Book progress III

It’s been awhile since I posted an update on my book progress. I wrapped up the big introductory chapter on materials and techniques on August 14. Two weeks later, my editor sent me a “proof” of the entire book, all 128 pages of 101 Textures in Colored Pencil laid out and edited, for my final review. I responded with my suggestions and corrections. The latest news from last week is that it’s now being printed! I hope to have an advance copy in my hands by mid October. I’m trying to imagine what that will be like, seeing all my work and all my writing as a complete book in my hands with my name on the cover. Surreal, I think. I’ve noticed that it has started showing up on booksellers’ websites besides Amazon, such as Barnes & Noble.

So, what have I been doing since I finished? I took about a week “off”, worked regular hours, slept decent hours, and binge-watched episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”. Then I got back on the stick. I was invited by Ann Kullberg to write a tutorial chapter for her next book (which I’m not allowed to describe here yet), so I’m currently on step 10 of 14 of that project. I’ve entered a three or four shows and won awards in two of them so far (the others haven’t announced their acceptances yet). My submission for Strokes of Genius 10 from North Light Books was not selected, but I can’t complain too much about that since I not only had pieces chosen for Strokes of Genius 7 and 8, they were used in print ads for the series and the entire back cover, respectively.

As soon as I finish the chapter for Ann Kullberg’s book, I have three commissions lined up! That should just about finish out the year.

Book progress II

I finished drawing number 101! That completes the whole list of textures. I really did it!

There have been quite a few late nights until 2:30, 3:00 and even 4:00 AM, when I knew I had X number of drawings to do in Y days for a deadline and I could finish at most three drawings per day. On weekdays I could only finish one. Over the long 4th of July weekend, I spent the entire four days at my drawing table, and cranked out ten drawings. No picnics, no road trips, no beaches. I did take time out to watch the local fireworks, and then was back at it until 3 AM. A few drawings have taken as little as two hours to finish, while a couple required six. It’s not just drawing, it’s scanning each of four steps, cleaning up the scans in Photoshop, and describing each step. It’s also preparing the drawing paper, finding the right reference photos, cropping them to the right proportions, and printing them.

The minute I finished, I donned my hiking shoes and went for a wonderful two-hour hike, during which I saw mother deer with fawns (including twins), a hen turkey with eight poults, mallard ducks with ducklings, a pair of white-tailed kites, ground squirrels, lizards, dragonflies, hawks, and an ant freeway. This is what I’ve been missing all year. Every day, instead of going for some “nature therapy”, I’ve had to just go home to my drawing board in order to meet my deadlines. This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed working on the drawings! But boy have I missed my favorite trail.

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I’m not finished with the book altogether; for my next deadline I still have to write a big introductory chapter, with sections on materials and techniques and illustrations to go with those.

My book, 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, is now scheduled for release December 5, and can be pre-ordered now! The price is going up as the publication date gets closer.

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Book progress

I thought the subject and title of my book was supposed to be a big secret until publication, but I learned from one of my recent workshop attendees that it’s already listed on Amazon!  That seems to make it official, this is really going to happen on October 1st. So you might be wondering “how’s it going?”

So far, I’m ahead of my deadlines. I’ve completed 24 out of 101 as I write this. That’s a good place to be, but I have previous commitments coming up which could put me behind; all the more reason to try to stay ahead as long as I can.

Someone asked me “Is it fun?” Yes, it is! Every day that I draw, I’m drawing something different. Some of them I know how to draw, and some of them I have to figure out. Since drawing is all about seeing, nothing is impossible, it’s just a matter of time. Each one takes me 3-4 hours, including scanning, adjusting and writing.

I had a small panic tonight when my computer inexplicably stopped communicating with my scanner and the usual fixes of re-launching the application and restarting the scanner didn’t work. After 90 minutes of looking up tech support answers, reinstalling drivers, etc., what finally worked was to reboot my computer.  Whew!

Sorry, I can’t show you any samples….

I signed a book contract!

