(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Category: art

Brush trials

The simple original sketch

This week in illustration, I’ve been doing trials with digital brushes.

The main goal of pretty much all my art activity these days is to develop a working method/style that feels natural and can express whatever I most want to say. And since expression depends a lot on the kind of mark you make, I’m trying to get as familiar as I can with digital mark making. You might call this building a style from the ground up.

Inspired by one of Kyle Webster’s demo videos, I made a sheet of 16 copies of a character I draw a lot. (She has a name and a certain personality, but that’s a story for another day.) Duplicating is easy enough to do on Photoshop. I drew a sketch in digital pencil, copied and duplicated it, copied the two of them and duplicated, and so on until I had a full page. Then I created a mask for each figure in the same way, so I didn’t have to waste too much time cleaning up edges.

Then I got to work applying color. I wasn’t perfectionistic about either the sketch or the coloring. The whole point here was to discover the properties of a few of the hundreds (!) of digital brushes now available on Photoshop CC and figure out which ones were best suited to my working style. I wanted to concentrate particularly on dry media (charcoals, pastels) and opaque paint media (gouache, oil). And I was also interested in grainy effects. In the end, some of these brushes worked quite well for my purposes, and some obviously didn’t!

These trials that worked more or less like I expected, because they allow for a fair amount of control and also I am used to working in traditional oils.

Here are some of the things I was thinking about brushes while I worked:

  • How tilt sensitive is each brush?
  • Which brushes can handle the whole job and which will have to be supplemented with other brushes? (It turns out that some of the more porous ones really need to be used with another brush or a fill layer to render all the details legible.)
  • At what size does each brush make the nicest stroke?
  • With each brush, is it better to use different values of paint to put in highlights and shadows, or is it more effective to just vary the density and let the white of the “paper” show through?
  • Does this brush require extra layers just to keep the marks from getting muddy too fast? (The mixer brushes, such as oils, usually do require extra layers that can then be merged.)
  • The non-“mixer” brushes allow you to change the brush mode (upper left of the screen) to clear, which makes a sort of eraser with the same texture. Which brushes have the most workable “clear mode” erasers? (Remember to change the mode back to normal before continuing!)
  • How can I use the brush stroke and either a “hard” or “soft” eraser to control lost and found edges?
  • How do the brushes affect color intensity? (More than you’d think!)
  • How might changing my tablet/pen sensitivity affect the marks? (I suspect I have a light touch, but it varies with the brush.)

Some trials that were somewhat pleasantly surprising even if I didn’t develop them as far as the others.

A side benefit of all this practice was that drawing my character over and over helped me think more about how she should look, even if I didn’t take her to full finish. Some things I was thinking about while I worked:

  • Which subtle variations of features, and which brushes, are best suited to the character?
  • How much modeling is even needed?
  • How spontaneous can I be?

In search of grainy effects. Some of them I was pleased enough with that I might use them again some time. Others definitely not, but at least I found out!

This is definitely (Photo)shop talk But it does have a more organic significance. About 99% of drawing, and probably any other art, is being so familiar with your own processes that you feel confident in what you’re doing and thus comfortable improvising. Muscle memory plays a big part, of course, and for that, you just have to draw a lot. But there are plenty of other skills you can develop, from creative imagination to visual awareness to intellectual knowledge and theory to simply knowing your tools. All of them (in some form) are important to anyone who wants to be good at what they do.

Also, it helps me to see my own drawings published on my blog, because I see things more objectively that way. It’s like giving myself a mini-critique.

Which versions do you like best, or not? And why? If you don’t know why, feel free to state your opinion anyway. Sometimes intuition has some pretty good reasons of its own!


Keeping focused

It was only natural that after the end of the SVS Turbocharging Your Creativity course, the Bologna Book Fair, and Easter, I would have to deal with a bit of reality.

