I designed two stickers recently, both based on real dogs.
The first was for a local dog groomer.
This one was a fun challenge. The dog, Penny, needed to be driving the shop’s trademark Econoline van. In real life, Penny is quite small compared to the van, so I would need to scale her up without making her look like a different dog.
The second was for a bike frame.
This one was just a head. I wanted it to be graphic and adaptable — thick lines, simple color variations.
The line quality between the two sticker designs is very different, as you can guess. Penny is much more “storybook” and the bike dog is more like a stamp.
Between the two, I can’t decide which I enjoyed working on more.
I liked the sunglasses dog for its simplicity and satisfying, chunky lines. I enjoyed exploring Econoline vans and figuring out the right scale for the two elements.
I think both of them are distinctively whimsical in their own way, and each convey their own personalities.
This year was a whirlwind of activity. I’m already forgetting plenty of it, so I’d better start writing things down!
NCS Fest in May
This event was so much fun. You know what, this is the only time I’m going to say that, because all of these events were a total blast!
NCS Fest is an international festival celebrating comic art, and I had the pleasure of representing the Huntington Beach Art Center for the organization’s first ever event in the U.S.!
Downtown HB is such a busy place full of dog-lovers, I was swamped with work. The energy was great, and I got to meet so many amazing artists! Definitely grateful to have been invited to table at this event.
Pier Plaza Art Afair in August
After NCS Fest, I realized that doing 1-hour watercolors was not time-efficient. I wanted to test my abilities with alcohol markers! I signed up for the weekly local art market by the HB Pier and got to work.
Downtown Huntington Beach came through once again with dog lovers galore, and I got plenty of practice!
San Gabriel Valley Humane Society in October
A friend from college reached out when she saw that I was doing these events. Coincidentally, she now manages the San Gabriel Valley Humane Society. She graciously invited me to have a table at their 95th Anniversary event! This was my first event I’d done outside of Huntington Beach, and it went great.
HB Arts Fest in October
This one was a big change of pace coming off a dog-centric event like the SGV Humane Society. This visit to Downtown HB was much less busy. Still, this was a nice event.
Long Beach Howl’oween Parade in, you guessed it, October
Two events in one month was a lot, but this one was super worth the extra effort. There were more dogs than people, and everybody was in a costume! Maybe I was just tired from the busy month, or I was “in the zone” with my drawings, but this event seemed really laid back.
Plus, there was this giant mob of children helping everyone set up and take down. They were like little 12-year-old elves.
Irvine Animal Care Center Home for the Holidays in December
The last leg of my vendor-booth-marathon got rained on, but not too badly. Enough people attended to generate $32,000 for the adoptable pets at The Irvine Animal Care Center! Seeing all of the newly adopted dogs and cats was a fantastic thing to see on an otherwise gloomy day.
To sum it up,
I think my top 3 favorite events for this year would have to be
NCS Fest, because it was such a unique and exciting experience
The San Gabriel Valley Humane 95th Anniversary, because it was my first event outside of HB
The Howl’oween Parade, because it was so tremendously fun!
Going forward, I’ll be putting most of my focus on dog-related events (I’ll be at Goldie Palooza 2020!) and maybe some niche art events. I just loved the atmosphere at NCS Fest — streets closed to cars, every booth full of exciting art!
Looking ahead to the new year, I’m so excited to launch The Artful Armadillo Newsletter! It will be a quarterly mailing (less clutter for you, less work for me.) First edition drops January 1st. It will contain a secret word that you can say when you see me next year to get free goodies! Sound like fun? I’m excited. Sign up here.
We’ve all seen those beautiful Moleskine sketchbooks, leather covers, brimming with flawless drawings, not a single page torn out in shame. Then there are folks who scribble on napkins and loose leaf printer paper — low pressure media. Most of us probably sit in the middle of this bell curve.
For us, our sketchbook is not a portfolio, and we would regret leaving it on a cafe table. Some of us are quite choosy about who gets to look at which pages. A peek behind the scenes is a peek into the mind.
For the longest time, I didn’t trust my process.
I remember my mom shooing me out of the kitchen while she was cooking. [Note: I am certain this was for safety reasons, and not out of any concern that I would judge her ability to chop tomatoes.]
Most people don’t like to be watched, and certainly not when they’re making something. Even if you’ve done it a hundred thousand times before — as soon as you feel eyes on you, you get the feeling that this will be the time you blow it.
It was something I wanted to shake off.
