Tag: diyartschool

The Joy in Participation

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Art is different when you create it. You notice things, tiny details that you skip over as a member of the audience. I think this is true for all kinds of art.

Last weekend, I sang in a choir. We spent months practicing a dozen or so songs. Within a matter of hours, the performances ended, and we turned in our binders. In past years, I listened in the audience to this same choir perform. The experiences were very different.

Spending months with the songs, I learned the words. I learned the intricate harmonies and how they fit together. The songs stuck in my head between practices, and I hummed them as I washed the dishes. By the time we performed the songs, it almost seemed anticlimactic. I still hum the songs as I wash dishes. Though the performance is done, the music isn’t over.

As an audience member, I thought the music was lovely. Listening to it sparked so many ideas! I didn’t always understand the words, but that didn’t matter. Though I quickly forgot how the music sounded, I remembered how it made me feel and the impression of its loveliness. It was not the same lasting experience as singing in the choir.

When I copy an illustration I admire, I discover so many overlooked details, hidden faces and patterns and figures.

I find myself admiring an expression or the shape of a hand or a lovely combination of colors. “Oh, that’s how you do that,” I realize.

When I make just the right line here or match the right shade there, it feels like victory. You learn so much by doing. Copying art forces me to slow down and focus on details, one at a time.

I admire my favorite artists more after carefully trying to recreate their work.

This does not mean that I have to make a perfect copy or sing all the right notes to appreciate art. I make mistakes much more often than I like. I think the joy comes from putting in the effort and spending time seeing the intricacy revealed when you spend time in careful study.

A special joy comes when I create something of my own. Even if it turns out terrible, during the moments that I’m totally absorbed in writing or painting or singing, I feel outside of time. Completely focusing on how to make something work is a joy of its own.

Several of my illustrations. I love some of them and don’t love many of them. But they are mine.

It feels like the joy of solving a problem or putting together a puzzle. It’s that moment when you put another piece in, and it fits. There are many more pieces left to go, but in that moment when you realize that this one piece is in just the right place, there is that “aha!” of recognition. “Ah, I see. This is how it goes. I thought it did, and I was right! What is the next piece?”

I love to go to concerts. I love to look at artwork, even when I don’t have the slightest idea of where to begin to recreate it. I love feeling inspired. There is so much joy in finding loveliness in the world, and you can find it in so many places.

Yet there is a special joy found in participation. I think it enhances my appreciation of art when it’s my turn in the audience again, because I’ve learned to look and listen more closely. If I’m in the audience next year, I’ll probably enjoy the choir numbers much more than I did last year. But, after the hard work and practice I put in this year, I honestly hope that next year I’m in the choir.

Have you found joy in participating in art? What do you enjoy doing? Do you think it helps you better appreciate the work of other artists?

Prep Work

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Sometimes, I can just sit down and write, draw, or paint. However, sometimes art takes preparation. I suppose practice itself is a form of prep work. What other preparation do I need?

With writing, I keep a notebook of writing ideas. Once I’ve chosen an idea, I sit and think about it. I like to at least have a beginning and an ending and some scenes in the middle planned before I start writing. If it’s a complex or longer story, I like to have an outline to follow. It’s usually not especially detailed, but it gives me some direction.

A page of one of my story ideas notebooks.

I still get surprises as I write, and sometimes I have to change my plans or do some rewriting when the story veers off course. Having a plan keeps me from having that awful moment where I realize that I have no idea where I’m going with this. It also makes it easier to just keep writing. It works for me.

In Toastmasters, we practice planned and impromptu speeches, because life has both types. In my drawing, I practice drawing the picture in pencil, making sure to get all the proportions right, and then drawing over it in ink with more detail or looser lines. I also practice sketching in ink without any prep work. I think both help train my hand and eye in different things.

Each step of my reproduction of Quentin Blake’s “ABC” Ss. Reproduced by me on 2-4-19

Painting requires the prep work of a mise en place just like when cooking. In addition to gathering and placing tools and fresh water and paint, the painting surface also must be prepared. For example, watercolor paper needs to be taped or stapled to a board.