First there are American taxes. As an expat, I do get a bit of an extension, but it’s only because documents come out so late in some countries (like Italy). And those who owe, still owe in April. But the requirements–oh my! My days using simple filing software are over. I’m getting somewhat used to the routine, but still, the US is the only country in the world with a citizenship-based tax requirement, and nothing is simple about expat taxes. I have to file in both countries each year, and to keep all the requirements straight I have to hire an accountant (in reality a tax lawyer) versed in international taxation. Don’t get me started…

And then there’s the Indagine ISTAT. Funny, everyone’s reaction when I told them about it has been, “Are you sure that’s not a hoax?” If only it were! Basically I’ve been chosen at random to fill out a 45-question (plus subsections) survey from the Italian government for myself and another for my husband, based on everything from what we eat for breakfast to our opinions on the rail system–which everyone knows depends on whether you take the lovely but expensive Frecce or the cheap and dirty regional trains. Supposedly the survey data is kept secret, but it looks pretty identifiable to me. And there’s a hefty fine if you don’t turn it in. Bleh.

And there are the usual teaching, housework and errands, some personal matters, and another one of those week-long, pouring-down rainy spells. When it rains here, it rains.

But I am determined not to let annoyances plow me under where illustration is concerned. I’m reviewing all my course materials, my Bologna notes, and trying to keep drawing at least something. It’s bound to happen, even for successful professionals, that sometimes between all the things one has to do to keep afloat, it’s hard to keep focused. That’s when motivation, a routine, and incremental progress are more important than ever.

So here’s one of today’s exercises (below)–turning figures. My default is something akin to realism–must be my portraiture background. It’s not perfect, but that’s not the point. Happy drawing everyone! Or cooking (I’m making lentil soup for dinner), or working, or whatever you’re doing today…

The Bologna Book Fair–an illustrator’s glimpse

Bologna at night. (Apparently I needed to clean my phone lens.)

I got back from my first trip to Bologna and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair on Thursday afternoon. Even my initial impressions on the book fair are lengthy, but I will try to be as concise as possible. Just to be clear, this was my first children’s book fair ever and I purposely didn’t take a portfolio with me. Instead I went to get an idea what it was about so that when I was fully ready, I would be more effective in presenting my work. And even on the other side of the fair, I don’t regret this.

Since I always like to get the big picture first, that’s what I’m going to try to concentrate on, and then give a few specifics only where I think I can do so briefly. Because the Book Fair is overwhelming. I saw thousands of people there each day and in most cases I wouldn’t even know whether they were even the same thousands of people or different ones!

Also, a caveat: Everything I know about the fair is strictly from a beginning illustrator’s point of view.


There’s an illustrator’s wall around the periphery of the main hall where artists can tape up their work for others to come and see. It’s chaotic, and by the second day people were leaving things on the floor. I was told that publishers do actually come look at the wall, but it doesn’t seem to me that it would put any artist’s work in the best light, or at least it would be hard to get noticed. Again, that’s just a first impression, and I’m one of those people who even avoids large outlet stores, so that might explain my reaction in part.

The central hall includes the juried art show, a book shop, some exhibits, and a stage called the Illustrators’ Café for prize and other presentations. In general, I liked the Illustrators’ Café because even if you couldn’t get close, you could still back up to see and hear what was going on. Surrounding the central hall were several huge exhibition corridors (think airport terminal-size) with booths for every major publishing company, artists’ and writers’ associations, and art schools from many countries.

Services for Illustrators–portfolio review

The Illustrators’ Survival Corner is where the masterclasses, workshops and portfolio reviews for illustrators take place. Masterclasses are talks by publishers, associations and illustrators for anyone who wants to just show up and listen, if you can squeeze in. Workshops require sign up first thing each morning because one creates artwork, and that naturally limits space. Portfolio reviews are highly coveted spots for illustrators to get professional feedback. In the end, I did not participate in any of the activities that required sign up, but got a good bit from the masterclasses. Here’s why:

The portfolio review and workshop signup is positively Darwinian. When you arrive in the morning, well before the opening at 9:00 am, there are already hundreds of people outside waiting. The people from orderly countries are waiting in line. The ones from furbo (an Italian term for people who know how to get what they want) countries are finding a way to sneak up to the front. At any rate, on the one occasion I tried to sign up for a workshop, I was in the front part of the crowd at the door, and even so, when I got upstairs to the sign-up desk the line was already long, and the spots few. Someone told me that somehow people were getting in before 9:00 am, and I also saw a video taken from the sign up desk, proudly posted on the Bologna Facebook group, no less, of people sprinting for the desk at opening! It seems that you not only have to be an excellent artist to use this system well, but fairly athletic and also a bit aggressive.

There are some open portfolio reviews each day as well, but a friend waited in line at one for two hours (with a massive headache) only to be told that it was closing and they wouldn’t be seeing anyone else. She was able to get a scheduled spot on a different day, but the reviewer didn’t give any feedback. But other people got feedback, and the feedback varied with who gave it, so apparently some of it just depends on who looks at your portfolio. To give some idea of why these reviews are so coveted, some of the reviewers are from big publishing houses or are famous illustrators such as Laura Carlin. With opportunities like that, if I had felt really ready with my portfolio, I would probably have run to the sign up too!

Still, someone told me that the system at the SCBWI conferences in places like New York have big tables where everyone can put out their whole portfolio and business cards, and that people actually do come by and take them. That seems fair to me. The Bologna system seems, well…Italian. I love many things about my adopted country, but trying to make my way through a line is not one of them.

Services for Illustrators–Masterclasses

Author/illustrator Chris Riddell in the Illustrators’ Café

I did enjoy the masterclasses. In all but one very regrettable case, I did fairly well at getting to the event early or at least finding a place to stand in the back where I could see and hear. And you never know when someone might lose interest and leave, opening up a better spot.

Among the masterclasses I attended were: A talk by an Italian editor and first-time illustrator on what it’s like to work together on a first book, a talk by an illustrators’ association on pricing work and negotiating contracts, a New York Times talk on trends in children’s books, more than one talk in which an illustrator talked about his or her work (I particularly enjoyed the one by Tiziana Romanin), and a charming illustrate-as-you-talk chat by Chris Riddell. I enjoyed the last one so much that I went back for a similar event at the Illustrator’s Café. Never mind that only Chris Riddell could pull off some of the ways of getting work that he talks about, because he is already so famous. He is a great raconteur with a British wit, and he made me remember how, when I was a small child watching Romper Room and Mr. Rogers, my favorite segments were always the ones where someone would draw on screen and tell stories.

What Chris Riddell was drawing at the above moment…

It helped that I speak both Italian and English, because some of the talks were only given in Italian and those often had more room. The regrettable exception I hint at above was the masterclass given by Beatrice Alemagna, who is apparently not only one of my favorite illustrators, but seemingly the favorite illustrator of most everyone in Italy. I lost track of time in one of the publishers’ halls, arrived ten minutes late, and not only couldn’t get close enough to peak over anyone’s head (I’m not tall), but couldn’t even hear a word of what she was saying, despite speakers, because of all the ambient noise. Next year I’m setting phone alarms!

And then there was the day in which I repeatedly walked into masterclasses and conferences for which there were not enough simultaneous translation headsets, or for which there was supposed to have live translation but wasn’t. This is how I discovered that I still understood a passable amount of French, but not quite enough for comfort. Same thing with Spanish to a lesser extent.

Other talks

Possibly the most helpful and informative talk I listened to during the whole book fair was the NY Times presentation on their Best Illustrated Children’s Books award. This was a three-hour presentation during which I sat on the floor the entire time, trying not to lean too hard against a loudspeaker stand and thus cause an embarrassing incident. The upside of my discomfort was the I was sitting less than three feet from the aforementioned Beatrice Alemagna, and not much further from Sydney Smith, another of my top five illustrators, and at a similar distance from Suzy Lee, Laura Carlin and Paul Zelinsky, who are equally talented to the first two but I have to choose somehow. They are all past prize winners.