Last year, I started recording time lapse videos of my watercolor paintings. It was a great way to get used to showing people my process. It helped me to understand my own work, and I could delete the footage if I didn’t want to share it. Best of all, every decision looks so much more confident in fast-motion. People loved seeing these videos. Their enthusiasm gave me just enough confidence to take the next step. I dedicated a hashtag to these watercolor portraits.
I signed up for a total of 7 events this year, and I made drawings on the spot, in front of people, at all of them. Not only have I stopped worrying about people seeing my process — I’ve come to really enjoy it.
Trust your lines
Of course, it’s one thing to share a video of the last 30 minutes of a painting condensed into one minute. Going from a blank page to a finished product — in real time — is a different beast entirely. You need to be able to trust your lines.
I’ve always loved drawing animals, and I especially love dogs. I know all about just about every kind of dog. I’ve worked with dogs. I know how they move, how they think, and which way the fur lies across every plane of their body. I know, without a shred of doubt, that I can draw a dog.
That’s lucky for me for two reasons: dog owners like art of their dogs, and dog owners are very sweet people.
Going into this, I knew my process to be messy. I work very loosely, relying on gesture drawing to construct the form. If I try to work slowly, there’s no life in my lines. Things get too stiff. But I worried that a gestural drawing wouldn’t be taken as seriously as something with more polish.
I quickly learned that, if the drawing expresses their dog, people are thrilled. Besides, it’s a fast drawing at an event, not vector art. Dogs are lively, my lines are lively — it’s actually a perfect fit!
There have been so many lessons like that. Reminders to get out of my own head. My process isn’t even as messy as I had imagined.
I enjoy working with ink. No eraser means you live with your mistakes until you realize they weren’t so bad after all. I love seeing the construction lines, too. Sometimes they’re more true than the finished ones! That was definitely a strength — I could move more quickly and confidently.
The more caricatures I did at these events, the more positive feedback I got, the more experience I gained, the more I realized something:
It’s not about the process at all.
It’s about the friends you make along the way. It’s hokey, alright? But look, it’s that connection with people. You’ve made a thousand drawings, and it’s become routine for you. But when you let people, non-artists, see behind the curtain, they will be mystified by what they see. They see this as a kind of magic.
I’m not saying we have to feel comfortable opening our sketchbooks to the world. I just think that, if we did, it might not be as terrible as we imagine.
And when it comes to drawing in front of people: If the final product is great, nobody cares how you chop the tomatoes.
Do you like art-related babble? I’m trying something new in 2020. The Artful Armadillo Newsletter! It will only go out 4 times a year. First edition drops January 1st. It will contain a secret word that you can say when you see me next year to get free goodies! Sound like fun? I’m excited. Sign up here.
(This is late, it’s the middle of March, I know that, but it’s SPRING now okay so there are no rules, including rules about comma splices!)
Here we are again at the start of a new year. It happens every year, but it always feels special.
First, I want to reflect on 2017’s goals. Hosting an art show hasn’t happened…yet. Pitching a picture book went about how I expected — the silent treatment. Didn’t stop me from printing off some paperbacks myself and sharing them with the world! The one goal I blew out of the water was finishing a polished piece of artwork for every month. I used streak.club to form the habit as well as to look back on and recognize my progress (which I’ve always struggled with).
Having practiced month-long processes for a year, I’m ready to take on a bigger project this year. I don’t want to say too much just yet, but I’m just crazy about this idea and hope to keep you updated.
I’ve fallen off (yet again) in posting to social media. I have been drawing, though, and not even anything very secret or un-sharable, I just haven’t been showing anybody anything. Maybe it’s important to do that sometimes? I don’t know. It’s just what I tend do — fall off the map intermittently.
Goals for this year: Finish a major project. One goal. Gotta do it. Very excited.
I’ve never met anyone who didn’t decorate their space to some extent. Whether we realize it or not, the things we look at have a way of seeping in to the things we create.
Make rules, not copies.
The objects that catch my eye are often unexpected. Each thing is different and seemingly unrelated until you see them all together. There’s an invisible thread running through them all. Hard to identify and even harder to articulate, but if you can and when do, you get a much clearer idea of what you like. Maybe you can even identify why you like them. If you can understand why you gravitate toward certain things, you don’t have to copy them but instead make something that follows the same rules.
Who’s driving the bus?
I like old things, offbeat things, sincere things like folk art, and silly frivolous things.The reason I like an item may be unclear until it is next to the plethora of other items in my studio. Most objects from childhood disappear with time, but what I’ve kept follows a lot of the same rules as the newer additions. How formative are our first possessions?
