Showing posts with label sketchbook. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sketchbook. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What I'm working on...

Here's a little peek into my process for some small commissions I recently finished! 
First, I gathered information on my subjects (I asked about favorite colors and animals). I took this information and started with really loose sketches in my sketchbook:
I tried to mimic those sketches as best I could on watercolor paper using very light pencil. I went over that with ink line and when that dried, I erased the pencil and began painting and coloring. 

The results look a little bit like this! The colors ended up looking great together:

These pieces for Kickstarter backers were all inspired by Peter H. Reynold's International Dot Day. In fact, the alligator piece on the bottom left is for him! It's his son, Henry Rocket reading a book about rockets, of course! 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Leap of Faith

The amount of sketch work I have done in the past few years sits in a pile of sketchbooks next to my computer, untouched, most of it having never seen the light of day (i.e. the internet: instagram, facebook, twitter). One day, pondering all of this, I got very sad. What if all this work is for nothing?

But I took a leap of faith...and launched a Kickstarter campaign to print my favorite drawings in a book. To my shocking's actually happening! There are just three days left in the campaign and I've got the entire book in layout, ready to go!

One added bonus I am very excited about is... the endpapers:

I really appreciate everyone's support so far, thank you! It really makes me so happy to think that people actually want to buy a book of my sketches. I mean, not only buy it, but fund it...make it happen. That blows my mind! 

There are just 3 days left to get one of my books for only $15! Here is a link to the project site if you are interested!

And THANK YOU (times a trillion!!)


Thursday, September 11, 2014

International Dot Day

September 15th is International Dot Day, a celebration of creativity that was inspired by Peter H. Reynold's book THE DOT.

Check out, a collection of author/illustrator dots curated by teacher and creativity champion, Terry Shay. 

And lastly...go make one! Make a dot! There is art in everything.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Starting From Scratch in Your Sketchbook

At the 2014 New England SCBWI conference, I taught a workshop with fellow author/illustrator, Russ Cox. Our workshop was titled "Sketchbooks are Awesome!" 

Why? Because they are. 

Both Russ and I have had rewarding career experiences through sharing our sketchbooks and we wanted to stress how important it is to draw every day...How, no matter what, you should set a little time aside for yourself. You might not always make something worth loving, or sharing, but drawing in a sketchbook is like writing in a journal. "Getting it out" is both therapeutic AND a way to become a better artist. 


We wanted to encourage fellow illustrators and writers to use their sketchbooks again and assumed that the attendees signed up because they weren't and needed help. With that information we were able to put together a (hopefully) inspirational presentation, not without humor of course:

Photo Cred: Lisa Griffin

One thing I briefly touched on with to attendees was how to get over fear of the blank page by drawing light circles. I realized the best way to explain this was to film a demo of how I do it. Because that video is filled with blabbering on, I will not blabber on any more in writing... :)

Please enjoy! Let me know what you think or what you'd like to see more of in the comments!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Simply Messing About with Mediums

Over here in my head, there is always a debate over traditional vs. digital. Which is more appealing? Which is more fun to make? Which can get me more work? I switch back and forth all the time because my tastes change. My skills, however, differ in both methods. Sometimes I need them to influence each other.

Recently, I was approached to do a color sample in my sketch style and it turned my world around. It makes me ecstatic that this style may eventually be ready for publishing, but I still have a little ways to go. I wanted to show you a little bit of what my process looks like as I try to figure this out.

This sketch is what started me thinking about all of this again.

I've been drawing like crazy in sketchbooks for a little over a year now, and most often my drawings turn out looking like the one above. Recently, I started incorporating Prismacolor colored pencil and Copic marker into my usual pencil and ink brush doodles. My eyes needed to see more color and finish in the sketches I had grown to love making.

But that Alligator and Armadillo tea party got me excited, so I took it to Photoshop to color it as fast as possible. Why? Because my skills in Photoshop currently surmount my Paper's a crutch.

I liked this color, but it didn't have the same energy, so I left it as is...

In this particular case I was happy with the colors I chose, but it still wasn't working for me. I went back to the drawing board...quite literally.

