I remember the first time my work was critiqued. It was an assignment to create a pencil drawing of a still life. I spent hours working to get it just right. It included books, a plant, and a ceramic rabbit (think the experience may have been burned into my brain?). The critique was conducted in front of the entire class, which added a new level of horror for me. The instructor went over each student's piece pointing out the good, the bad, and how we could improve our work. She was tentative and kind, knowing that this was a new and difficult process for most of us. At first, I was crushed by the whole experience. After sitting with it for a bit, I could see the problems she pointed out and was able to build on and improve my piece with her suggestions and advice.
Years later, I signed up for a group critique conducted by a very well-known artist agent during a conference. To say I was out of my comfort zone was an understatement. Even though I had been through many critiques of both my writing and artwork in the intervening years, this woman was a big deal. I entered the room with 10 to 15 other artists hoping for a constructive interaction. Someone who was a successful artist and agent studying our work and giving us sage advice on how we could improve our work and achieve success in our chosen market.
What actually happened was very unexpected and quite the opposite. Each piece was picked apart, judged, and ridiculed. Not a single artist escaped a scathing review. What could have been an amazing and instructive interaction left us all feeling blindsided and bullied. Did I mention we paid extra for the privilege?
Whether it's writing or art, having something you created, spent your time, heart, and imagination on analyzed by someone else can be nerve wracking. It can make you defensive or hurt your feelings. It can also be a constructive, eye-opening experience.
The way I approach a critique these days is to, in effect, divorce myself from my work. That way I can take in what is being said as though I had nothing to do with the creation and can really hear what is being said. That gives me the perspective and ability to learn from what someone else sees.
Have you ever watched a professional golfer being interviewed after a round? They analyze their game as though it was someone else out there on the course. It allows them the distance to see what they did well and where they could improve. I think if we artists, writers, creators could do that, we would be able to see more clearly what is necessary to improve without the stabbing pain of feeling personally attacked.
I have paid for many critiques at conferences over the years and all but one have been positive experiences. Though I have never walked away with a book deal or a contract, they have each taught me something new. There are times I wish the critique had been more blunt, though I know most agents/editors/writers doing the critiques are not prepared to completely dash a person's dreams and are unsure just how honest they should be. It would be helpful to know when your writing or art really isn't good and needs some serious work. There is a way to deliver such news without being hateful and driving someone into the nearest cave.
As the title suggests, critiques ARE critical. In order to grow and improve in your craft, you can't be a one-person admiration society. We all need the ability to step outside our work and see it through the eyes of a trusted, reliable person (whom we do not house or feed) or group. An extra viewpoint is never a bad thing. You don't have to follow the suggestions, just listen, consider, and then do what you feel is best for your work.
Like a Moth to a Flame
There's just something about Inktober! It doesn't seem to matter what else is going on in my life, when October rolls around, I'm pulled in. In years when I haven't participated, it felt as though something was just not right.
Just as with any other project, some of my pieces turned out exactly as they were in my head. Others not so much. Even when they don't turn out the way I imagine, I still enjoy the process. The lack of color is a challenge for me, but I generally don't back down from a challenge. :)
With the lack of in-person meetings, groups, and conferences for what seems like forever, it's great to feel part of a group with a common goal, even if I don't know any of the members personally. Checking out the work of other participants online is so inspiring! One prompt with thousands of unique interpretations. It's pretty amazing.
Over the next year, the world will start making its way back to normal (hopefully, anyway), but I will continue to make time for Inktober. Until then, here are a few of my favorites from this year's challenge.
/ Thirty-one days, 31 unique inked drawings. Without some planning, things can quickly go awry. This year, even with planning, there were some late nights and a few pieces that I wish had turned out better. Even so, it is always an enjoyable learning experience.
One thing I learned is that feedback from my friends and family was essential. Just like the bands, cheerleaders, and characters lining a race route, the support and comments, likes and hearts, carried me over the finish line. Creating in a vacuum may be good for some artists, but not me. I thrive on the reaction -- good or bad -- of the observers. They give me the push to try harder or the joy of making others happy.
Another thing I learned is that I LOVE color! Using only black, white, and gray is a real challenge for me. Without Inktober, I doubt I would choose to work in monochrome. Inktober has pushed me outside my comfort zone and I am SO glad it did. I'm learning to push the value/contrast, which in turn adds depth to my pieces.
