythm, stops what he’s doing, and breaks into dance. This piece is an Ode to Magnus. It’s a visual representation of the bursts of love that explode every time I think of him, look at him, kiss him, talk to him, see a picture of him … everything about his being, I tried to throw into this piece.
I think it’s sometimes overlooked, to put a piece of art in a child’s room that isn’t filled with cozy animals and soft tones or primary colours. Yet, I wanted to give him something special. Something he would love now, and as he grows.
And so, here are some photos of my process, and of the beautiful, wild Magnus with his original piece, created on canvas with acrylic paint (neon and metallic tones included), crayon, paper (dictionary pages and the sheet music to Mockingbird), and white charcoal pencil.
This video is from when I first started the process, after a couple of base coats.
Thanks for looking and reading. Your support really means a lot to me. If you love this, or know someone who might, would you share this with them? In the meantime, you can find me all over the internet:
I don’t often enter contests, but this past summer I opted to enter one with the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. It was a new contest, called the Narrative Art Award. Disclaimer: I didn’t win.
Well. I didn’t win the contest. I did, however, work hard and quickly enough to pull off three brand new illustrations for my portfolio, each of which stretched my skills as an illustrator and storyteller.
I almost gave up before I even started. The theme was “Mystery” in celebration of Sherlock Holmes’s anniversary in 2017. I sketched and worked and wondered my way through several different ideas, none of which seemed good enough, clever enough, smart enough, or pull-off-able enough.
I finally decided to forget the whole detective theme and simply showcase three characters (a must) going through the beginning/middle/end of their story (a must) with a hint of mystery: where did the dragon’s fire go?
Now for the process photos. In the past year, I’ve become much better at the sketch/grayscale and value study/then paint process. While it seems like that might slow me down, it actually speeds me up, because I don’t lose time trying to pick colours. Once I have my values, I can pick a colour scheme and just work. The guess work is gone. I love this approach.
Here is the selection of main colours I used as my colour scheme. I use color.adobe.com to help me out.
I’ve squirrelled away for the first half of my summer vacation, and it has been so amazing for my spirit, my family and my art.
Have you ever been working away when it hits you? This is where I am supposed to be.
That just happened to me. I took 1 and a half days a week this summer to focus on building my business, and figuring out what that even meant. Uh – I still don’t know, but anyway. I’ve been planning for a line of art for educators (aptly called “Art4Educators”), and working on collections of surface designs that could be licensed, and profiled for companies seeking licensees. I also launched a new service to illustrate people’s kids.
I thought I might get 1 or 2 interested buyers, but within 3 days, I sold out. Sold out meaning, I had 20 clients commission illustrations – and that is more than enough to keep me drawing and painting until school starts again! I am overwhelmed with the reality of how opening up space to create has translated into more business than I’ve ever had before.
One of the new products I’ll be offering in, I hope, September, is a line of updated inspirational/motivational posters for the classroom. As a teacher, I know I’m sick and tired of walking the halls and seeing the same outdated, tired, cheesy and frankly – tacky – posters in the halls and classrooms. But there aren’t many options for good ones.
That’s why I’ve created some with quotes that are relevant to today’s learner and today’s teacher – and are simple, beautiful and classy.
It was in the moment of reviewing these this evening that I was hit with that “You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing” moment.
And so – I’ve got to share some peeks at what I’m working on! These posters are created digitally, and are one side of my Art4Educators collection. The other side features hand-painted acrylic and mixed-media illustrations with quotes, and I am very excited to share those – when they’re ready!