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.


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.

The Learning Curve

I generally learn fast. But with digital art, I have always felt like I fell behind. Everyone else was so good at it and I was a mess. This past winter, I bought CS6 and have been slowly trying to acclimate myself with Photoshop and the whole digital painting thing. Years of having Corel Painter did nothing for me, so I thought I was a lost cause.

Far from. It just took figuring out what works for me. So here’s the progression of the latest piece I worked on.

Ben screencap

Step 1: I used a grid system to get my outline ready to go, a quick gradient paint for the background (it’s barely a gradient, but it’s there). Then I start painting in skin. I used the original image to pick up colors, so there was a lot of switching between this image and that one.

Ben WIP5

Step 2: I start filling in details in the skin and smoothing it out, picking up all the in between colors, deepening shadows, defining shapes. I got annoyed with the skin at one point and moved on to work on the hair.

Ben WIP7

Step 3: Continue on here, evening out the skin, adding more highlights and correcting a few shapes (his mouth gave me tons of trouble). I started working on the eyes and the jacket and the shirt so I could get away from the issues I was having with his skin. I also defined the shapes of his ear and made that look better

Ben WIP8

Step 4: Working on the eyes, fixing some skin issues around his mouth, still, and moving on to work on other parts of him, like the jacket. Most of the work you see on the jacket here didn’t make the final image because I just wasn’t happy with it. His neck looked a little flat to me here, but it matched the reference image so I kind of let it be.

Ben WIP10

Step 5: I spent a long time working on his eyes and eyebrows, and I was satisfied with them in the end. I then finished his shirt, and then went back to working on his skin. I added details like moles and wrinkles, and then used a different brush to go in and add skin texture, and a different one to add the stubble on his upper lip and jawline. I was incredibly satisfied with how this looked.

Figuring out little things like adding skin texture was huge for this. My older sister also taught me how to make custom brush shapes in PS, so a texture on his jacket in the finished piece (not shown here) was one I made myself. It’s taken me three digital paintings to feel like I’m getting this. Each time it turns out better than the last, and this one feels like I’ve finally hit my stride. Now if only I could make this a faster process….

a long time coming

I worked a seasonal job, and the big thing I saved up to get was CS6 and Lightroom. Now that I have it, I’m slowly figuring out the whole digital painting thing. I’ve always been bad at it. Like, really bad. I had Corel Painter for a few years before I even learned how to make custom brushes, and it was because my sister walked me through the brush creator.

So here I am, determined not to be terrible in Photoshop, trying to learn the painting side of it. I learned how to use it in college, but I didn’t do much with it, especially since I’ve never been much for digital painting. I hit my stride with the Oekaki BBS system, and was good at that. I understood how it worked because it had like 4 functions. Simple.

This is the kind of stuff I was doing. As a high schooler.

Edmund Pevensie

Cillian Murphy fixed

Remus J Lupin fixed


While not the best, it’s pretty good. I’m still impressed by most of it. And then, just compare these to the following, which were done in Corel Painter during college and even after college.

Bella Swan 1 jpg

Ivaera and Ioan JPG

Garrett Hedlund final

Just terrible, right? Just terrible. Cringe worthy, really.

Well, I’ve been trying to get used to PS and what better way than to practice coloring on some sketches of mine? If you read my last post, you will have seen them at the end. Not bad. Each one I did I felt like I improved from the last. That’s a good sign.

And then I thought, well, why not try to do what you’ve never been able to do, and that is a successful piece of digital art that reflected what you were capable of as an artist?

And this was the first evening of work:

Clary preview1

Just atrocious. I thought for sure at this point that digital art was beyond me and that I’d forever be a traditional media girl. There’s nothing wrong with that, except oh wait we live in the digital age and people expect artists to be able to do EVERY medium, not just…. oil paints, graphic pencils, color pencils, watercolors, and ink. Well, and acrylic, but I don’t like acrylic for the same reason that most people do: the drying time. The next day I woke up and said, I wonder if  I can fix this.

