Self-care is a fact of life. No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is your body: it's all you truly have.
Artists, from illustration undergraduates to experienced animators, are taught to devalue themselves from the word 'go'. The starving artist stereotype is imposed with impunity by a Western society that simultaneously craves art and dismisses artists, manifesting as art theft (with Aaron Carter a very recent example) or accusations of bloated egos. For any of you reading this with commission work under your belt, I'm sure you have at least one story of a potential client that tried to haggle your prices down (if they didn't just ghost). All of these minor and major blows have a way of leaving us lacking in the self-care field. Why should we spend so much time taking care of ourselves when our work is 'easy' and 'unimportant'?
Part of self-care is changing your mindset around what you have to offer the world. Offer yourself. Mind over matter: you won't stick to a stretching or jogging regimen unless you acknowledge how much you need it. Denying myself reasonable breaks and taking on very low-paying jobs (among other things) had me experiencing burnout in the past. Badly. It's an all-encompassing exhaustion that starts from your toes and trickles up to the roots of your hair. You can hardly string two words together. You can barely think beyond your next meal (if you're not too depressed to eat, that is). You sleep too much. You zone out too much. The mere thought of work is enough to have you laying back down.
Here I'm going to explain my daily self-care habits and how they pertain to my work: the unglamorous and wholly necessary routines of keeping my health sound and burnout as far away as humanely possible. There will be links to guides and videos so you can start experimenting with your own unique variation. It takes an average of two months to cement a new habit: the sooner you build one, the sooner it can start working to your benefit.
This list isn't here to clear your skin or cure your depression overnight. It's to make your exhausting and painful existence slightly less so.
1. I Stretch For A Minimum Of 30 Minutes Every Single Day
This month I've been tacking on an extra ten to fifteen minutes for my neck, shoulders and legs. Stretching is no joke.
Some of the biggest health problems facing artists today involve the neck, back and wrists. Hunching over your computer for hours on end or forgetting to take breaks is just begging to send you to the hospital prematurely. Even a machine needs to be shut off and allowed to cool down, right? Over 20% of American adults today have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, with the condition getting worse as you get older. This statistic is even higher when you take into account the undiagnosed and those with similar wrist and arm conditions, such as the notoriously painful tennis elbow. I'm just shy of thirty and am not nearly as sprightly as I used to be. While I'm no gambling woman, I'm willing to bet you're not going to be an exception to the rule, either.
My wrists have been giving me problems for years. They used to ache at the drop of a hat (particularly my dominant right) and I haven't been able to put weight on them (such as push-ups). Even worse? I had no idea where this came from! I had friends theorizing that I might have cracked a bone without my knowledge and healed strangely. Internet articles could only tell me so much about my symptoms, which sounded like everything and nothing at the same time. 2019 ended up an extra busy year: I had to go get my wrists scanned for issues (none), then sign onto a bi-monthly physical therapy course.
Valuable tips I've learned from my physical therapist include:
Seeing a pattern? I do two-minute repetitions for each stretch, sometimes two and a half if I have extra time. I'm working on doing stretch sessions twice a day, as well. I won't claim this is the ideal route for everyone, not when people have different obligations and schedules, but it's imperative you hash out a little time every day to loosen up. If not, just holding a tablet pen could become excruciating. Try combining stretch sessions with other simple tasks, such as stretching while listening to an audiobook, riding the bus or while taking a bath. Epsom salt soaks and ice massages are also great for reducing pain and inflammation, respectively. I buy my epsom from iHerb.
These videos are very similar to what my physical therapist taught me. Don't stretch too hard: I actually pulled a muscle after my third session trying to overdo it. It's the duration and frequency, not the intensity, that helps!
2. I Don't Feel Guilty For Getting Extra Sleep
Guilt is one of the biggest barriers to getting rest. Hit snooze? You're lazy. Need a nap? You're wasting valuable time. I'm about to bombard you with some pretty statistics and a dollop of science to cut into that nonsense.
Getting a consistent and lengthy amount of rest every night is tied into your immune system, heart health and mental health. Consistently missing out on important sleep can have you getting sick more easily. It can cause you to forget basic things, pushing you into that time-wasting spiral of double-checking if the oven's off and triple-checking your e-mail for that check-in you were supposed to do yesterday. It's a snowball effect of diminishing returns and one that won't get any better no matter how loudly you chant 'hustle culture' to your drooping reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"Is it truly that bad?", you may be asking. Oh, absolutely not. It's worse. The CDC regularly updates its information on sleep health: Americans average seven hours of sleep per night, when the recommended amount is closer to nine. This pattern of what they call 'short sleep' shows a higher increase in chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, stroke, depression and, yes, the aforementioned and beloved arthritis. Sleeping disorders are rampant, to boot: my mother has struggled with sleep apnea for years and she's had to see doctors several times before getting the help she needs.
A lack of deep, consistent sleep makes you:
What helps me is, admittedly, not something most people my age can relate to. A few years back I was so emotionally and physically drained I came down with shingles. Yes, you heard that right: a debilitating viral infection that usually affects the elderly or those with immunodisorders struck a generally healthy twenty-something. This was due to a combination of the extreme stress I went through at the time, as well as the compounding effects of anxiety disorder and failing to get restful sleep. These little cuts? They add up.
Don't wait until you come down with a viral infection before chipping away at that sleep-related guilt. Praise yourself for getting an extra hour or two when you need it, because, say it with me now: you're not a machine.
3. I Drink Several Cups Of Water Per Day
I'm not here to espouse bargain bin social media wisdom and tell you that drinking water will cure your life. I am, however, going to go into just how insidiously damaging being chronically dehydrated is.
Many American adults today are chronically dehydrated. Recent estimates think this number is as high as 75%, which should give you pause, if nothing else. When you think about it, it makes sense. Energy drinks and sugary coffee are incredibly common tools used to get through the day. When you tack on a high amount of fatty foods, increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the fact alcoholism is among the top ten leading causes of death, it's small wonder. We need to drink more water.
