Why I'm Participating in Inktober

I'd always wanted to participate in Jake Parker's challenge/activity but found a way to let it slip by, marveling at others work but not jumping in myself. Last year I jumped in and really grew a lot from the experience even though I only did a few illustrations.

Inktober, 2016

Inktober, 2016

Last year I went in not just wanting to make some fun stuff along with the rest of the illustration/art world but to accomplish something more tangible; an exploration or a stretching of something atrophied. I decided to work in ink and cut paper, limiting myself to just those two things. I'm a huge Eric Carle fan and really love collage. It was a big part of my work in college (Don't ask, I'm not showing). 

There's a lot of that influence in what I try to do. What happens when I focus on cut edges that are less precise? How does line work to shore that up? Last year's experiments in Inktober left an indelible and outsized mark on my current work. This is very much in line with Mr. Parker's reason for starting Inktober in the first place. He wanted to get better at inking. So what about this year? What rules am I playing by and what's the goal?

My personal 2017 rules for Inktober

  1. Creepy and Cute: Halloween all month? Yep.
  2. 2 Colors: I love color and use it liberally. But I really love limiting myself and playing with overlays and other settings in Photoshop.
  3. 1 Texture: Collage is fun, but what about limiting it to just one random texture file?  
  4. Not ink, but close: I'll try to use my favorite "pencil" in Photoshop with less "command Z" to mimic ink work. (Some folks may say "hey, you're not doing ink drawings!" and that's true. For meeting my goals this year,  I want to focus on the mix of color, texture, and "ink" rather than a strict adherence to just ink. Maybe next year I'll roll with just a nib and a bottle of India ink!)

The goal is to push a melding of styles I've been working in over the past few years into something that really feels right. Oh - and I want to go the full month. You can see all of my 2017 illustrations here or you can root me along on Instagram.

Why I Gave Up Trying To Fool People with My Art

I work digitally. Like many illustrators and artists and animators, I transitioned to drawing directly on a tablet monitor (Wacom Cintiq) in an art making application (for me, Photoshop). There are many, many reasons for this, but in a nutshell I can work faster and achieve my artistic goals more efficiently. This is especially important when client deadlines and side projects (like this one) are colliding. None of this is new. I've been working this way for 7 years or so. What has changed is how I view the work I make digitally.

For much of my career, I've been whittling down a style and a way of working. I'm very much in love with texture and pattern (thanks, Mom!). I like naive shapes and lines (thanks Mr. Emberely and Mr. Carle). I like my drawings to be messy and have a real affinity for collage (no idea who to thank...). Some artists really love the perfect shapes and lines they can get on a computer, but I've always fought it in my own work.


An Example

Work in progress for Letter Set GO!

In Photoshop, I build shapes using the Freeform Pen Tool. It's a scraggily beast of a thing. It likes to leave "jaggies" (little unintended sharp triangles) randomly. When I'm closing a circular or oval shape it connects oddly, making it look kind of pointy. It used to drive me mad (and still does, sometimes). But it's a perfect illustration of a tool being a tool. 

When you use scissors to cut out a piece of an old magazine for collage, you sometimes get odd, unintended shapes. Or you over-cut. When you're painting you sometimes pick up a touch of cobalt blue when you were reaching for vermillion. When you're printmaking not every print is going to have the same ink coverage. You might have a spot that is fainter. We've learned to live and sometimes love these little mistakes.


The Point

I tweeted this the other day: 

I've come to the slow realization that fighting against a tools "mistakes' or trying to remove the tool from the work is not always in the illustrations best interests. Working without the perfection of "undo" has given the work some space for something greater to emerge.

I don't need to fool people into thinking what I'm making is perfectly made computer art or conversely - a traditionally rendered image. It's proudly made by hand on the computer.  

Using my iPhone, IFTTT, Dropbox, and Hazel to 'capture' textures

I'm very fond of using texture in my illustration work. It's become second nature to use my eyeballs to scout random cement walls, the back of used books, and rusted car parts. I've also become a purveyor of many, many websites, online services, and free remote collections of old stuff - all in the hopes of finding something to beautiful to use in Photoshop.

So I thought I'd share a bit of how I made the some of the tediousness of "texture sleuthing" into a simpler, more intuitive process using tools that most people have access to.

The iPhone's Camera

I have a 5c and am largely happy with it. I use the app VSCOcam to take and edit the photos slightly. The main benefit my iPhone has over other cameras is that I always have it. It's not a DSLR and there are times I wished I had my clunker, but the trade off in quality is diminished by the iPhone's utility. VSCOcam is a nice app that allows me to play with exposure, color, and sharpness to bring out the best qualities in the shot. I can also delete blurry photos before they hit my photo stream and/or texture library.

IFTTT, Dropbox and Hazel

So this is the part of the process that used to slow me down. How do you quickly get the photos off of your phone and onto your computer (in a place that's actually helpful)? In that distant past, like 3 years ago, you'd have to actually plug in your phone to a cable that way plugged into your computer. Barbarians! Thanks to some handy services, I can save it on my phone and have it saved within a certain folder on my computer in minutes.

IFTTT is a service (app and website) that links internet things together using "recipes."  We're going to use a recipe that looks like this: IF I save a photo to an album named "Textures" on my iPhone THEN save it to a folder marked "iOS textures" in my Dropbox. Your photo or photos will now be saved to your dropbox on your computer. Note: You can name the albums and folders whatever you like.

You could leave the texture there, in Dropbox. But if you have a "can't quit it" texture addiction like me, you'll be hitting the bounds of your dropbox size allotment rather quickly. Hazel is a great app that does a billion fantastic things on your Mac, but in this case we just want it to watch the folder "iOS textures" and move it to the texture library that I store on an external hard drive.

So that's it. A lot of the time I take my daily bike ride, shoot a few texture shots, edit quickly and save it to my texture album all on my iPhone. When I get home, the image files are all ready to be used in one of my illustrations. 


New Website!

Saying goodbye is hard to do.

Saying goodbye is hard to do.

My last portfolio site was designed and developed in-house by me. It was a really fun project to bring into existence. I went with a single-page site with lots of subtle parallax effects, strong typography, and a lot of character.

It garnered lots of attention and was featured on a few showcase sites, like Site Inspire. I received lots of inquiries from fellow illustrators and designers about contacting the firm that had built the site for me. I don't think many people believed me when I said I made the whole thing from scratch on my own.

As is with all things, the site got stale. It wasn't responsive and it was difficult to add new work. The modal lightbox window was okay, but didn't serve my illustration work as well as I'd liked. I had it in my head that I needed to update, but client projects wouldn't allow.

At the same time, I'd been feeling a slow disconnect from the world of web design and a strong urge to increase the amount of fun illustration work I was getting. I can design responsive sites and have enough technical skill to make it close to what I envision, but to what end? What fun art director or children's publisher cares if I can develop in addition to illustrate?

Students and younger professionals always ask me about what to include in their portfolio. I always lead with "remove all the stuff you don't want to do more of." To get to where I want to be professionally, I needed to remove the web design work and play down some of the printed work that I didn't want to have an outsized influence on my portfolio.

So here's my new site, fully responsive and featuring my illustration work more prominently. I decided to use Squarespace for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is that I didn't have to build the site myself. Leaving me time to make work that I really love.