Category Archives: THINKING ABOUT THIS AND THAT

8 Lessons I Learnt From Keeping A Travel Sketchbook

Hi everyone!

I just came back from a trip to Austria where I went to visit some friends of mine. It was a great holiday and one of the things that I am super happy about is that I kept a travel sketchbook!

A lot of the time when I travel I take a sketchbook and some pens and pencils with me and I end up not drawing at all.

However, just before I went on holidays I got inspired by the fantastic Christine Nishiyama (also check her Skillshare classes, they’re great!) who had just completed a road trip and had kept a travel sketchbook which she shared on Instagram. Her illustrations were so simple, beautiful and fun at the same time that they made me want to give it a go.

So I decided that I too would draw my adventures!… And the thought totally terrified me!

I mean, there is so much great stuff on Instagram and the likes that I felt very pressured to produce something that looked awesome, even though the whole point of going away for a few days was to relax and have fun.

And then I remembered how Christine’s account of her road trip and experience of drawing in her travel sketchbook made it sound approachable and laid back.

I wasn’t too sure how and where to start but I decided to be brave, forget about the idea of making something perfect and I gave travel sketching a go – my way! And I learnt a lot in the process!

Here are 8 lessons I learnt from this experience:

  1. Drawing when you are away is not like drawing at home: some of the materials I brought with me were different from what I normally use which means that I had to adapt my drawing a little.
  2. Sketching the illustrations in pencil first made it feel too ‘controlled’. I was spending way too long trying to get things perfect so after 30 minutes of not being happy with my drawings on day 1 I erased everything and went ‘freehand’.
  3. Going straight into painting without sketching my illustrations first forced me to think differently about what I was painting/drawing, loosen up and not ‘care so much’ (it brought back memories from the last Inktober challenge!).
  4. I gave up on perfection… and it felt good! At first I was really disappointed with some of my illustrations that looked inferior to what I normally draw at home. As soon as I reminded myself that it was okay for things not to look exactly like my photos, I started to enjoy myself a lot more and funnily enough the illustrations got better!
  5. Drawing complicated stuff (like people kayaking) freehand when you are hungover is very difficult. Actually drawing anything when you are hungover is more difficult!
  6. Wait for the ink to dry! I really should have remembered this one since I work a lot with Indian ink. Except that since I used an artist brush pen instead of my usual brush and bottle of ink I didn’t quite think it through which resulted in small smudges here and there – lesson learnt!
  7. I added some text to my pages but I didn’t have a particular plan when I started writing. Like the rest, I decided not to overthink it and I just wrote whatever came to my mind. I might not win the Pulitzer Prize for it but it worked just fine for me.
  8. As the days passed and I started to let go some interesting things started to happen. I became more confident and it was reflected in every aspect of what I drew (use of space, colour, subject matter, etc.). Sure, it was maybe not the illustration project of the year, but it was mine, and I owned it!

In hindsight there’s a bunch of stuff that I would now do differently.

But you know what? It actually doesn’t matter so much. Yes, there were a few bumps but there were some really cool things too!

As imperfect as they are, not only do those illustrations tell the story of what I did during this trip but they also show how I grew in just 6 days and that, in itself, is amazing!

And I am so proud that I committed to drawing every day and that in addition to the photos I took I also have illustrations of my holiday!

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Fighting the burnout – Step 3: To infinity and beyond

Hi everyone!

Today our space adventure comes to an end but don’t be sad, there will be new ones!

He’s alive!

I know, this is the second film quote today (well almost, the original is “It’s alive!”) and I haven’t even written that much yet. It could be because I did film studies when I was younger or maybe it’s just that those quotes are so famous that it’s difficult not to think about them.

Anyway, one of the first things I did today was to paint the little astronaut’s face.

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Planets

I also worked some more on the planets adding colour, rings and land on the big blue one.