Being chronically dehydrated leaves you:
The appetite detail might come off as strange, but it's no old wives' tale. Yes, our bodies actually mix up their signals and can make you think you're hungry when you're actually thirsty. Next time you feel the need to snack, drink a glass of water and wait for thirty minutes. If your stomach stops growling, then you got your answer. Drinking more water isn't going to clear out your skin (particularly if your issue is a hormonal imbalance), nor is it going to be an all-in-one solution for your dating life. It will, however, ease the burden on your physical and mental health. That's still good.
To reiterate: it takes an average of two months for a new habit to stick. What helps? Having a friend, family member or online community hold you accountable (not with guilt, but encouragement and being able to 'check in'). Recording your progress on a whiteboard or your phone's notepad, because we all love scoring points. Sitting down and doing a little introspection on how much better you feel this week, which is its own reward. There's this great post on the technique of 'habit stacking' to help your new routine stick better, connecting an old habit with a new habit to keep you consistent. I drink a glass of water after washing my face (twice a day), every time I go to the bathroom (twice a day) and before each meal.
4. I Set A Social Media Limit To Thirty Minutes Or Less
Social media is not a religion. Let's stop treating it as such.
It's a revolutionary tool that keeps us connected to the world at large. This means news delivered as it's happening and useful information discovered at the click of a button. It also means being excessively exposed to FOMO (fear of missing out), becoming overly concerned with fluff metrics and wondering if you're truly making a difference with one thousand or less followers.
These are not concerns you need.
Social media, at best, is a useful self-promotion tool and a means of staying up-to-date on the world around you. That's it. Getting too wrapped up on always being in-the-know is just going to burn you out. Arguing with every last rando is only going to succeed in raising your blood pressure and nudging you ever closer to that premature stroke. Setting a daily time limit forces you to use your minutes wisely: bumping your recent illustration, updating your page with relevant posts for possible clients to see and checking in with peers or prospects.
I manage my limited social media time meaningfully by:
5. I Take Meaningful Breaks By 'Turning Off' Appropriately
A big issue for freelancers -- and, hell, those under traditional employment -- is turning off.
You sit down to eat lunch...but you're checking social media. You go out for a jog...but you're thinking about all the e-mails you need to answer when you get back. Turning off and focusing wholly on a task is pretty hard in a world that demands a constant deluge of productivity (machine metaphor just keeps coming back, don't it?). Like drinking more water every day or not feeling guilty about sleeping, turning off is a habit you'll build. Once it's established? You'll wonder what the hell you were thinking trying to steamroll through your entire day.
Examples of 'turning off' and letting my brain wander:
To reiterate: this is what works for me, and it's perfectly normal to have a unique routine that fits your schedule. That said, don't think you can 'get around' not sleeping enough or avoiding stretching sessions. That's a short-term solution that'll feed into a long-term problem.
Was this list helpful? What are you doing to improve your daily self-care habits in 2020?
all photography on this website is either taken by myself or free stock photos labeled for reuse with modification
Being a freelancer is rough. Thing is? It doesn't have to be.
Take it from someone whose instinct is to try and do everything on her own: don't. Not only will you run the risk of burning yourself out prematurely, you can set yourself up for failure by missing important legal details or drastically underpricing. There are free and affordable resources out there that can take the sting out of the freelancing process. Pricing, marketing, state law, copyright, portfolio direction, you name it. You can't create a piece of art without tools, right? The same goes for running a successful business. Below are five resources I use on a weekly -- sometimes daily -- basis, useful for both experienced freelancers and budding professionals starting to dip their toes into the working world.
Without further ado:
Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines
Screw saving the best for last: this is a book you need on your shelf if you want to make good money on your art.
This is the commercial art Bible to end all commercial art Bibles. I was first introduced to this book a few years ago by an art peer/client (you know who you are!) and was instantly floored by how comprehensive it is. No detail is too small, no topic too specific. Graphic novelists, commercial illustrators, fashion designers, concept artists, animators...I don't have enough room to go into all the working artists that could benefit from this tome. If you're intimidated by its page count, rest easy knowing the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook steers clear from being a stuffy compendium and keeps its language -- whether discussing fair pricing or exploring kill fees in a contract -- very accessible. The whole book feels like a patient teacher sitting by your side and walking you through a hurdle.
It doubles as a self-care book, to boot. You can't turn a page without being reminded of your value as a working artist.
The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing And Ethical Guidelines is consistent and organized in its layout, providing useful pricing spreadsheets that are separated based on experience, page percentage, geographical sales, etc. With a shelf life that'll last as long as your career does, give or take a few technological advances, there's no reason not to get it. The $45 price point on the home site can be a little steep, but you can find used and new copies on Amazon starting at under $25. Beware of shady sellers, as some reviewers have reported getting copies with missing pages. I got my book in pristine condition, I'm happy to say, and this is now one of my greatest treasures. Hell, I even read it for fun.
To repeat: you can't do everything by yourself. This means both in the quiet of your home office and in your day-to-day interactions with peers or prospects.
Freelancing isn't straightforward, and that's by design. I won't speak for artists in other countries, but the United States is a workaholic culture that wants workers dependent on employers as much as possible. Right down to when you take a shit and when you can recover from a cold. As such, becoming your own business (or even just making a little side-income) can be an uphill battle. Should you do the 1040-ES or the 1090? Do you need a state license to sell physical goods? What about writing out an effective contract? The Freelancers Union gives you knowledge in bite-sized pieces to ensure you're up-to-date on law changes, ethical business practices and health insurance.
I'm a big fan of the Freelancers Union newsletter and have been subscribed for over a year, which uses appealing templates and straightforward copy to give you important information at a glance. They also discuss self-care, share opinion articles written by experienced freelancers and offer much-needed words of encouragement. It's a full package. Sign-up is free and their newsletter crops up several times per month. Check out their blog to get a taste of what you can learn.
