The Balancing Act

It’s true for me, and I think it’s likely true for the entirety of humanity, that the hardest part of life is achieving balance between who we want to be, and who we are being.

I struggled with writing this blog post for awhile. I was afraid that if it wasn’t “puppies and kittens and magical art excitement” it wouldn’t have value. This is my art blog, after all. I should blog about art. But art is life.

Right now for me balance is hard. I’ve joked the last few months that my life goal is to become an Art Jedi (I am, and always will be, a consummate Star Wars fan). Something about the fictional idea of monks in pursuit of higher understanding (in my case, in pursuit of Pure Artness) is deeply appealing. Of course I want to be the sort of person who wakes up, meditates, and spends hour after hour in deep, meaningful art practice. I mean, when you put it that way, who wouldn’t, right?

Except I’m not an Art Jedi. And Jedi are fictional. And the sacrifices I would have to make in order to achieve Art Monk-status would be extreme.

I have a full time job unrelated to my art, a cat who I love spending time with, a garden I’m excited to start, and a host of amazing friends. I also enjoy writing, reading, and playing Pokemon, and I’m about to embark on a 2-week challenge where I only eat home cooked food.

This is my life as I’m leading it: not an Art Jedi.

This morning I didn’t get up and meditate and then spend hour after hour making deep, meaningful art. I got up, played with my cat, made banana-egg pancakes and started making sourdough bread.

But it’s still a good life, and I still make art (in fact, I’m working on my CC:Otherworld’s painting for this fortnight, and spoiler alert, but there are mermaids), and being an Art Jedi still lives in the back of my mind, whispering, “someday.”

Balance. (Easier said than done).

Your turn: Do you struggle balancing the platonic ideal you strive for with the life you actually live? What have you done to reconcile the disconnect?

I Moved! + Reveal of the Wacom Cintiq

Did you miss me?

Over the last month I moved out of an apartment, and into a house. It’s been a phenomenal move, but it meant that for a few weeks my art setup was chaotic while I packed everything up… and then for a few weeks it was chaotic while I got everything unpacked. BUT the hard work is complete, and I’m more than ready to be back in the saddle.

Want to hear about the Most Exciting Thing (ever)? You may remember me referencing this in my last post, where I built a new art computer.

(Drum roll please…)

I am now the delighted owner of a (used) Wacom Cintiq!

I’ve been using digital drawing tablets since high school, and Wacom is the king of the mountain when it comes to the technology. But they don’t do it cheap (at all. At ALL.) and they know how good they are. Which means that a Cintiq model was something I never seriously considered, it was just so far out of my price range.

(For those not in the know, the Cintiq model of drawing tablet not only has useful buttons, and an incredibly pressure sensitive surface… it has a display surface you draw directly on, and is the most ‘like’ traditional media drawing you can get while going digital. It’s really cool!)

And then suddenly a local friend of mine (and FANTASTIC artist) Rhea Ewing was selling their used model, as they’d upgraded to the latest version of Cintiq.

I dithered about it for a long time, and I talked it over with a particular group of online friends, who all agreed that while it was extremely nice, I probably didn’t ‘need’ it and saving money was a good plan since I was in the middle of a move. So I resigned myself to getting alone with my perfectly fine tablet, and leaving visions of the Cintiq to ‘someday.’

(Bet you weren’t expecting this story to go this direction.)

(Drum roll please…)

And then that group of friends sent me a letter full of very lovely words. And in that letter was money to buy the used Cintiq. I was speechless (and still am, a bit.)

My first act on this fantastic piece of art equipment was to doodle them all a thank you.

Sometimes the universe tells you to do a thing, go a direction, make a choice. Sometimes your friends do. And in that situation, you listen to the damned message. I am still stunned, and humbled, and exceptionally grateful.

But I bet you really just wanted to see a picture of it, didn’t you. 😉 This is it!

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Art space in the new place is my bedroom. Don’t mind the random cat toys!

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Working on the Cintiq is not only super functional, it’s FUN.