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(Reaching for the) Stars

Finally, I got to paint one of my favourite parts: the stars (if you have been following this series of posts I was already looking forward to that on day 1)!

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Conclusion

I am very happy with the result!

I’m sure that when I look at this illustration again in a few months (maybe it will even only take weeks or days… or hours) I will be more critical about it and point at things that are not quite right or that I could have done better. And that’s okay.

But for now, the paint on my palette and my brushes aren’t dry yet and I am just happy, and here’s why:

1.I drew the sketch back in February. After such a long time this sketch could have just been forgotten like a lot of my other sketches but it actually became a physical painting!

2. I didn’t use any references other than my initial sketch and didn’t even trace the illustration before starting – this could have gone wrong in so many ways, but it didn’t!

3. I wrote about my process! (Whoop, whoop!) I do normally share work in progress on Instagram – the convenience of pictures and the immediacy is nice but sometimes it is good to sit down and reflect on what just happened.

4. I am very happy because it worked! When I started working on this project I was feeling drained. My brain was submerged with self-doubt. I was lost! Taking some ‘me time’ and painting whatever I wanted however I wanted showed me that I can draw, and paint, and that I have a personal voice. You might think “Duh! Of course you can draw!” but unfortunately sometimes the obvious doesn’t seem so obvious.

Anyhow, I am thrilled that this experiment worked! Now I feel more confident and excited again!

Well, I guess there’s only one thing left for me to say:

Have a great weekend and see you next time for some new adventures on Camille’s land!

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Fighting the burnout – Step 2: Baby steps

Hello! Welcome back!

Fighting burnout might take some time but what matters is to go one step at a time.

I already feel more excited and motivated than I was yesterday when I started so hopefully this is working.

Either way, thank you for accompanying me on this journey!

Below is today’s progress in pictures.

Halo

Today, I started with adding halos around some of the planets.

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Making a mistake… and fixing it

While painting the small planet next to the astronaut I made a mistake: I painted past the outlines that I had set and gradually enlarged the planet (think snowball effect) until it touched the helmet. I tried to make it look like the astronaut was overlapping but the planet was way too big both in relation to both the astronaut and the planets around, and it didn’t look too good so I had to paint over it.

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Extravehicular mobility unit (aka the spacesuit)

I find space and space-related stuff absolutely fascinating! Although for this piece I am not looking at any references other than my skecthes from February (see yesterday’s post), which is rare for me, I am still learning a bunch of things while checking the spelling of some words for this post (e.g. figuring out if ‘spacesuit’ is written as one or two words – the NASA spells it as one word so I’ll go with that, I mean those guys probably know what they’re talking about).

For example, in space talk if you take your EMU out you are not suggesting that you are taking a large ostrich-like bird outside of the spacecraft but you are actually referring to your spacesuit (or extravehicular mobility unit).

Okay I’ve just made up this example but an extravehicular mobility unit is actually shortened to EMU and it made me giggle that it looks like the name of the bird.

Anyway, back on track.

On a piece like this patience is key. I have to add layer over layer to make the colours more opaque, especially white.

Here you can see some progress on the spacesuit:

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Layering some more

I then added some more layers to the planets before I can start working on the details. The spaceship now also has a window!

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And this is where I stopped and where I leave you for today!

I hope to see you again tomorrow!

Fighting the burnout – Step 1: Acknowledging it and taking action

It’s somewhat ironic that exactly a month after feeling so pumped I am now feeling that I am reaching a near-burnout point.

It is nice to talk about the happy things – you know, those times when you are making progress and everything seems to go well – but I think that it is also important to acknowledge that there are also moments when I feel creatively drained and when I feel kind of lost.

I am in one of those phases at the moment and it’s not good to stay in that zone for too long so I decided to take action.

I am starting a new personal project that I will be sharing with you step by step.

Maybe something will come out of that and maybe not. Maybe I will love it and maybe it won’t be my best piece of work. Who cares? What matters right now it to give myself something to focus on. Something that I can have fun with and that will hopefully revive my ‘creative spark’ in the process.

