In November I participated for the first time in a drawing challenge. Many people know about Jake Parker’s Inktober, in which you produce one ink drawing a day from prompts, but fewer people know about Jake’s SVSLearn co-teacher Lee White’s perfect followup to Inktober–Slowvember. While you make an ink drawing from a prompt every day for Inktober, for Slowvember you work on one piece, of your choosing, for an entire month. Because I am, in fact, slow, I chose Slowvember as my first challenge.

My goals for Slowvember were 1) to experiment with style 2) to have time to complete a background 3) to see what would happen if I gave myself enough time to fine tune after I thought I was finished and 4) to have a finished piece for my portfolio.

I knew right away that despite the month-long time-frame, I was going to have a hard time finishing the challenge because I was going to be away a lot during the first part of the month. In fact, I was in Genoa the whole first week of November. So I decided to use my time there to incubate an idea. The place where I was staying was in itself interesting, as it was located on one of the hills overlooking the old port and was surrounded by terraced gardens. So I spent my free time wandering around the grounds and taking photos.

Another factor: November in northern Italy brings darkness and rain. I don’t just mean a few days of rain and then a break of sun. I mean constant rain–drizzle, steady rain, days on end of pouring rain–from the last week of October until the very end of November. It’s so pervasive that I can remember the one day there was sun–it was Sunday the 17th. The rain, added to the time change at the end of October, mark a distinct change of season and mood which often works itself into my fall images.

Once I got started drawing in mid-November, the process worked like this:

First I did Lee’ style questionnaire and assembled a portfolio of my favorite artists. I recommend this to anyone who is trying to get started in illustration! I won’t post all my work here, but I did come away with the following ideas:

  1. I like to pay attention to characters or the relationships between characters.
  2. My favorite themes are wonder and intimacy.
  3. I tend to like simple and asymmetrical compositions. Often they have a background which is parallel to the picture plane.
  4. I like spontaneous lines and curved lines. I like to see the stroke.
  5. For color: In theory, I like large swathes of neutrals with bright accents. But in reality, I am still a bit confused about color (this played out in my Slowvember piece).
  6. I like the idea of light coming through color rather than from a directional source per se.
  7. I use digital media, but admire a lot of traditional techniques that are hard to produce digitally, such as stone lithography and watercolor. For this reason, I might like to try combinations of traditional and digital media. (I didn’t do this for Slowvember.)

Then I started the drawing/painting process, which is clear enough:

1) Thumbnails: There were my favorites out of about 15 (I didn’t have time for 50 because I started late), on the theme of a child exploring in the rain.

2) Value study: It looks clear enough, so why did my image get so much darker?

3) Color study: Obviously something changed (I accidentally released a saturation clipping mask and liked the result), but the idea of a spot of pink is already there.

4) Painting process

Looking back over the month, I realize that where I often run into trouble is that, in working out the details of the finished painting, I depart significantly from the previous steps. Sometimes this happens for very practical reasons, for example the anatomy and perspective aren’t worked out. But this time big changes happened because at first I wanted to experiment with a cut-out collage, but in the end I tightened up. Then, after I flipped my painting to its mirror image, I realized the whole thing was going downhill. And I made changes at the very end because I wanted to add an element of fantasy. Also I made changes with filters, perhaps too many. Take away: Maybe more of the experimentation needs to happen at the beginning?

The result is that I have a finished piece, but I’m not totally convinced by it. It looks overworked to me. And I also suspect that it is simply too dark. But, as one of the SVSLearn guys said, the point of doing these challenges is that it forces you to put your work up against other people’s work and realize, “This is the best I can do right now.” And that is extremely valuable.

It may be that in another week, or another three months, I will look at my Slowvember piece and see exactly what it needs. Or it may be that what I learned while doing Slowvember will percolate and produce better results in future artwork. But I’m definitely going to try more of these challenges. Because the only way to get better is to give yourself a project, get feedback, and do the best you can today!

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