I also learned that I will continue to participate in Inktober. Something that tests my ability and resolve this much has to be good for me. I hope you choose to join me again next year, either with your own works of art or following along with participating artists. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite pieces from this year:
Sh... Do You Hear It?
October is just around the corner, which can mean only one thing: INKTOBER!!
In only two days, the fun (aka madness) will begin. The idea of coming up with 31 unique drawings in 31 days and then inking them, can be daunting. There is a list of prompts, which can be helpful... or not. These are not all straightforward and can present a challenge -- but that's half the fun!
I have found that it is best to have a plan going in. That can mean as little as studying the list and brainstorming ideas to as much as having all of your drawings ready to go and merely inking them throughout the month. You can choose a theme or not. The options for Inktober are really wide open. The only parameters are to produce one inked drawing per day, post it on social media, and hashtag your post. Pretty simple.
The last couple of years, I have not participated. This year, I feel the need to show support for the creator, Jake Parker. He has always been generous with time and information given to the art/illustration community. This should be the best time of year for him with Inktober and the launch of his new book, but that hasn't worked out as planned. My hope is that participation will be at record numbers and that he feels the love and support of his community.
It would be great if you would join the fun! I have included the prompt list to get you started. :)
Wow -- time sure flies!
As everyone else, I have had A LOT of extra time at home for the past few months. Although I haven't been blogging, that does not mean I haven't been busy. I've been writing, drawing, painting, and still working on becoming more proficient with digital art. I have taken online classes in Photoshop and Illustrator, perspective, composition, and lighting.
So far, I am not what I would call confident with my digital drawing and painting, but I am progressing. I was able to successfully edit some photographs (chewing gum is a BIG no-no in wedding pictures, just so you know) and have learned a few tricks in Photoshop. With the new driver update for my tablet, I feel like I'm definitely heading in the right direction.
For those who believe that digital art is easier than traditional mediums or cheating somehow, I beg to differ. The learning curve is just as great as with other mediums, they are just different applications. To make pixels on a screen look like a painting takes some real skill. There are specialized brushes and techniques that can enhance the artwork, but one still has to know how to use them.
As I see it, there are a few advantages to digital, such as the ability to make changes quickly or correct mistakes without starting over, the ease of sending digital files, saving paper and other materials, and no toxic chemicals. The biggest disadvantage to me is not having an original, frameable piece of art. It can be printed, certainly, but is that as desirable? I don't think one will ever eclipse the other, both are valuable, just different.
As promised, I am posting a few of my practice images -- as rough as they are -- so you will be able to see some improvement as the months pass and progress continues.
Take good care and do something every day that makes you smile!
Inktober is over, there is a chill in the air, our clocks have fallen back, and I have created a new challenge for myself. I call it "PhoShoVember." I may have thrown the same gauntlet last year, but without the clever name. :)
Much like Inktober, which was started by Jake Parker as a personal project, I have set a goal, just for myself, to learn and become semi-proficient at Photoshop. Now, if you would like to join in, of course you are welcome and I would love to see your work.
As for my progress thus far, I had intended to post my first freehand Photoshop painting right here, right now. However, it appears I failed to heed one of the first lessons: "Merge your layers THEN save." Seems if one does not merge, one may be saving what appears to be a blank page. I may have saved myself some embarrassment as my painting looked like something any first grader could have accomplished with a fresh box of crayons.
I will also be participating in Slowvember, which was started by another favorite artist: Lee White. The premise of Slowvember is to take the entire month to work on a single piece, taking time to make it your very best. Given my inexperience with Photoshop, my progress will most assuredly be slooooooow. ;)
Since I have nothing Photoshop-y to show, I will leave you with a photo of my beautiful furbaby. Until next time...
The SCBWI Midsouth Conference was last weekend and I had the best time! It was the largest SCBWI conference I have ever attended -- there were 18 states represented. There was a huge variety of break-out sessions, the speakers were fun and informative, and I met a ton of new writers and illustrators. This was actually the first conference I've attended that there were so many opportunities to interact with other illustrators. The art director who spoke was generous with her time and gave thoughtful answers to all the questions asked -- and there were many.
I took two huge steps outside my comfort zone. For the first, I signed up for a critique with the art director -- who just so happens to be from Scholastic and in charge of three of their imprints -- in front of a roomful of people. Not daunting at all -- HA! The second was signing up for an illustration contest based on a prompt. All illustrators who entered used the same prompt to create completely unique artwork. Both pieces were to be displayed in the lobby of the hotel for the entire weekend. At once both exciting and terrifying.
