Five Favorite Books 1-1 The Harper Hall Trilogy

      Comments Off on Five Favorite Books 1-1 The Harper Hall Trilogy

Anne McCaffery's Harper Hall Books by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationWhen I was in Sixth Grade, we moved to Huntsville, Alabama and I was introduced to the public library. I’ve been to a lot of libraries since then, but somehow none of them even compare. the Library was three stories with massive sections of reference books, fiction, non-fiction, a youth area with books and novels and lots of space to spread out and read. That library was not close to my house, but I was an eleven-year-old kid in the ’80s with a bike and a sense of adventure. I could go anywhere. And did.

I was that kid who would rather sit out in gym and read than play basketball, earning myself a “D” in a class that’s thought of as an easy “A”. This isn’t to say that I didn’t do physical things, or that I wasn’t active. I wanted to act  out the adventures in my head, and just couldn’t do that by playing games in gym. I was that kid who, when all the other kids were talking about the cool toys they got for Christmas, would tell them that I got a pile of new books. To which, my classmates would give me pitying looks. I didn’t care though, because books were what I wanted, and what I’d asked for. I would read pretty much anything, but I loved books about adventure, wizards, and dragons.

I’ve loved the library my whole life, but never really learned to use card catalogue. Luckily, my mom would let me browse however long I wanted, and would let me pick up any book that captured my interest. This is how I was introduced to Brian Froud and Alan Lee, through their Fairies book. Which terrified me. (Look up Alan Lee Pookah to see the face of that fear.) I found books on leatherworking, and music, on puppet plays and foreign languages. I also found where they kept the fantasy books that would fuel my imagination through middle and high school.

Books with the word Dragon in the title were always worth at least picking up for me. Dragons of Winter Twilight by Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman with the awesome blue dragon and armored warrior on the cover. Piers Anthony’s Dragon on a Pedestal with Princess Ivy and Stanly Steamer on the cover. A book by Anne McCaffery with a girl by the sea with miniature dragons flying all around her called Dragon Song.  Finding books this way would often drop me in the middle of a series, but when they were good, they were good in spite of having no context.

Dragon Song was a book about a girl named Menolly, who loved music. No, not just loved music, she lived music. It’s a story about how that part of her life was taken from her, by an accident and by the expectations of her time and place. Just when she is feeling the loss the most, something amazing happens that changes her life and sets her on a path to find herself again. It had me at “hello”.

redherringjeff on patreonThis month, to celebrate reaching my first Patreon goal, I’m writing five book reviews of books that have stayed with me and helped shape who I am today. I plan on breaking up the reviews into (more or less) five parts.

 

  • An introduction with where I was when I first read the book.
  • What you need to know about the setting and characters.
  • Book review part one, the main story line.
  • Book review part two, the “B” story line.
  • There’s always a conclusion, isn’t there?

This week’s review is about Dragon Song and Dragon Singer, the first two books of the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffery. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you!

INKtober Day Fifteen – Ten-Thousand Hours

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Fifteen – Ten-Thousand Hours

inktober15_web“They” Say it takes ten-thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery of something. Ten. Thousand. Hours. It’s kind of mind boggling. By that metric, if you were to set aside ten hours a week to draw, you’d log five-hundred twenty hours a year. Every two years, would be one-thousand forty hours. At that rate, it would take you twenty years to achieve mastery. Just in time to retire.

What “they” don’t tell you though, is that it doesn’t all have to be done all at once. Nor does it have to be done in a special “drawing time” that you’ve set aside. Every doodle you make during a class, meeting, or phone call counts. Every map you draw when giving directions, counts. Every smiley face in a fogged bathroom mirror, every Pictionary game, every unicorn hastily scribbled on a restaurant napkin for your bored six-year-old daughter…it counts.

Not only do those things count, but “they” also don’t tell you that you’ve already started logging those hours. Every macaroni portrait and torn paper rainbow you made in the first grade counted. Every junior high science fair project that required diagrams counted. Every piece of artwork you’ve ever made, counts towards that total.

The other thing “they” don’t tell you is that it doesn’t really end at ten-thousand. That’s really just the beginning. It’s not insurmountable though, because you’re already on your way and building up steam. Before you know it, you’ll be doing ten-thousand every two years, because that’s your life and you love it.

Now get out there and draw or make or cook or play something!

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Fourteen – A Sketch Book Exercise

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Fourteen – A Sketch Book Exercise

inktober day fourteen by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationPull out a piece of paper and do a drawing of someone sitting and reading out of your head. What details did you add? Are they in a setting, or just floating in space? “I wouldn’t have put this detail in here if I was drawing this out of my head”, is one of the things that I think about while working on these drawings from life this month.