Clary preview2

Yes, yes I can. I mean, it’s not completely fixed yet and her hand is a trainwreck, but it’s better, for sure. And actually looks like the actress and not like the horrific attempt from the night before that just looked…. sad. Like a blurry little sad mess. But this–this I could work with. So I kept going….

Clary preview6

Clary preview10

Uh, what? I might be good at this? STAHP. Let me tell you the parts I am most proud of:

  • the bracelet and the cast shadow from it
  • that mug. Look at that mug.
  • how I managed to cut out 2 people from the background of this.
  • that shadow from the hair on her face.
  • did I mention the mug? The bracelet?

Stay tuned for the final version later…….

I’m going to talk about what I’ve been learning in PS now, from just this piece.

  1. The smudge tool is NOT your friend. Just don’t even go there. The blur tool? That’s okay if you just need to make a line not sharp, like the background stuff.
  2. CS6 is supposed to have increased pressure sensitivity, so even my bamboo tablet suddenly becomes amazing. Corel Painter has sensitivity, but it’s an entirely different program.
  3. Keeping one finger over the ALT key is awesome. Why? Because when you’re using the brush tool, holding ALT gives you the eyedropper, so you can get a color in between the colors for shading purposes. Works wonders.
  4. The dodge and burn tools are really good in PS. Not in Corel Painter, because it’s meant to be a painting program, not a photo editing program.
  5. PS/CS6 comes with some really nice brushes already loaded in. And for the casual/hobbiest/sometimes freelancer artist like myself, I don’t really need much else. But finding the ones you like and resonate with is important, and will vary from piece to piece and on stylistic choices. And then you can just go in and edit them easy peasy anyway.
  6. Understanding coloring, lighting, shading, and so forth is important, and if you know it in traditional art, it will eventually transfer over. It may just take a little push. Or reading an artbook that talks about them in relation to digital media. Thanks to my sister, whose artbook is in the editing stage right now.
  7. Sometimes you need to deviate from the original image you’re using as a reference, if you are, that is. Colors may need to change, shading may need to be deepened, and artistic choices will need to be made throughout. As the artist, you control where the eye goes, more than you think.
  8. Keep track of your layers. I painted something on the wrong layer at least a dozen times, and one was so much that I ended up merging the layers because of it.

And lastly, have the trailer.

art: a process

After my sister gifted the most amazing watercolors I’ve touched in my life, I’ve been mildly obsessed with them. Forget those pencil drawings I love; I’ve got watercoloring to do. Hence why Ron Weasley and JGL are still sticky-tacked to my desk half finished, whereas I’ve been cranking out the watercolors. Also because Ron is wearing plaid and JGL is in stripes and why do I always pick reference photos with complicated clothing patterns? In any case…. here’s how I do these watercolors.

First, here are the materials I’ll be using on this:

blending marker, white color pencil, graphic pencils, eraser, sharpener, watercolor pad, watercolors, brushes, sketch paper, water, paper towels, and reference image (on the computer)

clear blending marker (optional), white color pencil (for last little touches, but also optional), graphic pencils, eraser, sharpener, watercolor pad, watercolors (Dr. Ph. Martin’s), sable brushes (#2, #8, and 3/4 wash), sketch paper, water, paper towels, and reference image (on the computer)

1. I start with a reference photo I like, and then make a sketch of it on a piece of paper sized appropriately for the watercolor paper I’ll be using. Then I’ll take a soft graphite pencil (like a 4B or 6B) and color all over the back of the piece of paper with the sketch.

basic sketch with just hints of shadows marked on.

Simple sketch with just hints of shadows marked on, and the back of another sketch that I’ve scribbled on.

2. I position the image where I want it on the watercolor block, and with another pencil (a normal HB works fine, but make sure it’s not super sharp) trace, with some pressure, the specific lines I need. Clean up the watercolor paper. The lines I need should be dark enough for me to work with, but light enough that they won’t be distracting.

basically I've made my own transfer paper so I have the sketch--lightly--on the watercolor pad.

