Ok Guys, this post is about failing over and over… and over. Hopefully you will learn some stuff from what I share. I know I learned so, so much from all my failed attempts.
My struggle to make the illustration for the short story The Six Swans started with a goal.
My mindset when I started this illustration was two fold, I needed to make an illustration for my next short story, and I wanted to paint smoke with watercolors that looked like this.
I’ve talked about the artist Joseph Zbukvic before in my post about watercolor tutorials. Go there and watch him paint in the video link provided. It’s so so awesome. I keep watching the video and getting smarter every time.
Watercolors can do neat-o things other paints can’t, but I don’t see illustrators using watercolors in this way very often. Those fine art watercolorists have got the neat-o-ness of watercolors down, but us illustrators tend to keep things more controlled maybe even a little fussy. I don’t know how many times I’ve worked on a watercolor painting and been pleased with the lighting and composition but disappointed I didn’t let the paint fly free. ( Go fly watercolor! You’re free ! You’re free!)
So with this painting my goal was to let the paint free but still get the lighting and details I needed to tell the story.
Beginning the Illustration
I had my story ready and I started my thumbnails. I pretty much always start with thumbnails even before I do character design. Here they are. (Click here to learn more about thumbnails)
I started out with a few ideas for this story but settled on the image of the girl and the birds.
If you’re smarter than me you might see that I already have a problem. Which is… I only did three thumbnails! Really, I don’t know what I was thinking. (Actually yes I do, I was thinking about how excited I was to paint smoke with my watercolors) If I had taken the time to make sure the image was working small at the beginning it would have saved me a lot of work, but I forgot about that truth, and I moved forward, blissfully unaware of my impending doom.
Here are some of the character sketches I did. I focused some of these drawings on how the character would look, and some the pose of the character.
This big one in the middle is one of my favorite drawings. It gave me another goal. To get the essence of whatever is in that drawing into my illustration.
My First Failed Sketch Attempt
From character sketches I moved onto my first sketch.
I drew it. Did a messy value study. Did some color studies. But it wasn’t working. Finally asked for a critique from my trusted illustration friends. I got comments about the composition, shapes, and the character. Then I made changes.
My Second Failed Sketch Attempt
Here is my next try.
The character is more defined. The people in the background help ground the image. Over all the shapes are a little better but I don’t think it has the action feel the first sketch has, and I was still running into problems. I got it critiqued again. (Critique groups people! They are the greatest.) My friend Shawna mentioned I needed to work on the movement of the image, and the character’s silhouette, so I went back to the drawing board. (literally)
First I put my image in Photoshop and rearranged some things using math, also called the golden ratio. (Don’t worry the computer did the math for me)
My Third Failed Sketch Attempt + First Failed Painting Attempt
And off I went again.
This one is better. There is a lot of action. The shapes are good. The arrangement is better. Her expression is pretty good. You can tell she’s holding shirts and putting them on a swan. Things were looking good. So I did more color and value studies and I painted it.
From here I intended to add detail with prismacolor or Photoshop but I couldn’t do it because I hated this painting. I knew I could do better. So I scrapped it, and set this whole project aside to stew in my brain while I painted the Siren’s Song Illustration.
Tune in next time to see how I went from this point to my finished Swans illustration. In the mean time watch this video of Milton Glaser talking. It’s really good and will make you feel pretty happy about failing.
Have you failed creating art recently? (Good for you!) Did you learn anything cool because of the failure?