About a month ago, I was contacted by a co-worker of my dad's who had seen some of my art hung up in dad's office and decided he wanted some for himself! This was a huge, huge deal as doing paid commissions has been on my list of goals for quite some time, but I imagined I wouldn't get to that level for probably a couple of years so never gave it much long-term thought.
But, never one to turn down exciting challenges or money, I powered through. I decided I would let this first commission be sort of a "test drive", so I could get a rough idea of how long it would take me to finish something big, and how to discuss things with clients, and just a general "would I be happy doing it exactly this way over and over and over again?"
So, after some emailing back and forth getting information and reference pictures and things, I finally was able to get down to brass-tacks and do the work a couple weeks ago. What follows is a very VERY detailed description of my process for this piece, more for my memory benefit than anything else. If you want to just look at the pictures that's alright! But I know some people find it interesting to hear about other people's process so go for it if you want to.
I started with materials. I used a heavyweight, medium-tooth paper in a slightly off-white colour, at 11" x 14". (I am a bad Canadian for always measuring these types of things in imperial, but for some reason it works better for me.)
But yeah anyway, I couldn't just use printer paper or something for a piece somebody was paying me for, it had to be good quality and durable, so I looked through my paper stash and found a weight and type I was happy with.
I used a Lyra Art Design 2B pencil for inking: I like this brand a lot and 2B is a good weight for this sort of thing, at least for me: it's a soft enough lead that I can still see what I'm doing (unlike a 2H which leaves such a soft line you can barely see it if you don't press really hard) but it's still a firm enough lead that it doesn't smudge, doesn't leave an after-image and erases easily.
I used an ordinary white school eraser; I just like these the best and feel more comfortable with them than any of my fancier art erasers.
Ink was no challenge: it had to be something that wouldn't fade with long-term exposure to sun, went on easily and was a solid black colour. I used the same pens I use for my cartooning: Faber-Castell PITT artist pens in medium and small felt tips, and also one in brush tip. A lot of people don't like these: the general consensus among art markers seems to be that Microns are the way to go. But I have tried Microns and they just don't work for me, so I am married to Faber-Castell for life. They are full of waterproof, fade-proof India ink and they do what I need them to do perfectly.
So, that's my team. Now It was time to get to drawing.
The client wanted something similar to a piece I had made for my dad, which showed a little boy walking around in front of a colourful European-ish city. He requested that himself, his dog and his baby granddaughter be put in the picture just for funsies, so I went right ahead and roughed them in before starting on the buildings. For me, things like this usually work better if there isn't very much planning. So, I just sort of took my pencil and went at it, and didn't stop till the whole paper was filled.
Now at this point, I was a little nervous. Like I said, there was very little planning involved: I just sort of made things up as I went and the result was this bombed-out building filled, dirty old poor neighbourhood, rife with ugly advertisements and cracked plaster. I loved it, but I wasn't sure how it would go over with the client, who had basically requested a cutesy, lovey-dovey family portrait. I had talked with him in the weeks past and I knew it would be no use emailing him the roughs and asking his opinion: he was adamant that I make it all up myself and surprise him. Which was great actually, but you know. I wasn't sure how far to carry that privilege, and I was a little worried that a torn-down building and billboard infested piece wasn't exactly what he had had in mind.
Still, in the end I decided (with the helpful counseling of Morgan and many other friends) to stay true to my own style and not change it. I ploughed ahead, and as soon as ink touched paper I was in it for the long-haul.
(I still don't have a working scanner, so I had to take photographs of my progress. Because I pencilled lightly to make for easy erasing, I couldn't get a very visible shot and had to crank up the saturation like crazy so you could even see anything. But, it gives you an idea at least.)
|Actually I think I like it best just like this, personally. But I have always loved black and white line drawings.|
After this, I inked the lines. Inking linework is my favourite, favourite part of any pen and ink work that I do, so I had a lot of fun. By now I had been at my desk for about five hours and it would be another two before I finished the inks, as I don't do EVERYTHING in pencil first. I like to leave a little bit, and some small details, to be worked out in the inks. For most of my pencils and all of my inks, I listened to Paul Simon's "Graceland" album over and over and over again and that really helped keep it enjoyable.
