Tag Archives: scratchboard
I’d like your opinion, please.
For the last couple of months in between other things, I’ve been working away on the largest scratchboard drawing I’ve made yet: a page of penguins.
I’m rather chuffed with how they look, and though I hadn’t really planned on doing anything with the finished piece, a few people have suggested that it would make a nice poster and I rather agree. So I’ve been looking into the costs of a print run.
As is so often the case, the unit price of anything printed drops significantly the more you order, but this isn’t a real saving if I end up with a pile of penguins stuffed under my bed for the next few years. It’s a balancing act of knowing that it’s a product enough people might want, at the same time as being able to offer a reasonable price. I’m trying to be pragmatic – and honest – about the challenges of putting artwork out in the world, and what the difference is between an image that people like and a viable product.
So I’d love to know, is a penguin poster is something you’d actually be interested in?
It might be that this is just a page of penguins that I’ve enjoyed drawing and people enjoy looking at online: that would be OK! But if it is something you think you might like to buy – with no obligation – please let me know, because I would like to try and make it available.
And if it is something you’d like, what would you consider a reasonable price? It’s 50 x 60cm, if that helps. Again, no obligation. I’m just wondering where’s the price point that would make you say “yes, definitely!” and the one that would make you decide “hmm, no that’s too much…”
I will be SO grateful to hear what you think. Thank you :)
Some days I think my growing fondness for scratch board, officially the slowest drawing medium in the world, is a curse, impractical and quite frankly idiotic.
Other days I think it is teaching me an important lesson.
Since Lighter Than My Shadow was published, I’ve been trying really hard not to approach everything in life like an eating disorder. If anyone is wondering how that comparison makes sense, consider that my former approach to making art involved a lot of lists, target sheets, unreasonable goals and considerable self-flagellation for not achieving them. It became clear in the aftermath of my book that this approach was not only destructive, but unsustainable and honestly not a lot of fun: it was removing all joy from drawing, purportedly the thing I love most in the world. And so I decided to learn to do things differently.
Here’s where the world’s slowest drawing medium comes in. I have no choice but to let it go slowly. An A4 page takes me the better part of a week. My penguin poster has taken two months so far and is still not done. Yet I’ve just decided to also use scratch board for some (not all!) of the next Green Bean.
I am making marks every day, and by my old standards I do not have a lot to show for it. My blog is quiet because I am not churning out work at an unsustainable rate. When I do post, I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over, justifying to myself that this slower pace is OK. In truth, living with it is extraordinarily uncomfortable. The old pattern would have me down tools in despair, lamenting that there’s no point trying if I can’t conquer the world by tomorrow lunchtime.
I am not doing that. I am going back to the drawing board and making the marks I can make today; learning to let that be enough.
You probably haven’t noticed because, like most things I do these days, it is happening verrrrrrrrrrrrrry slowly, but I am in the process of updating my website. I realised that the most recent photo of myself on this site is from 2013, and the self-portrait I used as an avatar on most platforms was older still. I no longer look quite the same (!) and nor does my work. It’s time for a change.
I reflected back on some older self-portraits when thinking about ideas. I like them to show not only what I look like, but be created in my favourite medium of the time. This one, from 2009, was painted in gouache and the collage elements added digitally. I really liked the postage stamp composition, and the presence of a cup of tea (true to life), so I decided to bring these into the new portrait (don’t you think I look a bit miserable though?).
The portrait I’d been using most recently reflected the style of Lighter Than My Shadow, drawn in Micron pen with shading and texture added digitally. I suppose one could argue that Lighter Than My Shadow is itself one long self-portrait, and this one certainly looks like the ‘me’ at the end of the book. It includes glasses, but my hair has grown several inches since then!
More importantly, after drawing 500+ pages in this style I’m kind of sick of working this way and it hasn’t been part of my drawing practice for quite a while now. I’ve been playing with lots of different media recently, especially scratch board. So that’s what I chose for the new portrait.
Finally, of course, the new portrait needed to include the newest member of the family, whose presence is as important – if not more so! – than the perpetual cup of tea.
One of the things I’ve found odd about my work as an illustrator over the last few years is a need to be secret. If I’m working on a book, a comic for a magazine, or some other commission, it’s not always OK to share work in progress.