I have a lot of learning curve to figure out on this machine, and (sadly) it doesn’t magically transform my art into Michelangelo status. But it’s great to work on, and I feel a lot more connected with the art I make digitally.

Thanks for reading!

And From the Motherboard Ashes… (An Art Computer is Born!)

You may recall in my last post that my computer decided to give up the ghost.  It is still dead, and did not magically return from beyond the grave.

Remember, too, that pile of boxes containing computer parts…?

(Pictured: a cute case, the motherboard, the CPU, the power supply, a 120 SSD hard drive, 16 gigs of RAM, a box of speakers, and a keyboard and mouse.)

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That turned into this:

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(Pictured: a half-filled computer case, with the motherboard, CPU, and other fiddly bits still outside the case)

Which eventually turned into a computer!

Several friends and youtube videos were consulted as I started putting together a computer for the first time, and I would have been sunk without them. But other than the learning curve, once you get going it’s not bad. It’s shocking (or not, rather, as I went to great lengths to avoid static electricity that might fry the delicate components during this!) that you can put together a computer with nothing more than a screw driver!

Attempt #1 at building a computer… was a failure. Lights and fans were a go, but no life once plugged into a monitor, and I began wondering if I’d made a horrible mistake by undertaking this plan. Computers are fussy little things, and when they don’t work, it’s hard to tell if it’s because something’s unplugged somewhere, or because you fried the CPU!

So I put it away for the day and took it apart and tried again the next day.

Luckily, attempt #2 the following night (during, I might add, a thunderstorm*) was a home run. 🙂

Check it out!

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(Pictured: a computer with the sides and top of the case still pulled off, but fully functional)

That, right there, is a working computer. 🙂

As of this morning, said cute little box of wires and plastic and metal (and cords. So many cords) is running Windows 10 and has my CS6 version of Photoshop installed and running like a dream.

Despite some worries and concerns and a few minor hiccups, operation Build a New Art Computer has (so far) been a total success. I have a computer with 16 gigs of RAM, ready to take on any Photoshop file I throw at it.

I can’t wait to dig in again. I’ve been without an art computer for 2 weeks now, and have missed it.I love drawing by hand and painting with traditional media, but sometimes the answer is to have as many options at your disposal as possible.

PS,

There’s going to be a 3rd installation to this story, very likely in the next week or so, about a very cool piece of technology I’m planning on acquiring…

Curious?

Stay tuned!

PPS,

This entry wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the cat assistance I was rendered during this build. Curious Georgia loves new things to explore with her entire body, and this computer was no different. In addition to my quest to make sure I was safely discharging static electricity before touching any of the components, I also quested– endlessly and fruitlessly– to remove stray cat hairs. 😉

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(Pictured: A cat doing what cats do best: sitting on things you don’t really want them to be sitting on)

Footnote:

* Thunderstorm, new life… is it any surprise I named the computer Frankie? 😉

Bad Luck Comes in Threes (Or, the Saga of the Fried Computer)

Know that saying, that bad luck comes in threes? I’ve decided it’s true. I had two car-related instances of bad luck (a tire needed replacing, and then while waiting to get that fixed, my car was broken into and a window smashed!) and then the real kicker– my trusty iMac of nearly 6 years went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

(If you are on my monthly newsletter, you already got that piece of information.)

Unlucky me, right?

Well, I’m an annoying optimist.

With the sad demise of one machine (and nearly 6 years for a computer isn’t a bad run) brings the opportunity for the birth of another. And because I’d semi-recently backed up my computer, I’m fairly certain I only lost around 2 weeks of work. (I’ll know for sure what the damage is when the new machine is up and running.)

I use a computer for art quite a lot, so I really feel the push to get a solution in place so I don’t fall behind on my commitments to people. In the interim, several extremely kind art friends are helping me format things so I can keep up with CC:Otherworlds.

The options were these: buy a refurbished iMac and be up and running with Photoshop within a few days. This option was tempting, because it was the low-risk solution. I know how to do art on Macs, and they’re the industry “standard” for artists. But they’re also extremely expensive, even refurbished. Yes it would be fast and easy, but sometimes that’s not the right long-term decision.

