28 December 2014

New Art - Tea Ducks

For Christmas this year, two of my friends and I agreed to do an arts/crafts gift exchange.  For my part, I decided to create a triptych painting that highlights the biggest thing that brought us together throughout 2014: The Rubber Ducky Tea Society.  Every few months this year, we three met up for tea and always brought and used our tea ducks (a cute loose leaf tea infuser shaped like a rubber ducky which floats in your cup as your tea steeps).  These tea parties were fun and laid-back and brought the three of us together like nothing else ever did before.  This blog will show you how I went about commemorating those feelings and memories in paint.

I decided to make my triptych on watercolor postcards.  I even considered mailing the painted postcards directly instead of wrapping them like a normal gift but the risk of damage in transit is virtually 100% through the USPS (especially during the holidays; one Christmas card I received this year looked like the envelope had been filleted.  I was surprised it even made it to me, since my address was almost illegible) so I quickly decided against that idea.
Art Supplies Prepared for Drawing
Step one: watercolor postcards, mechanical pencil, and erasers.
Rubber Ducky Painting, Ducks Painted, Paints Pictured
Step two: watercolor paint.  The cards are taped together on the back.

The holidays this year were insanely busy for me, so I didn't have time to do any sketching before starting this project.  My composition was purely instinctual.  I started with one duck and added another and another until the pages were filled.  As I worked, I made sure that some ducks overlapped into the next postcard, so it would be clear that all three pieces were meant to fit together.  Once the pages started to fill out, I also decided to ensure there were two ducks per card.  The tiny duck in the middle right of the full piece is the last one I drew.
Rubber Ducky Painting, Ducks Painted
Rubber Ducky Painting, Ducks and Background Painted

Recently my watercolors have felt more satisfying when I paint more roughly (as opposed to precisely and smoothly) and then add ink for definition.  So my strokes on these cards are big and blotchy and very organic (especially in areas like the background where I used wet-on-wet techniques).  The paintings don't look anything like complete even when the painting part is technically done.  What brings it all together is the ink.
Rubber Ducky Painting, Watercolor Complete
Watercolor totally done.  Now for inking!
Rubber Ducky Painting, Detailing Complete
After using several pens and a watercolor marker, the triptych is complete!

I have to thank ArtSnacks again for the awesome tools I used to finish up this project.  I used the Twin Tip pen set that came in my 2014 Studio Collection (the scroll tip is just the coolest!) to outline the ducks, the metallic brush pen they sent in the November 2014 box to emphasize the bubbles, and the watercolor marker that arrived in the September 2014 box to add interest to the background.  The only non-ArtSnacks pen I used on this piece is my trusty, go-to Sakura Gelly Roll gel pen in white.  After finishing these paintings, all that remained was to decide which card would go to whom.

When these cards are all together, they seem equally great.  But when viewed individually, they don't necessarily look as good as one another.  I asked my beau to look at them and tell me which two looked the best alone.  His opinion matched mine: the top card was the weakest (mostly due to composition) so I kept that one for myself.  Of the three, I actually like the background on this one best.

The middle card I had already hoped would turn out strong because I wanted to give it to the friend I've known the longest, Krystal.  She was the one who really brought our trio together; if not for her, I don't think we would all have become mutual friends.  The middle card is a symbol of her position as the connecting bridge between us.  Out of all the cards, I think this one is the cutest (it has both the largest and the smallest ducks!).

The bottom card is actually my overall favorite of the bunch.  The background looks pretty good because I was finally figuring out what I wanted to do (some of this painting process was quite experimental) and the composition is definitely the strongest of all three.  Plus, it looks like the ducks are swimming!  I gave this one to the newer of my two friends, Katrina. 

I love doing art gifts for Christmas but, because I had so much to do this holiday season, I thought I wouldn't be able to do any at all this year.  I'm really glad The Rubber Ducky Tea Society decided to have an artsy gift exchange.  It allowed me to create some art for people I care about without adding a huge burden to my already heavy holiday to-do list.  More fun, less stress! 