The critique pieces were based on our choice of three different picture book texts. We were to choose a passage and illustrate it. We submitted sketches, received feedback, then completed a finished piece to be critiqued. As my turn approached during the critique, I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. I'm not great with public speaking in the first place and not only did I have to actually speak, my artwork was being dissected in front of a bunch of other illustrators, many of whom have been published multiple times. As it turns out, it was a wonderful experience! The art director was considered in her opinions and offered suggestions for improvement. The other illustrators were supportive and positive. It is definitely something I would sign up for again.
For the contest, all the illustrators who entered turned in their piece on Friday and the winner was announced Saturday afternoon. It was so fun to see how each artist interpreted the prompt! As I said in the title, I didn't win, and that's okay. Every piece was unique and so inspiring.
As promised, I am posting both pieces along with some of my initial sketches. As you can see, I went through many changes before reaching the final art. I hope you enjoy the results!
Initial sketch to final contest piece
Character sketches and initial rough sketch submitted for suggested revisions
Big Changes, New Adventures
So many exciting changes since my last post! We have a new home in a new city in a new state AND a new furry family member. We have pared down the number of boxes to just a few and have most of the house in order. I still have much to do in my sewing room and studio, though that will come in time. Fear not, I'm not allowing a little bit of disorganization deter me from creating!
Another big change for me is yet another region for SCBWI. I am excited to now be a part of the Midsouth region and will attend my first conference in just a month from now. I have signed up for intensives, critiques, and contests, challenging myself to jump in the deep end of the pool. I have connected with some of the illustrators online and they have been a very warm and welcoming group. I can't wait to meet them in person!
The artwork I'm preparing for the conference is well into the planning stages. Now to focus on the final composition and start painting. I'll be posting the finished pieces here after the conference along with the insights I gain from the critiques. If this conference is anything like the ones I have attended in the past, I'm sure there will be plenty to share!
For now, I'll leave you with a picture of our new furbaby, Finn. Isn't he just beautiful?
New Digs -- Almost
We have arrived! Between getting our house in Virginia ready to sell, packing up all our worldly goods, house hunting, finding the perfect Kentucky home, and all the pre-closing necessities, we have been in a state of transition for nearly four months. That will all come to a grand and welcome conclusion next week when we sign the closing papers. We won't have furniture for another week as it travels from Virginia, but we will have a home! None of this would have been possible (at the very least I would not have remained sane) without the kindness and hospitality of our daughter and her husband. They have been AWESOME!!
All this time separated from the majority of my art supplies has been a real eye-opener. It has also shown me just how much I NEED to create. I'm not gonna lie, it's been a bit frustrating not being able to head to my workroom and find whatever I need, BUT it has also given me a new appreciation for that luxury. I cannot wait to set up my new space and get to work!
One of perks of this tether-free time was spending an evening with my daughter at something that was billed as "Paint and Sip." We joined a group of about 40 other women and a very patient teacher to create our own masterpieces in just a couple of hours. When I say that guy was patient, I'm not doing him justice. The only male in a sea of estrogen and some of those women took on the sipping part like it was their job. He took it all in stride and we really did end up with a beautiful piece of art. It was so much fun to see all the different results from a single example with identical instructions. No two were the same and all were wonderful.
I am so happy to be here and I'm so ready to settle into our new Kentucky life!
Our Paint and Sip masterpieces.
When Did THAT Happen??
When did we stop revering our elders? Stop listening to their sage advice? I would imagine that the vast majority of us exhibited our share of eye rolls as teenagers, believing that our parents were about as smart as a box of rocks. However, most of us matured and realized that our parents and other adults might just have a bit more snap than the rocks -- or the box.
The challenge arises when we reach "a certain age." We tend to become invisible. Our knowledge and experience fade in the eyes of employers who are younger than we are. We may appear to be a liability or difficult to train. I think I liked it better when we accepted that our elders had knowledge we did not, that they had something to teach us.
As I am entering a new chapter of my life, I have moved halfway across the country and am considering a major career change. I look forward with excitement to the possibilities in front of me. While I'm not choosing a certain path, I have confidence that hard work and perseverance will clear my way. I look forward to learning new skills and honing ones previously acquired.
I can't be responsible for what others think, only how I choose to conduct myself. Some may think I'm winding down, just stand back and watch, I might just surprise you. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm just getting started! :)
Artist and author.