So I started looking at option #2… building a PC that meets my needs exactly. AKA I don’t need a crazy fancy graphics card, because I don’t play very many PC games (Yes, I know they’re great. Maybe someday when I have more time!) but I do need loads of RAM so I can open and run smoothly my enormous Photoshop files. Luckily I have several delightful friends who have built PCs of their own, and were able to hold my hand through the process of selecting parts.

Meanwhile, I’m about 80% confident I’ll be able to get my version of Photoshop running on a PC, and vaguely hopeful about some other software that might be able to carry over. But there is definitely a level of risk here. Things might not go the way I plan, and it’s not going to be an easy or smooth transition… and the hard part (actually building the computer) is yet to come…

😉

Stay tuned for the exciting next piece of this saga, as I turn this collection of boxes into (fingers crossed) a functioning art PC…

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A Game of 20 Questions…

Or maybe not 20. But some questions, nonetheless!

While I was talking about my most recent CC:Otherworlds illustration, and mentioning that I go about things a bit backwards from a lot of artists, starting in Photoshop and ending in traditional media, a friend recently asked me for an explanation of my typical art process. I thought I’d share some of the answers. 🙂

These examples are from my most recent CC:Otherworlds illustration. The prompt for that fortnight (#13) was “Unravel.”

  1. I typically start out with a really rough thumbnail sketch done in pencil or ink. And by rough, I mean *rough.* Things things ain’t pretty. Example: IMG_20170301_061620
  2. This little sketchy stage doesn’t last too long, though. Next, I bring the entire thing into Photoshop. I don’t usually even bother to scan my doodle– a cell phone pic works just fine, since I’m not interested in preserving any of its ~beauty~ just its rough content.
  3. Once in Photoshop, I rough-out a layout and composition. This doesn’t need to be perfect, but the ‘big ideas’ need to be hashed out. Where will the figures be? What is at the center? What aspects of “flow” are in place to make sure the viewer sees what I want them to see when they look at it? Also in this phase I do some color studies, and get a general feel for what direction I’ll take the painting once I do it for real. A thing that is sometimes confusing is that all of this? Just prep work. None of this will be in the final painting. Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 7.46.41 PM
  4. But now I have to get this entirely digital image… and make it into a traditional media painting! That means transferring it onto paper… It’s not as complicated as it seems. 🙂 I just print off the line drawing at the correct scale, and tape it to the back of my watercolor paper of choice (in this case, a hotpress 140lb paper that’s lovely and smooth) and trace over my computer sketch with pencil.
  5.  After that, it’s just a matter of painting. For this piece I used watercolors and colored pencils. IMG_20170309_061625
  6. And here’s the final painting! CCO13 - Unravel Final

Do you have any questions about my general process, or how I do things? Let me know! I LOVE answering questions and talking about art. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

The Birth of a Dream… (book)

(Forgive the punny title. I couldn’t help myself.)

The Dreambook project is something I’ve had brewing on my (plentiful) artistic back burners for quite awhile now. I’m excited to share that the beginning stages of it are finally coming together!

Back up there, Claire. Dreambook? Say what now?

You heard right! I am the frequent recipient of extremely bizarre, often cinematic, weirdly poetic dreams. They’re not dreams about lost locker combinations, or missed buses. They’re dreams about oceans tides pulling and pushing us towards certain physical destinations, about men lost in alternate universes calling for help through radios, about dragons lurking inside all of us waiting to claw themselves free…

I’ve always known I wanted to do a project based on some of my choicer dreams, but for a long time I wasn’t sure what format. Several dreams I wrote down as short stories. And while they were interesting, they lacked the visual element that is so important to the dreams themselves.

Thus… Dreambook.

Dreambook itself is still a long ways out from being a completed thing (more on THAT later!) But what I’m working on right now is a demo, if you will. A single dream put into one of the several types of formats I would use for the book, to showcase what Dreambook can be. That is what I’m working on right now, and what (soon, hopefully) I’ll be able to share with you!