The New York Times illustrators’ panel, presided over by the Times’ s children’s book editor Maria Russo, center

The presentation included a history of the award and how it is chosen (unlike the Caldecott, it is open to illustrators worldwide and is chosen by artwork only), an editorial panel who spoke about their experiences with these illustrators, and comments by the illustrators themselves. Since I have followed this award and the NY Times for years, I found the whole conference very informative, though space won’t allow me to go into detail about it for now.

My only regret was that this time Beatrice Alemagna spoke in French instead of Italian, and I didn’t have a headphone. Zut! Apparently I just wasn’t fated to learn much about Beatrice Alemagna, except that she was self-taught and everyone wondered why she would write a book about someone doing nothing (The Magical Do-Nothing Day).


I spent most of the last day just walking the publishers’ halls and trying to get an idea who published what, but it was overwhelming and I still have to sort it out. It’s not one day’s work, that’s for sure. Some of the major American publishers had booths that were as big as a book store and obviously designed by an interior design firm specializing in display (I have some experience in commercial interiors). And some of the publishers have their own portfolio reviews. I left the hall with a very full backpack, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s the day I ended up having to walk up Via dell’Osservanza (a second-gear-all-the-way-up kind of hill) on foot! But I don’t mind exercise.

The illustrators’ exhibition

The illustrators’ exhibition had very interesting work from very talented illustrators, and it was especially nice to see how some of the artists worked precisely and intricately in traditional media, but for the most part, it looked as though it were more intended for artists than children. Often I couldn’t find much of a narrative thread in the works. Book illustration can be overly commercialized or sentimental in many cases. But I think the most endearing (and enduring) illustrations for children themselves are somewhere in between the two extremes.

Odd and ends, and tips for next time

During the fair I stayed at my friend and catechist Fra Pietro’s Franciscan friary. It’s up on a (second-gear) hill outside of town, and therefore, unlike at home, the friars mostly go out to serve instead of having people come to their doors. So it almost feels more like a monastery inside. The friars were welcoming and it was very peaceful to come back to, but it was a long way from the fair and more importantly, you can’t enter the city by car until after 8:00pm, which is when buses stop, causing traffic to stand still. This makes going out for dinner in the center quite difficult. Also, parking for the fair is €20 per day. So next time I go, I may try to find a place within walking distance and then go pay Fra Pietro a separate visit.

An Italian friend who was only there on the first day showed me an internal restaurant that not everyone knows about (you can’t leave the fair and return, and the traffic situation eliminated grocery shopping for lunch). So by eating light and supplementing with snacks I’d brought from home, I made out pretty well for lunch. But the lines for coffee after lunch were so long that I went without. Finally on the last day, I discovered a downstairs coffee bar inside the restaurant. The only catch is that you have to get lunch fairly early, which was fine with me because I prize a few minutes to regroup.

Amazingly, for a book fair that offered a free app and at which most everyone was constantly messaging each other and taking photos of artwork, I never found a charging station and so I had to use my aging phone sparingly. On the last day someone told me that they had seen people under a table in the Chinese exhibition charging their phones. But next time I’ll buy and take one of those battery packs.

A Bologna city center street in the market area

I had originally planned to return to Torino on Thursday morning, but since I hadn’t seen much of the city center yet, I took a walk first. Bologna couldn’t be more different in style than Baroque and Neo-Baroque Torino. It’s medieval, with narrow streets and a lot of brown brick or orange stucco buildings. The impression from the hill above is of a circular red mass punctuated by towers. And as I walked and drove around, I realized that it had once been ringed by a brick wall, now torn down but with broken bits still extant. Because of the traffic, motorcycles are very popular. And it is home to the oldest university in the world, the original Alma Mater. I always like getting to see a new Italian city!

