Exercising the Muse

My hard-working muse, Iris, just sighed when I said I was going to do the Opus Daily Practice Challenge again. She has muscles on her muscles, she positively sweats creativity, yet once again I’ve sent her to boot camp. She’s getting used to this.

Why, you may wonder, would someone who draws practically every day as a career want to do a daily art challenge? Good question; Iris is asking it too, with pointed glances my way. I ask myself, too, in the moments of sanity between drawings.

OK, here’s one thing — when you work on long projects like I do with my comics, it’s sometimes nice to do something a little different that doesn’t take weeks, months, or years to complete. A wee little bite-sized snack of a project, like those single-bite dark chocolates I keep in my studio (oops, don’t tell Iris!) to lure myself upstairs when I’m procrastinating.

Another thing — doing those long-term projects means I don’t get to experiment much with style. Once I’ve locked myself into a comic, I try to maintain something approximating the look I began with, for consistency’s sake. That doesn’t mean I don’t look for new and exciting things to do within it — panel design, composition, and improvements in my technique are all challenges I constantly set myself. But I can’t go too far afield, or the continuity of the story is lost.

One more thing — last year I got a nifty little book out of this particular challenge! I don’t think I’ll make one from this year’s, as I’ve kind of been all over the place with what I’m doing (on purpose), though I am trying to amass a good stock of original sketch cards for the cons this year. But I’ve also tried some new things, attempting to use the prompt word of each day, but sometimes stretching it a lot. And I always learn from trying new stuff.

Galactic Takeout Delivery Service! Delivered at Light Speed or your Money Back!

Alien Cat’s spaceship, made from a pie plate, a bucket lid, a christmas ornament, four chopsticks, some Sculpey, some felt, and a printout I made in Photoshop. Oh, and lots of hot glue.

The first word was “structure”, and as I was finishing up the dinosaur comic, I decided that the spaceship I made for the last panel’s photoshoot would do just fine. Lucky me — I was skidding into the deadline, and didn’t have time for much else the first day of the challenge. The second day, I was finishing up the digital formatting stuff to prep the comic for publication, and couldn’t get dinosaurs out of my head (and still didn’t have much time), which is when I decided I would make lots of sketch cards this month!

Ahoy and Arrrr! Dinosaur pirates are the best!

Vel the pirate, in his polka-dot bandana, sails the seas looking for — coconut milk and trees to kick back under! Sketch card, ink and watercolour, 2.5×3.5 inches

Yes, LOTS of sketch cards:

Yes, Iris, we've still got to do all those blank ones!

Sketch cards are the same size as trading cards (the squares on the background are half-inch), so you can get fancy sleeves to keep them in. I’m doing these on the lovely Opus Watermedia Paper, the offcuts from my comics pages. So far I’m using ink, watercolour, and watercolour pencils, but these are a great way to try out other media, as long as it’s not smeary.

One day I doodled on my place card at a meeting:

Yes, I was actually listening at the meeting

Give an artist paper and she will draw on it!

Another day I made a terrible double pun on the day’s prompt word, “field”:

Usually it's a farmer…

I’ve been wanting to practice some hand lettering (as you can see, I’m not very consistent with it), because I have a collection of quotes I’d like to illustrate, and it’s lots more fun to write the stuff by hand than just pop it in with Photoshop.

A play on a prompt word — “Fair Folk Band”, two uses of “folk” for the price of one!

Let's rock the forest, elves!

Fair Folk playing Folk music! Who’da thunk it? I intended this to be very loose, using a brush pen on Arches cold-press paper (which is bumpy, so the lines have a certain, er, quality to them) and it got even looser when I discovered that my blue-pencil underdrawing smeared on this kind of paper, and the ink from the brush pen didn’t dry as fast as usual so ended up blending into some of the watercolour. Oh well, now I know!

And then there was yesterday, when I absolutely did not have time to draw — but the prompt word was “contraption”. In another case of stunning synchronicity, I remembered that the official word for the kind of percussion instrument my bandmate Molly plays is a “Contraption” (she calls hers The Clatterbox), and we were playing a contra-dance in the evening. I was planning to draw it between dance sets, but there wasn’t time, so I took a photo, intending to just post it sadly as my weak and apologetic contribution for the day. But! When I got home and popped it into Photoshop for resizing, I thought, “why not play a bit?” — what the heck, I was still buzzing from the music (and the gallons of tea and plates full of sugar our lovely organizers ply us with), I wouldn’t be sleeping for a while…

Definitely percussion for the multi-tasker!

The original photo. Molly plays the washboard part with thimbles, and has all kinds of things to tap and bonk and shake clack and ding attached.

… and then I got creative:

Look out world, I've discovered Photoshop filters!

A simple application of a “photocopy” filter. Kind of looks like a linocut!

Who needs white ink? I've got glowing edges!

This one is greyscale with “glowing edges”. It reminds me of a scratchboard drawing.

If you gave Van Gogh some scratchboard…

Same idea, only in colour, and then run through the “oil paint” filter. If a neon light and a liquorice rope had babies….

shiny, shiny cymbals!

Then I started playing with “gradient maps” —took me a bit to figure out what they do, but when I did — Wow! What fun! Now I have to figure out how to make custom gradient.

Monkey scribbles!

More “glowing edges”, but in colour this time — and a couple of steps before applying the filter: I inverted the colour in Adjustments, then posterized it from the same menu.

And then it was late and I was getting kind of silly, so here’s this:

Pixels are fun. Yes they are.

Inverted, gradient mapped, extruded, and finally subjected to “oil paint”. Zing!

I had tons of fun playing with Molly’s Clatterbox (and kept a log as I went for future reference), and went to bed with Iris excitedly whispering digital ideas in my ears. Who knows what the rest of the month will bring? Stay tuned to my Instagram, Facebook Page, and Twitter if you’d like to follow along!

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