I’m in the Saint Charles Community College catalog this spring, teaching three classes: Beginning/Intermediate Drawing, Beginning/Intermediate Watercolor, and Sketchbook Fundamentals. Basically, it’s an intro to different types of working sketchbooks, and sketch journaling. As I work on my own projects and sketches, I often think about strategies I wish I’d learned and practiced as a student. I also think about exercises and assignments that can help push a class towards learning to practice those strategies.

A Sketchbook Exercise

  •  Draw a real object or scene from your imagination. For some reason, I always think about a pumpkin when considering the subject for this exercise. It’s pretty easy, and readily recognizable by most people.
  • Find a photo of a pumpkin and draw it again from reference.
  • If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can try drawing it from several different angles using only the one bit of reference.
  • Find a real pumpkin and draw it from several different angles, from life.
  • Draw it one more time from memory. How does it compare to the original one you drew from imagination?

Each drawing should be different, but how are they different? Our skills and visual vocabularies are built up like legos. When we first begin to draw something, it’s like building with Duplo blocks. Kind of big and clunky, all the parts are there, but there isn’t any fine detail or individuality. Ultimately, it’s kind of a symbol of the real thing. As we learn about what’s really there, and what makes each individual unique, our skill improves and we start building with regular, and then technic legos. Each step adds more detail, and makes the experience richer for both the builder and the viewer.

Life drawing is an important component of sketchbook practice, but it isn’t without it’s special challenges. I did today’s drawing at the library while the kid’s read and played in the children’s area. Right after we got there, mom came in with her little boy and sat down to read while he played, so I started drawing her. If you’re drawing a cute, single mom at the library and you’re six-year-old drawing is close by, there’s a better than average chance that she’s going to ask loudly if that’s what you’re doing. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing getting noticed drawing someone, or getting called out doing it. Hahahaha!

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Thirteen – Kids Don’t Know How Good They Have It

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Thirteen – Kids Don’t Know How Good They Have It

Inktober day 13 by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationI remember having a pretty huge collection of magazines when I was a kid. Not that kind of magazine, I’m talking about stacks of National Geographics, HOW, Modelers Resource, Star Log, Wizard, and Artist’s Magazine. I’d spend hours reading articles, looking at tiny, grainy pictures trying to figure out how they did it, and being inspired. NOW though. Now, we live in an amazing world now, where ideas and experiences can be shared in a way that I never thought would be possible.

I went to the Saint Louis Small Press Expo this weekend, and was talking to a girl who makes ‘zines the old fashioned way still. On a photocopier at Kinko’s.  In a world of print on demand, that’s pretty cool, and it reminded me of the first time I did anything like a blog. In 2004, right after I’d moved to Saint Louis, I’d never heard of Live Journal, or blogger…I didn’t even know what a blog was. This was back when not everyone had the internet yet, AOL still existed, before Facebook, and even MYspace. I’d write a two page letter every Wednesday, then go up to Kinko’s and make photocopies of it along with that week’s sketchbook pages, and mail the whole package to four or five friends.

Often, if I’m going to practice something, it takes more than discipline. I tend to need a reason to practice. Friend’s make great accountability buddies, and writing letters was a way to keep in touch, stay focused, and build discipline.

Kid’s don’t know how good they have it. Today, I was able to hang out with a friend in Virginia on Periscope. We chatted while he worked on a watercolor sketch and I washed the dishes. There’s almost no way I would’ve even met him in 2004, much less formed any kind of friendship.

Then tonight, I chatted with another friend over messenger about a HUGE project idea. I’m half a state away, eating terrible fries in a diner and talking about ideas in real time. We’re able to share pictures, make lists, and look things up like we’re working in the same room. Pretty amazing.

Then, I’ll share all this with the world on Instagram, and Patreon. Kid’s really don’t know how good they have it. 🙂

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Twelve – What Do You Do With It?

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Twelve – What Do You Do With It?

inktober day twelve by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationSometimes, I think there must be a lot of people out there with nothing on the walls in their houses. Which seems weird to me, because I use framed artwork like some people use wallpaper. If there’s a blank spot, we need to find a picture to fill it with.

A large portion of my income is from Art and Craft shows. I’m what I call a gregarious introvert, while I definitely like to spend time by myself with my thoughts, I also really like to talk to people. So I love doing craft shows. Standing behind my table and talking about the things I love most in the world is one of my favorite things in the world. I get to see and talk to people about their interests, get real time feedback on my work, and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. My job is usually pretty awesome.