That's better, but still not quite right.

But, I was missing the vibrancy and saturation. I know that it's possible to attain this with watercolor, but I haven't figured out how to get there yet. Then, I remembered the gouache set I got for Christmas and started to play again with yet, another new medium.

I started with a gouache warm up.

And this is where I landed.

My goal for what I post on the Simply Messing About blog was always to document my journey back into traditional painting...that's it. But with this particular project, I hit on an important fact, that it's ok to jump back and forth always letting digital influence traditional and vice versa. And sometimes, they work really well – together.

I added a background color to this gouache painting...digitally.

Until next time!

Friday, July 12, 2013

SMA Interview Series: Illustrator / Painter, Lynne Avril

Lynne Avril grew up in Montana and got her art degree from the University of Montana. She has lived in Arizona, though, for the last 30 years. 

She has illustrated over 80 books for children, and when she's not drawing or painting, she plays bass in local Phoenix blues bands. 

She now divides her time  between Phoenix, Polson (MT) and Paris, where she spends 2 months of the year for battery-charging her creativity.


Q: What is the first thing you do when you receive a manuscript? Do you ever write as well as illustrate?

The first thing I do when I get a new manuscript is make a pot of coffee, then curl up in my big white chair, start reading, and make little sketches in the margins of the paper with the ideas that pop into my head as I read. If one or more of the characters don't come to me at that time, I go out with my sketchbook over the next few days and watch for them! 

A lot of times, I'll use friends and relatives as my characters. Amelia Bedelia's dad is my son-in-law! The main character in "Underpants Dance" was a little girl I spied in Safeway. She had all the characteristics I was looking for, and I loved her hair!  I try to get a sense of the mood of the story and what style of artwork I'm going to use to convey that mood effectively. I might use gouache, or watercolor, or pastels used with acrylic medium in a series of washes. When I read the story, I try to get a sense of the energy, the rhythm, the humor, and the palette that I am going to use. 

I have not written any books yet, I have been too busy illustrating everybody else's!

Underpants Dance,  written by Marlena Zapf / illustrated by Lynne Avril
(April 2014 - Dial Books for Young Readers)

Q: Many of your books involve a lot of action! How do you reference your drawings and keep them feeling so fresh and alive as you paint?

That is a really good question, because that is one of the things I strive for - freshness and energy. I think one thing that helps is that I start with small thumbnail sketches  - a double page spread may be a sketch only 1 1/2" x 2 1/2". Then I enlarge that sketch on my copier and finesse it. I think composition is so important and that's one way to start out with a good composition without getting involved in the details too early. 

I also like accidents and spontaneity, so I don't have things too pre-planned before I start and I just follow my gut feeling. I always lay down the color first and do the line work over the top of that - I don't believe in staying in the lines much!

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? How is it helpful for you? 

I LOVE to keep a sketchbook!  Especially when I am in Paris - there is so much to draw there - people, architecture, copies of great masters, statues, more interesting people!  Besides recording good ideas, it is just good practice for your drawing skills. 

When you're drawing moving people or animals, you learn to make good gesture drawing and how to capture a feeling in just a few lines. You're going for the essence of what you're drawing. When you look at a person you're about to draw, you think - what is it about that person that makes him look the way he does, and then you emphasize that feature. I have drawn pictures of musicians playing in clubs for years - I have stacks and stacks of bar napkins with little portraits or figure drawings on them.

Q: A common theme on our blog is how to get "unstuck." How do you get yourself out of a creative rut?

I do it by changing styles from one book to the next. I do a lot of Amelia Bedelia books, where I use gouache paint with a black prismacolor pencil outline. So, for example, at the moment I am working on a book by another author, and I am using pastel chalk that I smear onto the paper and then cover with  acrylic matte medium. I am really enjoying it, because I created a layout for the book that has large areas of color, not a lot of small detail, and it is like a breath of fresh air. Then I enjoy going back to the gouache again!

I also look at the work of other illustrators to get inspiration and new ideas. I particularly like the work of many European illustrators that have a strong sense of whimsy and humor.