Meanwhile, I met some really interesting people at the book fair, saw a lot of excellent artwork, and got a sobering reality check about where the level of my own work needs to be. But all of that is exactly what I wanted. The rest is up to me, and to both how hard, and how smart, I am willing to work.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

Turbocharging Your Creativity

Since mid-January I have been taking an SVS Learn “live” course* called Turbocharging Your Creativity. It teaches new tools for generating creative illustrations. The course certainly has taught me some new ideation techniques, but it has also been useful in forcing me to drop my perfectionism and finish drawings relatively quickly. I am also spurred on by knowing that other artists will be evaluating what I post.

The Turbocharging course starts of with quick, limited assignments and then progressively builds on them, so by the end of the ten weeks, the final project makes use of many if not all of the steps learned previously. For that reason, each assignment is more difficult than the ones before.

Today I am finishing the last project for the class, but won’t post it here yet because I want to wait for feedback and make revisions first. I will, however, post two previous assignments below. Both are in black and white, because color is the last step to be added.

The first illustration is from a project in which we researched a celebrity and then created a portrait illustrating something we found out about him or her.  Being a glutton for punishment, I chose someone I didn’t know much about and for whom most of the information available was in Italian: Anna Magnani (Mahn-YAN-ee). I’ve found this star of Neo-realist Italian cinema to be fascinating ever since I saw her in Rome, Città Aperta, a post-war anti-fascist film. She is best known in the US for her Oscar-winning role in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo.

What is so striking about Magnani is that she is the anti-starlet. She has an earthy personal presence that is immediately recognizable and consistent throughout her roles, as well as in her personal life. Magnani was a passionate lover, a heavy smoker and coffee drinker, and not surprisingly considering the preceding, she was also an insomniac. Later in life she took to wandering the streets of Rome at night, talking to prostitutes and feeding stray cats.  So my portrait combined and illustrated those traits:

This is a digital portrait, but since I am used to doing portraits in oils, I used a similar technique, using Kyle Oil mixer brushes (now part of Photoshop CC) in temp layers in order to work “wet into wet” without the whole painting turning to mush. (If you want to learn more about temp layers, you can have a look at Ctrl + Paint’s free video library, which is where I learned about them.) The result is much like one of my oil portraits in its early stages. (I wanted to leave it a bit rough to emphasize Magnani’s character.) But I found the same limitation with the digital oil technique that I had begun to find with my traditional oil portraits: It relies heavily on reference, and in this case I couldn’t find consistent, good quality reference, nor could I take my own.

So for the next project, which involved picking a narrative moment from one of three given podcast episodes, I determined to try something new. After generating a lot of before, during and after ideas from my chosen podcast and narrowing down the choices with the help of my teachers Lee White and David Hohn, I came up with this toned sketch, using a digital technique similar to pastel:

I like to show the sketch to friends before I explain what it is about, but people usually get it right away: The story, from the Lore podcast, is about a 17th c. witch trial. Christian Shaw, an eleven-year-old Scottish laird’s daughter, accused several family servants and itinerants of having bewitched her. In the end, six people were hung. We don’t know exactly what her motive was or how real her symptoms were, but we do know that many years later visitors found a hole in the wall beside her bed, suggesting that someone was feeding her the nails, rocks and feathers she dry-vomited as the main “proof” that she was bewitched. It horrifies the modern mind to think about the people she accused finding themselves caught up in an a vortex of accusation and hysteria in which anything they said or did would be used against them. I have chosen to portray Christian after the executions, looking up at one of her victims and perhaps facing a moment of self-reckoning.

And then, just for dramatic effect, I created a version in which Christian is fully aware of her actions and unrepentant:

And now I’m off to finish my final project and proceed to Bologna, where I will attend my first Bologna Book Children’s Book Fair. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the largest children’s book fair in the world with plenty of opportunity for illustrators, but more about that later. First I have to experience it for myself!

Meanwhile, in case I don’t get to post again before next weekend, Happy Passover and Happy Easter!