Basically I’ve made my own transfer paper so that I can have the sketch–lightly–on the watercolor pad. Eraser is on hand.

3. At this point I decide what color I want to use, as this is part of a series of single-color paintings. I have a tiny bit of Indian Yellow and Scarlet sitting around that I’ve been waiting to use, and yellow is the perfect color for Molly. However, before I touch the watercolor paper, I need to do a color test to see how the color reacts to amounts of water and if this really is the color/color mixture I want.

I just use the initial sketch paper for a color test. Here I decided on a whim to add some red to the mix and liked what happened.

I just use the initial sketch paper for a color test. Here I decided on a whim to add some red to the mix and liked what happened.

4. I’ll start with my wash brush and wet the paper I want more in shadow, and then add a light wash of the yellow to start, trying to guide the color a little. The initial wash is really important because it sets up a lot of the faint shadows and such.

the first color wash will set up whether this is going to turn out good or bad. This wash says good because I got the color where and how I wanted it.

the first color wash will set up whether this is going to turn out good or bad. This wash says good because I got the color where and how I wanted it.

5. Duel-wielding brush time. I’ll have a fine-point in one hand and a wash brush in the other. The fine point has color, the wash has water, and this is how I slowly darken areas until it’s what I want. This is where I start doing the larger details, more shading, and such. The fine details, such as the mouth and eyes, I’ll leave until last.

Screwed up a little here by having too much red on my brush. A tiny bit of that red is potent, and so I decided I just had to go with it.

Screwed up a little here by having too much red on my brush. A tiny bit of that red is extraordinarily potent, and so I decided I just had to go with it. Part of art is learning how to roll with the punches.

6. Once I’ve gotten most things finished, it’s time to do the eyes and mouth. Louise Brealey, who plays Molly Hooper, has a slightly odd mouth shape here, and her teeth are showing, which is annoying at the least. Teeth are hard to do.

chose to make her teeth indistinct. I added in one other color to my fiery mix to have a darker tone for the deepest shadows.

chose to make her teeth indistinct. I added in one other color to my fiery mix to have a darker tone for the deepest shadows. Also, I really hate that the color balance in my room is so awful a computer can’t fix it.

7. Clean-up time. Sometimes it needs it, other times it doesn’t. Really depends on the painting. In this case her eyes need just a bit of love. I have a white color pencil I’ll bring in to do highlights or any cleaning I need, and then a signature and it’s done. Oh wait, except for the part where I blast it with fixative. Stuff smells terrible, but it helps seal the color in and prevent possibly future damage from water.

You were wrong; you do count. You've always counted and I've always trusted you. But you were right; I'm not okay.The final scan took out a lot of the yellow from the image, which I can't figure out how to get back without the reds becoming overpowering.

“You were wrong; you do count. You’ve always counted and I’ve always trusted you. But you were right; I’m not okay.”
The final scan took out a lot of the yellow from the image, which I can’t figure out how to get back without the reds becoming overpowering.

Sounds pretty easy, right?

Molly is such an amazing character, because even when John can’t see Sherlock, she does. She never stops seeing him.

So in light of that I’ll talk about my color choices for her. I wanted to do Molly in tones of yellows and golden browns, but a yellow-orange color ended up being the one that felt right to me. Here’s some production design babble on the significance of this: Orange is what’s generally known as the people’s color. The color of the ordinary person, but it is also, in color theory terms, a color of energy and life. Unlike orange’s counterparts–the powerful and aggressive yet passionate red and the energetic and obsessive yellow, orange bears none of the negative stigma. It is bright, hopeful, yearning without the pain. Lively. But also the color of a deceptively ordinary person. Molly is this. She is the ordinary person exemplified, but she is a thousand times more, special and anything but ordinary, and that’s why orange is right for her.

Orange is the color of the people’s hero, and that is who Molly Hooper is.