I always find it difficult to start a sketchbook, which I had to do recently. I had to just dive in and make a mark and go from there. I decided to do what I normally do when working in a sketchbook to just break it in and get over the intimidation of a completely blank book. I started with an extended doodle. I doodle a lot, nothing in particular but I do have a few key things that tend to end up in my drawings, all of which appeared in this sketch.
I enjoy drawing eyes and faces in nondescript lumpy mounds. I like to sneak these in where I can. I’m not sure why, they just seem to happen. I have also recently been looking up on the human body, particularly nerve cells, which fed into this drawing in the form of the long twisted creatures with creepy faces and spiky teeth.
I used 2B pencil, which is unusual for me as I’m more comfortable using black fineliners (normally a 0.2, 0.5 and 0.8). I had just bought a set of pencils for cheap from my local art shop and just wanted to try them out. This gave me more variation on tones than I’m used to, perhaps why it took so long for me to complete. I usually just cross hatch certain areas and variate line thickness to do that.
Once I felt I had finished it (or had enough of working on it), I scanned it in and started to work on adding colour. I didn’t want to add colour onto the piece directly; it’s not how I’m comfortable working. Adding colour in Photoshop also means I can play around with colour palettes. I normally really struggle with creating colour palettes and have a tendency of going for the most saturated form of a colour and rolling with it. I normally end up with too much going on.
I have invested in a book called “100 years of colour” by Katie Greenwood, which is currently acting as my palette bible. The book gives an example of a colour palette for every year of the 20th century based on a popular image from that year. For this piece, I chose to go for “1954”, a scheme based on an image from a matchbox. I wanted a scheme that was quite putrid and acidic, whilst also being quite inviting, friendly and attractive. I feel this colour scheme really works with the drawing.
I added the base colour of each part, then went in again on separate layers adding shadows and highlights in the same colours. I used different layer types to achieve this (multiply and screen on around 50% opacity depending on colour). The beige splodges in the background were done using just the base colour and erasing the pencil line of the sketch. I added a few subtle drop shadows to each base colour, just to add more depth to the piece. Then I added a small comic burst and gradient behind to finish it off.
I’m pretty happy with how this has come together. I never intended to create a finished piece when I started sketching; I just needed to get past that initial block. I like the colour scheme and how it works with the subject matter, I think I achieved the putrid yet friendly approach to colour I was after. I’m not happy with the composition of this though. I suppose I can’t be too harsh on myself about this as it wasn’t intended to be a full piece. It was an extended doodle, adding bits and pieces to it over a few days, with no planning beforehand.
In terms of the subject, I cannot really pin point where it comes from. A lot of this will be a mash up of various influences. I know that nerve cells were part of my inspiration. Looking at where I’m sat now (in my room, where I drew this piece), I can see a stuffed toy of Slimer from the movie Ghostbusters, and can see some resemblances to him in this image. I also have a ball of string on my desk, much like the strands that unravel around the creature. Without consciously choosing to draw inspiration from external sources, I did. I would like to read more into this and look at how other artists draw surreal images with little influences.
I suppose another major influence for this, which tends to weave itself into most of my artwork, is my physical and mental experience of living with a chronic illness. It can be like torture sometimes. Symptoms can creep up on you when you least expect it. I like to sneak faces in what I draw, possibly because this condition has so many faces. There’s the physical pain that’s so bad all you can do is cry. Then there’s the relentless boredom when you can’t move and end up lying down for hours on end. Being wide awake but mentally exhausted. The fatigue that gets to you so much, the thought of making a bowl of cereal is way too much of a challenge. In contrast, there’s the joy of being able to achieve something you can’t do everyday, like a walk in the woods or a good hour at the gym.
What I think I will do, because what I’m doing is so informed by my own experience, is start to religiously document how I’m feeling, what’s going through my head and what my relationship with my body is that day. I have some reading to do also that will help inform this also. I have some articles to read on how chronic illness can remove a sense of identity, as well as articles and books on how a traumatic experience can detach your sense of self from your body. Lots to look into.
I did this drawing the day after the previous image. I was more concerned with composition and planning this time. I had the idea of doing a spiral type explosion; again I can’t really pin point why. I started to draw these lumps or tumor like substances from the centre and building from there. I did the sketch in pencil and then went over in a 0.2 black fineliner for the outline and added some crosshatch shading and lines into each mound to create potholes and texture.
I scanned this and opened in Photoshop, digitally erasing any pencil lines and generally cleaning up the sketch. I used a colour scheme from “100 Years of Colour” once again, this time knowing I wanted a more pinky red scheme to add to the idea of tumors. I did the same process as with the previous image, filling in the base colour, then going in again with highlights and shadows for more depth. I was initially going to have each layer of tumor be the same colour, so the centre circle would be lilac and the next circle would be purple etc. That would’ve achieved more of a burst effect and no a spiral, so chose to colour them in this way.
Once the colour was added, I thickened the outlines slightly, varying the thickness, with the outer tumors having a thicker line and getting thinner towards the centre, so the line thickness would be more in balance with the size of the tumor. I added comic bursts once again and a small gradient in the centre to emphasis and dramatise the movement of these mounds.
This piece was more of a practice in technique than trying to achieve a message as such. I like the movement in this, and think it could be applied to less form fitting subjects. I could loosen the spiral, draw different subjects in lace of the tumors, have the subjects be different from one another. I feel like I have achieved movement in this image, something I struggle with.
From here, I want to do more reading, like these readings inform my ideas on subject a little more. At the same time, I want to loosen up a little. I am conditioned to do light sketches, erase a lot and go over the final sketch in fine lines and then edit again in Photoshop. I want to feel more free with my sketches. I was recently listening to a podcast with Dan Berry and Ngozi Ukazu on “Make it Then Tell Everybody” and they discussed about the fear of making mistakes and learning to overcome that fear and own it. This is something I seriously need to work on.
Coming from a background in photography and only really doing illustration as a hobby, I haven’t had that validation from others on my work. I have kept it quite isolated, with exposure limited to Instagram. I have had very little feedback on what I’m doing, what works and what doesn’t, what I could improve on etc. I am really looking forward to getting stuck into my degree to get the validation I need from others and feel more open and free to try different things and make firmer marks and not feel the need to be perfect instantly.