BTS: My Sketching Process
One of my goals this year is to get more work illustrating book covers, something that I’ve always dreamed of doing! I’ve been working to build up my portfolio by creating my own covers of some books that I love. Over the fall I listened to a really wonderful sequel to Pride and Prejudice called The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. It follows the story of Mary Bennet through the original novel and beyond where she finds her own happy ending. I highly recommend it and the Audible narration was great if you like to draw and listen like I do!
I finally had a chance to work on the cover over the last couple of weeks and I shared a quick screenshot of my sketching process over on Instagram the other day. It turned out to be my best performing story ever! Apparently the combo of dapper regency gentlemen and sharing about my art process is a winner. So today I thought I’d expand on that fun little story and share more about the unglamorous reality behind my sketching process.
I hear from a lot of people who feel discouraged because their sketches don’t look polished and pretty, or worse yet Instagram worthy. But the reality is that those things aren’t important. Sketching is for working out ideas and that is a messy and sometimes confusing process. I often have to draw something over and over again until I get the feel for it. In fact, the sketching phase for me is often the most brain boggling and time consuming part of the creative process. But it's one of the most important parts as well and so satisfying when you end up with a finished product that you love.
That said, let’s dive into my sketching process for this mockup cover.
Ta-da! Here’s my first sketch. Absolutely beautiful isn’t it? My daughter thought so and decided to colour it in. I usually do quite a few of these small thumbnail sketches first to test out ideas and layouts and then I’ll pick one to move forward with (I’m going to share more about the ideation process in a future post so keep an eye out!). These thumbnails aren’t meant to be exact guidelines. They're more like quick notes, meant to get the gist of the idea out quickly.
The next step is a very rough full sized sketch. Below I’ve clarified the layout and sketched in the general shapes of where things will go. Notice that I haven’t started adding any of the details yet. We don’t want to start painting the house before the walls are built!
Please ignore my misspelling of Bennet!
Once I have the layout nailed down I start clarifying the details in layers. I’m going to focus here on the two dapper gentlemen in the front.
Unless it’s very simple, I don’t usually just draw something once and be done with it. I do a few versions. This helps me warm up and get a feel for the subject, then I choose the best version to move forward with.
Here are a few versions of some regency gentlemen that I sketched out. I looked at some vintage fashion plates from the era to get a sense of what these fellows would be wearing and how they might be posing.
I decided to go with the two poses below because they best represented the characters' personalities and worked well together in the composition as a whole. You can see on the left sketch especially how I built these figures off of simple stick figures. See how rough my lines are? we're not aiming for perfection here. I usually scribble my pencil around a lot until I hit the right spot.
Next I start clarifying the sketch even further and here I’m focusing on getting the underlying structure of the body shapes correct so that the clothing will go on nicely and nothing looks weird or out of place. I work in Procreate on the iPad so I can lighten my under layers as I go and use them as a reference. If you don't have an iPad you can also use tracing paper, a light box or window, or gently erase your lower layers to lighten them.
And here are the gentlemen in my final sketch. The last part of the process is where I focus on adding all of the details that make the sketch actually look like something. I feel like a lot of people just start drawing this final sketch phase first and then get frustrated when things aren’t going the way they’d hoped. The layout isn’t right and the elements are lacking finesse. I’m all for quirkiness in my illustration work but not when it compromises the overall foundation of the work. I know that not everyone works this way and that is totally fine. This is just the way that I’ve found works best for me. If you're struggling with your sketches I’d encourage you to try this technique out and feel free to change things up and try new things until you find the process that works best for you.
If you enjoyed this behind the scenes you can keep up to date with future posts, products and other art news by signing up for my newsletter here, you'll get a copy of my free colour guide in the process!
Thanks for reading!
DRAWING COMPLEX SUBJECTS
In my last post I shared a little bit about how I approach drawing by focusing on the shapes of the subject rather than the subject itself (go check it out if you haven't already). This week I thought I would share a little bit more about how I use that approach to tackle drawing complex subjects like animals and people, and the three main steps I go through to get to my final drawing.