In early December, out of the blue, I received an email from someone at a well-known publishing company, asking if I would be interested in writing an art book. My thoughts quickly shifted through:

  • surprise – that a publisher came to ME
  • skepticism – whether the inquiry was legit
  • astonishment – that it was real
  • excitement – that it is a huge opportunity
  • regret – because I didn’t think I could take it with my existing commitments
  • speculation – on what I could omit from my year’s schedule in order to do it
  • worry – that if I signed the contract, something bad might happen
  • worry – that if I turned it down, I’d never get an opportunity like this again
  • confidence – that I can do this

After some back-and-forth, some consultation with other authors, and some negotiation, I signed the contract mid-January!

I’m not allowed to reveal anything about the book itself beyond what I’ve already said.  But it will be a VERY busy year through the end of August, drawing, scanning and writing to meet my monthly deadlines.  I won’t be able to share any of my images or text as I progress (sorry!).  Until the book is finished, I won’t be doing any new artwork of my own, and I’ll only be able to enter a few shows (with work I’ve already completed).  I start just as soon as I finish the portrait I have on my drawing board right now.  This doesn’t mean I won’t be writing blog postings, only that they won’t be about the book.

I have to pinch myself to remember this is really happening; I never imagined that someday I’d have a book contract as part of my art career!  This will be part of my art legacy someday, so I plan to focus and give it my best.  Wish me luck!

M.C. Escher and Art of the Carolinas

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I’ve been a fan of M.C. Escher‘s work since I first discovered it in my early teens. Some magazine or other included Another World with an article, and I stared at it in wonderment for hours.  It was a couple more years before I learned the name of the artist, and longer still before I learned that I could buy a whole book of his art.  I ended up with several of these books; I didn’t mind duplicate images as long as there were also unique ones!  His imaginative worlds were amazing.  As a developing artist, I was also impressed with his precise details and perfect shading, and it inspired me to work on improving my own technique.  When I read that his visit to a place called the Alhambra in Granada, Spain inspired his exploration of patterns and tesselations, I resolved that if I ever made it to Spain, I would visit it, too.  And I did, but that’s another story….

Several months ago, I learned that a huge exhibit of Escher’s work was coming to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and nowhere else after.  It didn’t matter that it was 3,000 miles away–I was going!  I also found out about Art of the Carolinas, a big annual art materials trade show that includes over 100 workshops, hosted by Jerry’s Artarama.  What an opportunity–I could time my visit to attend both!  It got even better when I learned that Prismacolor is one of the annual vendors at AOC, and they were happy to schedule me to demo at their booth even for just one day.

So last weekend, I went!  My sister, who lives in St. Louis, flew out to meet up since she is also an Escher fan.  We spent almost 4.5 hours in the Escher exhibit and we were not disappointed!  It was huge, and included the original wood, metal and stone blocks from which he made some of his prints, old photos of him at work and at home, and even the original  man-bird statue featured in Another World and other works.  To think, I was looking directly at the very sculpture he often looked at! It was so exciting to be able to examine, as closely as I cared, the details and drawing techniques which aren’t visible in books: erased corrections, perspective guides, and faint graph paper lines were all there.  And I learned something new about his technique:  for some of his lithographs such as Castrovalva, instead of drawing the image on the stone, he first covered the stone completely with the black grease pencil and then scratched through it to produce the image, just as modern scratchboard artists do!

The same special-exhibit admission price included an exhibit of many original pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester–his handwritten study of hydraulic systems and waterways, part of an effort to reduce flooding for his sponsor city.  I thought this was an odd pairing, until I learned that Escher was inspired by da Vinci and had even read and quoted some of his writings.  These pages have passed through many hands over 500 years, and they are now on loan from Bill Gates.

Sorry I can’t show you any photos from inside either exhibit–no photography was allowed!

The next day when I arrived to demo at Art of the Carolinas, I was pleased that my Prismacolor “boss” had arranged for Jerry’s Artarama to set up a nice drawing table and stool at the booth, and Strathmore provided a tablet of their new Colored Pencil paper.  So I got right to work drawing a larger-than-life cherry.

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At first glance, it’s a very simple subject, but there’s actually a fair amount of complexity in it: colors, highlights, shadows, reflections.  I spent most of the day layering four colors, then used odorless mineral spirits to blend one side of the cherry and the Prismacolor colorless blender pencil to blend the other side, leaving an unblended strip down the middle so that folks could compare the results.