How much do our surroundings in early life inform our aesthetic preferences? Do we produce art based on those aesthetic preferences? Or do we choose our surroundings according to the art we strive to produce? Maybe, like most things in life, it’s a push and pull.
As humans we are always seeking patterns even when we don’t consciously identify them. By identifying these patterns, we can better understand ourselves.
First, I want to thank all of you for filling 2016 with good times and laughs. Now it’s on to another 365 days of messy mistakes and minor successes!
I want to have goals for 2017, but I like to keep my goals flexible. I never want to get tunnel vision while I’m working toward them.
1. Host an Art Show
I had so much fun with the Spooky Show last October, I’d love to organize something like that — a show hosted by artists for artists!
2. Pitch a Picture Book to a Publisher
Last year I joined SCBWI and attended the Summer Conference in LA. I learned so much about the publishing world, and while I’m sure there’s oceans more to learn, I want to jump in! What’s the worst that could happen?
3. Make at Least One Polished Piece of Art Every Month
This one sounds super do-able NOW, but I know once I get swamped with projects and life’s odds and ends it’s going to be a real challenge. It’s easy to draw every day, but it’s not so easy to commit to a sketch and give it a nice finish.
So how’s that for a start? At the tail-end of last year, I discovered the super lame¹ magic of planners/calendars, so I’ve recently been making monthly or weekly “resolutions” which have increased my motivation and productivity by a factor of at least nine.
Best of luck to everyone in this fresh new year! Let’s all have a happy orbit.
¹ This is in no way meant to disparage the noble world of planners and planning, but I think we all know it’s a bit frivolous.
So there I am, sitting at my desk with a pencil in hand. I begin to draw. I draw a Thing, but it looks familiar. So I draw another and another. Everything I draw feels like I’ve done it before.
So that’s it. I’ve done it. I’ve drawn everything there is to draw. There’s nothing more I can do.
I’ve never been one to express my life through art. My inspiration comes from what I see and wonder about, not from emotion or circumstance. So if at times I find that I’m repeating myself in my work, I have to go somewhere else.
Art is about looking. If I’m in a place where I’m too familiar with my environment, I’m not looking — I’m knowing! Imagine only talking about what you know all the time. Nobody is going to listen to someone after they’ve spewed the same fifteen facts eight times in a row, so you have to learn something new. Travel is a great way to learn.
Although it would be awesome to cross an ocean, even the familiar can be new. I try to put myself in situations where I’m not on autopilot. I’ll go somewhere and be around people I’m not used to, smell new smells, taste new tastes. Then I have plenty of new things to draw, and when I come back I see things I was ignoring at home!
So if you feel like you’ve drawn everything in the universe and there’s nothing left for you to draw, you’re wrong. There’s so much stuff on planet Earth, and so much is happening to that stuff all the time. It’s great and horrible and amazing and it begs to be put down on paper.
Whether it’s for a weekend or a month, get on a bike or a bus or a plane, shake the cobwebs out of your eyes, and draw!
To those out there who use art to express your feelings: do you ever find yourself artistically “stuck” because you’re caught in an emotional loop? What do you do to break out of a repetitive emotional cycle?
Portraits are not meant to be photographs. Between cameras and Photoshop filters, anyone can make a stylized copy of their pet. That’s why, when I do a pet portrait, it’s important for me to get an idea of what each animal’s personality is and what the client loves about their pet.
The thumbnails (quick little sketches that come before the rough sketch) help me feel out what’s going to “fit” the dog. At this stage, there are no wrong answers. I try everything. Different angles, moods, orientations, and shapes.
After I’ve filled a couple pages with ideas, it’s time to edit. I consider the pet’s personality and the client’s personal taste. I settle on one or two compositions, clean them up enough so they’re understandable (thumbnails tend to be very small and very messy), and send them to the client for approval.
From there I make a series of small drawings to get a feel for the form. Once I have a sense of the subject, I can draw it in whatever pose I need.
I make sure the marks I make are intentional. The style of drawing should reflect the animal. When I drew Bunter, a quiet old Westie, I rendered him softly. This wasn’t a yappy, bouncing-off-the-walls terrier. Last year I posted a portrait of a German Pinscher, Cinnamon. Cinnamon is a bold little dog — she would not be recognizable in soft graphite!
Pets have personalities, and so do their owners. A pet portrait requires a unique mix of the animal’s nature and the owner’s personal style. So many factors go into a successful portrait, it’s important to be mindful of why I’m making the drawing as I draw.