Then you can draw an outline of the image you want to paint in pencil, or project it from underneath using a light desk, or project it onto the surface with a projector. Many believe a device similar to the projector, the camera obscura, was used historically by painters such as Vermeer. It’s really helpful to have a guide to follow so that you get all the proportions and distances correct. It’s horribly discouraging to spend hours on something and then realize that because you were working as you go, a small error led to everything looking wrong in the end.

I love recreating the illustrations John Tenniel drew for “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice through the Looking Glass.” 

In a watercolor class I took last spring, the teacher talked about this kind of prep work, and said that she often has students who get really upset when they hear about it. They say that it destroys their view of art and artists to learn that they might use projected images or other kinds of painting aids. I wonder how they feel about outlines for writing or recipes or sheet music?

For my graphic novel pages, I draw a thumbnail sketch. It’s small so that I don’t feel pressured to spend a lot of time on it or work out all the little details. It’s for planning out the flow of the panels and their content. The pages themselves are drawn in pencil, then inked, then erased, then scanned and colored digitally.

Step by step through one of my graphic novel pages, from thumbnail to publication. Click here to read my graphic novel, “Isaac’s Illustrated Adventure.”

In some ways, the pages I’m posting to my website are prep work. If I prepare them for publication at some point, I will redo them using the pages I have now as prep work for more polished, better done pages.

Planning ahead usually produces a better end result. It’s true when packing for a trip, or buying groceries for the week, or teaching a lesson at church. It’s also true in art. Knowing that I’m prepared also helps me feel calmer and more confident as I work. I like the times I just sit down and draw or paint, too. Sometimes the results can be surprisingly good. Unfortunately, they can also be surprisingly terrible. Preparation gives me more consistent results.

What kind of preparation do you do for your art? Do you always prepare in the same way? Do you sometimes skip the prep work? How do the results compare?

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The Audience

Be My Audience!

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While it’s important to make art that you are happy with, that doesn’t mean that a wider audience doesn’t exist. It’s up to the artist to determine how much that audience will see of their work. Some artists, like Emily Dickinson, are happy to keep most of their work to themselves. Others exhibit their work in shows and galleries.

I have heard that writers write best when they have a specific audience in mind. In some ways, this is true for art. When there is an audience in mind, it can help you make decisions as you work. How much the idea of the audience influences the work probably depends on a variety of factors.

For me, there is an audience in mind with each individual piece, often depending on my goals for that work. For example, doodling in my notebooks helps me sit still during meetings and is only meant seen if I tip the page to someone sitting next to me to let them in on a joke.

In high school, I had a pen pal from Australia, and we spent a lot of time decorating the margins of our letters for each other.

These are my notes from a recent Sunday at church. I love capturing my thoughts with pictures in the margins!

I put the Illustrations for my stories up on my blog for anyone to see.

Illustration from my story “Anything You Want to Be” published on 2-13-19.

Practice work is just meant for me.

Being an audience member can be educational. I took a watercolor class at the community college last year. It was fun to have everyone working on the same assignment and see how different the pieces were. It was informative in the way that art videos are, where you get a chance to see someone’s process and how they solve the problems on the page.

An audience is helpful to the artist as well. Knowing some one is watching is great for motivation. There is some pressure to do your best work.

If they are expecting you to show up, there is pressure to actually show up and do something. This might be a friend that you meet once a week to paint with, or a blog where you post a painting twice a week. Feeling accountable is great motivation.

While the best and most reliable feedback comes from a trusted mentor, an audience can also provide some feedback. They can give you comments or suggestions that you can decide to take or ignore. They can provide support and encouragement. Just knowing that someone out there cares enough to look at your work and tell you what they think without being asked is encouraging. (As long as they don’t hate your work. There is always that risk. Then you just have to do your best to recover and move on.)

As I said in the beginning, the wider audience does exist. None of us are truly alone. How much of our work we share is up to each artist and their goals. So is how much you keep the audience in mind as you work. There are choices, and it’s up to you to choose.

