The Wonders of Technology, Part I

I love technology and I love using it in my art. My current work usually begins with a digital photograph or two and then correcting and tweaking in Photoshop before it gets put on paper. I use my Photoshopped reference as a guide while I do the actual drawing. The finished product is a blend of reality, photograph and my own art filters.

There still seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to using tech to make fine art. When you don’t paint or draw from life; if you use a photo, certain people devalue the finished product. I have had one fine art photographer get very defensive about using technology without even being asked. He told me “People ask me ‘How do you get such bright colors, is that Photoshopped?’ I say it’s none of your business!”

Yikes. That told me not only is he using Photoshop (It was pretty obvious anyway) but he doesn’t want to admit it to customers. It’s seen as somehow you cheated or worked less on the art piece.

I think people should be proud of using Photoshop. After all, it is a valuable learned skill, and not everyone can use the program effectively. I still fell as though I have more to learn than I know and I use the program every day at my day job.

I’ve been working on my latest piece “A Love Story” for about a month. Photoshop just really saved me some heartache on it, and here is how.

This drawing began with two reference photos. A toad in a glass of water and a rose in an empty beer bottle. I couldn’t leave a toad in a glass of water for the 20-30 hours this piece took to finish so I photographed it. Poorly, I think. He’s partly out of focus. I adjusted the toad’s head size to be larger and elongated the glass in Photoshop for a better composition. Because I don’t know if soaking in beer is good for amphibians who absorb things through their skin, I went in and added a yellow tint to the liquid to beer-ify it instead of plunking a toad into a beer. The photo itself was very lopsided and needed more to be any kind of art. Years later, I used a dummy glass and set up a beer bottle still life so I would know where best to merge the two photos. I put them together and adjusted the composition. Thanks, Photoshop.

Jump to me being almost finished with the drawing. I  had worked on this a couple hours a night every other day or so for a month. I had applied several layers to the background and was not satisfied with the color or the effect it was having. I had this:


It didn’t feel right, but the layers of background were getting so thick I couldn’t make another color “mistake” without having to erase the entire background – a daunting task on a 13×19″ drawing. The tooth of the paper; the part that will take pigment from colored pencil was 90% full. So I took the above photo on my iPhone and brought it into Photoshop to play around. I came up with this:


I darkened the background and ground. I wrote myself some notes to add red to the leaves, make the toad’s footpads a little lighter and work on the beer bottle. I went back to work on the drawing. It was tough to add another layer to the saturated background but I did it with the help of an old t-shirt and my finger to blend the new layer. It actually earned me a blister on my pointer finger.

The “finished” product:


It really is a subtle difference, but if I had done this next layer in a color that didn’t work it would have easily added another 4 hours to this piece, and one wrong erasure could mean death for the rose or bottle.

Here is a before and after. Proof that a little can go a long way:


Finishing touches include the bottle label, adding some orange to the rose and darkening the background inside the beer glass. Phew! The smoothness of the Photoshop mockup was lost long ago when I pressed too hard on the background and bottom of the drawing. Next time I’ll go a little easier on the paper now that I know my newest drawing board is a little soft.

I see a couple things I don’t like now. Seeing it smaller on the computer amplifies things I might not see in real life. The middle bottle reflection has to go. There is a distracting unevenness in the ground near the flower petal. The right side of the glass could be less lumpy. The rightmost highlight on the glass needs a little evening up where the “beer” is.

Thanks, Photoshop. It will never be “perfect,” but I let go of perfection a long time ago. The role of technology in my work isn’t to make something exactly like a photograph, but something better than a photograph.

Here is how this one began; an idea poorly captured in my living room before releasing this model back into the wild. I think I made this drawing better than the photo, and I hope you do too.


Still Life with Apple Jar

I had this idea a couple years ago – to have a snake inside an apple-shaped jar in a still life. The connection between snake and apple has been made for hundreds of years now, never mind that the Bible makes no mention of apples specifically. It’s funny how our culture latches on to things – true or not – and they become a kind of truth.