*SVS Learn includes a free forum, a subscription video library, and individual, classes with feedback, sold separately. The individual classes are conducted through a private bulletin board and videos posted once a week, so people who live in different time zones can all upload their work and get feedback.


After my last post in (ahem) October, I wrote a draft about another outing. It required me to fact check some history, so naturally I never posted it. And then I didn’t post for almost six months. I was also sort of in an “should this be an illustration blog or an Italy one”? quandary. And then I just got busy.

But I’d like to continue. So here are my temporary guidelines, and we’ll see how it goes:

It seems best to start from a personal take on things. Subjects are secondary.

I’m going to try short entries for a while so as not to get bogged down. I’ll try to post neither too many nor too few.

So to re-start, here is my short, “what I’m doing” catch up:

During the day (and sometimes at night), I am taking an illustration course. My main frustration with my illustration is my own perfectionism. I don’t like my starts and so I leave them unfinished. And the style smorgasbord is paralyzing. Maybe it’s a matter of just having to do enough work to get through the ugly stuff. Realizing all this, I signed up for a course with feedback and deadlines to hold my feet to the fire. This turned out to be a great idea. It has also kept me quite busy, but what could be better than improving at the thing I want to do professionally, if I can manage it?

Aside from illustration, I teach English sometimes. Most Americans who live in Italy do now and then. And I don’t mind it because it gets me out among people and makes me look at my own language in a whole new light.

I am also pleased that to have finally become fluent in Italian. Although the more I learn, the less sure I am what the definition of fluent is. I certainly don’t speak like a native.

And finally, I love my life in proximity to the local Franciscan friars and my volunteer group. They’ve been a big part of my life for the past four years, ever since I showed up there one day looking to do some volunteering. It’s just that it’s hard to write about my friends while still respecting their privacy. In fact, I even removed the one post from years back in which I described some of the soup kitchen guests in detail. But I am happy there.

Back to illustration homework for now. But more soon, I hope!

Quick illustration update

Now that the wedding is over, it’s fall, and I’ve got somewhat of a routine going, I thought I’d do a quick illustration update.

I have crammed down so much subject matter during the past, first year of self-instruction that it sometimes seems like I’ve got some serious artistic indigestion. Character design, Photoshop, studying favorite illustrators, marketing, perspective and environment, composition, textures and warp tools, endless experimentations with traditional and digital media, repeat. When I consider that this time last year I hardly knew what a Photoshop layer was, I can see progress. Still, it’s an effort not to count the years it’s likely to take to build a portfolio, compare them to the years I have left to develop a career, and suddenly feel quite sober about it. Then enthusiasm kicks back in and I get back to work.

The little painting above is sort of half-baked (that horizon line!), but I am posting it because it gives some idea where I am right now. I’m trying to keep the technique simple, and to that end I’m mostly just painting one character, in digital watercolor. The text was pure stream-of-consciousness because I wanted to consider how it should look on the page. And although I’ve got state-of-the-art digital watercolor brushes from Kyle Brush (as of this week free with a Photoshop CC subscription, but only available with a subscription), there is still an aspect of watercolor that really just begs for the serendipity of traditional media.

Where is all this going? I still don’t know. But at least it’s going.

In which I buckle down and get to work

I’ve been sort of a hermit lately. Well, I did go to the Langhe wine region with friends last Sunday, and I’ve been chatting with people on the phone, and I’ve been to mass, and I’ve gone to various appointments. But in general I’ve been leading a very simple existence and using the time and headspace created to get some art done.

Scenes from the hermitage: Watching illustration tutorials while eating leftovers. The flowers are my overgrown chives. I also made pesto from my balcony basil. 

On Wednesday night I printed out over 50 pages of documents for a patronato appointment. Perhaps I can get my carta di soggiorno (long term immigration card) in time for my trip to the US in August. And unlike the permesso di soggiorno, it doesn’t have to be renewed. You have no idea how glad that makes me.