Ed Gandia (High-Income Business Writing)
There are a lot of advice coaches out there. How do you sort out the pragmatic teachers from the out-of-touch gurus?
I checked this guy out based on an anecdote of the fourth recommendation on this list and wasn't disappointed: Ed Gandia is a copywriter with years of experience in business writing, with a fantastic site dedicated to helping today's freelance writers make more money. He runs a blog, podcast and newsletter filled with useful advice to help freelancers avoid what he calls the 'feast-or-famine cycle'. He's no snake oil salesman, either, and never promises to get you knocking out six-figures overnight. His demeanor is practical without being cold, and his sense of humor goes a long way in helping absorb new information.
Even if you're not a business writer: you can still learn a lot about self-promotion and smart financial habits for your illustration or design career here.
I always enjoy sitting down to one of his podcasts in the morning. His free newsletter is weekly and is chock full of tips he's gathered over the years, offering practical approaches on everything from daily self-promotion habits to overcoming self-doubt when contacting a prospect for the first time. Just one example: his method of dividing daily tasks into high-priority, medium-priority and low-priority (with estimated timeframes) has done a lot to chip away at my anxiety. I use this method every day (except for days off, of course) and finish 80% of my list on average. That's not bad from someone who used to be a serial procrastinator!
Attention, any and all black freelancers: there's a resource just for you.
Getting specific with your hurdles is how you find answers. The one-size-fits-all approach does nothing but a disservice to your unique challenges and just ends up wasting your time. If you work with a chronic illness, then you need to find resources that tackle the intersection between class and accessibility. If you are trying to find work in a certain country as an expat, then you need to find resources that supplement that experience. Blackfreelance provides a plethora of concise, practical blog posts, resource lists and a newsletter to help you navigate building yourself as a freelance black professional.
Black burnout, maintaining professional boundaries, defining a niche...you name it, it's been discussed. The advice provided here easily applies to several skillsets, since much of it focuses on a groundwork of shifting your mindset toward your work. Another example: I can happily thank Blackfreelance for convincing me to choose a niche, as I went the longest time convinced I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. In fact, the creator of the site was the one to recommend Ed Gandia up above! I'm still part of this community and am endlessly grateful for all I've learned. If I have a frustrating question or need a little feedback on an idea, I know where to turn.
Recent estimates are expecting to see freelancers making up the majority of the workforce in less than a decade, so now's the time to consider some side-income if you haven't already. You can find BlackFreelance over on Twitter or the website here.
Super Condensed Informational Zine: Portfolios, Websites, Pitching And Agents
If all of this is feeling a little overwhelming, particularly for those just starting out, look no further than this short-and-sweet zine by graphic novelist Shannon Wright. This is a nine-page .pdf that hashes out the basics of getting your work together and sending it out to the right people. Nice and easy!
While most of this (very on-point) advice on portfolios and websites is familiar to me, I still got some helpful tips on working with agents (a partnership I'm looking to expand to in either in 2021 or 2022). When it comes to the whirlwind deluge of freelancing, those little nudges in the right direction are everything. You get to choose the price of the zine, as well, so pay it forward and support an artist who wants to support you! Also, her portfolio is gorgeous. Take a gander and get inspired.
There you have it. Five freelance resources that have helped me -- or are helping me -- and could very well be an anchor in your sea of chaos. If you've got any resources that have helped you out, please leave a comment and share the goodness!
Sometimes you need to start over fresh. There's no shame in it. Why waste effort picking away at something you could just re-do in half the time? Other times, though, you'll need to bite the bullet and push through. Knowing which one of these to commit to is part of being a productive artist. I've talked about it before and I'll repeat until I'm blue in the face. It's a gamechanger.
Now that that's out of the way...let me start this by saying I wanted to drop this piece like a cheap vase. Even worse? This was one of my favorite sketches in my sketch batch. Talk about artistic whiplash. It didn't help I was winging the color scheme and many of the supporting details (a habit I've developed since color theory is one of my strongest skills). I had a vague idea I wanted blue and gold, that I wanted everything fancy and dream-like...and that was about it. For once, my guesswork backfired and made me fudge around more than normal. This doesn't happen often -- I've winged crazier pieces than this -- but it cost me several hours that could've been saved if I fleshed out the draft stages better.
This was a good reminder of how badly a piece can backfire if you don't have the basics down. I thought of throwing my hands up in the air and outright moving on to another sketch, but something about this one told me to keep going. 'Make it work' is a phrase made famous from Project Runway and one I've adopted. It's a saying that tells you to work with your mistakes and find a way out of the hedgemaze you've built for yourself. I might just have to do a post on all my personal quotes one of these days.
(If you're curious about other pieces I've done, check out my recent post on the progress of 'Yasar'.)
As you can see, I did the work of thumbnailing out these outlandish outfits. Just, well...didn't actually think about everything else! From now on I think I'll hash out a quick color scheme in Photoshop -- a cluster of dots ordered from most dominant to least -- before committing. A few minutes to save me a few hours. Same with the big block of starry space. Yeeeah, I added that in during the last stages, too.
I was extremely happy with how this sketch turned out. Both the pose and silhouette were the right amount of elegant and playful. I also used a reference of a kid playing the flute to make sure the hands looked right.
This character's fashion is inspired heavily by classic JRPGs, magical girl anime and various architectural designs. While many of my characters have a certain theme, this one is intentionally all over the place. All the colors, all the silhouettes, all the patterns! The only rule is a visual smorgasbord: they're a lion child with a wild imagination that, fittingly, helps my imagination run wild. As such, I don't care too much about logistics when it comes to their outfits (beyond differentiating texture and a reasonable fit).