I had this idea and procured the apple shaped jar from Etsy. It’s a nice jar. This jar sat on our piano for nearly two years. We put rocks in it. The snake I was going to put inside of it grew too large to fit. Finally, with a month left before the 21st Annual CPSA International Show stops accepting entries, I began planning the drawing once and for all.

Snake, apple, jar and flowers all posed and viola~ “Still Life With Apple Jar”.


Hopefully it makes it into this year’s CPSA show. If it does or does not, I am happy with the direction of my artwork lately. I can look around my house and see a complete body of work that all relates to one another. It’s great. My next piece is very similar to this one, and then when I am finished with that, it will be spring.

My spring plans are to catch a frog or two. My work is missing frogs. They’re faster than toads and won’t sit for photos as well, but maybe somewhere out there, there’s a crown shaped jar?

I’ve finally been published!

Well, it’s been a while, and I feel badly about that. Last year author Gianna Rosewood contacted me about “The Wrong One” and whether she could use the drawing on her book as the cover image.

I was totally flattered and sad that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want “The Wrong One” as an art piece to be turned into a book cover. That didn’t seem fair to the people who had bought it as a fine art print. So what I did is re-draw the image with slightly different specifications for the book. It turned out great! And now I have been published, though not in words quite yet.

Here is where you can order a copy. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t read it yet. I’m embarrassed – I want to read it, but time is always an issue. I also already have my “prince” – or more accurately the Mr. Frog to my Mrs. Frog. So, I pledge to read it in the next month and report back. Maybe my prince is still out there? Heh! At least putting this challenge to myself on the blog will help me get my butt in reading gear.

The original VS the book cover. You can see there are differences, but of course they are very similar. Two poor toads who weren’t the “Right One.” If kissing these guys grosses you out, save yourself some heartache and warts and read Gianna’s book!!



Winter Break

After a winter of writing and re-learning how to knit, I am back to drawing. My interests wax and wane, and definitely turn to other things in the fall and winter. It takes about a week after Christmas for me to be truly sick of winter, and so now I’m working on something springy.

A painted turtle with a toad on top of him with a butterfly on him. First it was just a toad on a turtle, but I added a butterfly halfway through. Here it was a week ago:

toitlThe background was lacking. In the reference photo, the pond behind the creatures is gross green. I tried to add some brighter colors but it still looked blech.

This is why I love Stonehenge paper. It takes abuse well. I tried adding some grass to the foreground and didn’t like that, either. So a couple erasers later I had this:


Doesn’t look too much different, except you can see the original top of the drawing better. I erased into the butterfly, toad and turtle so that the end result would blend better.

This is where Photoshop is invaluable. I first tried to colorize the background to see what I liked better. Some more reds helped, but I messed with the background so much it looked pretty messy. Finally I decided it needed to look more like water. A section of photo behind the animals gave me a much better idea of what I wanted to do. So here it is today:



And soon it will be finished. Thanks to Stonehenge for being so flexible and for Luminance pencils for being willing to cover most anything.

In charge of my own (printing) destiny!

I was fortunate enough to make a little money selling some of my photographs at my day job. My rule is that when I make extra cash selling art I have to put a chunk of it into something artistic, especially when it comes to photography. There are always great upgrades to lenses, and as photography is mainly a hobby for me I can’t justify spending money on expensive equipment all the time.

This time I immediately thought PRINTER! I have access to great printers at work, but it isn’t always practical or affordable to make a lot of prints at work on the large format printers. I have been lucky this year with good Etsy print sales so far this year and it is great to be able to print on demand and be in full control of my own art prints. Now I’ll have that capability 24/7.

I chose an Epson because I am familiar with them and their papers and ICC profiles. This printer’s inks are rated to last 200 years; more if the print is kept in darkness. Coupled with acid free papers, you get a great quality print that will last.

An original and a print on top of the r2000


This photo shows a print on fine art paper next to the original colored pencil drawing. Besides seeing the actual texture of pencil on paper they are very similar. It’s exciting to see them come slowly to life out of this beast.


To celebrate, I am offering 10% off everything in My Etsy Shop for a limited time. So come get your prints! The code is LARGEMARGE because that is the printer’s name, of course. We can’t wait to print something for you!