I Didn’t Know It But I Was Starting A New Series

April 21, 2017
A magenta Prismacolor pencil, black and Roasted French Ochre watercolor, and white gouache sketch on Speckletone cardstock 6.25 x 9.25 inches (remnants from making greeting cards).

Often the idea for a new series comes to us by accident. We’re working (that’s when the muse can best find us) and things we’re working with combine in new ways, jog a memory, present a challenge, and bingo a new series pops into our minds.

That’s what happened at the end of March this year as I was working on some toned paper for a painting project. I had only a few materials on the table. I had black and white watercolor paints in a small palette, along with a couple new colors from Daniel Smith (Roasted French Ochre, Aussie Red Gold).

I never paint with black pigment, so it was rare and unusual that these things should be out at the same time. I also had a magenta Prismacolor Pencil near by.

Since January I’d been sketching the faces in the Sktchy App now and then. It’s a wonderful app. People put up the most amazing images of themselves—sometimes goofy, sometimes arty. They give permission for you to sketch them. When you post your sketch it can be viewed virtually side by side with the reference image. This is particularly fun when illustrators use the image creatively (e.g., inserting the person from the photo into one of their imaginary landscapes or character adventures). There is a wide range of artistry on Sktchy. There are professionals and hobbyists. There are people working in any medium from pencil to oil paint. Basically just looking through Sktchy at what the artists have been up to is sure to make me smile.

But Sktchy is also a place where I can find a lot of beards. I love sketching beards (if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog you know I love to sketch beards).

To me beards are sculptural masses which seem to defy gravity (of all types sometimes). You can treat them as mass, capture them with value shifts, suggest them with broad brushstrokes, or capture them with finicky detail. I never tire of sketching beards.

Sure, I would prefer sketching all these beards from life. But when am I going to find all these men with fantastic beards in one place? We deal with what we are dealt. I’m just glad I can find them all on Sktchy.

Detail view of today’s image showing the pencil sketch and brush work.

On this particular March day I finished a work-related sketch project. I wanted to sketch a beard. My queue of images on Sktchy had grown to almost 1500 (you can search the database to find images to sketch from and then save them in your queue—a useful feature if you don’t go over say, 100?).

I started to run through my queue and when I got to the photo inspiration for today’s image I stopped. Sitting in front of me was toned paper and paint left from the previous project. What if I did something very minimal with the magenta pencil, and used only black (gasp!) and white pigments on the toned paper?  (I did end up adding a little bit of the Roasted French Ochre to get a darker tone in some areas of the portrait to create a bit more depth and dimension without relying on dilutions of black paint.)

I jumped right in.

I loved the result. It was over in under 10 minutes. It captured what struck me about the image—the luminosity of the beard, yet a sense of its substantiality.

The next morning while I was brushing my teeth it dawned on me that a new series was in the works—International Fake Journal Month was starting April 1 and I didn’t have a character or a journal picked out.

I counted the remaining pieces of Speckletone Cardstock I had left. Thirty. Sure some were smaller than the others, but all were useable. And there were exactly 30 pieces.  That is what I needed for my 30 days of sketching in IFJM. I’m the daughter of a minor league baseball player—I believe in signs.

I needed a project that took little time—I was booked solid with work in April. I really still wanted to create a fake journal.

What if my character created a loose sheet journal with the Speckletone, used only black, white, and a limited number of pigments, a red, orange, or magenta pencil, and drew portraits? What would that be like? What would she be like? What could I accomplish? Could I survive a month using black pigment? Would it be fun to work in wet media on a non-wet media paper for a month, day in, day out?

I set all the questions aside and let things percolate. I already knew it was my next project. (I will write more about my 2017 IFJM journal in a later post.) 

When you are busy working, if you leave yourself open, if you respond spontaneously to the materials around you, a new series and new ideas will come calling. It’s the best reason to run to the drawing table every morning.

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