a graphic design process: The Hummingbird

It started with a tattoo, and eventually became a way I define myself.

When going through multiple designs to come up with my new logo, my sister suggested something that I quickly sketched out. I then did a slightly more refined sketch of it and scanned that to begin the tough part of the work.

hummingbird 01

The vector part of the work. For anyone who doesn’t know about vectors, it’s basically a mathematical definition of a shape in space, therefore it can be enlarged or shrunk without ever losing quality. After a very short (5 minutes maybe) rundown of how Illustrator works from my sister, I set off on creating the vector lines for what my Hummingbird would be. I wanted to go this route, because the original design for my tattoo (done by my sister) (notice how almost everything art related involves my sister) was a vector, I wanted to remain with that.

Hummingbird vector final

Believe it or not, but this took me a while to do, because I was also figuring out Illustrator while doing this. Every Adobe program I’ve used has a steep learning curve, and it usually takes one solid project and several hours of working before you feel like you’re comfortable with the program. The only one not like that for me has been Lightroom, mostly because I already understood photo editing and Lightroom is stupid easy if you know photo editing at all.

But I didn’t want to just have a plain graphic. I wanted to have color involved. Because I love color. So I took my vector into Photoshop and started playing around with some ink textures I have, put the layers on multiply and started coloring. Pretty cool, but I wasn’t satisfied.

Hummingbird vector final

And what do I do when I’m not satisfied with digital art? I go with traditional mediums, of course. I’m much more familiar with traditional mediums and feel like I’m significantly better with them too. I wanted to do an ink/watercolor colorization of the piece, so I printed it out and transferred it to some watercolor paper I had laying around. Arches is the brand, and as it turns out, not all cold pressed watercolor paper is the same. I typically work with Fluid watercolor block, and Arches has a much thicker/harsher grain to the paper. It also reacts to water differently from Fluid, so I ended up starting over on another sheet. Basically it soaks up the water and then absorbs watercolors and ink so fast and then they bleed. It also takes longer for the paper to dry than Fluid paper. So, lesson learned. I like Fluid paper 100% more. I guess the interesting thing that Arches paper does is it soaks in the watercolors at a different rate (Dr. Ph. Martin liquid watercolors absorb at different rates. Blues absorb into the paper slower than reds and yellows, but faster than browns) so I ended up with a really striated look. Not what I wanted.

So on to attempt number 2. Which also involved accidentally sticking my hand in really wet ink. When I use india ink with a nib and not a brush, it takes a long time to dry and sometimes the ink comes off the pen nib in large globs, which take forever and a half to dry.

After inking in everything, I took chalk pastels and added some texture and some extra color. While it covers up some of the more detailed linework, I’m fine with it. Then spray fixed it and voila. I’m really happy with this, and I like it. It’s a rube throated hummingbird, but I took inspiration from another kind of hummingbird that actually does have those long tails.

Hummingbird watercolor

Want to know something cool–about how this design came about? When positioned like this, the Hummingbird is in the shape of a letter J. As in J for Julie. Graphic design win.

misfit monday: the woman who changed my life

In honor of the announcement that JK Rowling will be writing a new film series taking place within her magical world, I thought I should write about how much Harry Potter changed my life.

Except I don’t actually know how it changed my life because I was in 5th grade, nearly 11 years old, when I picked up the first book, and very soon after finished off the 2nd and 3rd books. When you’re that young, something doesn’t change your life so much as it becomes a formative part of your life. The Harry Potter series was that for me. However, there are a few ways that I can point out that it changed things for me.

friends at I at the Chinese theater, being the golden trio.

friends at I at the Chinese theater, being the golden trio.

1. Through the characters of Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood.

When the books first came out, I was nicknamed Hermione because people thought of me as her. Saw me as her. I corrected other kids, even in front of teachers, I was a smartalec and a know-it-all. I also had brown hair and brown eyes. I was made fun of and had a hard time keeping friends. But once people saw me as Hermione, it changed. A little.

