Process Lab

If you love making art, as much as I do, then you know what a struggle it can be.  It is revealing, and frightening.  Sitting in your studio you may wonder why fight or flight is kicking in when there's nothing but a blank sheet of paper in front of you!  Maybe you feel your art isn't good enough? Maybe you think you're not good enough?  And what is good anyway? 


Even though I've sold works and exhibited in galleries, I get page fright.  How does this happen?!  In this series of posts I'll call "Process Lab" I'll show you how I get started and step by step my process for you. It is my hope that you will see what I go through each step of the way and see that starting is the hardest part.  Then actually continuing is the next hardest.  Your talent is not a big factor, and it certainly isn't what makes you "worthy" to create art.  Look at what I've outlined for you here, and then I'll tell you what I've learned about worthiness.

to Start

Sketchbooks should always be a playground of ideas and experimentation.  This is where I make the boldest color choices, and unusual mark making.   Pictured above is a face I drew first in ink to get the placement of features.  From there I lightly watercolor where shadows and light will appear.  Often I will paint highlight in a bright color in conjunction with the brightest highlight that is created by leaving white paper showing.  Then I will choose a harmonious color to complement that highlight, which is a pink and purple here.  Specifically I used a Gamboge Yellow Hue for highlight, Opera Pink for light shadow, and Rose of Ultramarine for dark shadow.   The ink marks are made with Sakura's Pigma Micron Pen in size 1.  

In this particular exercise I wanted to emphasize the eye with details of reflection.  Because I don't often paint a reflection when I paint eyes, I didn't exactly plan what the reflection was.  I decided a vague combination of shapes that would indicate the reflection of the light coming from a distant horizon would be a good experiment.  Again, this is where I like to test with ideas.   I should stress that a level of familiarity with facial features is helpful before beginning experimentation, but not necessarily required.  In all cases, you should have fun!

next steps

Since I want the eyes to be the focus, I place deep shadows in the features around them to draw the viewer's eyes there.  This can also be called adding "weight" to the area.  I add hints of Turquoise Blue and Indigo to the ear details and the shadows of the cheek bone.  In the inner eye socket I add a deeper layer of Violet and Rose of Ultramarine.  And if you're wondering about where this comes from, the Rose of Ultramarine color I purchased through Daniel Smith Watercolors, and it is a mixture of Quinacridone Rose, and Ultramarine Blue.


Photo of tube of paint - Rose of Ultramarine from Daniel Smith Watercolors, and paint smear of color on white background
Rose of Ultramarine - Daniel Smith Watercolors
Final stages of render
Final stages of render
Tools and Final Render
Tools and Final Render

In the above photos you can see the final stages where I've placed grey tones, using Payne's Gray to round off the edge of the brow and also shadow down the left side of the face.   As this was just an exercise, I won't be doing the full face right now.   For a more precise mark, I've incorporated various water-soluble markers made by Staedtler (Mars Graphic 3000)  and Marvy (Le Plume II), in the crease of the eye,  around the water-duct, lower lid, and the fold of the ear down to the jaw bone.  These markers are great for working in watercolor while you travel and have long, pointed felt tips that give great brush-like strokes as well as fine lines.  They are also doubled-ended for a more pen-like mark.  Also note the Pentel Aquabrush which has become an ESSENTIAL travel tool for most watercolor artists.  All the water is held in the body of the brush, never leaks with a tight-fitting cap, and comes in various sizes.  Honestly I paint with this a lot now, probably more than my regular brushes, because the ability to consistently flow water through can create effects that are more difficult/messy with a standard brush. 

final stages

To finish off the detailing, I use a Sakura brand gel ink pen in white.  I draw some highlighting dots and lines in the waterline of the eye.  Typically in painting you want to try to leave white areas unpainted completely, but in such small areas as this, it can be difficult, so going back with gel ink can save time and often frustration later. 

In the book Art & Fear,  the authors write that fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work and fears about others prevent you from doing your own work.  Clearly I could've used my skin tone colors and mixed a perfect shade of flesh, but that's not for me.  Was I scared to put down non-skin colors?  Of course!  But this is what a sketchbook is for, to play, experiment, and let go.  Your worthiness as an artist is not determined by how well you can mimic a photograph, but by how well you can mimic your insides.  You can have all the talent in the world but it won't get you past the fear of the blank page.  It's even less responsible for success.  Determination will get you much farther! 


I'm going to give you my tools, and show you what I do.   You can take what you need from it and go make art that speaks to you.  If it doesn't resonate, then keep working.  You may get discouraged, but just know that everyone does, and it's not a sign of your failure, or your "unworthiness." 

That's all for now, please feel free to comment below with any questions about my process or tools.  This was just a practice run through my sketchbook and I hope you enjoyed it.  If you want to see more posts like this, let me know in the comments, or on social media!  Thanks for joining me, and please share with anyone you think would like this!  If you want more words of wisdom and ideas for artmaking, please consider getting my email newsletter below.

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About the Artist

 I would call myself a Jack of all Trades, but mostly because I'm interested in many areas of art if not all!  I graduated with a BFA in Fine Art from the University of North Texas with a focus on Watercolor.   I always had dreams of creative writing, and in 5th grade I wasn't too bad!  Art clearly won out for my attention, but writing will always have a place in my heart!

What better way to write, I say,  than to share a blog, and practice my second love while talking about my first! :D


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