Last week, I got a bug in my ear to play with something new.
Rather than start by creating a wild acrylic background for my cartoon paintings, like I did here, why not begin with simple, clean ink lines? Why not let those lines shine through?
This thought was A) revolutionary (remember: I’m new to drawing and painting, so every other dang thing is revolutionary), and B) somewhat terrifying.
When I paint things like the Bossy Little Corgi, the paint changes everything.
I start with a drawing, sure, but end up with a painting that looks remarkably different. (And often it’s much, much cuter than the original drawing. Who’da thunk?)
But I decided to follow that little whisper in my ear, so I cracked out my art supplies and dug in.
A Wee Note on Art Supplies
After painting my last Bossy Little Corgi on paper taped to a chunk of scrap lumber (note: not recommended), I thought that this new painting might be painted on something a tiny bit more practical.
I followed the advice of my friend and reader, Debbie Goode (who is also a rip-snorting animal artist), and bought some acrylic paper.
For those uninitiated into the mysteries of acrylic paper, know this: it’s thick paper with a texturized surface that simulates the weave of canvas.
Precisely because it is paper and is not canvas, it is not intimidating. Hallelujah!
Mechanical pencil in hand, I put lead to faux canvas and doodled me a kitty.
You see, I learned something recently.
I learned that there is such a thing as composition, and it can be achieved, in a simple way, by dividing your paper into nine same-sized rectangles, and then placing the focal point of your painting where four corners of those rectangles meet.
For this painting, I want all eyes to be glued to my kitty’s face.
So, I drew *ahem* rectangles (if you will allow that rectangles, in some dimensions, actually could be made of curves and wobbles) and placed my kitty face just so.
Cats, by their nature, are born refined. They can gallop through the house, clutching a live bat in their jaws, their cat eyes wild and spinning, but they will still look dignified.
(Note: This recently happened. My husband rescued the bat and brought it outside unharmed. It flew off into the night. Shnoodle was high on adrenaline for the next several hours. But her high was very, very refined.)
Cartoon kitties, unlike their living counterparts, are born without refinement and must attend finishing school.
Which is where my greatest superpower comes in:
The Power to Erase!
Let me introduce you to one of my dearest friends:
I am truly in love with erasers, a love made illicit by the Art Harpies of the world, who condemn all eraser-users to the fiery pits.
But I am not merely an eraser-user; I am an eraser-lover. In fact, I am in love with three erasers at the moment:
- Faber-Castell’s Dust-Free Vinyl Eraser, my sweetheart steady
- Prismacolor Magic Rub: we’ve only just met, but oh, there is so much promise
- Tombow Mono Zero, the love-child of a white eraser and a mechanical pencil
Though I wouldn’t be caught on a desert island without my Faber-Castell, the Tombow is my pride and joy.
Honestly, it’s not the best eraser in town when it comes to plain old erasing.
But the Tombow is a precision eraser. Its surface area is small, which means that I can erase fine lines, I can slim down lines that have grown too stout, and I can edge my way into tiny cracks in a drawing, erasing just so.
Which is what I did to the sweet kitty’s face:
One remarkable thing about this acrylic paper is that pencil marks erase off of it beautifully. As long as the page has not been gouged by the lead, the lines lift clean away. Again: Hallelujah!
A Shnoodly Intermission
Around about this time, Shnoodle leapt onto my art table, scattering paint bottles in her wake.
I would like you to believe that I handled this visitation with calm and aplomb, but that is not true. As Shnoodle traipsed across my artwork, I squeaked in alarm, flapped my arms, and sputtered ineffectively.
Finally I gave in and snapped a few pictures.
At least her paws were not muddy. Thank goodness. Because I really couldn’t have stopped her.
The Drawing Progresses
I knew from the beginning that this painting-to-be would have some words on it. I just didn’t know what those words would be.
After Shnoodle zoomed through my art zone, I used animal communication to ask her what this kitty should say.