Step 1: Rough (The MOST important step in my process)
As I said before, it starts by changing the way we see and looking for the basic shapes of the object rather than the thing itself. When it comes to drawing animals and people those basic shapes are usually circles, ovals or rectangles for the head and torso followed by lines, slim ovals or sometimes other shapes to indicate limbs. I like to think of these basic shapes as landmarks that help me lay out the structure of the subject before I go into too much detail. Because this is just a rough layer you can make adjustments as you go and not worry about getting it perfect right away. (you should see some of my sketches, they’re a complete mess!)
Step 2: Refine
Once (and only once!) you’ve got your rough structure laid out. It’s time to refine your sketch. Clean up any messes and start to clarify the lines. We’re looking for a basic line drawing of the subject without details at this point.
In the image below you can see that I've lightly sketched out some circles to help me locate the hips, chest, head and shoulders and I've used lines to indicate the leg and arm position as well as the curve of the back. Then I've added oval shapes to clarify the limbs and started to refine the outline of the body.
Step 3. Details
Now is the time to finally add the fun stuff. Facial features, hair (or fur!) clothes or any other features that aren’t really important to the basic structure. This is where you can start to add your own flair to the drawing so have fun with it!
If you want to draw something complicated and don't have your own reference photos, you can work from multiple sourced photos until you feel comfortable with how the structure works and then create your own pose and work from there. As with all things this method takes practice but is totally worth trying out and you’ll feel great knowing that you’ve drawn something totally unique to you!
I've done this below with these foxes. The first few are drawn from reference photos that I found online so that I could get a feel for how the fox looks and moves. In the sketches further down the page I've taken what I learned and started changing the positioning to make the drawings my own. Can you see how I've broken the fox down into basic shapes first using circles for the head, shoulders, hips and tail? Then I've just filled in the body and neck with connecting lines.
If you're interested in learning more about drawing people specifically, my online course, Draw Simple Figures delves deeper into this process and so much more. Learn more about the course here.
A different way of seeing
I stumbled across a quote the other day from French Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”
What he meant by that was that rather than painting (or drawing) our subject, along with all of our preconceived ideas about what that subject should look like, we should try looking at it objectively, seeing it only as a series of interacting shapes and colours. By doing this we can more accurately portray what we are seeing.
I was particularly drawn to this quote because, while of course there are many many diverse ways of drawing and making images, this is one that I use a lot in my own work. I find it especially helpful when I'm drawing complicated things that I’m not that familiar with and I need them to be recognizable and somewhat realistic (for me that's usually animals and flowers). It’s easy to get caught up in the subject we’re drawing and decide subconsciously what the proportions are supposed to be or how each part relates to another based on previous knowledge rather than actually seeing what is in front of us, but this, for me at least, often ends in frustration. It’s not our fault that we do this. It’s just how our brains work. Filling in the blanks with previous knowledge in an attempt to make sense of things.
In his book Color: A Workshop for Artists and Designers, David Hornung calls Monet’s concept “Retinal Painting”. He says “To surrender completely to visual sensation feels out of control at first. Most people find it hard to overcome the visual habit of imposing “what they know” about a subject upon what they are actually seeing.” So how to do it? Practice of course! As with anything, we need to dedicate the time to get better. Aside from that, here are some quick tips on how you an incorporate this idea into your own work. Start with the largest general shapes (this can include negative space) and either sketch them out or block them in with large areas of colour. Pay attention to how they relate to each other and try to capture that as well. Remember, don’t focus on the subject, just on what you are actually seeing. Your basic shapes will act as a general structure for the rest of the drawing. Don’t get caught up in adding too much detail to one area and not another. It’s important to build the work up in even layers of detail. This will create cohesion in the piece. Once you have your basic shapes laid down you can start adding in your own flair and style with each new layer, feeling confident that you’ve got a sturdy structure in place.
Have you ever tried focusing on just shapes in your drawing? I highly recommend giving it a try!
February 06th, 2022
I'm so excited to finally share a new collaboration with you today! Last Spring I had the pleasure of illustrating three Jane Austen covers for French luxury brand Olympia Le-Tan. Books you might think? Nope! These are limited edition, hand embroidered clutches, book shaped purses! How fun is that!