Did any of you create or receive art/craft gifts this year?  What do you think of homemade presents like these?  Is there something you wish you'd receive from an artistic friend or something crafty you want to try out next time a gift-giving occasion comes up?

23 December 2014

ArtSnacks - Studio Collection 2014 (Part I)

Welcome to my unboxing of the 2014 ArtSnacks Studio Collection!  They said, "Something big is coming," and they weren't kidding!  This box was so huge that I've actually decided to split my unboxing into two blog posts, one that is purely the unboxing excitement and another that focuses on first-impression testing of some of the products inside.  Ready to experience this giant art supply wonderland?

Unopened ArtSnacks Shipment
So huge!
Unopened Studio Collection Box
Astoundingly big!

When I first got my box in the mail, I was blown away by the size.  I knew they said it was gonna be big, but it doesn't hit home until you actually have the box in your hands.  Normally, ArtSnacks boxes are so light and slender that I can carry them easily with a couple fingers.  This thing, however, was not just heavy, it was so dimensionally large that it required two hands to soundly grip and lift.  Of course, I'm short in stature and in finger, but I still think that says something about the physical magnitude of the Collection.

First Look at the Contents of the Studio Collection
First peek.

Message from ArtSnacks
You're welcome, ArtSnacks folks!

Author's Hand Opening the Wrappings
Let's open this thing! Also...it matches my nail polish perfectly!

Full-Size Bag of Skittles

After opening the pretty silver paper that enveloped the main contents of the Studio Collection, the first thing that caught my eye was the full-size bag of Skittles.  I'm not even a Skittles fan, but just seeing that big ol' bag of sweets was like fuel on the already blazing fire of my excitement.  I actually don't crave candy that often, or at least not in such large amounts, so I'm still only about halfway through this bag, ha ha.

Studio Collection Sticker
Fancy box, fancy sticker.

Studio Collection Menu (Contents List)
Huge box, huge menu!

Back of Menu
I love the classy pattern on the menu back.

After squealing about the candy and admiring the fancy sticker and menu, I started looking at the real ArtSnacks.  Here's what came in my box (in order of my examining them, not as listed on the menu) with specific attributes noted in brackets:
  • Krink K-32 Water-Based Paint Marker [blue]
  • Copic Doodle Pack [brown]
  • Sensu Buddy Stylus
  • Lumi Inkodye Kit [navy, diver]
  • Embossed Baron Fig Confidant Sketchbook
  • PanPastel Artists' Pastels
  • Kuretake ZIG Memory System Twin Tips Set [black]
  • Bee Paper Aquabee Co-Mo Sketch Pad

KRINK K-32 Paint Marker in Blue

Here I received another Krink paint marker in blue!  I had just received a different-style-but-same-color Krink marker in last month's ArtSnacks box but I was much more excited this time because the Studio Collection marker is water-based.  Watercolor is my favorite painting medium so this seems perfect for me, not just as a fun way to experiment, but as a potential new addition to my regular stock of painting supplies.  I haven't experimented with it in full yet, but Part II of this unboxing series will show you a little bit of what this marker can do.

Copic Doodle Pack in Brown
Copic Doodle Pack in Brown, Alternate

This next item has been one of my favorites.  The Copic Doodle Pack is four Copic items in one box, all color-coordinated to allow maximum artistic awesomeness, even when used for nothing more than a sketch.  I got the brown set.  I'm sure there are different color sets available but I don't know if ArtSnacks sent out anything other than brown (let me know if you got a different color!).

Copic Doodle Pack in Brown, Back
Copic Doodle Pack in Brown, Close-Up

This set included two Copic Ciao markers, E31 and E35; one Atyou Spica glitter pen in chocolate (warm brown); and one 0.3mm Copic Multiliner pen in brown.  I've been using these items a lot, almost every day, especially in conjunction with the Baron Fig sketchbook (which I'll talk about in a bit).  I even used them to add amazing details to my Christmas card illustration for 2014!  Of everything in the box, this doodle pack has so far proved to be the most enticing and useful.