Want to see my progress so far?

This was my first ever storyboard for the specific dream I’ll be using in the demo (informally called Dragon Scales for the moment):

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But a few images do not a story make. So I began to break out more and more, creating a plan for a 6-8 page comic.

A little more work in trusty Photoshop now leaves me with a rough layout and plan of attack!

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That leaves me with what’s left: both the fun and the hard part… making the above ‘plan’ into a finished piece.

Despite the clean lines and gray scale of the sketches above, that will not be the look of the final product. My current plan is to use loose pencil lines, watercolor, and gouache, to create an otherworldly, mysterious, and somewhat sinister look, similar to my original test.

If you are curious about my progress on this project, make sure to check out my instagram feed – seeclairedraw. I post there 2-3 times per week.

Thanks for reading!

Capricon 37!

Capricon 37 is here! This annual sci fi and fantasy convention also has a killer art show (run this year by a lovely friend, Sam Press) where my things will be for sale.

This will be my second year showing and selling at Capricon. I’ll have a number of original paintings and drawings for sale, as well as prints (both new and old).

This year I upgraded my prints from just bags, to mats and bags, and they look (I have to say) pretty killer. Here’s a pic of my work-in-progress getting prepped… the cat supervised. 😉

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And here’s the collection of prints that will be for sale. Smaller size is selling for $15 and the larger for $20. Also for sale will be one run of postcards, and 2 card designs.

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If you’ll be in the Chicago area this weekend, check it out!

Interested in buying my stuff but nowhere near Chicago this weekend?

Not to worry! When the convention is over and I know what quantities are left, I’ll be updating my Etsy page and sharing the link here. 🙂

 

Life Drawing

I recently signed up for a life drawing class. Well, session is more accurate– it’s much more about spending time with your art and learning from drawing a figure than it is about instruction.

I used to go to drop in life drawing sessions back when I lived in Minnesota, but since moving to Madison (nearly four years ago, ouch) I’d fallen entirely out of the habit.

Nothing like a fresh year to correct that. 🙂

This class is put on by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Education Department, and is one of several art classes they offer.

Here’s some of the results of my last 3 weeks attending. Some are more successful than others… but that’s half the point. How else do you learn? 🙂

It’s a Bony Tale…

My go-to medium has been, for the last several years, watercolor and ink. Sometimes it’s watercolor and graphite, and sometimes lately I’ve been playing with gouache, too. But I’ve become a bit predictable.

Which meant it was time to shake things up.

I busted out my oil set (dusted off, more like…) and got to work on something with several components that seriously pushed me out of my comfort zone. The final painting is oil on board, with gold leaf accents. I haven’t touched any of that in years.

But before I got that far, I had to figure out a plan. In this case, the piece is a gift for my mom, who broke her humerus arm bone in a nasty spot last April. I wanted to paint that bone for her in a semi-medieval-inspired style of painting (smooth oil on board) but with gold where the break was… somewhat like the Japanese pottery tradition, where cracks are in-filled with gold, not just repairing a break, but making it beautiful. 

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My original sketch (made with watercolor pencils on paper) served as my rough template and guide. From there, I sketched out my plan of attack on my final surface — a piece of plywood with several layers of gesso applied as a base.

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With my rough-in determined, I started painting with oils. They are a fun, slippery, strange medium, and I’m determined to play with them more! None of my brushes were soft enough to achieve the silky-smooth finish (and that vaguely macabre, medieval look) I was looking for, so I actually went over the original brush strokes with two of my makeup brushes. Weird, but it worked!

Oil paints take up to a week to fully dry, so I played the waiting game before I was able to put on the gold leaf. Once it was ready, I placed white acrylic paint in the places I wanted the gold leaf to end up with a stucco texture, and used a gold ink as a base. Then, I applied the gold leaf.

And this is the end of this painting’s story! Once it cures for a few weeks I’ll give it its final touch: a layer of varnish, and then delivery to its recipient.

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