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Friday, September 28, 2007

Illustration Friday: The Blues (and figuring out color)


     This is old. I'll say that straight out. But it's got a story.
     I've told y'all that I was a corporate in-house illustrator for many years before I moved into children's books. Well, I drew this for a box of bird-seed for a gardening company a long time ago.
     I drew it. I didn't color or render it. It was sent out to a freelance illustrator to paint the final.
     What!?
     Yup. At one of the companies I worked for, it happened a lot actually, and let me tell you, it gave me the serious blues.
     But back then, while I could draw my little tootsie off, I couldn't color very well. I could do flat color, cartoony stuff with my eyes closed. But the fine-art look, highly painterly styles, that wasn't me.
     "But aren't drawing and painting the same thing," you ask?
     Not at all.
     Knowing how to draw with black and white (pencil, pen and ink, etc.) is completely different from learning how to apply color well in any particular medium. Color is a finicky thing. Applying atmoshpere and light with color is a completely independent skill. You can't just make a color darker to throw it into shadow. Colors change, they grow cool and hot, they oppose each other. Color can cause objects to jump forward or hide in the back. Using color incorrectly can make a piece feel flat, or it can push things forward and back that shouldn't be, making the perspective feel wonky.
     Think about it. Have you ever seen artists who could draw like crazy with graphite, but the second they rendered their art with color, it went south like a duck in winter?
     When I first dove into freelancing with my own art, I had to figure out what my medium was, and then I had to become proficient with that medium to apply color effectively. It took several years and a lot of work. I feel like I'm only now reaching my stride. Nowadays, the puzzle I enjoy most in my art is tweaking color and light, making them really work.
     So now, I can finally work with color. I can pull off those painterly looks I always admired, but I always regreted that I hadn't rendered some of my earlier drawings and sometimes go back to them to see how much I've improved.
     I revisited this particular piece several times over the years in several different mediums (this one is colored pencil), and while I still don't think it's a success color-wise, I did reach a level where I thought, "It's okay." Of course, if I did it again today it would be completely different.
     Learning how to paint and render my own drawings has been an interesting journey for me though. I hope it's interesting to budding artists as well.

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