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I use this same image for my half-day workshops, so I knew I’d be able to work on it and carry on conversations at the same time. It turned out to be the right choice, because visitors interested in colored pencil in general and Prismacolors in particular were nearly non-stop from 9 AM to 5:30 PM.  The time flew by!  Getting to sit and draw all day while talking to folks about my favorite medium, demonstrating and offering tips for them to try, and getting paid for it to boot–what could be better?

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My sister had never seen me in “art mode” before so she stayed quite awhile to listen in and observe the goings-on and take these photos.

Other highlights of the weekend were a late-night Krispy Kreme run in a stretch limo (courtesy of Jerry’s Artarama), free wine, hors doeuvres and chatter at the Art Bar, being blown away by the large inventory of the Jerry’s Artarama store, dinner with my local friend and fellow CPSA member Linda Koffenberger, and feeding the ducks and beholding the dawn redwood at Duke Gardens in Durham.  Oh, and I also met the owner of Jerry’s Artarama and asked him to consider opening a store in San Jose!  He said that 50% of their online sales comes from the west coast, so here’s hoping….

 

 

Saving a Lot of Time with Swatch Charts

When you first start working with colored pencils, deciding which pencil is the right color for the moment is a matter of picking up one that seems like it might be close (based on the color of its core), scribbling a little on a scrap or the border of your drawing, assessing whether that’s indeed the color you hoped, and if it’s not, trying again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

This adds up to a lot of time over the course of a finished drawing, especially since those little scribbles can’t tell you later which pencil they came from.  It’s surprising how different from the pencil core a swatch can look.  You end up trying the same pencils multiple times.  I actually saw a finished drawing at the California State Fair in which the artist left their test-swatch border clearly visible and remarked on it in the artwork description.

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Before I made a swatch chart for this set of pencils!

This time loss is compounded if you have a large set of colored pencils such as the full set of 150 Prismacolors, and even more if you have multiple large sets of colored pencils.  So many greens!  So many blues!  Where to even start? It can seem overwhelming.  You might be tempted to print a color sheet from the manufacturer, but don’t: your printer’s inks will not match the pencils’ cores, and the printed colors will vary from printer to printer.

Here’s my time-saving system.  In a previous blog post I described how I organize my sets of pencils, and that is half the solution.  The other half is making your own swatch charts and keeping them on your drawing table while you work.  I’ve already done the hard part for you!  You can download swatch charts for the full sets of most major brands of colored pencils from my website.  They’re free–my gift to you as a fellow colored pencil artist.  Print one out and color the “points” with your own pencils, matching the color name on your pencil to the color name on the chart.  I recommend only coloring the “points”, not the whole “pencils”, so you can easily read the numbers and names.  Tape your finished chart to the top of your drawing board.  It’s important that your reference, your drawing, and the chart all be illuminated by the same light, otherwise your eyes may be fooled into mismatches. Now, notice that the swatches are numbered from 1 to whatever the set size is.  Those numbers correspond to the number tags you put on your pencils (you did read my other blog post, right?).  I recommend the numeric tags, because the color names on pencils are stamped with metallic paint and are therefore hard to read and take even more of your precious time.

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A portion of a swatch chart after I colored the “points” with my own pencils.

Now when you’re working on a landscape and your reference has a deep blue color, look for a match on your swatch chart.  If its number is 44, pull the pencil tagged 44 from your set. Voilá!  Look how much time you just saved!

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I looked for a violet color on the chart. I found it at #44, so I pulled out my #44 pencil.

You’re welcome!  🙂

August workshop!

For the first time, I will be giving a half-day workshop this summer!  Here are the details:

Winner of Utrecht Art Supplies Award and Award of Merit, California Fine Arts juried exhibition

Don’t Take the Bridge – Utrecht Art Supplies Award and Award of Merit, California Fine Arts juried exhibition, 2013

Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil
presented by Denise J Howard
Pacific Art League
668 Ramona St.
Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, August 24, 2014
1:00 – 5:00 PM
$64 PAL members / $75 non-members
Materials fee due to instructor: $10

Learn how to use a variety of techniques, surfaces and tools with colored pencils to create glowing color and details that blur the distinction between drawing and painting. Colored pencils offer the control and portability of pencil and the color of paint.

See the listing on PAL’s summer 2014 workshops page, and register here.