I've been drawing this character for years and enjoying every fanciful, floofy, extravagant clusterfuck they end up in. It just hit me that gold tends to be a dominant hue or focal point, an entirely subconscious detail. These were done back in 2015, all made up on the spot and something I still don't recommend you doing, ha ha. I can't believe winging it used to be my default. Reconnecting with my youthful spontaneity is a goal I still want to nurture moving forward. It won't replace the reliable structure of thumbnail-draft-sketch, but rather, support it.
In came the first problem: what even the hell color scheme? At the very least, I made sure to adhere to the basics. If you have a lot of cool colors, add a pop of something warm. If a certain color dominates up top, see what can contrast it below. It's like a math equation if math sucked less.
Even though I ended up veering away from the olive backdrop, I still like how it contrasted against everything else. Might have a green-and-gold centered piece later. Speaking of which, check out 'Green And Gold' by Lianne La Havas. Gorgeous song.
There may be a lot of working parts in this piece, but the face has the most pressure to be done well. It's what we tend to gravitate to as human beings, after all, and flubbing the expression/eyes/etc is like ruining the broth in a soup. The science behind the face is a fascinating topic for me and a big reason why I do so many portraits.
Oh, the gold decorations around the scepter ball drove me crazy. I kept fudging with them in the hopes they'd look better and eventually went, "Fuck this." Yes, you can give up and keep pushing in the same illustration.
I was given some very helpful feedback in one of the Discord communities I'm part of, particularly concerning the fish. While outside eyes thought they looked fine, this element just rubbed me the wrong way. They were too cluttered, and yet, not enough. These magical betta didn't provide enough contrast and took up so much space the eye didn't know where to travel. I didn't want to eliminate them entirely, though...
...so I went for the 'less is more' approach. The piece immediately felt more breathable. The eye traveled more naturally, too, from the shooting star down to the fish down to the face. I made sure to keep the shade close to the scepter, too, to tie together the color scheme.
A little .gif for those that missed my Twitter post. I'm loving making these so much I might start playing with simple animations in 2020.
At the last second I decided to go for a light lavender backdrop, mostly because there was already a lot of blue in the piece.
This piece was another lesson in 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should'. Just because I usually am able to wing my designs doesn't mean I should go into a piece flying by the seat of my pants. All in all? I'm glad I stuck with it. I'm going to celebrate what I did well and learn from what could've been better.
It's a New Year, ripe with potential, and I'm going to stick to growing my good habits. I've talked before about how I don't make lofty New Year's declarations, instead preferring to focus on the smaller baby steps that lead up to goals. Now, that's not to say I don't have some idea on what I want. I'm going to continue to test my skills and build my portfolio. I want to create breathtaking illustrations that tell captivating stories, with emphasis on character interaction and complex backgrounds. I want to design all sorts of unforgettable characters and creatures. I want to expand a little and branch out into concept art, 3D modeling and fashion design.
Here are some small goals I'll be doing over the next few months:
Reaching goals, big or small, means lots of thumbnailing, lots of rough drafts and lots of baby steps. Stay tuned!
I have so many characters. Jesus Christ.
It's to the point that even doing art of other characters I don't paint very often feels excessive. Like I'm choosing a favorite child. As it stands, I've only drawn Yasar a few times, despite the fact he's a prominent supporting character in a big (and very old) story of mine. I'd go into greater detail about his personality and history, but I'm viciously protective of my intellectual property. Maybe someday when I actually commit this story to a game or a book.
I like to separate character art into three categories: simple, complex and illustrative. The first is exactly what it says on the tin, with no background or any supporting elements whatsoever. The middle adds a little more, such as an item or animal. The latter is an illustration in all but name, with the focus still heavily on the character themselves. I take a lot of inspiration from fashion magazines for that last one, since they tend to showcase models in all sorts of environments that play second-fiddle to the subject. This character art is somewhere between a simple and complex, as the giant gilded egg fills out the space without any additional interaction.
Funny enough, even after extensive thumbnailing (see below), I still didn't have any idea what I was going to put behind him. Just...something. Something to round out that space! Throwing in a big fancy egg while painting ended up giving me an idea for one of his powers, since he's an illusionist that depends on sleight-of-hand and a jack-of-all-trades approach. ...Don't do what I did, though. Figure everything out in the draft stage. It'll save you so much more trouble.
Thumbnailing my character art was something I did sparingly in the past. Mainly because I internalized some bullshit ideas about how fast my art should be. Thumbnails and rough drafts were for illustrations, right? The complex stuff. The ones with backgrounds and action poses. ...Yeah, that's not true at all. Literally everything can be thumbnailed, from the smallest sliver of concept art to the most elaborate multi-character tapestry. Since my designs tend to be pretty fanciful, this step is extra helpful, allowing me to work out everything before committing to a polished pencil sketch.
also to the middle left you can see my main reference for the pose, particularly for the legs
Sketches take me between three to five hours on average, maybe a little longer. Thumbnails, on the other hand, are whipped up in minutes. Sitting down for an hour and hashing out a dozen thumbnails is peak relaxation. Sometimes I get so addicted to it I don't want to move on to later stages, even though later stages are also my favorite.
I've been working on a sketch buffer these past few weeks: painting is my greatest strength and it saves me time to have a bunch of pencil drawings ready to go. This was my favorite in the pile, so I decided to start off strong. To the right I added a flat to bring out the silhouette -- the key to any good character art -- and move from there.
I've been falling in crazy love all over again with persian and baroque architecture, so you're going to be seeing a lot of inspiration stemming from there, pastels and acanthus and stars galore
the egg begins
The soft brush remains my go-to for creating base colors. I love everything bleeding into each other. It's a very traditionalist approach to digital art and something I want to keep pushing; see just how buttery and iridescent I can get. I've been experimenting quite a bit with color burn, overlay and soft light layers to add more subtlety. I want colors so rich you feel like you could bite into them like a ripe fruit.
