On Making Art & Letting It Simmer

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.

BookBearLifestylePhoto1What 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.


For more of my work, please visit www.patrickguindon.com
or visit me on Facebook & Instagram @patrickguindonart


Process Post: The Fire Thief

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.

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Take a look:

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This was the original plan, after several tweaks. I wondered, though, if a different arrangement would work better, so I redrew this.
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I angled the view of the hedgehog, and made the fire more prominent. I used the body of the dragon and each head as markers to form a triangle. Triangular compositions are my favourite.
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Then, I tweaked a bit more. The marshmallow grew in size. I added the value study. The firelight pushed me to play with dark tones that I usually shy away from.
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Midway through painting, as I colour-blocked and worked on matching the colour tones to the values.
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The final art. I love how the bird sticks off the page, along with the dragon’s head. The tones and textures in here are my favourite part of any illustration I have done to date.

Here are all three illustrations, in order.

The Fire Thief - 1The Fire Thief - 2The Fire Thief - 3

Process Post: We All Belong

It started with the idea that I needed to add some beauty to the school I work in.

I scratched down this idea:

and then I let it sit for a month. After lots of character sketching for other illustration projects, it all merged into a fully formed idea and I set to work.

As with most of my art, I painted the canvas out in black. I do this for several reasons, but mostly because the solid underpainting allows the colours to pop and contrast more in line with how they will look when finished, than if I painted them on a white canvas. I love using dry-brush effects, and so the black peeking through really helps to make the most of the rough brush strokes that I love.

Once I had finished all of the heads, I added some hair. For this piece, I knew I had to go with vibrant, wild hair. Partly, because it was going into an elementary school. Partly, because I needed to make these characters JUST far enough from looking like the kids in the school, so that the kids in the school could look up and see themselves represented.

With the hair almost complete, I went in and painted the white background using a very rough brush. This took a few coats in some spots. I wanted a textured look, not a solid look. This is where the black really gave me the most help.

Next, the faces:

And finally, the words. At first, I went with the lime green. After some consideration and feedback from my critique partner, we agreed that a higher contrast would make for a bigger impact. I roughly brushed in some black, leaving the lime green in place to peek through.

The result? A piece of art that features a pile of people, all of whom are different and wonderful and vibrant. As soon as I showed my class, they hopped up and started looking for the one that might look like them. They knew, instinctively – they all belonged. We all belong.

Process Post: Every Child Deserves A Champion

When a fellow educator asks you to make their art, it turns out that it is actually really tough. It’s one thing to think about education from an outside perspective: desks and text books and smiling teacher, oh my! But when you’re deep in the trenches and have strong (very strong … like, REALLY powerfully sometimes to a fault strong) beliefs about learning and education, it makes it more of a challenge. Add to that, I know – and admire – the client. I had my work set out for me.

After much discussion around imagery, purpose and intentionality of the piece, I set to work implementing a quote that she wanted to use, and I sketched out a few samples.

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We agreed on this image – the teacher is helping the student up, but is not entirely supporting the student. Learning is about the right supports, not entire support. The student is climbing this mountain of books – knowledge – all the while, gently and lovingly guided by the teacher. In the background is the quote, and on the books is a second quote from the same TedX Talk by Rita Pierson. Oh, how I love Rita Pierson’s being, words, and light.

Next, I set to work on the background, drew in the basic structure with chalk, and got to painting. For the faces, I blocked in the colour and set to work on shading and blending later. The text popped in quite nicely, and I was so in love with this piece by the end that I actually had a pretty tough time letting it go! However, it now lives in the Vice Principal’s office at a school in my board, and I’m so proud to be part of this new VP’s journey.

I take commissions! Check out my Facebook page for pricing, and get in touch! www.facebook.com/patrickguindonart (Pricing starts at $0.40/square inch, with uncharges for complexity or intensity needed for each individual piece! This lets me price it out for you fairly, but still adjust to your specific piece. Pre-made originals + prints are priced differently.)

Process Post: Adventure Awaits

This piece started as a traditional acrylic painting for my not-yet-born baby’s room. My wife had put together the most perfect room, and I wanted to make a unique painting for the baby. I waited until she had done all of the things in the room that she wanted, and then took my cues from there. The result was a culmination of my ongoing development in art. The book opens – nay! EXPLODES out and these kids are off on their adventure. It features lines from my favourite books and stories.

This was a commission for my own home – but I also take commissions for other people! Check out my pricing guide and other pieces on my Facebook page.

Upon completing it, I really wanted to continue working on it digitally. I thought this might make the perfect addition to my illustration portfolio.

{Psst! Do you like this kind of thing? Then consider signing up for my quartlery newsletter! It’s free, and comes in February, May, August and November!)