“What do you love?” I asked.
I love me. (pause) And you.
So, the words “I Love –> (You)” came to be.
But wait — why does it say “Oh Hi”? Because of my…
Sideways Jaunt through Oh Hi Land
I knew where I was going. But a detour was in order.
So I started by lettering the first thing that came to my mind: “Oh Hi!”
When I was a kid, we had many cats. Three, in particular, were vicious and goofy, a gang of comic kitty thugs.
We called them the “Oh Hi’s” for no apparent reason. Each time we saw them, we’d chant “Oh Hi!” in falsetto voice.
After doodling a trip down memory lane (“Oh Hi, Memory Lane!”) I busted out my trusted eraser.
It’s true what they say: All that remains in the end is love.
In Which I Break Up with an Art Supply. Temporarily.
At this point, I became vaguely dissatisfied with the acrylic paper. (Sorry, Debbie!) Sure, the paper had handled pencil well, but could it handle ink? My vision for this painting involved inking over my pencil lines, a prospect which filled me with fear. (Ink? Ink? I can’t erase ink!)
So I tried playing with ink pens on other pieces of acrylic paper, just to experiment without risk.
And I’m glad I did.
The pen nibs — good ones: Faber-Castell Pitt pens — skipped and bumped over the faux canvas surface. The lines joggled. I couldn’t get a smooth curve worth a darn.
Here are some of my attempts. You will notice that much tracing has occurred…
… and more tracing would soon occur, when I decided that what this painting really needed — what this painting had really needed all along, from the moment I conceived its idea as an inked-and-painted cartoon — was a smooth substrate, nearly texture-free.
Goodbye, acrylic paper. Hello, hotpress watercolor!
I traced the image onto tracing paper using black pen so that I would have a dark line to trace over (again).
I then re-traced the image (in pencil) onto hotpress watercolor paper.
And then it was time for ink.
After a few moments of silence, I coached myself. “Remember to breathe,” I said, uncapping my pen. I set nib to page, drew a deep breath, and then drew a kitty.
Despite all my worry, all turned out well.
Where will this painting go next?
The painting is definitely going color-ward. I plan to seal the paper and then add transparent paint. I want the ink lines to shine through at the end.
Despite my temporary break-up with acrylic paper, I am truly jazzed about its potential. So I plan to paint the pencil-on-acrylic paper version as well — and I’m really curious to see the difference.
And — here’s something exciting! — I also plan to laser-print this cartoon directly onto hot-press watercolor paper so that I have an emergency backup image, ready in case my painting self-destructs!
Look for many paintings of this kitty in the future.
Now for the question that’s burning on your mind:
Why so dang many convoluted steps?
Why have I gone through so many complicated steps when it could have been way, way easier?
I’ve asked myself the same thing. Luckily, I’ve come up with an answer.
This painting-in-progress has gone through so many convoluted steps because A) I don’t know what I’m doing yet, and B) this project my teacher. It has presented me with one furry Zen puzzle after the other, urging me to learn.
And I have learned a few things. One thing I learned — or perhaps I knew all along — is that my artistic skills will grow in the service of my vision, so I want to keep my vision focused on that which I love.
Which just happens to be cartoon kitties. And corgis. And great big golden retrievers.
I also learned that ink doesn’t work well over acrylic paper. However, there’s a little bug in my ear that says that I could learn how to simulate ink with a slender brush and thinned-down acrylics… Perhaps I’ll post on that soon.
As far as inking goes, I was pretty terrified to use an indelible pen. (No erasers!) But I learned to moderate the risk by duplicating my image. I learned to gain skill through experimentation, and to breathe as the pen touches the page.
I also learned how to manage a cat leaping onto my art table: freak out, and then grab a camera.
Shnoodle, as wise as she is, had little to say on the inking process. Which is as it should be. Let’s keep those busy paws ink-free for now.