One of Lynne's oil paintings, a 3'x4' commission, "Starla"

Q: What are your favorite tools? Is there any part of your process that lends itself to using a computer?

Well, I like good old-fashioned paint and paper. I don't have anything against computer art, but I never have gotten into it. I didn't start out wanting to be an illustrator. I was a painter and still am, and going back and forth between the two has been good for both. One influences the other. My favorite tool, I think, is the toothbrush, that I use to splatter paint with. If you look closely at my work, you will see lots of little splatters, and that is done by mixing gouache paint with acrylic matte medium and flicking it onto the paper with the toothbrush.

For me, the only time I use the computer is when I scan and send my sketches or artwork. That can be really useful in another way too, because when you first scan the artwork and see it up on the computer screen, often you will see it in a different way and you see little things you want to change before you send it off.

Q: Would you mind giving us a peek at your workspace? 

I have three places I work during the year - one studio at my house in Phoenix, Arizona. 

Lynne's cactus garden in Arizona.

Another up at Flathead Lake in Polson, Montana.  My studio in Montana has a drafting table that my dad made. He was a very good artist himself, and my first and best teacher!

Lynne's studio space in Montana.

And the other is when I haul all my stuff to Paris for two months every year. I like to knit and I find that is a very good way to ease myself into starting to work. It helps make that transition into the "zone."

Lynne working in Paris while her son and grandson play on the couch!

Q: What is an unexpected thing you've learned in your career?

I've learned that everything you learn comes in handy at some point of time - it all adds up. Experience! I've learned never give up on a piece - sometimes when you say oh%$#@*, you just let go and then things really start to happen. 

Never crumple up anything. 

You might calm down and see it's really not that bad. I've learned that you can't wait for inspiration, you just sit down and start to work. Sometimes it is so hard. But if you just make the first obvious mark that needs to be made, then you will make another one, and then you'll be into the zone without even knowing it. It's the first step that's the hardest. I always go through a period of depression at the beginning of a book before I know what I'm doing. 

And sometimes toward the end, you feel like you've hit the wall. But you just keep going and boom before you know it, it's done.

Just keep this cycling Amelia Bedelia!

Q: What's the most fun thing about being an illustrator?

The most fun thing is having the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want. To be able to travel and work at the same time. To work with incredibly talented and creative people. To have fun with kids reading and talking about the books. To live in the world of my imagination. Wow, I'm so damn lucky!

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or news you're excited about?!

Well, I'm keeping very busy with Amelia Bedelia. I am working on an Easy Reader right now and then will do a chapter book in the fall. I have finished a book called Underpants Dance that will be out next spring. 

I am working on final art for a book by Marilyn Springer called I'm Gonna Climb the Mountain in my Patent Leather Shoes. And I'm ready to start final art on the next Ruby Valentine book. 
There will be another Cowgirl book. 

In a month, I will be hiking in the French and Italian Alps, visiting Corsica, and going back to Paris for another shot of inspiration. Life is good and I'm happy to be alive and working.

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your stories with us, Lynne! 

Find all of Lynne Avril's books on, here.
View more of her work on her website


Ok, so now you're wondering: What's the deal with this "SMA Interview Series" business?


We hope you enjoyed this change of pace, because to mix things up a bit on Simply Messing About, we have decided to open our internet doors! During the next few weeks, you can look forward to even more stories from super talented children's illustrators and publishing professionals!

There will be lots of inspiration, peeks into workspaces, tips on getting out of a creative rut, and more. 

It was a pleasure to chat with Lynne Avril, because not only is she extremely talented and inspirational, she's just an all around nice person. I can't think of a single person who wouldn't want to be just like her! For that reason, we are so glad to be able to share her story with you. Being an illustrator, especially for children, is all about loving life and truly "seeing" everything around you. 

Now, go forth and draw everything!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Being an Open Book

Aside from client projects, in the past few months I've been taking a break from making "finished" personal art to concentrate more on my sketchbooks. Part of the reasoning behind this was to get away from the computer and the other part was to simply just get better at drawing.