When I first started blogging, back in 2008 (alas, you won’t find evidence of it – I botched the transition from Blogger to Wordpress and lost everything), one of the things that kept me doing it regularly was sharing every stage of every thing I was working on. I was also…how shall we put it? A little on the compulsive side. I blogged a lot. I didn’t sleep much.
Since then, I’ve slowed down for my health and sanity, but for the pleasure in my work as well. I’ve learned that over long periods of time, my creativity actually doesn’t respond well to me cracking the whip. I burn out. I stop having fun. It becomes a treadmill and a chore, and for a career path that’s also financially challenging, that makes no sense. It needs to bring me joy. So these days I’m trying to remember that and embrace a slower process, though it’s not always comfortable.
The pages above are from a Green Bean issue that has been on and off my drawing board since February, weathering losses of confidence and direction and needing to be laid aside often for commissioned work. Sometimes I miss the days when I could confidently churn out a Green Bean every two months (heck, I did it every month in the first year. Madness!), but those days are gone.
Now, I regularly take breaks to sit with my knitting. Working a few rows has become a kind of daily practice that reminds me of the rewards of patience, and that the best part of any creative work is the process itself, not the end result.
It was knitting, in fact, that helped me navigate my way back into drawing after my burn out. It began with drawing comics for Pom Pom Quarterly, the first of which was published in winter 2014. The latest, due in the winter 2015 issue, is what’s been absorbing most of my time for the last two months. I remain obsessed with scratch board, again a significant factor in my exploration of working more slowly. Scratch board is about the most labour intensive medium there is. When I worked on Lighter Than My Shadow, I routinely drew 12 pages a week, at times up to 18. For this latest comic I scratched one. One gloriously absorbing, meditative, financially unsustainable but who-cares-because-I’m-hanging-out-with-the-dog-and-enjoying-making-art-again page a week.
Sadly I can’t show you much as it’s a secret until publication, but I’m chuffed with it. I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever drawn. Here’s a little peek…
Now that the Pom Pom comic is finished, that Green Bean, the one that’s been on and off the drawing board, will get some attention. I won’t finish it this week, perhaps not even this month. Who knows. What I do know is that it will be one of the most thoughtful and beautiful of all the Green Beans. And so will the one that follows it. All in good time.
By the way, that “I am doing a new thing” card, pictured at the top, was a design created especially for Green Bean subscribers, to explain what on earth has been going on and why they haven’t received a zine for so long. It was inspired by this embroidery, by talented lady and dear friend, Mollie Johanson.
People often remark on the level detail in my artwork, and say I must have lots of patience. It’s no secret I have a love of tiny details, also mammoth projects that take years, preferably both at once (see Lighter Than My Shadow). But the truth is this kind of work isn’t a test of patience for me. This is what I love. Having recently completed this Alasdair Roberts poster using scratch board, perhaps the epitome of a painstaking medium, I’m finding myself drawn back to using it again. It’s the same thing, I think, that means I enjoy knitting so much – another activity that brings remarks on how much patience I have. But it only has to do with patience if you focus on the end result. Yes it might take me a year to knit a sweater, or five years to draw a whole book. But when I finished drawing the book that took me five years, it was like the bottom fell out of my world. I have felt lost, listless and it’s taken me two years to recover any sense of what to do when I get up in the morning. Two years to realise that the finished product was not the important thing at all. I’m not saying I don’t want to knit sweaters or make books: that’s what I want to to all day every day! It’s just that I’m realising I’m not in this for the finishing. In the end, any books or sweaters are kind of incidental. What matters more is the act of making. I’m wary of this starting to sound a little wacky so I’ll tread carefully. I love creating the most when I’m utterly engaged in the process. Time drifts and my purpose becomes irrelevant: I am absorbed in each tiny mark or stitch. I’ve found that generally the more longwinded and painstaking a process is, the more effective it is at inducing this kind of meditative state where I am at my happiest. Finding this sweet spot amid deadlines, the (real or perceived) pressure to finish something new and the very real need to sell things, well that’s a different kind of challenge…but lately I’m enjoying meticulous processes that remind me they are the best bit. The above is my charming new house! I’ve spent the last couple of weeks packing, shifting and unpacking boxes. I’m still living with a significant degree of chaos but hope to show you around my new studio soon.