Remember: paintings are conversations. You learn as you go. I realized the legs looked kind of stringy, so I used the magic wand tool to thicken them. Also, I'm obsessed with this guy's pants. They are seriously satisfying to look at.
It took a few passes for me to figure out the most appealing color balance between the character and the egg. The teal ended up being a really tasty contrast with the pink backdrop: almost like a sandwich between the equally warm dominant colors of the character's outfit. I also made the head a little smaller and the hands a little bigger. Probably a sign for me to not get too lost in all the extravagance and keep in mind basic proportions.
A little progress .gif for your viewing pleasure.
I need fifteen more hands.
Worked on this on-and-off over four to five days. I need to start tallying up the hours, because I honestly don't remember how long it took me overall. I really wanted to push my painting abilities with this one. Interestingly, I feel more success not in the final result, but the process: of committing to a thumbnailing/rough draft stage, using references and getting back into traditional sketching. I also got to show off all my strengths in one place. Fashion design, color theory, character design, lighting, texture. I plan on getting more playful with my layouts, as well as focusing on dynamic poses.
I've got a pile of great ideas sitting in Photoshop, so this is one challenge I'll be happily meeting head-on. There's nothing quite so intoxicating as having a goal and being like, "Yeah? No fucking problem."
I have more character art on the way, which means more processes, more .gifs, more rambles. I'm also considering making the switch from Photoshop CC to a different digital art program. Stay tuned!
Tl;dr: fashion is life.
Long version: sometimes it's hard to believe I went from a gangly kid who religiously wore the same grey hoodie, old sneakers and side-braid to a woman who experiments with nearly every look. It's like a Pokemon evolution, only a lot slower.
When I really think about it, though? It makes perfect sense. I had my time to be awkward (and sometimes outright disdainful) of how I look. I had the space to explore what I liked, what I didn't like and what I didn't quite feel ready to try out. It's the same logic around any unpleasant or disappointing experience: as Ava DuVernay likes to say, "It's not happening to you, it's happening for you." That hurdle of mine is well over and done with. Life is just too short to not celebrate your appearance. In the future I might just do a fashion retrospect, with each drawing representing where I was at major turning points (young child, teenager, young adult). For now...
I compose my looks not unlike how I compose my paintings. I take into account the theme, such as cute casual or 80's nostalgia. I make sure colors and patterns are balanced. Got a lot of warm? Contrast it with something cool. Got a patterned top or leggings? Pair it with something simpler. It's hard to even come up with a name for my style, because I love to dabble in everything. Magical chic? Contemporary nostalgia? Flowery fatale? These are starting to sound like music genres. I'm not complaining.
the term boho can go to hell, though. even though many of my looks would technically fall under that category in fashion SEO, I hate that term with a fiery passion
Why did it take me this long to embrace the utter power of the tunic dress? Seriously, come to my TED Talk. Let me tell you about how easy it is to mix and match these wonderful things, with the big fat bonus of skipping a step (shirt + pants). I had a tunic dress or two back in high school, but had no idea how to wear them. I'd actually tuck the damn things into my jeans so I wouldn't look 'weird'. There goes the point!!!
The gray sweaterdress on the left with the white and yellow decorations is an old staple I still love. It was actually given to me by a high school friend and, a decade later, still fits me like a dream. Had to get rid of those cute boots, though. Listen to me. Pinched toes aren't worth it.
Long tops and tunic dresses are two sides of the same coin. When in doubt? Stretch it out. I got the pink knitted tunic on the left back in Boston during my attendance as Arisia's guest of honor. I got the shoes and the rose gold headband at the same store to round out the purchase. The only thing more fun than traveling is picking up a fresh new look while you're there. Bonus points if you look like you walked out of a JRPG.
These are my spring and summer looks: just layered enough to feed my obsession, still cool enough to hold up to the weather. I had a really cute encounter while wearing the middle outfit, where two shoppers at a grocery store walked by me in the parking lot and said, "Okay! I see you, salmon jeans!" Made my day.
Then I gained twenty pounds and couldn't fit into my purple pair. Womp.
I had another cute encounter at another grocery store with the middle outfit, where a guy complimented my hat: when I told him I got it for $2, he excitedly congratulated me. What can I say. Thrift shops really are that girl.
Who said fashion is pain, anyway? So many of these outfits aren't just comfortable, they're insanely so. Something else I've been enchanted by lately are unique layers, like the outfit on the right. Regal, unusual drapery you don't see a lot in the day-to-day, like long sleeves peeking out of short sleeves or thigh-high boots with a peek of thigh-high socks. Just...careful details like that make my soul sing. I want to get crafty with my crafting.
Finally bust out my gold cat ear headband (that I also got in Boston, by the by). At this point you're no doubt seeing a few clothing items reused, like the red ankle boots and the jewelry. When you like to switch things up, it helps not feeling the need to reinvent the wheel every single time. Sometimes you have a piece that's been collecting dust for months and deserves a moment in the spotlight. Hell, I can come up with a dozen great looks for a single dress. Again: get crafty.
I went from being unable to find a pair of flats that fit me for months to suddenly finding all the pairs...right when it started getting cold. Go figure! Another favorite contrast of mine is bulky + slimming, like the left and the middle outfits. Cozy and stylish, in equal parts.
My closet's pretty damn stuffed, but that doesn't stop me from reusing the same outfits. Yes, sometimes even I want to take a break from putting together a look. I wore the striped tunic dress on the left quite a bit during the summer. It's the perfect cute casual top, with just a little extra charm to make it pop (like the gaps in the elbows). The middle dress I wore to a concert: Beck and Cage The Elephant, two bands I've loved for years and who delivered one hell of a performance. Oh, the weather was perfect. So warm and breezy I could've been outside all night and not minded.
and the beer was $15 per can, jesus christ-
Looking back on all these different outfits, I feel proud. I like how I look. Nay, I love how I look, and I've never felt more honest with my appearance than the last five or six years. I'm not slicking my hair down with gel anymore to try and make it look straighter. I'm not wearing copious amounts of grey and black because I'm too shy to embrace my love for color. I'm not afraid to dabble in styles on-the-fly, try new things, let myself reinvent when needed and get lazy when desired. Keep in mind it's none of my business what anyone else chooses to wear: this is what works for me.