The project

The theme

I wanted to paint something to do with space because I had a lot of fun working on my last space painting and I felt that I wasn’t completely done with the theme yet.

While having a quick flick through the pages of my sketchbook I found those very rough sketches from early February this year.

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So that’s it! Put on your space suit people because we’re going into space!

First thing first…

Space means A LOT of dark blue. I naturally started painting the background first.

Here is a quick hyperlapse:

Then I painted some placeholders for my little space guy and his spaceship, and for planets. I can’t wait to add the stars – it’s a really fun part! – but I think I will wait until pretty much the end for that.

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By the way, if you think that you are seeing some shapes in the background you’re not mad: I painted the background over an illustration that I didn’t like and redid on a different sheet of paper (yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t like waste). Hopefully those shapes will disappear as I start adding details to the painting.

Aaaannnd… that’s it for today, but stay tuned as I will keep sharing my progress on this painting!

Until then, take care!

Looking back on Inktober 2016

Inktober is over!

The rules of the challenge were quite simple: make a drawing in ink everyday, every other day or every week and stay consistent with it.

I decided to add a few rules of my own: although it was technically allowed, I decided that I wouldn’t trace outlines in pencil before inking (everything was drawn 100% freehand). I also decided to try my best to keep the overall style consistent; this is why, alhtough I could have, I didn’t use my nib pen at all. I started with ink and brush so I had to stick with it. Finally, I chose that I would only work in black and white.

Looking back on the past month, there were some “meh” moments:

  • I didn’t really like most of the “official” themes; I felt that they weren’t always adapted to the type of illustrations I normally like to draw and I felt that there were a lot of serious/dark themes. This being said, it forced me to get out of my comfort zone and sometimes, to find ways to deal with the subject matter in a more light-hearted way.
  • It was freakin’ hard to ink freehand, without any outlines!
  • I often felt pressed for time. Although Inktober was a fun challenge to take, I had to make room for it… on top of everything else (understand work but also usual house chores and life obligations like cooking/eating dinner, etc.).
  • Sometimes I felt a bit frustrated about the fact that I couldn’t make more time to develop my illustrations further; I had to keep them minimal so that they wouldn’t take me too long to draw.

But there were also some brilliant ones:

  • I liked the fact I got to practise ink drawing even more (this is something I had wanted to do for some time but I was struggling to make the time for it)!
  • It made me want to go a step further and add colour (and not with Photoshop, no. I mean paint!).
  • It made me want to draw in that style even more.
  • It made me want to keep a consistent practice. Although I do draw everyday, it can be easy to get caught up in work and only draw the type of illustrations that you are commissioned to draw. Inktober made me want to add more experimentation of subject matters, techniques, etc. and to do it more often.
  • Inking freehand for a month made everything else seem easy in comparison, even if my Inktober illustrations were only small pieces!

So all in all, I feel relieved that the psychological pressure of Inktober is over but I want to keep the positive habits and I generally feel happy and energised. I am thinking of starting Illustration Friday again (once a week should be manageable!) and/or to give myself a new theme or technique to explore every month.

We’ll see how it goes!

In the meantime, here are the last Inktober illustrations of the year.

You can see the whole collection on my Instagram.

 

Happy November!

Editorial illustration practice and the lessons I learnt

Every now and then I like to make some time to learn new skills, get better at the ones I already have, and to challenge myself.

If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen that my challenge of the month is Inktober. Not long before that, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and to practise editorial illustration as this is something that I would love to do more of in the future.

Luckily I found Ed J Brown’s class on Skillshare which enabled me to ‘fake’ the conditions of a commission and set a strict deadline to my practice.

I picked the article about US economic growth as I felt that starting with an article that was a bit dry might help to make other articles after that easier in comparison. And this was challenging indeed!