What are your thoughts about the audience to your artwork? Is it something that you keep in mind as you work? How do you share your work? Comment below!

Be My Audience!

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When Things Don’t Look Right

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Sometimes things go wrong and your painting or drawing just doesn’t look right. Kathy Decker says that this can happen even when you know what you’re doing. She likes the saying, “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.”

There are days when everything works and days when nothing does. When you’re starting out, mostly nothing does. Not knowing what to do or how to fix things can feel overwhelming and discouraging.

One day, Kathy Decker asked me how my drawings were going. She had challenged me to do some drawings of people from magazines as though I were going to paint them, paying close attention to light and shadows.

“I’m having a hard time making them look like the people in the pictures,” I told her. “They look like people, just not the people I’m drawing.”

She offered to come over and look at them. When she came, I took out the magazine and the pictures I’d drawn. She asked for a ruler.

She measured an eye in one of the magazine pictures, and then measured distances between the features on the face in eyelengths. She measured the distance to the other eye, the nose, the ear, the mouth, the chin, the top and back of the head. Then she measured the eye in my picture and did the same measurements on my drawing.

I like to use the Ensign Magazine to find pictures of people to draw.
The original picture is in this article: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2017/07/a-teacher-who-helps-save-souls?lang=eng

Next she checked angles and drew a line to show me the angle of the top of the head, the neck, the eyeline, the chin, the nose. She did the same with my picture. We compared them.

The rulers lines are in the upper left corner.
The original picture is in the is article: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2017/07/a-teacher-who-helps-save-souls?lang=eng

I had thought my picture had all the right things in all the right places, but looking at the measurements and angles, I was off in a lot of little ways. “If you check each picture you draw like this for a while, eventually it will become second nature, and you won’t need to check every time,” she said.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I haven’t taken her advice to check every picture I draw yet. However, when I draw something that just doesn’t look right, I now have tools to see what went wrong. I check angles and distances, and usually I can find my errors.

I am also more aware of angles and distances as I draw. I mentally check the angles and distances before I add the nose, the ears, the chin, an arm… I think it’s helped me improve my drawing. Sometimes, there are days when I do my best and the drawing still looks terrible, and everything I draw looks awful despite my best efforts. Kathy Decker says it’s normal to have days like that.

If there are enough errors, or if I really am unhappy with my picture, I redraw it the next day. Usually it’s enough better that I can move on. Rarely, I end up drawing the same picture every day for a week.

This is from the May 2018 Ensign. The online version doesn’t have all the pictures of people, but this picture is on page 26 of the magazine.

Weeks like that are frustrating, but they help me learn. Weeks like that, where I try and fail and learn, are the types of week that contribute to my growth spurt theory. When things start looking right again, I find that I draw little bit better than I did before. And so, I am maybe even grateful for the mistakes. They help me learn and grow.


Have you measured distances and checked angles on your drawings? Has it helped you? Are there other tools you use when things don’t look right? Please share them!

Keeping a Creative Travel Journal

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There are so many ways to creatively document a special trip. I don’t travel often, but when I do, I try to make a record of the trip that I will want to look back through and relive the memories. Adding a visual element to the travel journal makes it more interesting and captures the memories better.

One of the earliest ways I recorded a trip was to make a scrapbook, where I collected tickets stubs and postcards and photos and newspaper articles and pieces of pamphlets and magazines to tell the story of my trip. It was a long trip, study abroad to France for six weeks, so I kept a notebook of the places I visited and the photos I took there so that I would remember what each photo was about. It was very time consuming, but it was a very special trip that I knew I wouldn’t be able to take again.

Scrapbook page from my study abroad trip to France when I was at Brigham Young University. Click on the picture to zoom and look at the details.

On another trip to Madison, Wisconsin, I brought along a travel watercolor kit. Each evening I would scroll through the photos I took that day and do a quick sketch of the most memorable photo of the day. Next to the watercolor sketch, I wrote a sentence telling what was happening in the picture and the date. It didn’t take long, and it’s a lot of fun to look through. The kit didn’t have many colors, and I didn’t want to spend much time blending them to get just the right shade, so maybe next time I’d bring a bigger kit. And more than one brush.