Later on, with the development of Ginny and the introduction of Luna, it became clear to me that I possessed qualities of all three, and each quality I had in common with them was one I was able to accept in myself. I wanted to be smart, but I also dreamed of being pretty, like Hermione. I was odd, obscure, and artsy like Luna, and people accepted that part of me when they realized I was actually good at art. It was the part of me that didn’t care what other people thought because I just wanted to do art and be good at it. And there was the sporty, competitive side of me like Ginny, who always felt like she had something to prove because she was just a girl, or just Ron’s little sister, and the guy who she liked pretty much ignored her. She could command a lot of authority, and she was incredibly capable. I think, though, that I always envied her one particular thing: she was indeed beautiful and a lot of guys noticed her. My best friends in high school were the ones who got noticed. I was the one they could count on to never have a date.

2. Through making me love reading.

I was not a reader as a child. So when I found books I wanted to read, books that I didn’t want to put down, it changed everything for me. I still haven’t found books that grab hold of me like the Harry Potter books do, but I developed a love for reading and the written word from that moment on.

Odd story: when I was 11, reading the books for the first time, I wanted to be like Harry Potter so much that I cleared out a cupboard under a sink, crawled in there with the book and a flashlight, and stayed crammed in there for hours reading, pretending that I was like Harry living in the cupboard under the stairs.

As a teenager who struggled with depression, reading was my escape. I got in trouble on numerous occasions from when I was 13 all the way through when I was 17 for reading in class. The best part was that the teachers would call me on to answer the question, and I KNEW THE ANSWER. They had intended to catch me unaware and to make an example of me in front of the entire class, but when I knew the answer and could go into detail about it, as well as telling them exactly what I’d been reading, it left them fuming. My mom fielded a few angry emails and calls from teachers about this.

I’m not a huge reader, although this year has been a little different for me, and I’ve read around 25 books since late January.

3. Through giving me a world in which I felt I belonged.

Again, this goes back to Hermione. I didn’t fit in well as a child, but at Hogwarts, I always felt like I belonged. I was smart, I was brave and fearless, I felt absolutely sure I was a Gryffindor. I identified with Hermione in a way I’ve never identified with any character. But also, the books gave me friends. Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna, Neville, and Hermione were all my friends. I laughed at all of Fred and George’s jokes and pranks, snuck around with Harry at night, and faced the tough times in life with all of them too. With a common last name, I easily fit into one of the better known wizarding families (it was a huge joke with all my friends that Sirius Black was my dad). I finally had names of nemesis I could hate (Crabbe, Goyle, Voldermort…. not Draco though, because I had a major soft spot for that little prat) rather than feeling like I was just bullied by a large group, not anyone in particular. (I was bullied a lot in middle school and standing up for myself didn’t do much. I was bullied some in high school, but standing up for myself did a lot more then, mostly because by the time I was a junior, I just didn’t care and the teachers didn’t care if I punched someone after repeatedly telling them to stop harassing me.)

wizard dad

what you don’t know is that I’m wearing a shirt I sewed that matches one Hermione wears in DH1. Pictured here with my wizarding dad.

The characters were more than characters for me. They were my friends, my enemies, my mentors, my allies, my teachers, my family. Some of the times I have cried the hardest have been in the deaths in these books, because it wasn’t a character dying, it was someone I knew and loved. They were as much a part of my life as any real person, and sometimes more.

4. Causing me to learn unusual skills.

I learned to knit because of Harry Potter. I couldn’t afford to buy an official Gryffindor, so I asked my grandma to teach me to knit so I could knit my own. It took a few years before I eventually got around to it, and I think I might knit a new one sometime. But what 14-year-old learns how to knit for fun? Uh, apparently this one. People in my family know to expect at least one person to get a hand-knit something for christmas almost every year.

knitting

an in-progress shot of a hat Hermione wore in HBP. I love that hat.

This kind of makes me more like Hermione again, because she learns to knit to free house elves and actually it’s pretty cute.

5. Through teaching me a thousand things I don’t know if I can ever verbalize or recount.

I grew up reading these books. How could I say what I learned from them and how I changed because of them when they were a fundamental part of my formation as a person? But it’s a thousand lessons I learned from these seven books that play into every single day of my life. Harry’s sarcastic responses to things, Hermione’s dichotomy of intellect and emotion fully fitting into one person, how things aren’t always as they seem (pretty much from every book), how one letter can change your life forever, how there is magic in everything. How words are our most inexhaustible source of magic. How love touches us even after death, and how the ones we love never really leave us.