My booth is full of prints and original art. This is how I make my living. My artwork opens the door for all kinds of great conversations about children’s books, fan art, copyright, and demonstrations. There’s usually at least one question about custom commissions, and talk about demonstrations and class presentations. People love stories and sharing their mutual experiences. That’s awesome.

I was at a show recently though, where I was asked “What do you do with these?” more than once.

What…?

…Uuuuummm.”

I have a general discussion banter that I’ve developed over the years. Some of it is boiler plate comments about the work, or greetings as people come into the booth. I like talking to people and this gets the ball rolling. Questions like this though, throw a wrench in the smooth flow of my pitch. I’m so used to making and thinking about art that I don’t always think about what you DO with it. To me that’s a given. Art is part of the fabric of my life and I can’t imagine not looking at it every day. So, I don’t always realize that most of the art in our world is encountered in packaging and advertisements.

Most of us aren’t going to hang a cereal box, or even a book jacket or record cover for that matter.

Most of the art on our walls is school pictures.

Maybe it’s time to think more about what you would do with it.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Eleven – Staying Out of the Way

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Eleven – Staying Out of the Way

Inktober day eleven by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationI often have to remind myself that the dishes can wait a minute while I help my daughter draw a heart. I can wait to read that article, or write that blog post until I get the paints out for the girls to work on. I have to remind myself that sometimes my daily routine gets in the way of theirs. They don’t need me to do most things for them, but a little guidance or encouragement goes a long way.

Kids are naturally curious, and creative. They are people of action who ask questions, make messes, and start projects. Kids ask for help whether they need it or not, because they like to do things together. Also, because they’re not afraid to admit that they don’t know how to do things.

Adults on the other hand, are good at getting in the way. Usually, it’s because we know a way to do something, or because we don’t want to stop what we’re doing. Adults get tired of questions, whether they know the answer or not. Adults don’t like to clean up messes and they like projects that have an end. Adults don’t like to ask for help.

Adults…don’t like to admit that they don’t know how to do things.

Kids are good at learning things, and I try to be careful about what I teach them.

I need to learn to get out of the way of learning.

for the kids.

for me too.

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Ten – The Elves and the Shoemaker

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Ten – The Elves and the Shoemaker

inktober day ten by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationDo you remember the story The Elves and the Shoemaker? The story goes that a shoemaker would cut the leather for the next day’s shoes every night before bed. When he woke and went down to the shop in the morning, he’d find that the shoes would be mysteriously finished. He discovers that elves had been entering the shop in the night to do the work of assembling his carefully chosen and cut shoe pieces. The more I think about this story, the more I wonder who was the artist, and who was the laborer?

The two characters in the story, represent two aspects of the artist, which really can’t exist without each other. There are no elves to do the finish work for me. Doing the initial work of observing, thinking, and drawing though, set me up to do make art more quickly and professionally. Putting in the hours making patterns and cutting leather honed the shoemakers craft. Putting in the hours drawing and dreaming hone mine.

I’ve been loving watching other artists work through INKtober this year, and I think the community aspect of the challenge is amazing and helps push us all forward. This year I’ve been especially inspired by Lucy Bellwood (@lubellwoo on instagram) with her #drawyourdemons series, and Scott Fischer (@scottmfischer on instagram) who has been doing really amazing videos of his INKtober drawings.

Doing the daily chores of building the craft behind the art allows me to grow in ways that focusing on making finished work just can’t. Facing the challenge of working as a gift, for myself, without expectation of “payment” has been rewarding in ways that I suspected but didn’t really expect.

  • Allowing myself to admit that the work makes me anxious seems to be helping me face that anxiety.
  • Doing it for myself means that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  • Because I don’t need it to be perfect, I’m able to embrace mistakes.
  • Fearing the mistakes less means that I’m more likely to experiment.
  • Moving forward. 😀

I feel like the drawings are getting stronger, and I’m enjoying doing them more every day. I’m really excited about tomorrow.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Nine – Like Drawing Birds in Flight

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Nine – Like Drawing Birds in Flight

inktober9_web“It’s scary not loving the job that everyone thinks we should love. It’s terrible waking up and feeling like what you love is a burden.”

I wrote this on a post-it note sketch I did earlier this summer and has been a theme this year in both my personal and professional life.

