Friday, May 12, 2017

Zen Animals

This painting is dedicated to a dear friend who tasked me with drawing "a baby hippo topped with a baby goat topped with a baby turtle"–something he just pulled out of his random and creative mind in order to nudge me back into art during my creative drought. I didn't complete the task until several months (possibly a year?) later in the form of a very amateurish digital painting that I'm too embarrassed to post. This is a remake of that painting.

Speaking of zen... Once upon a time, I worked on a short documentary film on zen buddhism that I'm still quite fond of despite its flaws and my terrible animation. It contains a few thought gems worthy of contemplation thanks to Alan Watts as well as the wonderful people at the Berkeley Zen Center. If you're feeling reflective, take an 8-minute walk in our zen garden (the volume may need to be turned way up; our sound levels weren't great):

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Friday, April 21, 2017


These penguins are dedicated to my favorite one-year-old M (friends' baby), who took a particular liking to the book about the penguin ("企鵝!") in a set of animal board books. That's my fake Chinese calligraphy in the top left.

Upon setting out to draw these penguins, it occurred to me that... I didn't actually know what penguins looked like. If asked to draw a penguin, I would draw something like this:

Ceci n'est pas un manchot.

That had been my concept of penguins since childhood when we had dome-topped sippy cups from Taiwan disguised as penguins--one, pink, and the other, baby blue. A short, squat, upside-down U with no neck, wide-set eyes, and a wide, ducky mouth. I've been drawing penguins like this all my life. Just last week, I drew a bunch of penguins for M, and they aallll looked like this.

It wasn't until I googled "penguins" that I made the earth-shattering discovery that PENGUINS LOOK NOTHING LIKE THIS. I'd been brainwashed by cute Asian merchandise into thinking penguins were dumpy creatures! What had I been drawing all my life??? ... Fine, things weren't quite so dramatic, but I did register the thought that the penguin-shape that I'd been drawing resembles a penguin as much as a heart-shape resembles a biological heart. So I decided to reinvent my penguin-drawing self.

I thought I'd try out something more Quentin Blake or Jean-Jacques Sempé-esque. I've been practicing gesture drawings this week in order to loosen up and add life to my characters, which tend to be stiff and Sanrio-esque. So I started with a gaggle of gesture drawings:

I wanted to caricaturize the flop-over neck of emperor penguins tending to their young, the thin pointy beak, and the long sleek body. The resulting representation of a penguin:

Ceci n'est pas un manchot.

Now instead of a ducky face, he has the face of a narwhal.

In any case, it was fun to explore new ways of representing something in the world instead of just sticking to old habits and conventions.

Ducky-face penguin is still really cute. I'll still use him when dumpy-cute is called for. Also, if you ever need a penguin, you must check out Oliver Jeffers' no-nonsense guide on how to draw a penguin. ;)

Comments or feedback? Send me a note here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Landscape: Sangti River

Digital landscape painting referencing Sangti River from Google Maps.

I pretty much used one brush the majority of the painting. I was trying to go for Nathan Fowke's level of simplicity in his landscape studies--almost abstract--but I often found myself getting caught up in the details and trying to render trees, rocks, ripples, and people. That is something I will need to continue to practice--simplifying my strokes so that I capture the general impression of things and being sure not to lose the clarity of the composition as a whole.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

First Complete Painting

This is the most complete digital painting I've done thus far. I must admit, I really surprised myself with this one. It's perhaps the best work I've done! There's still something amateurish about it that I can't quite place. A bit overworked in some areas and a bit underworked in others maybe. Or maybe too muddied in the background? Constructive criticism is welcome if you have any thoughts.

I didn't initially set out to paint this. I had started out trying to do a character study for an existing red panda design, but I fell back into old perfectionistic ways and ended up with one seriously crappy-looking red panda. And I mean like Jesus-fresco-restoration-fail crappy. I backed away from my workstation before my overdramatic brain could question what I was doing with my life.

I didn't want to end the day feeling like a failure though; it was important for me to leave feeling at least a smidge hopeful. So after a refreshing walk, I decided to switch approaches and try painting from photo reference (of this adorable Mohini from the Auckland Zoo!). This approach was thankfully much more successful. 

I later revisited the character study that I had initially failed at, this time with a renewed sense of freedom, similar to what I experienced in making the hippo. I will post it another day. :)

Comments or feedback? Send me a note here.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Hippo and Breakthrough

I had a breakthrough yesterday that resulted in this little guy!

First, a confession: For years, I've hated drawing and painting. Seriously hated it. I guess it's evident in how meager this art blog is. I've dreaded picking up a pencil/stylus, putting marks on paper/screen, and feeling like a failure every step of the way. All the images posted on this blog until now were the product of many miserable hours filled with frustration and helplessness, hating every mark I made and dreading the next.

Painting this hippo, however, was unusually painless. I wasn't paralyzed by perfectionism at any point. I might even say I enjoyed the process. (Rocking out to Hamilton may also have helped.)

The breakthrough didn't just happen out of the blue. It was the result of months of deliberately crafting a creative process that would liberate me from the perfectionism that has plagued all of my artistic endeavors. I studied and experimented with the processes of other artists, noted what was freezing me up, and then figured out ways to trick my brain into bypassing its hang ups.

I also spent an obsessive amount of time hunting down, testing, and creating Photoshop brushes that simulated traditional media (the original brush sets are too obviously digital and uninspiring to me). I studied the elegant brushstrokes of Nathan Fowkes' beautiful gouache landscape paintings and then designed brush shapes and tweaked parameters until they laid down color just the way I wanted them to.

When I eventually sat down and doodled a hippo silhouette, I actually didn't mind doodling another, and another, and another. Usually after drawing one single character, a heaviness settles in me, and I feel I cannot pick up the pencil to draw ever again. Either I hate what I've drawn, and I don't want to draw another ugly thing, or I'm pleasantly surprised by what I've drawn, and I swear I won't be able to draw anything as good ever again; that's it... that drawing, right there, is the peak of my illustration career.

But this time, doodling hippo shapes was a form of play: "Let's see how else I can pose him!" "What if I made his legs smaller?" "Haha, he looks so funny!"... The silhouettes began to grow features and shading and colors. Shadows grounded him, and grass sprung up around him.

Essentially, taking the time to truly own my craft and artistic medium finally opened the doors to this spirit of play and experimentation and enjoyment of process that eluded me for so long. I no longer see painting as a rigid, unforgiving trap waiting to cage me into feeling like a failure.

Yes, it took me 15+ years to get here. Don't judge me!  :]

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Still Alive

Oh yeah... this thing that I have on the web. What do they call it? A "blog"?

I've decided to start posting again. Since 2014, I've felt my soul wither, lost all sense of meaning, struggled with health issues, had multiple existential crises, and started experiencing panic attacks. It's been a bit rough, but I'm on the mend.

The past couple years have been a period of latency–not really producing anything but reorganizing my brain, figuring things out, and healing. I finally feel like I'm at a place where I can be productive again.

I'm still alive; it's time to create stuff.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Eternally Loved

Wrap-around art! The story of a stuffed rabbit who gets passed on from generation to generation.