DAY 1

After reading the article a few times and highlighting the key points I started taking a few notes and doodling, which was quickly followed by some rough sketches (I drew 14 in total but am only showing my top 5 favourites)..

Notes and initial doodles

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Top 5 favourite sketches

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DAY 2

Sometimes it’s a good idea to sleep on what you’ve drawn and to look at it with fresh eyes the next day. In the case of my editrial illustration practice, I felt that I wasn’t quite there yet and sketched 8 new images. I ended up choosing the sketch below.

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DAY 3

After facing several problems with my illustration and trying different colour palettes while trying to maintain my usual style I had to come to the conclusion that it was just not working and that if this had been a real assignment, I would have failed miserably .

Below some of my unfinished attempts:

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DAY 4

I decided to give myself another chance, because who likes failure? So I cheated and allowed myself to work on a few different concepts knowing that if this had been a real assignment my Art Director would have probably not been very happy with me, or he/she wouldn’t have allowed it altogether.

Besides my clear composition and planning problems, I think that my main issue was that I ‘cared’ a bit too much (read: I was taking it all a bit too seriously).

Fortunately, Ed was an absolute star and as well as giving me some constructive feedback, he gave me some words of encouragement that made me more determined than ever to finish that mock assignment and more importantly, to have fun while doing it.

So I simply followed Ed’s advice to not care so much. And it worked!

I started with a red background because I liked the contrast with the black and white illustration…

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But while I had chosen colours that I liked, I had forgotten an important detail: the article was about growth and red wasn’t quite the right colour to convey the positive message of the article. Ed’s feedback confirmed my own thoughts. So I tried a green and a blue version instead.

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And ended up choosing the blue one.

 

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CONCLUSION

Past the disappointment resulting from my failure to finish on time and to finish the illustration that I had initially selected, I was really glad that this was practice and not a paid assignment. And I was glad that I got to learn so much in the process.

Here is what I got out of the exercise:

  • Plan my illustrations more carefully in the future: take the final dimensions of the illustration and the title placement into account earlier in the process.
  • Keep calm: I didn’t mention this and it probably ties in with the first lesson I learnt, but I was overexcited when I started working on this personal project. This probably resulted in me rushing things a little (at least at the beginning).
  • Pick colours that reflect the message of the article.
  • … But don’t overthink it.
  • And have fun!

I really enjoyed Ed’s class and strongly recommend it if you too want to practise editorial illustration in near-real assignment conditions.

 

Why it is important to share your (art)work with others

As a person who draws a lot I fill in a lot of sketchbooks and sometimes it takes me about 50 or more bad sketches to get to a good one. I view my sketchbooks and sketches as very intimate objects as they are so unpolished and have many flaws, and until recently I only rarely showed my sketchbooks to anyone for fear of judgement (nobody wants to look bad). I am one of my toughest critics as I imagine many artists are and I have in mind that if a sketch is not good enough for me it is certainly not good enough for the rest of the world!

However, my attitude towards showing my sketchbooks changed  a little a few months ago after I met a fellow illustrator at the London Book Fair.

We started writing to each other and she told me that once a month, her and some illustrator friends of hers met in a cafe to share their latest work and their progress with each other, and she kindly invited me to tag along if I wanted to. I was thrilled, of course, but imagine showing your work to experienced illustrators who live off their art. A bit scary, isn’t it? My mind started a self-doubt process along the lines of “what if they think that what I do is rubbish and that I shouldn’t call myself an illustrator?”, that I quickly shut up by telling myself “thanks for your comment, now if you don’t mind I’m gonna go and see what I can learn”. I went to this first meeting with all the courage I could gather and my portfolio (i.e. my best pieces). And I ended up having a lovely chat with three really nice people, and left refreshed and inspired. On the following meeting I brought work in progress with me. Again it was very interesting hearing what people had to say about my work and to see how they were reacting to it. Again, I got some very useful tips, suggestions, and support. For the meeting after that – I didn’t have much to show as I had just come back from a holiday and was still working on the same projects as before – I brought some ‘lonely sketches’ (by that I mean sketches that I drew on separate sheets of paper) and two sketchbooks. And again, something magical happened when my turn to present my work came: I got a lot of enthusiastic reactions to my sketches. That’s right, the quick, rough, sometimes ugly doodles that I was talking about earlier. Ideas started being fired at me, suggestions started being made. They were seeing things in my sketches that I didn’t necessarily see myself since, as the artist, I was too close to them. For example, I know that I have a personal style but sometimes I draw without thinking and I don’t necessarily know whether what I am drawing enters the same ‘style category’ or a different one. It is a bit like looking at your work through a magnifying glass: you see the specifics but you’re too close to see it as a whole. You can always try to get some perspective by leaving your drawings for a while, then coming back to them and trying to look at them with objective eyes. But showing your sketches to different people can help you get the objectivity and the distance that you lack.