The following photos are progress shots, so that you can see some of my process. I started with the sketch, and then worked out the greyscale and began working on the colour. After lots of back and forth with myself and my critique partner, I decided to rework the sail and the water. I felt that the sail, particularly, would give more of the story if it wasn’t just a solid piece of fabric, but rather something from Gramma’s linen closet. The water I opted for went through many phases, though I didn’t snap shots of them along the way (oops!). Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 7.40.46 PM.png

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Now, we’re ready to go. The digital sketch is complete.

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The greyscale came together over a few solid hours of painting, then standing back and looking, then fussing, then repeating. I was really focused on creating some stark contrasts and zeroing in the focus on the kids.Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 7.09.01 PM.png

Adding colour:

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This boat was a major pain. I couldn’t settle on a look or colour!

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I sent this to my partner at one point, feeling pretty excited. Then I thought … geeze. It’s just not right. My partner cleared it up when she said, “You’re right, it’s not … I think the tones are too close in the face and the background.” Bingo! This, folks, is why you need a skilled and honest critique partner if you want to make real progress.

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I changed the colour of the boat, added this little iguana dragon guy to the head of it, and worked away for hours on the shirt, hair and hat. I toned down the background, changed the colour and faded it out around the shoulders, as to have a greater contrast of the face against the sky.

At this point, I thought: DONE! I was very excited about the vintage sheets.

Then I looked closer. Problem areas: the waves. They just weren’t doing it for me. The boat was too prevalent. Should I increase details? Should I change colours again? Should I add waves in the back and amp up the props by adding flying fish and other stuff?

After a long discussion with my critique partner, I made the decision to try some different waves. Through that process I found myself noticing the need for waves in the background and a higher contrast to increase the energy of the piece.

In general lately, my focus is on increasing energy. Sometimes it is through a slight shift in the eyes, or the body language. Sometimes it’s through tension built with things like waves.

This is the end result, and I am VERY excited about it:

Adventure Awaits Illustration Promotional.jpg

I also made a process video of the acrylic painting. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here!

Some Process Work

I’ve talked before about my process, and it seems to continually change. That’s the most important part of my work. It changes. Just like me, my mind, my thoughts, the way I speak, the way I approach and interact with people and myself – it changes.

I am focusing more and more on reference photos, and using my sketchbook to explore and play.

I wanted to do some studies around my son, Kingsley. I felt that his strong, strange personality would be the perfect type of energy to try and capture in some basic pencil sketches, so I have been following him around for a week, sketching his gestures in very quick, messy sketches (live) and taking a zillion pictures of him.

I knew that I wanted to stylize him, too. I wanted to apply a picture book character “look” that might fit in with the approach I have been honing over the past year. I decided to start by actually drawing him from this photo, in a realistic way:


I drew him as close to this as I could in a short time frame (I gave myself about 10 minutes, and my focus was on pulling out major characteristics in his looks). Then, I played around with a character version of him. I moved the eyes around a lot, and replaced them about seven times with various approaches. I went back in my sketchbook to refer to some other sketches I had done a week ago that used an eye style I liked.

The results of the primary study:


Then, I sketched a number of poses. I used photographs in order to get the gestures correct, and played with eye shape, sizing, space and location, as well as line work in the mouth, nose and eyebrows in order to specify his expressions. I am so pleased with the general full layout that I put together. It was so much fun to create in this way, and using references, and filtering his general features through a realistic drawing first, really helped.


If you are a teacher, or if you have a creative kid, then try having them do something like this, too. Take some photos, and give them just enough time to sketch them down quickly before moving on. The “just enough time” for me tended to be the length of time that was provided before my iPhone went dark, though truth be told there were certain cases where I needed to zoom and move around the screen, so really, it was likely much longer than the minute or two provided by the phone.


Process Post: Illustration Work

My latest illustration for my portfolio is a piece of “spot illustration” – something that can stand alone, but doesn’t feel like a “one-off”. I saw this photograph appear in my newsfeed. This is the daughter of one of my University friends, and I just had to use it as my reference.

When creating art, lately I have found that using a reference (or a number of references) has allowed me to create stronger pieces. I had received a lot of feedback about my art not quite working because the references were clearly missing. We can only draw so much from our imaginations; it is good to use reference material! My critique partner, Jami, has really pushed me in this area (thanks Jami!).

I’m going to share bits of the process in this post. If you’re a teacher, or the parent of an artistic kid looking for a push, you could study this process for an art lesson. If you’re an artist or wondering about references and digital and blah blah blah, this may give you some ideas.

So, here’s the original image:


Adorable, right? This kid is so freakin’ cute; I loved the energy and pure happiness that was in the picture. She looks a little bratty, too (in the best way), and I wanted to maximize on this in my character design. I didn’t want to make a true-to-life replica; I wanted to use this as a reference, and then build on it in my own style.