As part of the carta process, someone had to come to my apartment to make sure it was big enough for me to live in. Such an odd concept. Next I have to get a document that shows I’ve never been in jail. And then there was the three-month-long process of getting American documents officially translated and stamped by the uncommunicative Italian consulate in Miami. The carta di soggiorno has opened up new horizons in bureaucracy.

But mostly, I’m sitting at home with my new Cintiq (which I have never figured out how to get to run at 4K, by the way), lassoing my way through three iterations of Princess Carla of Spaniel. I set myself a deadline of today, which means I’ve had to let go of a good bit of perfectionism, but it does make me feel good that I have set a goal and accomplished it.

My first color comp is the scheme of the original painting. The second one was inspired by a Downton Abbey still. (I think I haven’t realized the potential of this scheme yet.) The third? Grand Budapest Hotel! I’ve discovered there’s a whole world of color study via film stills, which I’m pretty sure was part of the point of this assignment. That and learning to use the lasso and gradient tools. And I learned a third lesson as well: If you want to get something done and move on, don’t choose an iridescent Velasquez dress.

To muff or not to muff? That is the question…

There’s more to do on this project, for sure. But one thing at a time. Maybe soon I’ll even get around to posting some photos of the most famous wine region in the world outside the Loire Valley.


Cintiq review

In my last post, I promised to update either my progress on the color comps for Princess Carla of Spaniel or the new Cintiq Pro 16 (a draw-on-screen monitor).

I’ll start with the Cintiq. It’s revolutionary for me, even with its steep learning curve.

First I must list the difficulties, which are fairly well known by now to the digital art community: It has issues with Mac Sierra, with connections and drivers, and with getting the promised 4K screen resolution. For a complete list of problems and fixes, see the Wacom Reddit  board, though Wacom has its own discussion board as well.

I don’t have the Sierra problem because I never upgraded to it, preferring to preserve as much RAM as possible. I will probably have to eventually, but hopefully by then the compatibility issues will be ironed out.

I am, however, having the resolution problem. I’m stuck at 1440 resolution. I have a MacBook Retina Display, which should support 4K.  But I don’t have a USB-C port, and that’s what the Cintiq Pros are set up to use. The Wacom link, an adapter which was included in the box because Wacom knew how new USB-C ports are, doesn’t support 4K. At least not officially. Some people have been able to make it work by ordering special MiniDisplay cables, but I have had no success with that route. Wacom Reddit has more information if you’re trying to troubleshoot this issue, and meanwhile, if I am able to make mine work, I’ll post an update.

And I must say that the sleek Cintiq monitor does look rather silly with three long, bulky cables sticking out of it and sprawling all over the table, just to make it work. It looks very jury-rigged.

Those caveats aside, however, having a pen display is absolutely an enormous boost to a digital art setup.

Even at just 16″, the workspace feels much bigger than my 13″ laptop, and besides I don’t have to keep juggling apps around a tiny screen to look at reference material or watch tutorials. Now I have one maximized screen just for my artwork!

And even at 1440 resolution, I’m able to work quite well enough for a beginner.

The new pen works very well and even has an eraser on the other end. I have yet to figure out its relation to the eraser function in Photoshop, but I will discover it eventually. I have set my pen controls to display toggle (to switch quickly from the display to my computer monitor and back) and radial menu (a pop up on screen menu in which you can store your favorite shortcuts). Both of these have made the tablet much easier to use.

The first few days I was a bit disoriented because things kept popping up on the wrong monitor and I didn’t know how to toggle, but slowly I’m getting the hang of it.

And today I figured out how to make the font on the Cintiq big enough to read. The fix is not in Photoshop, but in the Mac display scaling preferences. I had been afraid to touch those because I thought it would decrease my display resolution even more, but apparently it doesn’t.

But the absolute best thing, and the reason I got this device to begin with, is that now I can draw, lasso, and use all the other precise tools included with Photoshop with the same precision I would a pencil and paper. If you’ve ever used an Intuos, the small black drawing tablet with no screen, you know what I’m talking about. It feels like you’re drawing with your non-dominant hand, or worse. I got better at drawing with it over the year that I used it, but there’s no comparison between an Intuos and a Cintiq if your drawing style is about manual dexterity.