You might know that one of my big dreams is to illustrate a Jane Austen novel so of course I was over the moon for the opportunity to illustrate these beautiful clutches. The Complete Novels of Jane Austen and Sense and Sensibility are available now and I can't wait to see how the third book, Persuasion, turns out!
a christmassy behind the scenes
Happy holidays and I hope you’re having a lovely December. This month I worked on a couple of pieces for my agent Jehane’s 12 Days of Christmas event on Instagram. I thought it would be fun to go behind the scenes and share a bit of my process for making this piece inspired by the prompt "Christmas Cocktails."
As you might have already guessed, I love drawing people and so rather than focusing on just the cocktails I thought it would be more exciting to draw a cocktail party. After some time spent playing around with the layout this is the final sketch I ended up with.
I usually change my mind a lot when it comes to colour and so I like to plan those out in advance. This helps me get a general idea of how everything is going to look as a whole and then I don’t have to spend time fiddling and changing things after the fact. I usually create a colour rough by just blocking out various colours on separate layers in Procreate and then experimenting with various combinations and making small adjustments here and there. A few things I’m looking for here are an overall balance and harmony within the colour palette and whether there is enough contrast. Contrast will help make everything pop where you want it too. Squinting is a great trick to tell if there's enough contrast but because I’m working on the Ipad I'll sometimes just desaturate my image, then I can clearly see where I need to make adjustments. In this case you can see below that I could have added more contrast between the tree and the hair of the woman petting the cat which I ended up doing in my final piece.
Once I had my colour figured out I started on my final image. If you’ve taken my Draw Simple Figures course you’ll know that I like to build up my sketches in layers, and I do the same with my final artwork as well. Usually I like to lay in all of my solid colours first and then add all of the little details last. I just find that this helps me keep the whole piece balanced.
And here is the final image with all of those fun details brought in to make everything come alive!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little behind the scenes. I can't wait to share more of what I've been working on lately with you in the new year!
All the best,
My Favourite Art Supplies
Some of you might know that after finishing art school I worked at a local art supply store for several years. While there I learned A LOT about all of the various supplies out there. I still love talking about art supplies and will take every opportunity to do so. So in my attempt at a holiday gift guide of sorts I’ve compiled this list of supplies that I love and use most often. It's certainly not a comprehensive list (although I did get a bit carried away with the descriptions!) but hope you enjoy reading through and maybe you'll find something fun for your wishlist! Keep in mind that these are the tools that I’ve found work best for me. There are countless other tools out there that are just as wonderful and if you have anything you’d like to add to this list please share in the comments!
I’m linking to my favourite local art store where possible and I would encourage you to shop small and look for these products at your own favourite locally owned business.
Gouache is basically an opaque watercolour paint. I love working with it because it has a beautiful silky matte finish and it’s much more forgiving and easier to control than regular watercolour. Traditional gouache is water-soluble and you can re-wet it after it dries. So if you’re used to using watercolour and want to give gouache a try, a traditional water soluble gouache like Winsor & Newton would be a great way to dip your toe (or brush!) in. You can also use traditional gouache in combination with your existing watercolour paints which is handy, especially if you just want to start by incorporating a few colours here and there.
When I first started using gouache I was more comfortable with acrylic paint which remains solid once dry, allowing for layering without affecting the paint underneath, so I opted for acrylic gouache which has those same features. If you go this route, I’d recommend getting a Stay-Wet Palette as well. They’ll help prevent your paint from drying out in-between uses. I'll talk more about them below. Whichever your preference, I definitely recommending giving gouache a try. It may take a bit but once you get the hang of it I know you will love it!
For those who've been wondering how to pronounce this funny looking word, I've heard it said a few different ways, but the way I learned and have always known it to be is "Gwash", as in the word "wash" with a G sound in front.
Liquitex Acrylic Gouache
Winsor & Newton Designers Gouache (Water soluble)
I don’t use a ton of watercolour but I do have a few go-to favourites which I’ll share here. As with most paint, watercolour is available in both student and artist quality. The difference being the amount of extra “filler” to pigment ratio. The pigment being the expensive part . Student quality paint has a much higher amount of filler which makes it less expensive. It also means that the colours are less vibrant both on their own and even more so when mixed, so the end result is often not great. Many beginners give up after their first few attempts, mistakenly thinking that they just aren’t good at painting, when in fact it’s the low quality paint that is making things difficult. So, If you can, I would always recommend investing in artist quality paint when possible.