I started with a LOT of sketches. Here are some of the ones closer to the finish:


Both my critique partner and I really liked most of the structure in this image. There were some issues though. For one thing, the cat along the back fence was placed right above the squirrel and the pumpkin. Structurally, this bothered me. I wanted to push the use of triangles in my structure, which I had achieved between the head, to the pumpkin pile, and then down to the wheelbarrow. I decided I would shift the cat over to the left, and create a smaller triangle between her head, the squirrel/pumpkin and the cat. The other thing bothering me was the face. It wasn’t working. The style was all wrong – nothing special or stand-out. I sketched a number of other faces, eventually coming to this pointed nose approach, and then played with that:

10253807_10101210893049141_1065879714802194734_n11061719_10101210893039161_4343989371578205925_nMy plan was to use one of these heads on top of the old head, when I brought everything into photoshop. That will be shown in a few seconds, but first I want to point out an area of concern for my partner. She suggested that the image I was referring to was causing an issue. The perspective in that image was coming from the parent’s eye view – a photo shot down from higher up. I was trying to take a head-on approach, which I continued to want to use. She sent me this image to help me see how I could work on it. You’ll notice that the horizon lines were really all that needed the most fixing.

She actually used a photo of my son to help work on the issue:


I brought photos of my sketches into Photoshop and moved some things around. This is the REALLY ugly part. I cut and pasted the cat into a new spot, and changed the size slightly. Then, I erased the old head, brought in the sketch of the head I wanted to use, and resized/angled it so that it looked more uniform with the body. Next, I changed the horizon line.

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I turned down the opacity of these layers so that I could sketch, using my Wacom tablet, over top:

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Then, I removed the original sketches entirely.

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Next, I added the background details and some shading. I also changed the tongue sticking out, because my wife (who is just as skilled with constructive feedback as my art critique partner Jami is) suggested that it looked like she wasn’t wearing her dentures. Eep! Not the message I wanted viewers to leave with, so I fixed the mouth and then got to work on the background.

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I used color.adobe.com and searched for the following terms to help me identify my color palette: harvest, pumpkins, pumpkin patch, skin, hair. Note: I have a subscription to the entire Creative Cloud, so I can easily use any of the Adobe tools. I highly suggest this for digital artists. I complete most of my illustrations in Photoshop, including this one.

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I hated the way the dress was looking at this point. I spent a long time looking at samples of clothing in both real photos and in illustrations; at digitally rendered and watercolor renderings (because I tend to use watercolor techniques in the digital setting).

As I got further into the colour, I turned to another reference: The Paper Bag Princess, with art by Michael Martchenko. Now, being a Canadian boy, I grew up with this book and a billion other Robert Munsch/Michael Martchenko books and have long admired his ability to create intense situations and children in various poses and expressions, with so much life. In this case, though, I was looking specifically at the color choices he made, based on a suggestion from my partner, who receives a million Facebook Chat messages a day when I am deep in a project. If you don’t have a great partner yet, you need to find one who you trust, who knows their stuff and who can be honest when your work isn’t working.


Jami had commented that actually building the dress up from the colour of the background might make the work easier. When I saw this image (while reading to Kingsley before bed), what she had said came to life: it doesn’t need to be a total contrast; the tones and hues can be similar between the background and the main subject.

I spent some time trying out a dress in the browns and greens, but it wasn’t entirely working.

I changed the hue to a blue and suddenly it started to come together.

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I tweaked the blue using a combination of airbrush (with texture) and watercolor brush settings. Then, I duplicated the layer and set both to “multiply” (this is a great effect; it brings out what it underneath, almost like using a magic marker over a black line would). I called up the “Burn” tool and darkened the edges a tad. You may also have noticed the face: in the photo above, with the bad dress colors, it is darker; however, in this shot, it’s much subtler. I utilized the blending tool, as well as the “Dodge” tool, to pull this off. I think that if you can paint the skin of a character to be unnoticeable, you’ve pulled it off. In my opinion, the stronger artists can do things that look so damn easy, but are difficult to duplicate if you aren’t them. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying that this is me.)

Now I was feeling like it was almost ready. I switched over to greyscale (on a Mac: Command + 4, then try Command + 3 … Command + 2 will bring it back – this has to do with the settings of the color and is another post in itself) to check the quality of the color work. This is a huge piece of determining how finished you are. Most people don’t bother. I am a firm believer in it.
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I noticed some shading discrepancies in the wagon, so I fixed them up.

And that was that. I felt good about it even the next morning after some time away. Of course, this is where I am now. In 2 years, I may look at this with new eyes and information and experiences and might pull it off in a whole new way. But for now, I am very satisfied!


To summarize, from this:


To this:


And onto my portfolio, at art.patrickg.ca.