Learning to draw again

One of my goals for this year is to illustrate a children’s book that John has written.

Drawing used to be a huge passion of mine. I could spend 5-8 hours at a time drawing in high school and college.

And then I didn’t have a reason to keep drawing. I had finished school and no longer had drawing or art classes to force me into it. It’s a bit strange when you love something but you find that you need someone to tell you to keep at it.

I assumed that I’d end up needing illustration skills a bit more in my career. Someone would need an icon for their website or something, right? But no one wants to pay you to make one from scratch when they could buy a set for $10 somewhere.

My skills got stale.

When I picked up the pencil again to start drawing for this book, I was discouraged at first. I am way out of practice and I don’t really have my own style.

I started looking for inspiration on Pinterest: Follow Mandy’s board Farm Animal Illustration Inspiration on Pinterest.

As well as drawing tips: Follow Mandy’s board Illustration / Painting / Character Design / Drawing Tips on Pinterest.

And just started sketching, trying not to be too hard on myself for having completely weird-looking animals.

Sketches of farm animals
Sketching farm animals

I found that the inspiration board I made helped me play with different styles for the animals. For example, the cow on the bottom right of the collage is in a style that I would draw on my own, but the one to the left of it was inspired by other cow drawings I found on Pinterest. I’m not sure which is better, but the one on the left is definitely easier to draw in repetition.

Drawing and coloring farm animals
I attempted some colored penciling

The alpaca is definitely the hardest animal to get right. She’s the main character of the story, so I want to make sure she has a lot of her own personality.

Alpaca drawing
Alpaca face and some empty alpaca heads
Drawings of a pink alpaca
Different alpaca styles

Then I switched from pencil to Photoshop / Illustrator. I was having trouble getting a good face on the alpaca. I’d either get the eyes and nose and mouth right, but mess up adding the hair, or vice versa. So I drew a face that I liked, drew some ’empty’ alpaca heads, then attempted to put them together. With this technique, I feel that I got a lot closer to a more finalized character than I had sketching on paper.

I’m not sure which alpaca will win. The curly hair is fun and fluffy, but I kind of like the spunk the shaggy/straight haired alpaca has.

I’m noticing that I am more comfortable in Photoshop and Illustrator than I am on paper, at least for getting a more finished look to my drawings. I can’t seem to sketch on the computer or refine very well on paper, so I guess I’ll have to merge the two. Sketch, scan, trace with the Wacom tablet.

After wearing myself out on sketching animals, I attempted human figures.

Sketches of knitting and shearing
Sketching some knitting action, some shearing, and just trying to figure out a face for the woman farmer.
Loose sketches of someone spinning yarn
Loose sketches to try and get the posture right… ain’t workin’.

At one point in the story, there is some spinning of alpaca fleece. I scoured the internet for good reference photos of women at a spinning wheel. It was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be, mostly because the photos you find are of women in giant dresses, so you can’t really tell much about their bodies.

Drawing of a woman at a spinning wheel
Some sketching, then some Photoshop coloring

I want the woman who is spinning the fleece to look relaxed. She almost does, but she also looks really stiff, so I’ll definitely need to keep working on it.

I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I need to keep sketching, refining and practicing before I think I’ll be close enough to start really laying out the illustrations for the pages of the book. I definitely have more confidence in my skills than I did two months ago. I don’t know if practice will make perfect, as they say, but it’ll definitely increase my confidence and get me to a final product.

If you’re interested, I’ve been using these awesome Photoshop brushes for the watercoloring: Kyle’s Real Watercolor for Photoshop

Design challenge, day 8, dragon wisdom

Another quote from the land of Skyrim. The whole story of the game revolves around these dragons that are trying to take back the earth and ultimately just end everything. Paarthurnax, an old dragon, made the choice to be good and struggled through his own instincts to make it happen.

What is better - to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort? - Paarthurnax

Design challenge, day 4, coffee!

Tried something different today and I’m not sure it works but I’m putting it out there anyway because I want to go to sleep. 🙂

Used the Paper app on the iPad then moved over to Photoshop to rearrange what I sketched. I tried to simplify each luxury as much as possible. Can you still tell what they are?

"What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?


“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?…Was ever anything so civil?”

― Anthony Trollope

Design challenge, day 3, somewhere in the black hills of South Dakota…

This one’s a little morbid.

“Rocky Raccoon” by The Beatles popped into my head today.

I’ve actually never imagined this song to be about a raccoon. Having heard it over and over as a child, I would think that I would have had this whole little fantasy of a little raccoon, trying to gun down another raccoon and win back his little raccoon girlfriend.

But no. Rocky was always a human in my head.

Anyway, I heard the song in my head and started sketching a little raccoon. Then I thought it would be hilarious if Rocky had a giant hole in his chest from Dan (the girlfriend thief) while trying to convince the drunken doctor that he wasn’t hurt at all. Yeah. I’m messed up.


Doot doot dodododoot, doot doot dodo. Come on, Rocky boy.


Design challenge, day 2, Dovahkiin.

I couldn’t help but create something silly about Skyrim. I’ve put way too many hours into the game and still play on a fairly regular basis even though the game came out almost 2 years ago. It’s kind of like playing an MMO without the idiots.


Anyway… the challenging part of this was actually letting myself use Trajan (because I feel that it’s often overused) and finding a Celtic-inspired font that didn’t look like a smashed sweetroll. Well, that and drawing the sweetroll. These challenges are supposed to take .5-1 hour and both of these have taken about 2-3 hours. I think I need to let go a bit.

Celtic: http://www.fontspace.com/sam-wang/celtic

Self-imposed design challenge

I’ve decided to challenge myself to try to design something every day. Here’s day one, Doctor Who-inspired.

John and I devoured all seasons of Doctor Who available on Netflix last year. Now we’re waiting on the 50th anniversary episode to air next month. I’m very excited to see John Hurt as the Doctor.

Anyway, wish me luck in my endeavor towards better design!

Bowties are cool.