Extremely inspired by children's illustrator, Renata Liwska, I have filled 4 and a half sketchbooks in the past few months. Here they are:

I'm sure that most of you have seen Renata's sky high sketchbook stacks:

A Quiet Look - How to become a children's book illustrator in one (not so easy) step from mike kerr on Vimeo.

Seeing this video and learning how Renata works reminded me of all the work I should be doing to achieve my goals.

Another artist I've been following for many years is Pascal Campion. This video, made by a friend of his, is about his "Sketch of the Day" emails:

Inspirational Artists: Pascal Campion from Onyx Cinema, Inc. on Vimeo.

This interview is from 2 years ago and, wouldn't you know, he still makes a new sketch every day. You can sign up to receive an email from him every day with a new sketch on the main page of his website.

Both Renata and Pascal's sketches look like finished art to me, but they are so practiced. What Pascal says in this interview really hit home for me. I feel that I need to not only keep sketchbooks, I want to show them to people. Therefor, just for funsies, I decided to step even further out of my comfort zone to make an uber-amateur video. :) Enjoy!

Flipping Through Sketchbooks from Renee Kurilla on Vimeo.

Thanks so much to everyone for your continued support on our blog!


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quick Photoshop Painting Demo (with music)!

There are many different ways I paint in Photoshop, but this video demonstrates the technique I've used to paint FAST. I recently finished a project on a super tight deadline and I knew I had to figure out a way to paint faster in order to get everything done on time. So, I went back to basics: employing line, value and local color!

The video below started with a random sketch on a random piece of paper floating around on my desk. In real time, the painting took about 15 minutes but it's been condensed down to about four minutes here!

Since the video goes by at lightning speed, here are some useful tips for the basic layer setup I used:

  • The final line layer is set to MULTIPLY and is on top of everything else
  • The value layer comes next and is also set to MULTIPLY. It is important that you work out your values here in order to eliminate worrying about that in your color layer
  • The next layer is your local color layer set to NORMAL. Since your values are worked out in the above layer, all you have to do here is paint your flat (or local) colors in. Your values already show through!
  • Lastly, you can do a layer above everything else with your highlights.
  • I left my line visible, but if you push your value layer and really work out your lights and darks, you can completely get rid of the line layer.

That's it! Set it and forget it! Here's a piece I did using this technique. Until next time! :)

From "Goodnight Baseball" (Capstone, 2013)

Monday, April 29, 2013

From Sketchbook to Screen: Color

In my last post, I detailed how to get your scanned sketch to a workable level in Photoshop. This will be sort of a continuation of that, but in color

I recorded a demo of myself painting the sketch below and, though it was intended to be only 10 minutes long, I ended up going on and on for about a half hour! I don't expect that everyone would want to watch that, so I sped it up to 3 minutes and added a Huey Lewis tune! WIN.

In the long version of the demo, I show how to use levels, multiply layers, and use brushes to get a softer look. In this shorter version, you really just see some color decisions fly by!

Sketchbook Painting Demo (3min) from Renee Kurilla on Vimeo.

Here are some of the brushes I use:

Useful tips mentioned in the long version:

  • To quickly change the line color of your sketch, select the line and hit CMD+U (Hue/Saturation), check the "colorize box"
  • If you paint with the pencil tool instead of the brush tool, the autofill is MUCH better.
  • Layer Lock: Lock Transparent Pixels is AWESOME. 
  • You can also use Blending Modes on a layer above your sketch to colorize your line, but it effects all colors underneath the layer as well. 

Learning Curve:
Even though the long version is 30 minutes, if I were painting this for a paying job I'd definitely spend another few hours finessing details. I think spending those few minutes ahead of time colorizing your lines is worthwhile.
If I had known I'd end up colorizing this sketch, I might reconsider how much pencil shading I add. I found as I was coloring that it was very difficult to select sections to "colorize" because of the thick shadows. The shading also makes some parts of the piece very dark (her shirt, hair, the little bear nook).

Noteworthy: Someone who really has this technique down is UK based illustrator, Alex T. Smith. His work is phenomenal and lively, so talented! His latest blog post actually shows a before and after pencil sketch turned color.

