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~!