There are still fashion languages I'm learning to speak. I want to add a little more green to my wardrobe, first off, which is hilarious because I actually love green. I just so happen to have a knee-jerk instinct to divebomb for anything maroon, lavender or gold. Currently my eyes are set on buying some thigh-high socks, hats that actually fit my fat head and, of course, more jewelry. Maybe one or two of those fancy claw rings. A tattoo will be in the works someday, but for now...
...anyone thinking of shaking up their looks in 2020?
I have some new character art coming out this week, which also means more lengthy behind-the-scenes posts. Stay tuned!
I figure now's a good time to talk about why I've learned not to make New Year's Resolutions.
I understand the appeal. The desire to just...rinse off all the bad, keep the good and glide into the future with a lighter spirit. The socially acceptable ritual of drinking like crazy and waking up with a New Year hangover? I certainly feel the urge in my bones, and it's not even Thanksgiving yet! I won't be doing it, though. I haven't for several years, in fact! I've learned New Year's resolutions tend to be, at best, dramatic declarations with little (if any) long-term payoff. They feel great in the moment, but once it comes down to keeping pace with your ambitions? Resolutions are a recipe for failure that shows in every deadline missed, personal promise delayed and mediocre result gained.
So I skip it...and instead focus on building good habits instead.
This is a subtle, yet hugely life-changing mentality that I've picked up from B2B writing/content marketing spaces. It makes sense, since the nature of that skillset is about crafting progress in bite-sized increments. Whether or not you're a freelancer, I highly recommend checking out Ed Gandia and BlackFreelance. They have several wonderful pieces that explore the benefits of shifting your mentality with smaller gestures, rather than going for a 'cold turkey' approach that has you falling back on old habits.
Good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones. For example, I brush, floss and rinse every single night, and missing just one night? It has me all out of sorts. I extend this same minimalist logic to other things, working backwards from the goal. Instead of just saying I want to lose a certain amount of pounds, I instead signed up at a local gym with my roommate for two sessions per week (as well as fewer sweets). Instead of just saying I want to wake up earlier, I instead push myself to go to bed an hour sooner. When it comes to art? Well, I want to improve my production, quality and outreach. But what do I have to do to get there...and will it be small enough to incorporate into my everyday life without a drastic overhaul?
For now...I'm focusing on traditional sketches. They're the foundation of most of the work I do and take the most effort from me. All those big goals of a shinier portfolio and fleshed-out projects? Those come later.
I'll be delving into my polished sketching process in further posts (which involves some jumping back and forth between Photoshop). For now, here's a peek at some of the character art I'll be painting over the coming weeks. I've also got some illustration sketches (not pictured) and recently started pieces. It's more than I've been doing for a while now and I'm pretty proud of myself, to be honest! I've got so many characters clamoring for attention, too, and it feels so good to get some* of them out onto the page. A few don't have names still, despite having fleshed-out backstories, personalities, powers...I'll have to start cooking some up instead of relying on codenames. Like Lion Head and Goat Girl. Tch!
*some being the key word lmao
I don't like losing my groove when I've got portfolio pieces to upload and commissions to finish. Keeping the ball rolling is one of the easiest ways to produce strong work with little effort. Need a breather? Switch over to another piece. Too tired to sketch? Just scan in a drawing and paint. This sketch buffer kills several birds with one stone. Never underestimate the groove.
I've mentioned before how much I just love to scan in traditional sketches and go to town with digital paint. I'm honestly vibrating with excitement over this sketch buffer, because that means just color color color color color. Oh, it's the best form of therapy! I've been using references for poses and outfits, finding that happy balance between learning as I go and making do with what I know. I recently checked out Noah Bradley's free figure drawing compendium for some ideas, when my full-body mirror ran short.
These are pencil and copy paper: nice and simple to keep my mind from twisting itself into knots (fancier materials can do that). That said, I will sketch on cardstock or bristol board from time-to-time if I want to preserve the drawing in the long-term. It's something I'll be considering when selling original sketches.
I'll likely be touching on this topic again as the holiday season unfolds. For now...I've got sketches to finish. Stay tuned!
Experimentation isn't always going to be social media ready. It shouldn't be, actually. How does an artist learn through mistakes...while being too afraid to make them?
One of my favorite painting processes is just throwing whatever at the wall -- or canvas -- and seeing what sticks. Even that dynamic foundation can be shaken up a little. While playing around in Photoshop the other night I slapped down some complimentary colors and fooled around with the smudge tool. Didn't have anything in particular in my head. In doing so, I discovered something I've never seen before: an iridescent finish caused by the smudge tool's blurring effect. Frankly? It looks fucking awesome.
The painting itself is...meh. That's fine! I learned a fun new way of creating a foundation in my speedpaintings and discovered some neat tricks to add more depth to my work. All with just a few smudges. That's more than enough success for an hour of fudging.
One or two smudges and bam. Instant depth-of-field. A fuzzy, iridescent aftereffect. It's just lovely. For all the digital brushes that are created to simulate oil paints, this is the closest I've gotten to replicating the look in Photoshop. My mind is already bursting with new possibilities. I may try laying out a basic sketch, setting it to multiply, then creating a separate layer to fill it up with these smudgy, rainbow colors. Maybe do some environment studies by setting down basic silhouettes, then smudging everything together.
I actually like these ones the best. The surreal, almost broken appearance is very...dreamlike, in a way. I love half-finished art (big reason I upload my progress shots so much) because you can follow the artist's logic on a visual level. Video, .gif, progress sheet, doesn't matter! If finished paintings are self-expression, half-finished work have to be the stream-of-consciousness.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand it's a merfolk. Why would it be anything else?
