Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Perfectionism and Storytelling

I have been hard at work on a large personal project of mine lately. Yes, one that has been in the making for years *cough.* Today as I was painting I had a breakthrough of sorts. This post is to make a serchable note of it to myself and in the off chance that it helps others who work like I do (or that some will find it interesting).

So, I've been doing much thinking on the idea that illustration is about communicating an idea, not about getting the execution "perfect." In fact, the more time I spend trying to make the image/text perfect the more likely I am to get sidetracked and stymied in the energy flow of the project as a whole. There is a big difference between major edits for communication and endless fiddling around.

Also, I've been working against myself by thinking "oh, well I have to finish and perfectly polish this one part before I proceed." When I do that I ignore that I tell a story -in my mind- in as sequence of visual images and text. Without the space and energy to springboard one to the other I run into a roadblock and out of steam on either and let that temporarily table the project. It also tends to yield many polished segments that are suppose to be parts of a cohesive whole, yet, because they were labored over in isolation and to the inth degree, don't fit well with the greater story. And the kicker is that by the time I get back to the other side of the storytelling, writing or art or vice versa, I often have changed things up so much that I render this former "polished gem of an image" (or segment of text) irrelevant or in need of sweeping changes anyway.

A good example of this is the way I "tell" stories to myself as I am working on a painting about what is going on there. And I often find that I will re-order or sometimes completely "re-write" parts of the tale based on my time with the image. Painting is a meditation to me, but not so much in the general sense, as in the interest of space to muse on the project and story at hand in a visual way. It also feels more open and less heavy-handed somehow than when I am sitting down to write, likely because these thoughts while painting tend to bounce around far longer in my head before working their way into the story. When I do this method properly, it feels like my text is as equally in service to my art as the other way around. It's a nice balance.

I should too remind myself that the essence and story of a piece of artwork is NOT derived from how pretty each of the brush strokes is or how smooth and perfect every surface is rendered or even about exact anatomy of the characters. It's about the read and gist of the piece. The more useful question is "is this conveying what it needs to?" because at a fundamental level, at a beginning-to-end level that is what matters in telling the story. I would say, when a piece is "working" that the first 80% of it, the gist of it, comes far sooner and with far more energy and ease than the last 20% which tends to be the laborious polishing of every pixel.

And, lastly, I want to make a note for myself that it is only right to give my intended audience (primarily 8-12 children) credit for possessing their own brilliant imaginations. I don't need to be perfect or fill in all the gaps (literal or metaphorical) their minds will. Just as I did (and do) when I am in contact with a text and visual work that is really speaking to me. The most concrete example I can think of here is the way I "read" Polar Express when I was a 3rd grader vs. the ways I can read it now. Because when I was younger I didn't have that level of criticality about art or text that I do now and responded purely on a level of imagination. I could feel the magic of the tale through the page. Not to say that I don't regard it as a brilliant book today, but that I can't look at it through the eyes of a child quite the same way grown-up brain is always wanting to dissect things down to the line or shading or word. So I should really be asking myself "what would my 9-year-old self get from this image (or text)?"

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Phantism Cover

I want to share a book cover I was working on before and during the Germany Move for a holiday book launch. This is cover #3 for author K.E. Stapylton's Prism series, it follows The Terror of Prism Fading (Prism book #1) and The Deeper Darkness (Prism book #2). It is set in a firey subterranean world and is the "yellow" book for the series.

Special thanks to my husband Chris for patiently modeling for photo reference and to Kareyn for graciously rolling with the disruption of my moving schedule:

Book Cover for Phantism - art only

Book Cover for Phantism - with text design

More information on the book series can be found here:

Prism Website
Author's Blog

On Amazon Kindle

Friday, January 18, 2013

This Slide of Winter

So, now we are mostly settled into our German apartment. And it's winter. The dead of winter. Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE snow, but that doesn't mean I love dark cold winter. Thankfully Germany gets it's share of snow, though there was a space of a good 3 weeks here where there wasn't any, just the gray and bone-chilling-damp day in and day out. Each day I walked by twisty brambles and craggy ancient trees covered in dark moss, the whole palette quite drab. It was monotonous in a way, yet fascinating in another, as there was (and still is) a sense of newness about even the smallest things here, like the dark twisting vegetation.

"This Slide of Winter" was inspired by an old German playground slide that I pass every day on our street. The slide is located in a little "garden" plot surrounded by gnarled old trees and underbrush, overgrown from winter disuse. The slide fascinated me, something about the distinct design reminded me of a archway or doorway. Combine this with my longing for beautiful fluffy white snow and you have the seed for this image...

This Slide of Winter
This Slide of Winter: Detail of Children

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Now in Germany!

My first post in quite some time. These past few months have been hectic!

The story: at the end of this past summer, my husband and I were looking for change and adventure, something exciting and different to experience before we settle down and have kids. Several months into searching for this next step, he was notified that a position within his company had opened up in Southern Germany. We thought that traveling around Europe would certainly fit the "big adventure" category. So, with my blessing, he decided to go for it. He was rewarded with a job offer, which he accepted.

Lufthansa Plane, view from Frankfurt Airport

Then came the fun part of moving our lives overseas! Hard to describe THAT in a way that does it justice. The sheer amount of paperwork involved, first off. The way having someone else pack and crate your things completely and utterly randomizes everything. Having to unload both your apartment lease and car in the space of a month. Then the month of living in a hotel without your things (and a shaky internet connection, at best) in a new country.

Finally I received my art PC, which had been separately air shipped, only to open the box and find the case crumpled, motherboard crunched, and the hard-drives cascading in a loose pile -this in the middle of two big client contracts. My amazing IT husband was able to somehow still get my PC back up and running Frankenstein-style for temporary use while we waited for parts to come! At this point the damaged parts have been replaced and it is 100% operational and snug in a new case.

Smashed PC, note the crumpled case & the loose hard drives!
My temporary hotel work space.

My studio space at our new place.

This was followed by the first month in our new amazing German apartment where we were slowly rebuilding our home from hundreds of boxes and had even worse internet connection (I did get a kick out of my ping being 666 though). (Thankfully, we have a solid cable internet connection now!) I did very much enjoy seeing snow out of our windows for the first time.

Snowy view from my studio window.

Our first Christmas Tree in Germany.

In case that sounds like a litany of complains, I do want to make it clear that I am happy to be here and excited about the possibilities both in a holistic sense and for myself as an artist, especially now that the work of moving is done.

There has been fun mixed in too, of course. An accidental dinner with new German neighbors (I rang their doorbell by mistake, thinking it was a light switch in our building, and we wound up invited to their dinner party), Christmas Markets... wonderful wonderful Christmas Markets (including a medieval flavored one in Esslingen), a lovely long weekend trip to Munich. Most of those before the holidays.

There are many other trips in planning stage at the moment. I have bit plans to see castles, lots of castles! Look out Neuschwanstein, you're next!

Neat building in Munich, Germany

Christmas Market in Stuttgart, Germany

New Years Eve from our living room window.

Bonus: we also got an unexpected dog right before we were presented with the Germany move. A week before my grandfather passed away in August he had adopted a 5-year-old female Cocker Spaniel from the local pound, who he named Lady. Being local (at the time) and pet-less we took her in while he was in the hospital and decided to give her a permanent home after. She made the flight over with us just fine and is doing great here.

Can you say 'no' to those brown eyes?

Whew! So that is the "catch-up" post. Stay tuned for a new piece of wintry art!

Me, enjoying the snow!