Doing the thing that I love most in the world often makes me anxious. This is something that is looked at as fun, and magical, and easy because drawing is a talent that artists are born with. It’s something that I’m supposed to be good at. My family’s relying on me to be successful at this, so I need to get this project done right. I need to get this project done quickly, on the first try…with little or no preparation, and it has to be good. There’s no room in my schedule for mistakes.

As this INKtober project progresses, I find myself taking on more complex subjects. I’m taking on harder subjects that move more. I’m taking on subjects that are able to actually tell me that I didn’t do a good job at drawing them. Thinking about drawing these things makes me anxious. I find myself casting around for a different idea, one that I feel more comfortable with.

I can still push myself way out of my comfort zone with out making it more difficult than necessary. It’s hard enough drawing birds without trying to drawing birds in flight. What I’ve ended up doing instead is adjusting my approach to the drawing.  I’m putting down quick guidelines to find the relationships between parts first. If I need to, I take a picture to reference later in case my subject moves, or in case I do. I have these tools that I can use if I need them. They’re there to make my job possible. It’s not cheating. It’s okay to use them. That’s part of the process.

“I haven’t done this before, but I’ve done other things I haven’t done before, before. And it came out okay, so I’m not afraid of this.”
-Louis CK

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Day Eight – Managing Expectations

      Comments Off on INKtober Day Eight – Managing Expectations

inktober8_webHave you ever talked yourself out of an idea because you felt it couldn’t possibly turn out how you see it in your head?

Here’s what happens. I’ll go to work at a show, telling myself that I can do some drawing during down times. It’s cool having a record of my experience at shows. There’s usually interesting people to see, and at least one interaction would make a good story.

One of the challenges I face when drawing from life, or even designing new illustrations, is facing the fact that I might fail. Or really, just working past my comfort zone and distilling what I see down to what’s necessary. Right now though, I’m talking about drawing from life. Specifically, drawing people from life, out in the world, doing normal people things. While I like people paying attention to me, I hate being noticed, and the world is full of people who might notice me. This makes it difficult to observe and draw people in public.

It’s so easy to form this picture in my head of doing a loose, comfortable drawing in my sketchbook. I see other professionals do it all the time. It’s so easy to imagine, even though it’s totally NOT how I work. So I get to the show, all set up, my little busy work chores are done, I’ve made a sale or two, and there’s a lull. My sketchbook is there, ready for me to do something amazing, funny or insightful. That’s when the anxiety kicks in.

It’s so important to manage expectations, and remind myself what my sketchbook is for. It’s so important to remind myself that I LOVE what I do. Managing my expectations is something that I can have control of.

  • It’s okay if I don’t finish the drawing.
  • It’s okay if I get *gasp* caught.
  • It’s okay if it’s a mess.
  • It’s okay if it’s terrible.
  • It’s okay if the idea is stupid.

Sketchbooks are about the process. A process that I know and love, and in which mistakes should be welcome if they show up to the party. It’s definitely easier to talk myself out of doing things that are difficult. It’s more rewarding to do them anyway, though. In spite of the knot in my stomach.

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.

INKtober Number Six – Fitting In

      Comments Off on INKtober Number Six – Fitting In

Inktober day six by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationMy dad gave me this Ukelele a little more than a year ago, after I’d told my mom that I wanted to learn how to play it. I already know how to play the guitar, after a fashion, so really how hard could it be to pick up the Ukelele? right? I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually picked it up and played it. This usually involves hunkering down at my desk, watching YouTube tutorials while following along. It’s very slow, and I want to jump right to the fun stuff. That leaves not enjoying it enough pick it up often, and not having the time to learn to play well enough.

Somehow though, there’s always time for facebook. Not that I’m totally against social media or anything. I’ve met some of my best friends on social media, and this whole project wouldn’t even be possible without it. It does take up an awful lot of my time, though. Time that I could be doing anything but scrolling through my friends’ thousand thoughts. I like the sound of that phrase. 🙂

It’s hard fitting new things into my daily schedule which is already really full of other things. Adding daily sketching just for the pleasure of it to the day has so far been really rewarding, but also kind of taxing as I struggle to adjust my day and keep up with the routine. The struggle is important though. I feel like it’s pushing me in a good direction.

Maybe at the end of the month, I can take what I’ve learned here and use that insight to work out a strategy for maintaining the passion to practice. Both daily drawings, and ukelele. 🙂

 

redherringjeff on patreonThank you for stopping in! If you enjoyed what this post, I’d like to invite you to visit my Patreon page at Patreon.com/redherringjeff which is where I post content first, including some things that I don’t post anywhere else. Again thank you for looking, commenting and sharing. Your support means the world to me.