When inking was done, my hand was so sore I couldn't go on, and also it was now about six in the morning. Once i get into a working state it's hard to get myself out of it. But I forced myself to bed, planning on colouring it the next day. But I didn't end up getting to that for another week, because truth be told colouring is my LEAST favourite part of any given process. I don't work with colour very often and I find it pretty tiresome and difficult when I do so I often let it slide. I guess it's a good thing that I was forced to practice a bit!
The client (man I feel so uppity to keep calling him that but I can't exactly use his name now can I?) requested it to be coloured with pencil crayons like the one I made for dad so that's what I did. I'm really looking forward to finally getting my tablet so I can learn to do colours digitally, but that's beside the point.
I didn't want it to get too out of hand and busy, so I limited myself to a colour family with just a few base colours in it: browns, grays, light oranges and a pale yellow. I threw in the odd green or red building just to break the monotony, but all in all I wanted it to look like an old neighborhood, where at one time whoever built everything wanted everything to coordinate. When I was done all the base colours, I rubbed over them with a pencil eraser to make them blend smooth, which was a genius idea if I do say so myself.
So I started with the buildings, which turned out to be a bad idea. I lit them as though the sun was right overhead at midday, but then decided that it was going to be late evening. Yeah, good planning there. So, I coloured the sky to be twilight and of course the two didn't match. I spent a lot of time going back over all the buildings to make them darker, adding shadows and whatnot. The real brainwave came when some of the red on a windowpane smudged onto the building. In erasing it, trying to make it blend with the gray, the building took on kind of a rosy sheen, as though it was reflecting the sunset light from the sky. So I smudged some red into a few other buildings.
When all was said and done, I went back over every single line with my inking pens twice more, just to make sure the lines were a good, solid black. I scanned it and put it on Tumblr.
Annd....something was still wrong. It was really bugging me, because I really didn't want to send it off and be paid for it if I was still feeling so unsure about it. A nagging sense that I had failed somehow started to buzz around my head. It was so cluttered and busy and the more I looked at it, the more I didn't like it all that much. I was wondering if maybe I should just start from scratch? Maybe I just shouldn't do commissions?
And then it went off like a lightbulb! I have actually never had such a lightbulb moment before; I jumped up, instantly just knowing exactly what I had to do to fix it.
The windows in all the nearest buildings were still coloured very pale blue, but the sky was dark blue and red! Windows reflect the sky!!! I coulodn't believe I hadn't noticed it before!
I ran back and made all the glass match the sky, and BAM - picture is instantly improved, tenfold! It was such a "click" moment, like "OH just study the real world and see how it makes things be, and then apply that to your art and it will be amazing!"
So yeah, now that the windows matched the sky I liked it enough that I felt comfortable re-posting it on Tumblr and emailing it to a handful of friends who are also artists. I was still pretty nervous because that is just my natural state, but so far the response to this has been overwhelmingly positive, one of my friends even wants me to print her a copy for her house, and the client likes it too and said it was "Just perfect, exactly what [he] wanted" so I am very very happy and don't feel bad about being paid for it like I was afraid I would.
This still isn't my favourite thing I've ever made but the learning experience was so, so wonderful. And I can't believe I have accomplished one of my long-term goals and become a paid artist, so much sooner than I thought! And wouldyoubelieveit, now a friend of my mom's and possibly somebody else my dad knows want me to do ones for them, too! I can't believe it, it's like somebody just flipped a switch and I'm being given all these sexy jobs I always wanted. Oh man.
This kind of thing is exactly what I started this blog for. I haven't been very good with keeping at it but maybe from now on I will.
I still have so much to learn, but last night I wrote up a business plan that I am happy with and suddenly I have that much more confidence in my abilities.