You know what the real secret ingredient to all of this is... (drumroll please)



*If you'd like to watch the long version of my demo in which I say "Umm." 2,000,345 times and immediately go back on my promise to label all my layers, I've made it available on my Vimeo page, here. :)

Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to comment below and ask questions!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From Sketchbook to Screen: Black and White

My last post was about how I've been trying to get back to my painting roots and become less of a digital artist. Besides attempting watercolor, there are other ways I go about trying to accomplish this: One of them is by using scanned a page from my sketchbook in a finished piece. To explain how I go about this very tricky business, I'm going to show you the scary inner workings of my Photoshop layers for this illustration:

Jody from The Yearling is REALLY just crying about how messy my Photoshop layers are.

*I can go into more depth, but to keep it simple I'll start with just black and white art. Next time, I'll go into the beast that is color. 

This particular assignment was for the most recent SCBWI Tomie dePaola contest in which he asked for a black and white piece. I had just read this interview with Jon Klassen (author/illustrator/Caldecott winner) over on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. The way he describes his own process is very much an organic blend of making shapes and positioning them together digitally. I thought this would be a great way to practice combining both traditional and digital media in my own work.

So, to get started, I read The Yearling... SOBBED my eyes out, composed myself, chose a moment, and finally then started sketching. My ideas came out in pieces: Jody, the bitterns, the forest, ducks, the pond, grass, plants, weeds, etc. Here are some pages directly from my sketchbook, in which I used both a pencil and ink brush pen:

I scanned all of these images at 600 dpi, a nice, adjustable size for my tiny sketches. I knew I wanted to be able to make those inked plants really big and put them in the foreground as silhouettes. That being said, once your image ends up in Photoshop, it'll probably still need some help. Here's what I do:

Adjusting Levels

1. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels:

2. Move the middle triangle to the right to make increase contrast (making your lines darker):

3. Move the right triangle to the left to brighten the whites:

Now you can copy and paste the pieces into a new file and set the layer to multiply to see only the line. And now I'm ready to show you my monstrosity of a 75 layer Photoshop file (I've had up to 400 layers in one file, btw). This image shows less than half of the layers I used, but you can sort of see (with some layers turned off ) how it works. I positioned the ducks together, overlapped the plant in the foreground, and arranged the wildflowers and rocks into a scene. I normally label my layers, but I must have been in a hurry this time. 

*TIP: If you have a messy unlabeled file like me, you can press "V" for the Move Tool and right click on any object to find the layer it's on. It works better than turning layers on and off until you find the right one. You'll be pulling your hair out by the time you find it. 

Here's a closeup of Jody, who's entire self exists on just 4 nicely labeled layers (sketch, multiple shadow layers, and a white underpainting):

When it comes to the background, one helpful thing to help you fill in details like tree leaves, is knowing how to make a Photoshop brush. It's SO easy. Specifically, here's how I made a leaf stamp for the above image:

How to Make a Photoshop Brush:

1. Create a new file at 300 dpi - good dimensions are somewhere between 200-500 pixels (mine is a weird dimension because I cropped the file when I finished drawing leaves):

2. Make a new layer over the background white and start drawing what you want your brush to look like, in this case - leaves!

3. Once you have your image, delete that white background (by default this layer is locked, unlock it by  OPT+double click):

4. Press CMD+A to "Select All" then go to Edit  > Define Brush Preset...

5. Name your new brush.

6. Find your brush in your brushes palette, select it, and use it!!


*TIP: If you click on Brush Tip Shape in the Brushes Window, you can change things like rotation and size, which help to aid the variance and organic quality of your brush. 

7. Make sure to save your original Photoshop file so you can make the brush again easily if you happen to lose it!

And that's a wrap on how to combine sketches with your digital art. I hope this was a helpful resource for some folks, but if you have any questions please feel free to post in the comments. Next time I'll elaborate more on what I do for color images! 

In other news: 
Recently, I was interviewed by the awesome Bill Turner over on his blog, The Tools Artists Use: A fine resource to learn more about many illustrators, cartoonists, comic artists, etc.  

Thanks for reading!