Buddy Stylus
Buddy Stylus, Back

Although I already had a little stylus for my smartphone, I found this Buddy Stylus to be a pretty neat item, especially for drawing on a touchscreen.  Its most distinguishing feature is that it fits on most standard-size pens or pencils which makes it easier--or more natural--to draw on touchscreens (but make sure to put it on the blunt end!  It doesn't explicitly state this on the product packaging--only hints at it in the usage illustrations--please don't use this on the pointed end of your pen or pencil; you could damage your screen).  The stylus I already owned is only about 4-inches tall and thinner than most pencils, so it can get uncomfortable and is fatiguing to use for long periods.  The Buddy stylus doesn't suffer those issues because the owner gets to choose which writing instrument to use it with.

Lumi Pencil Pouch, Front
Lumi Pencil Pouch, Back
Lumi Inkodye Set

This next item, the Lumi Inkodye set, got me super excited.  I had already seen the dye/detergent combo in an unboxing video several months earlier so I already knew what it was (a way to print on fabric using sunlight).  What really pleased me was that the Studio Collection version comes with everything needed to use it.  When I first saw this product months ago, the subscriber [Ashley Picanco, I really enjoy her art videos] only received the Inkodye and Inkowash packets.  Here I not only received those two essential items, I also got a photo negative to experiment with, a pencil pouch to actually print on, and illustrated instructions explaining exactly what to do.

Lumi Photonegative and Instructions
My negative features a diver.
Inkowash and Inkodye
I got the color "navy".

I'm extremely excited to play around with this stuff but it's one of the few items I haven't touched yet.  Since the dye requires direct sunlight, this isn't the best time of year (winter in the north) to use it.  I'll save it for late spring or summer 2015, I think.  By then I'll really need the new pencil pouch, too: for holding all the fresh ArtSnacks I'll have received!

Baron Fig Sketchbook, Wrapped
ArtSnacks Embossed on Sketchbook Cover
Baron Fig Confidant Sketchbook Contents
Confidant Information Pamphlet
Inside Sketchbook, Front Page
Inside Sketchbook, Featuring Tassle

I have to say, this Baron Fig sketchbook might be the crowning jewel of the Studio Collection.  I mean, it came plastic wrapped AND boxed, has a cloth cover and fabric tassel, required a pamphlet to describe all its features, and has the ArtSnacks logo beautifully embossed on the cover in shining silver!  How much more fancy could it get?  I actually feel a sense of pride in this book; it's beautifully made, useful, and a bit of a conversation starter (while I was waiting for a flight, I was sketching in this sketchbook using my Copic Doodle Pack and when the lady next to me complimented my work, I started a brief conversation about ArtSnacks and the cool art tools I had just received).  Because of this, I immediately decided to use it to its fullest potential and have been making lovely, full-page drawings in it every few days.

Although I've been using the Confidant a lot, I won't review it here--I'll save that for the next entry in this two-part review.  At least I will say I've been quite happy with it.

The product arrived safely bubble-wrapped~
Top-Down View of PanPastels
The red here is the pastel itself.
So many neat tools!
Cancer?!  (I'm not really bothered, ha.)

This next item is a bit of a wildcard for me: PanPastel Artists' Pastels.  I'm very green when it comes to any type of pastel so I didn't have a strong immediate reaction to this product but, even with my limited experience, the 'pan' presentation of these colors is very intriguing and seems almost wholly unique.  Not only are the pastels themselves formed into large cakes (similar to pan watercolors but much bigger than any I've seen), the cakes come in stackable dishes, with a variety of application tools stored in a larger container on the bottom (more photos of these features in Part II).  Even as a pastel novice, I can tell this is an awesome product. 