Watercolor journal from a long business trip/family vacation to Madison, Wisconsin. The captions are tiny. From top left to lower right with links so you can explore the places we visited!
We tried orange custard chocolate chip ice cream from Babcock Dairy Hall at UW. Yum! 7-14-17
Giant globe outside the geology museum at UW we visited yesterday. 7-15-17
A giant cauldron a the cheese-making museum in Monroe, Wisconsin. 7-17-17
For family home evening yesterday, we helped do yard work at the church building. 7-18-17

Last August, I went on a very short trip. It involved a lot of standing in lines and waiting. I brought along a pen and a sketchbook. Whenever we were waiting again, I picked something to sketch. I took a quick reference photo, and started sketching. It was a lot of fun. It made the wait seem short, and I didn’t worry about making everything look great because I had the photo if I wanted to do a better picture later. Looking back through it, I wish it was a lot longer. This is a little strange, because it would require more standing around waiting in line.

Sketches made while waiting in line for Astro Blasters. If that doesn’t give away the location of our trip, you need more Disney in your life!

Waiting @ Airport to head home. This was the last sketch for our trip.

I am sure there are more ways to keep a travel journal. I will probably do some research before my next great trip, whenever that may be. Have you kept a creative travel journal? What did you do? Did it turn out well? What would you do differently? Are you planning to keep a creative travel journal in the future? What will you do?

As I described in my post last week, keeping a comic diary is another way you can make a travel journal.

How I Keep a Comic Diary

Last year, through a link on Arie Van De Graaff’s web page, I found Brittany Olsen’s Comic Diaries
page. I was delighted. I had just bought a brush pen and wanted more practice with it. I decided to draw a journal entry once a week in addition to my more traditional daily journaling.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. With the new pen, it was hard not to draw thick, heavy lines. It didn’t look much like a comic, either. I ended up with big, blocky pictures accompanied by words that looked like they were in bold-face type. It was discouraging.

My very first attempt at a comic diary

And then one day, I suddenly received an answer to my problem. In my mind, I saw templates that I could put on the page to make blocks for my comics. They would be the size of the sketchbook pages, while the overall size of the inside comic would remain the same, despite the number or size of boxes.

I realized that I could use the brush pen to trace the boxes and get practice, while using a smaller pen for the words and drawings so that I created a better comic. It all seemed so simple. I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought of it before. Inspiration is like that.

I went home and dug through the recycling for the family size Lucky Charms boxes. They’d been on sale, and I’d bought several. There was just enough cardboard to make a good variety of stencils. Any other arrangement of boxes I can adapt from the existing stencils.

I use these stencils to draw the borders on my comic diaries. What a huge difference!

After a few hours of measuring, marking, and careful cutting, I had my stencils. I drew a comic diary entry using my stencils and new ideas, and I was thrilled with the results. It looked a hundred times better. It’s what I’ve done ever since.

My comic diary celebration of two years posting my stories, art and cartoons. Here was my post that day: https://summerbirdstories.com/happy-second-anniversary/

Occasionally, I accidentally skip a page. When that happens, I just add a family recipe on the blank page, comic diary style.

Seriously, try this recipe! We stole it from someone else on the internet (hence the name of the recipe)

Sometimes the weeks are extra full, and it’s hard to not cram everything that happened into the page. I think the best entries are when I share how I’m thinking or feeling, or when I celebrate one big event.

Life is full of highs and lows. Keeping a diary helps capture the emotion and the feelings in life.

I have been keeping a regular journal since high school. I have boxes and boxes of them. I can’t imagine wanting to reread them at all. I know writing in them helps me sort through events and how I feel, but I think they’re probably pretty boring.

My comic diary is interesting. It is more compact time-wise, and less text-dense. When people flip through it, it seems like they start reading without intending to, stopping themselves several pages in and apologizing. I don’t really mind, though. I hope that someday my children will find it equally interesting. It may be a good way to pass down family history. That way, they won’t have to read through boxes of journals to find out what I was thinking or feeling.

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