Experimentation isn't always pretty. It's not always neatly packaged and ready to be consumed, compressed into a bite-sized video for a thousand strangers' casual browsing experience. Hell, the only reason I remembered to take such consistent screencaps this time is because I'm trying not to break a good habit! The thing with social media is...it's just a tool. It needs to be treated as such. When you start limiting your artistic output not for your growth, but for some nebulous 'clout'...you're missing out on some truly formative moments. Besides. All the messy in-between work? Is honestly some of my favorites.
I'm sick to death of being afraid of 'ugly' sketches or unimpressive speedpaintings. That's the bulk of my work, it's how I get to my impressive art, and I'm going to embrace it all.
Definitely going to be utilizing this technique in future speedpaints. Got plenty more goodness on the way, including some last-second Paintobers. Stay tuned!
It's that time again. The autumn leaves are falling, our fingertips are freezing and the Inktober event is in full swing. ...Ish.
I made a poll at the beginning of the month asking for thoughts on Inktober, the popular October art tradition: the consensus was non-committal, with the majority either being wishy-washy on the idea or outright refusing. Is it any surprise? Making art is already enough of a process without churning out daily pieces, which are disruptive by nature due to being free work sandwiched in-between jobs, school and life obligations. This response is on top of countless counterposts I've seen just browsing my feed. For health-related reasons or not having enough time, I'm really happy to see artists prioritizing other things, to be honest. Burnout is a pretty serious issue without adding FOMO to the mix.
Burnout is so serious, in fact, it can literally make you sick. It's an easy trap to fall into as a freelancer, as well, since you're in the position of having to dictate your own hours and find your own work. Getting said work? Often means creating free work in the hopes of someday being paid for it. More than once I've found myself working ridiculously long days without a full break. I've even come down with illnesses that don't usually affect my age group (which I'll talk about in a later post). Does that mean I'm against the concept of Inktober or any variant thereof? Not at all! Daily art exercises have their time and place:
1. They're a smart way to nip overthinking in the bud (how many pieces lie unfinished because of too much prep work?).
2. They supplement portfolios with smaller pieces (great for blogging and/or Patreons).
3. They're great practice and, with the right mindset, a ton of fun.
If you're feeling guilty for not participating, however...that's when you're deprioritizing artistic growth in favor of FOMO: a fluff goal for shallow social media attention that doesn't amount to anything substantial. Art deserves better than that, right?
So, why am I sort-of-kind-of participating? Well, I figured this month was a good opportunity to push myself back into experimenting. I miss just being...loosey-goosey with my paintings. Scribbling down whatever and seeing where it takes me. I talked about this in my last post, on how old work can sometimes be stronger than new work, and I'm eager to touch base with myself. Rather than dwell, I'm dedicating some (keyword: some) days in October to my own spin: Paintober.
It's been a lot of fun crafting new brushes and playing around. These took a few hours each: unlike my last Paintober, the only overarching theme of this month is to just let my imagination and hand run loose.
Used a reference to create a portrait of an older character of mine (you might recognize him from my portfolio's character art section). Had a fellow ask if they could use this painting as their background wallpaper. I don't know what's sweeter: having my art greet someone every time they turn on their computer or being asked in the first place.
This one was a challenge...and, believe it or not, it wasn't the architecture, but the color scheme that gave me the most trouble! I went in with the goal to push my buildings and sense of space, yet ended up seriously flubbing the colors and having to do a bunch of tweaks. All-in-all, a very illuminating painting. I might just recycle it into something more portfolio-worthy. It's the kind of old-fashioned whimsy I've been craving in my work lately.
I just...love Spyro so much. What else can I even say at this point?
What I love about smaller paintings is how they allow me to get out ideas without committing too much time. I have a lot on my plate and, as much as I'd love to churn out endless fancy illustrations...I just can't! Additionally, this gives me more incentive to step up my speedpaint game. One hour or less! I've already got new custom brush packs I've been working on. Now to take things a step further and go back to studying some of my favorite concept artists. I've always been a fan of Feng Zhu and Jason Chan, among others.
I'll be sharing old Paintober posts later, as well as step-by-step shots of the paintings above. I've also been working on some pencil sketches to beef up my portfolio for 2020. Stay tuned!
I've been rifling through more of my old studies and personal thumbnails, analyzing what I've learned over the years with October right around the corner. These ones are all the way back from 2015, a little scratchier and more middle-of-the-road value-wise than I do now. Nonetheless, it's useful to analyze the areas where you've gotten stronger, as well as understanding where your skill starts to peter out and improve more slowly. Moving backwards is still movement!
I've spoken about Frank Brangwyn before and how he's been a major fine art inspiration of mine. His ability to somehow create chaotic and extremely simple compositions is endlessly fascinating, which is to say nothing of his lighting. Buttery and bold, he's able to craft out a figure's weight, age and personality with just a few deceptively simple strokes. I've done enough traditional and digital studies over the years that I feel comfortable getting a lot down with very little. Silhouettes, in particular, are a very reliable way of carving out what you see.
Moving forward I want to keep polishing up these areas. I want to paint faster, create more stunning compositions and improve my technical perspective. I also want to get comfortable all over again with being sloppy and loose.
I love how just a little white splotch can communicate so much. A spot of sunlight on a roof. A worker's cap. A rock in water. Less really is more.
While my art is a little too tightly polished to be called impressionistic, it's still a movement I take inspiration from in my preliminary work. The vibrant movement and sharp texture does a lot to keep my creative mind churning. Not all of my pieces are planned, after all. A single blob can be interpreted a dozen different ways. It's really fun figuring it all out on the fly. I'll have to upload more .gifs of my process so you can see just how many times I shrink, flip and rotate my work.