Interestingly, I have seen this type of stackable dish before, but not for an art product.  I have several eye shadow colors from Hollywood Color Company (it seems they may now be called Shany; in any case it's the only brand I can find now that has the same type of storage system) that came in tiny, twist-on, stackable containers, exactly like the PanPastel dishes except for the size.  I always admired the stacking system of those eye shadows, so I already feel enthusiastic about this product for that similarity alone.
ZIG Twin Black Tips Pen Set
ZIG Twin Black Tips Pen Set, Side View
ZIG Twin Black Tips Pen Set, Back

Next we have a really cool item with a wide variety of applications.  The ZIG Memory System Twin Tips set has already proven itself very useful to me, and very fun to experiment with!  This pack of four dual-tipped markers seems intended for scrapbookers, calligraphers, and anyone else doing hand-written text, but it's been great for me as an illustrator to add unique outlines and details to drawings and paintings.  I don't want to go too much into a product review here (I almost did!) so I'll just say that my first impression of this item was very good, mostly since I'm a pen lover in general.  With the dual tips, it's like getting eight different pens in one slim box.  So exciting!

Co-Mo Sketch Pad

Close-Up of Micro Perforation
Close-up of the micro-perforation.

The final item in my Studio Collection box is yet another product I had never seen before.  I was already familiar with the Bee Paper brand through their Aquabee marker paper (which I use fairly often) but this sketchbook is totally different from that.  It's a somewhat scanty paper pad--larger format than the Confidant sketchbook (8x10") but with a significantly smaller page count (30 sheets)--but one feature that elevates this sketchpad is the perforation.  This is a must for every sketchbook I buy; while most pages end up filled with scribbles, thumbnail sketches, and even written lists, I sometimes come up with a piece I like so much that I want to scan it and share it online.  Being able to remove pages cleanly is a huge help in this process (otherwise, the binding keeps the page from lying flat on the scanner's glass, creating a shadow in the final scanned image) so I was quite keen on this Co-Mo Sketch Pad from the start.
All Studio Collection Contents Revealed
Finally, all is revealed and it is glorious!

That's it for Part I of my Studio Collection unboxing.  Be sure to check out Part II to see most of these items in action during some preliminary testing and experimentation!  For now I'll say that this was the most exciting unboxing I've ever had for any art supply subscription.  It may have cost several times more than the usual monthly box, but the quality, variety, and usefulness of the items inside pushed the value of this box well beyond the actual purchase price.  If the ArtSnacks folks do this again in 2015, I'm in, no question.  Until then, I'll keep practicing, experimenting, and creating with all of these wonderful, exciting art supplies! 

If you got the 2014 Studio Collection, was your box different from mine?  How did you feel about what you received?  Have you created anything with your new tools?  For those who didn't get the Studio Collection, does it seem like something you'd be interested in now that you've seen it?

14 December 2014

New Art - Beary Christmas

It's been a long-standing tradition of mine to design my own Christmas cards once the holidays roll around.  This year I already dedicated Halloween to Kiba and Thanksgiving to Kiki (one year-end holiday per cat!) so Christmas fell to Bear--appropriate considering how big, fluffy, and winter-ready he looks!  I decided to feature him in a simple (but pretty!) watercolor illustration so that I could finish the art in time to produce, fill out, and mail the cards to my friends and family by Christmas.  The following shows and describes my progress on this year's Christmas card from initial sketches to final product.  Please enjoy!

I started with a composition already in mind, a very simple idea of Bear and a winter night's sky.  I can't remember for sure, but I think Santa came into it when I described the idea to my beau.  He said Bear should be watching Santa and I agreed.  It didn't complicate the illustration too much and it added a Christmas element where there wasn't one before. 
Beary Christmas Illustration Sketches

I feel a bit clever because, when it came to the moon, I looked up which phase it would be in on Christmas Eve night this year.  The waxing sickle I depicted in the final illustration is accurate to Christmas Eve/Christmas Day 2014!  I even flipped it from my initial sketch so that it would match my (and Bear's) location here in the Northern Hemisphere.  I also arranged Santa and his reindeer so that they evoke the image of a bow and arrow.  I didn't mean to imply anything in particular with this imagery, but I found it more satisfying to draw them with that in mind than to randomly throw them on the page. 
Beary Christmas Illustration Sketches II