Sharing your work: a great way to get better at what you do and get support

When you look at your own work there’s only so much you can notice. By showing your ‘private work’ (sketches, recipes, prototypes, etc.) to other people you give yourself a chance to get feedback on what you do and directions that you could take to improve your work and develop your style.

My advice to you, whether you are drawing, baking, sewing, dancing, etc. is to find a group of people sharing the same interest and passion, and to organise regular meetings. It doesn’t matter whether it is online or in person (although I personally prefer the latter).

Choosing the right people for you

It is important that you feel comfortable with the people you choose to meet with since you will be talking about things that really matter to you and you want to be able to speak openly and feel supported.

Support alone is not enough though. It is better accompanied with some advice aiming at helping you to get better at what you do.

Giving criticism

When giving criticism it is good to be honest and to explain why you like or dislike another person’s work as it helps them understand the reason behind your comment and maybe adjust if they feel they should.

Not everyone responds to criticism the same way and it is also important to take the person’s feelings into account and to communicate with the right amount of diplomacy. You want to help the person improve and succeed, not crush them. It might take the time to get to know the person a little for you to know how to adjust the way you give criticism to that person. But generally: always be honest (but polite) and explain why you think the way you do.

Receiving criticism

When receiving criticism, make an effort to put your ego on the side. Sometimes you will get positive criticism, and sometimes it won’t be as good to hear/read. Keep in mind that any criticism – positive or negative – given on your work is subjective and specific to the person who gives it to you. You have the right to disagree with what someone tells you; at the end of the day, you are the creator and what matters is that you enjoy doing what you do. If you disagree with what someone is saying about your work, don’t be too defensive about it. Listen to the person (it is always good to know what other people think of what you do, good or bad), thank them for sharing their opinion (you might disagree with them but at least they were honest) and move on.

Generally remember this: criticism alone is not good without advice as it will make you (or someone else if you’re the one giving criticism) feel down just as support alone, as nice as it is, won’t help you to get better at what you do.

Giving each other goals

Finally, a great thing to keep each other motivated and to encourage improvement is to be positive and set goals together for your next meeting. While support really helps boosting confidence and gets you excited about what you do, setting goals gives you something to work towards and focus on. For example, as an illustrator there are many, many things that I want to try (techniques, subject matters, media, etc.) and I sometimes get a bit ‘lost’ trying them. As one of my illustrator friends once told me: it is good to try new things but it is also important to keep developing and improving one’s own style; otherwise, your portfolio ends up being confusing. Here is my next point: setting goals for each other is like being given homework. Yes, you do have to make them fit around all the other things you have to do – and if you are like me, that means a LOT of other things to do – but on the plus side, it gives you a chance to make some time for practice (and as we know, “practice makes perfect”). You may as well end up with a new piece to add to your portfolio! And it is always nice to have that follow-up and show each other how you approached the tasks you set during the previous meeting.

How about you? Do you have a group of friends or people with whom you meet on a regular basis to share your work (whatever that work is, on line or in person)?