So, now I’ve got the Cintiq setup and I’m back to working on color comps for Princess Carla of Spaniel. I’ll post an update when I’m a bit further along.

The new Cintiq Pro 16 with my first color comp for Princess Carla of Spaniel in progress. 



Spaniel drawing update

Here’s a short update on the fancy animal assignment from the last post: I’ve been working on it whenever I get a chance, and have now finished the tonal study. To do this, I scanned and combined my favorite two drawings and then worked out the values in Photoshop.

The awkward black lines in the study are drawing corrections done on an Intuos pro tablet. The point at this stage was never to have an elegant, finished drawing, but these lines are particularly rudimentary and I leave them in to emphasize that it’s really hard to draw accurately on a small tablet. But I’ve finally sprung for a Cintiq draw-on-screen monitor and it should arrive tomorrow. Yay!

Anyway, the tonal study showed me that I needed to further “flesh out” the dog’s paws, so to speak. That has been today’s work. When I used to paint oil portraits, back in the pre-digital era, I’d take a couple hundred photos and make sketches to think out various aspects of the painting. Illustration is by nature imaginary, but I still like my drawings to look correct and believable. That requires a ton of photo reference and detailed studies. Sometimes I wish I had an in home menagerie!

Another part of today’s work has been to start thinking about mother-of-the-bride’s dresses for July, but after trying on everything I own that might work, I must confess I much prefer drawing Velasquez dresses to shopping for one for myself.

Once I get the Cintiq up and running, or get to the color comps for this assignment (whichever comes first), I’ll post an update. And there are more steps to go after that. But I like the way this assignment is making me stretch.

Princess Carla of Spaniel with torsoIMG_5980

Princess Carla of Spaniel

It has been a while since I’ve posted. I’m working a lot on illustration and am now much more comfortable with Photoshop, but have little original work to show for all this study, so I recently joined a group that gives assignments. Here is the first:  Find an atmospheric portrait and combine it with an animal.

I immediately thought of Velasquez, and as I looked at his portraits, I thought, What do they remind me of? Why, King Charles Spaniels, obviously! (Perhaps that’s not so surprising considering that Velasquez painted at least one King Charles Spaniel into a royal family portrait. People do tend to look like their dogs.)

I started out this assignment thinking I’d use Las Meninas, but when I did a Google search I immediately found that someone had already done a few spoofs of that extremely famous image with a dog’s head, and besides the light is coming from a less conventional direction in that painting. So I decided on another image of the same princess, here:

Velasquez, The Infanta Margherita, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

I’m not sure I can post the main spaniel reference photo I used since it’s probably someone else’s intellectual property, but needless to say I had a ton of spaniel photos.

After various attempts, I finally settled on one main head pose and expression:

Princess Carla of Spaniel, by me

This is an interesting assignment because it forces you to think of such unconventional questions as, how much puppy belly is appropriate to show in a corseted dress? How do you make shoulders that look human enough to retain the main lines of the dress while looking doggy enough not to suggest a straight cut and paste? How do you put earrings on a dog? How much of the full length portrait should be incorporated into the assignment and what to do with that other paw? (Not to mention that I cut off the near one, which was part of the drawing, in the photo.) And how do you adapt the reference material in a way that maintains form over mere photographic realism? I must say I was quite pleased with the ready transitions from necklace to dog collar and spaniel ears to 17th c. Spanish hair, though.

The idea is to do a finished digital image in color. I should have a Cintiq (tablet that allows the user to draw directly on screen) soon, but as of now I still don’t have one, so doing this assignment on a tiny Intuos tablet is going to be a challenge. I’m going to try it nonetheless.

And obviously I’m posting here to hold myself accountable. If you like this sort of thing, stay tuned…