A big thing that changed once I went to draw the final pencil lines is that Bear stopped being a chibi.  I originally envisioned him chibified the same way I drew Kiba and Kiki for their cards but it changed right at the very end of the research and planning stage.  I think it changed when I drew the reference sketch to map out what Bear looks like from behind while looking up.  That took so much effort (I had to get him to look up out the window without turning around to beg for pets, which was hard because I used my hand to take his attention to the window but then he would follow my hand back, hoping it would then pet him) that my mind got stuck imagining a more realistic Bear.  I didn't even realize that the change had taken place until I was done drawing him and about to start coloring. 
Pencil Lineart and Watercolor Marker Work

You may remember that I was really excited to receive a watercolor marker in one of my previous ArtSnacks boxes.  I was so pleased with it that I eventually bought two sets of six markers and my first time using them was on this piece.  I didn't color the entire work with them (and I only used four of the twelve colors I had) but they were an excellent way to lay down large areas of bold color and they blended perfectly with my favorite Sakura Koi watercolor paints (which I used to color the rest of the image).  These markers may become a staple to my watercolor process.  At the very least, they'll always remain on-hand in case I need them. 
Watercolor Work Nearly Complete
Watercolor Work Fully Complete

Once I finished painting with water and brush (and sponge), I went over the piece once more time with the watercolor markers to redefine and detail certain areas, such as the silhouettes of Santa and his reindeer.  Which reminds me...I had a bit of trouble drawing the reindeer in silhouette.  I think I got confused about which leg I meant to have doing what, so some of the poor things look a bit odd.  There was no way to fix them without starting over from scratch so, even though I recognized the flaws, I left them as they were. 
Details Done with Various Tools

After all the watercolor was laid down, it was time for my favorite part of my painting process: detailing!  I used a lot of ArtSnacks for this stage, including two warm grey Copic multiliners, the brown multiliner and Spica pens from my Copic sketch set (from the 2014 Studio Collection!), and the black paint marker I received in the December box (unboxing/review of the December box forthcoming!).  These things all worked fantastically well to start tying up the painting.  The only downside to any of these tools is that the Spica pen--which is a brilliantly sparkly ink--only really shines in the original painting.  There's no way to replicate the glittery effect in digital or printed copies. 
White Detailing Done With Ink
White Detailing Done with Gouache

The final steps I took to complete this piece involved detailing with white ink and white gouache (the latter came from my 11th Edition Pigment + Palette box).  For the ink I used a Sakura Gelly Roll gel pen and Deleter White 1.  When I first used this Deleter White ink months ago, it was, disappointingly, too thick to use with a dip pen.  Happily, the dip pen worked this time because I added a bit of water.  It wasn't so much as to make the ink look thin or transparent but it was enough to allow it to flow perfectly off the nib.  I suppose it's quite lucky that the ink looked a little dried out or else I wouldn't have thought to add water!  As for the gouache, I simply wanted to tie the painting together with a wintry texture.  Not anything specific, but something between snow and stars, I suppose.
Completed Beary Christmas Painting
All done!

Although this piece only took me a single day's work from thumbnails to signature, I still think it looks quite lovely!  I meant it to be really simple, but the organic painting process gave it a great level of detail and wholeness anyway.  There are some areas I'd do differently if I had to remake it, but there's nothing about this piece that doesn't look like another successful Christmas card illustration~
Beary Christmas Cards
Final step: painting printed on greeting cards and postcards.

It was a good thing that I decided to spend only a day creating my Christmas cards this year.  Digitizing the piece, putting it into card layouts (greeting cards and postcards), printing, shopping for more blank cards when I ran out, gathering addresses (I've come to expect friends to move sometime during the year without telling me), writing (I don't just scribble "Merry Christmas", I write a proper message!), stamping (including going out for a few international postcard stamps), and posting my 31 Christmas cards took almost two weeks!  All that effort seems to have been worth it since I've been getting very nice feedback from my friends and family.  Bringing happiness to people through my art is one of my overarching goals so it's extremely pleasing to hear that I've managed it with this piece~

I have one more blog post this week before Christmas, but I'm still going to use this space to wish all of my readers a very merry Beary Christmas (even if you don't celebrate; have a happy December the 25th❤) and a wonderful new year~!