If you want to save some money with student quality paints there are a few things you can do. Winsor & Newton’s Cotman watercolours are a higher end student quality paint that is a great option. You can also mix things up by purchasing your whites, browns and other neutrals in student quality and splurge when you can on the more expensive bright colours which have a much higher pigment load and will go a lot further in use as well as more vibrant mixing.
Winsor & Newton Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Daniel Smith (Artist Quality) - Offers a huge variety of really interesting colours unique to this brand.
Holbein Watercolour (Artist Quality)
Cotman Watercolour (Student Quality)
While I’m pretty particular about paint, I’m not nearly as particular about brushes. Even old splayed brushes have their uses in creating beautiful texture. For Gouache I prefer using inexpensive mixed media brushes like Robert Simmons or synthetic watercolour brushes like W&N Cotman brushes because I find the gouache tends to be a bit harder on the brush and the sturdy synthetic fibre holds up better, I also don’t feel as bad about replacing them more often. For watercolour I’d recommend using a natural bristle brush because all of the little micro imperfections in the fibre allow the brush to hold much more water and release it slowly over time, meaning you’ll have better control without the constant re-dipping. The natural curve of the fibre also makes a point that’s perfect for fine details, even with a large brush.
Cotman Watercolour Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour)
Simply Simmons Mixed Media Brushes (Gouache)
H.J 170 Kolinsky Sable Brushes (Gouache or Watercolour) - Fine detailing
W&N Professional Watercolour Sable Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour)
Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Watercolour Brushes (Artist Quality, Watercolour) - A major splurge but these brushes have been known to last a lifetime and beyond. They are the best of the best.
While the hot commodity in pencils these days is Blackwing, I’m not totally sold. They look great, but in my humble opinion they are basically just a regular 6B pencil in a nice outfit. I prefer my old Staedtler Pencils for sketching. That being said, I do like to throw a Blackwing into my photo’s every now and then for the pretty factor. I hope you have yourself a little laugh whenever you spot one in my photos from now on!
Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencils
Staedtler Mars Micro Mechanical pencils
I also love using a dip pen for hand lettering. I have this set from Speedball
Speedball Sketching Project Set
Palettes and Accessories
Remember a bit ago when I said I love Acrylic gouache? The biggest complaint I hear from people against using it is that it dries too fast and therefore is a waste of paint. To that I say…Nonsense! You need a Stay-Wet Palette. I was first introduced to Say-Wet palettes when I used to take art lessons after school as a child. They would keep my precious acrylic paints dry all week long until my next lesson and I’ve been using them ever since. If you’re looking for something a little prettier, and dare I say Instagram worthy, then a beautiful ceramic plate is always great or if you want to splurge, Sugarhouse Ceramic Co. makes some very beautiful ceramic palettes and other studio supplies like painter’s pots and brush rests.
Masterson’s Sta-Wet Palette
Sugarhouse Ceramics Co
Paper and Sketchbooks
When choosing a paper for illustration I’m always thinking about what is going to scan well. I look for smooth bright white paper that is thick enough to hold up to wet media and isn’t too absorbent, which causes the paint to bleed into the fibres rather than sit nicely on top of the paper. Arches Hot press is beautiful to work with but I also really like using Strathmore Mixed media pads or Canson XL Watercolour Pads because they’re a bit more economical for the way that I work. For sketchbooks I love using Moleskin as well as Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals which are very similar but have thicker paper and are slightly less expensive than Moleskin.
Arches Hot Pressed Watercolour Paper
Strathmore 300 Series Mixed Media Pad
Canson XL watercolour pad
Global Art Hand Book Artist Journals
You made it to the end! Thank you for hanging in there. That is my list so far but it's just the tip of the Iceberg! In future posts I’ll be sharing more of my artsy favourites like all of my favourite digital supplies, books and online courses.
And be sure to comment below with you’re favourite supplies!
I'm so excited to share some new holiday cards I designed for Lagom Design that are now available over on their website. The more cards I design the more I fall in love with it. A well made card is like holding a tiny treasure. It's a keepsake and these ones are particularly close to my heart. I love Christmas! They are beautifully printed on quality card stock with blind embossing and gold foil detail to make them extra special. I hope you and yours enjoy them as much as I do!
You can also check out my designer interview, The Magic of Small Things here on the Lagom blog.