These studies were instrumental in giving me a feel for Frank Brangwyn's work. His blobby, squished subjects and lavish detail just can't be confused for anyone else. On the other hand, I was clearly figuring out what was more important: getting all the details in the right place or keeping the study readable for the viewer. More contrast and smoother linework would have helped here. Speaking of which, I'll be getting into my favorite brushes in later posts, most of which include some sort of 'natural' jagged border.
Clearly I learned something of value (ha!) from all these studies, because these personal thumbnails I did around the same time are much more readable. These compositions draw the eye toward a strong focal point, with the background either swooping or angling toward the subject for maximum effect. On top of that, atmospheric perspective is utilized in abundance to create a more believable sense of space. Perspective isn't just intimidating grid lines and boxes, but how objects fade, overlap and contrast each other.
...And, to be entirely honest? There are actually areas in my 2015 and 2016 work that are stronger than my current work. More dynamic. More lively. Looser textures, compositions that almost seem to breathe...it's no coincidence those happened to be easier artmaking years for me, as well. I was so much less wracked with pressure putting tablet to pen, letting anything and everything flow as it came. It's been hard for me to churn out the same amount of work I used to, and it's in studying my earlier pieces can I better get in touch with what's tripping me up.
October is coming up, meaning Inktober...or in my case, Paintober. That means lots of new paintings and lots of new posts. Stay tuned!
You want to be a character designer? Design characters. You want to be a concept artist? Create concepts for a hypothetical product or videogame. You want to be an animator? Animate. This advice may come across as intentionally obtuse, but so much of the narrative surrounding working artists is...convoluted.
There are far too many art schools out there with archaic curriculums that exhaust rather than inspire. The amount of horror stories I hear from working professionals with degrees? It'd make your head spin (if you aren't one of those postgraduates already). Capitalism also has many of us afraid to specialize in one or two paths due to the inherent instability of the job market. Hell, just living your life and juggling time between kids, a part-time job and/or school? Underfed possibility will have you overwhelmed by the time you sit down to work on your art. I'm no stranger to it.
Contrary to what you may hear, specializing is actually a good thing. A major reason I get work in fantasy illustration...is because I draw and paint a lot of fantasy. No attempts to be a jack-of-all-trades doing every last style under the sun, no self-flogging because I'm still weak in some areas (like urban cityscapes). I do what I like and I get hired to do what I like. Just like a gymnast has to do a set of repetitions thousands of times, so too do you need to draw something over and over before you get really good at it. All of this would've been harder if I spent a big chunk of time painting, say, cars (which I could really care less about).
This isn't to say life experiences outside of art are unimportant, nor that variety is a waste of time. Far from it. The best art comes from a wealth of first-hand, lived experiences -- it's a reflection of life, after all, and art that lacks a healthy foundation will show its cracks. Over the past ten years I've gone from being an educational ASL interpreter to several barista positions to B2B writing. I've learned so much about myself and have drawn on these life experiences to improve my craft. All the while? I've drawn and painted what I wanted to. What made my mind, heart and soul sing. I sometimes wavered on this over the years, wondering if I was 'limiting myself' because I leaned toward a certain style and handful of genres.
Whether you are leaning toward human subjects, a shoujo-esque style or wanting to commit to a sequential art major, you are limiting yourself...so you can specialize and become a master of one. Variety is important and specialization is not a curse. I've talked before about how language matters. The art industry is ever in need of nuance.
Here we're going to take a look at another old character of mine, a pheasant-griffon sphinx that embodies so much of what I love to paint:
I'll never lose touch with my eight year-old self filling in a coloring book.
A good, old-fashioned pencil sketch scanned into Photoshop CC. On the right I fill up with a base color, which does the dual work of filling up the space and helping me better see my lineart. Choose a hue that's predominant in the final piece: this'll save you a little time when you finally sit down to paint. It's all about working smarter, not harder in these commercial illustration streets!
I use hard-edged brushes when painting, but prefer soft-edged brushes during preliminary stages or touch-up stages. This gives me a sumptuous base that looks more natural. I also don't prefer to fill in areas manually, but quick mask and brush over my base color. It honestly looks nice when colors very gently 'bleed' into one another (thanks, traditional art!). On the right I then pull everything together with a gradient overlay. I keep it flowing in the direction of the lighting (from the top-right) so that it already looks complete, even before I've started rendering.
It's extremely subtle, but I upped the saturation on the left -- I needed the reds and oranges to pop a little more. On the right I start painting with my usual dark-to-light (very common for acrylic and oil painters). One of my favorite quotes (and I can't remember who said it) was treating light like water: if you were to take a bucket and splash a subject, where would the water hit first? Where would it travel and where would it land? This simplifies key lighting fundamentals like a main light source and reflected lighting.
'Buttery' and 'oily' were the main adjectives running through my head here. Even though I've only toyed with oil paints in the past (since I don't have the studio space for them), I've always adored their glowing results.
It's really satisfying seeing pencil strokes blur and vanish beneath the digital paint. Sometimes I'll let a little show through, depending on just how polished I want the final piece to be. As per my last post, art is a conversation. Embrace surprises.
Borders are something I've been steering away from in recent work, though I may try it again for very classical-type pieces. I'm also thinking of more interesting way to do simple pin-ups.
This piece is from 2017 and remains a shining example of what I love to see in my work: rich colors, fantastic creatures, beautiful black people, countless details and an irresistible sense of mystery or wonder.
If you want to get work doing a certain thing, do the thing. Give yourself the space and time to focus on a certain subject, genre and/or style -- experiment enough to learn what you like, specialize enough to let yourself improve. The Internet has made it easier than ever to put your work up and be seen, as well as learn from others. Promoting yourself, though, is a major hurdle for many working artists (particularly introverted ones), which is something I'll be talking about in future posts.
I have more goodness on the way, including posts about work-life balance and what day-to-day physical therapy looks like. Stay tuned!
Here I post WIPs, sketches, speedpaints, thumbnails and anything else thrown into the veritable stew of artistic process.