I often feel that I am some strange mix of Hermione, Ginny, and Luna wrapped up into one person. I don’t think I would have ever been able to accept myself and all the oddities of me without JK’s characters, and being able to say, yes, they are the way they are, and they are all parts of me, as I am all parts of them. And it’s okay.

until the very end

in what Hermione wears for the final battle, fake blood and all

On a side note, I’ve dressed up as Hermione at least 6 times. Twice for midnight showings.

I am a proud part of the Harry Potter generation, and Hogwarts will always be home.

misfit monday: mortal instrument madness

As a huge fan of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, I was incredibly excited for the film adaptation. I did a digital painting of Clary from one of trailers, and then I decided to start in on another one in hopes of completing it before the release of the film. Life kind of got in the way and a long series of complicated and traumatic events delayed finishing it until recently.

I thought that you might enjoy seeing a progression of the piece and hearing some talk about my process.

Clary2 WIP 1-1

Clary2 WIP 2-1First of all, I set up a grid and then worked on getting a really clean outline. This is one of the most important parts. From there, I set up a few more layers, did a background gradient, added red bits that I’d eventually have show through, and then began a color layer on top of that, which you can see a few pieces of here. I started filling in her skin and smoothing it out bit by bit. The colors didn’t look quite right so I started veering towards a more lavender skin tone.

Clary2 WIP 4-1

Clary2 WIP 6-1

I eventually went though and changed almost all of the skin tones, erasing a lot and starting over. This looked better, and was an important lesson in color and light and the relation between light color changing skin color and what we perceive to be right being not at all what we’d think. A lot of her skintones are lavenders. Not at all what I’d expected to use. I started working on her hair, and by this point, using blues and purples instead of browns and reds didn’t surprise me at all.

Continuing on with the skin, I kept having to change to bluer and bluer tones.

Clary2 WIP 7-1

Clary2 WIP 9-1

I spent a ton of time working on trying to get her mouth right, and at this point I was annoyed enough that I moved on to working on more in the background and then her hair and jacket. A ton of purples, but it was reading right, and that was the important part. Kept working on her hair. Some of the reds I initially expected to use were slightly used here. Went back to working on her face and added her eyebrows and tweaked her mouth.

Clary2 WIP 10-1

I got annoyed and didn’t want to work on Clary for a while, so I went and worked in the background and the light grid. This is normal, where I get annoyed with one part of the drawing so I have to work on another.

Clary2 WIP 12-1

Clary2 WIP 13-1

I finished up her hair, then went back to working on the background, and at this point I’ve finished the entire background, although I haven’t finished the light grid or her eyes. I kept putting off her eyes because my reference photo was small and blurry and her eyes were completely lacking any kind of detail.

I spent hours working on those eyes, tweaking them, repainting them because they weren’t right, tweaking more, then tweaking more, then repainting then tweaking another few times before I was finally satisfied enough. I also spent more time tweaking her mouth. Every artist has a perfectionist inside screaming at them when things aren’t right, and sometimes we’ve stared at the image for so long we know it’s wrong, but we can’t see why. It takes stepping away or getting another set of eyes to explain it. Mt sister did some of that when I was working on the eyes.

So overall I learned a lot about color and perception. The individual colors, if I saw only those, wouldn’t look right, but within the environment and with the lighting as it is and all the other things within the frame lining up with that, it looks right. I’ve continued using what I’ve learned thus far with digital paintings, especially with making skin have texture and definition in the light areas, not so much in the dark. I constantly have a hand hovering over the keyboard to either press ALT for color pickup to help blend (I don’t use a blending tool) or Command Z, which is the oh shoot I didn’t want to do that, and often Command S so I can save everything I’ve done in case photoshop crashes. It’s only done that a few times, but saving often is major, even if I have autosave set up on small intervals.

Stay tuned for the final version! I finished it, but it’ll get its own post.