All the best,
I’m so excited to share with you a sneak peak into my creative workflow. I’ll be sharing everything from how I come up with ideas to planning, sketching and creating a finished piece. Starting is the hardest part for me, but when I break my process down into steps it really helps to remove the overwhelm, and lets me get to the fun part, painting!
Firstly, I should say that this is the method that I’ve found works best for me. There are infinite ways to create artwork and this is only one. I work mainly with traditional media in an illustrative style so that’s what this process is geared towards. If you prefer to paint intuitively or work purely digitally then some of these methods might not be a perfect fit but you can always adjust them to suit your unique process. Take what works for you and leave the rest! So with that said let’s get to the nerdy good stuff…
Research involves, gathering ideas and inspiration. Taking inspiration from your daily life is an easy place to start. You never know when a great idea will pop into your head so be ready to write it down so you can reference it later. A little notebook works great for this but my favourite tool is the Notes app on my phone. I keep a running list of anything and everything. These don’t have to be flushed out ideas, just a word or two, and not everything will pan out but you might be surprised by what does make it into a finished piece!
Creating a mood board of colour and reference images can also help you create a beautiful finished product. You can create a physical inspiration board with magazine clippings, colour chips and and other objects or you can create a virtual board using Pinterest. Reference things like home decor, photography, vintage patterns or anything else that you find interesting, but try not to include artwork in a similar vein as your own. You want to come up with your own, original work and not be overly inspired by someone else's.
Planning ahead will help remove the overwhelm when starting a new piece of art. Once I’ve done my research and I know what my subject matter is, I like to spend a little bit of time experimenting in my sketchbook to get warmed up. You can play with sketching or painting some individual elements or jot down a few quick layout ideas that you have floating around in your head. Look for interesting shapes and details that you might want to feature or embellish later. Don’t think too hard just play and discover. No one is going to see this so just try anything and everything you can think of.
Next I usually move on to figuring out a basic layout by drawing some simple thumbnail sketches. I find it easier to do this ahead of time partially out of personal preference but also because, depending on what I’m working on I may have to send sketches to a client for approval before moving forward. They don’t have to be complicated, these are just rough layout suggestions to act as a guide or jumping off point. These are meant to be quick and rough so take the preciousness out of it by giving yourself a time limit of 4 thumbnails in 20 minutes. Make it 10 minutes if you’re up for a challenge! If you’re comfortable painting loosely, without a lot of structure then you can choose your favourite thumbnail and move on to paint from here but if you’re like me you might want to refine your chosen thumbnails into a slightly more flushed out sketch. Either method is just fine so do what feels best for you.
You can also plan out your colours in advance which is what I do. Check out my Free Guide to Creating Stand Out Colour Palettes, to learn all about how I choose my colours.
Now for the really fun part…
Of course you can tackle this step any way you’d like and if you have a way that works for you then go for it! There is no right or wrong way to create your final image, be it paint, collage, digital, etc., but here’s what I do because it works for me…
I like to build up my artwork in layers. This allows me to see and adjust the entire piece as I go and that helps with getting a well balanced look to the final artwork. I start by either lightly sketching or using a light table and then blocking in the basic shapes of my composition first. The idea is not to focus on just one area at a time and make it perfect, but to instead focus on the overall shapes you are creating and build up the detail evenly around the piece. Think of it in terms of writing an essay, you need to create your outline first and then refine and refine from there in order to end up with a cohesive finished product.
Side note - If I’m creating something that I know is going to end up as a digital file for licensing then I will usually break my composition up into icons so that it’s easier to edit and assemble on the computer, however I’ll still use this method of working in layers within each icon. Again, not necessary, just what works for me.
Finally, take your time. Give yourself a break. If you find yourself struggling, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and come back with fresh eyes, and if after that you still feel the need to stop and and start again, that’s okay too. What might look effortless on Pinterest or Instagram probably had a lot of hard work and a good dose of frustration put into it. It’s totally normal and all part of the process.
Thank you so much for following along! I hope that you’re able to implement some of these strategies into your own workflow and I’d love to see what you create! Feel free to leave a comment below, tag me on Instagram or send me a message letting me know what you want to learn about next!
Want to stay up to date on upcoming posts? Sign up for my newsletter here!
You can also check out my full range of greeting cards with Lagom Design here.
Find me on Instagram: