INKtober Day Ten – The Elves and the Shoemaker

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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

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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

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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

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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.

INKtober Day 5 – When the Exception Becomes the Rule

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inktober day five by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationI was talking to my friend Leighton (@johnnyampersand) at Archon while
he looked over my first INKtober entry and he commented that he liked that I lay
out clear goals. I like to go into big projects with a plan, I call it my project manifesto. INKtober, with it’s thirty-one drawings surely counts as a big project, right? The plan includes rules, and usually it also includes goals. I like to know WHY I do things, it makes it easier to keep going when I start to question myself later.  The rules for this year are pretty simple:

  1. Complete 100% of the thirty-one drawings.
  2. Use only Black felt-tip pins.
  3. Do a majority of the drawings from direct observation.

I try hard to stick to this so it all stays consistant. It’s easy to get distracted or to fall behind and quit. Especially towards the beginning of a project, I think about that show “Trading Spaces” when one of the couples would invariably question the designer because they couldn’t see in their mind the vision of the finished room. The plan gives me a net. It gives me something to trust that everything’s going to come out all right. It’s something to look back on and check to make sure I’m still on the right path.

The rules also help guard against exceptions that undermine the goals. One of my top goals for INKtober this year is to have 100% completion. After a busy day in the studio, I looked at the clock and realized that it was 11:00, and I’d put off my journal entry all day. I needed to get that drawing done, maybe I could use the page of dinosaur sketches I’d done in my work sketchbook. They were in ball point, but that is ink…that would count, wouldn’t it? This justification reminds me of when a dieter has their “first” desert in five days, or an ex-smoker has their “first” cigarette in a month. We often say it’s our first exception, unintentionally implying that there will be more.

While I could use those drawings and fulfill one goal, I’d be making an exception for another. If I make an exception once, then how easy will it be to make an exception again? So I started working on the drawing, falling asleep at my desk. I got up and finished it first thing this morning, but I’m glad I started on it last night.

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 Four – Good Enough

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INKtober day four by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationHere’s what happens to me. I carve out a special time to get out and do some art. Usually drawing. I might even go to a special place to draw, some place that inspires me on some level. When I get there though, I often get stuck and wander around like a last minute shopper on Christmas Eve. How do I decide what, in this special place, is good enough to draw?

Maybe, I need to stop and ask myself if I’m just too intimidated by my one expectations of the place and event. Do I really feel like nothing is good enough to sit and draw, or do I ACTUALLY feel like I’m just not good enough to draw anything? The lesson I’m learning over and over this year is that facing fears leads to growth. Make the tough choice. Fill out the application. Teach the class. Embrace failure. When I worry about special perfection, or even success those thoughts seem to cause failure far more frequently than actual failure does. I don’t know why I like the sound of something causing failure more often than failure, but I do.

While I love still lifes for practicing techniques, and focusing on setting up different compositions filled with many shapes and textures, my relationships are rarely made with things that don’t move. Even especially warm memories of a particular nick-knack likely has a human element to the memory. So if I’m going to do the work that’s meaningful to my whole self then I need to get out of the studio and draw living, MOVING things.

Drawing animals from life is pretty intimidating. They move and my perspective on them is constantly changing. Something I’m coming to realize as I sit and quietly observe them in my sketchbook though, is that this also gives me an opportunity.  I’m given a chance to form a relationship between me, the animal, my sketchbook, and the drawings. I learn things about them by having to draw four versions of them at once as fast as I can, while filling details in while I wait for my next opportunity to see what I missed.

It doesn’t have to be one, perfect image. Actually, I think it shouldn’t be that. That’s what cameras are for, and how they are often used. To take that one image that requires no thought or shared experience. Drawing Animals from life is meditative. As I wait and watch them moving around, I can make many incomplete drawings and embrace inperfection.

 

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 Three – Blue Turtle Shell

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Inktober day three by jeffrey johnson of red herring illustrationOne of the things that I love about still lifes, is that they tend to have a very structured complexity. There is a huge variety of shapes and textures in even the most basic of setups.

This drawing presented some challenges that I didn’t expect when I began it. Ink is very binary, in that it is either on or off, black or white. So it’s a pretty unforgiving media. How do you show different tones and textures?

It’s difficult to pay attention to these changes, much less remembering to pay enough attention to what’s going on to recognize the need to change tactics. That was part of the point of the doodles on the first, manifesto page of this project. To remind myself that there’s more than one way to make a mark.

 

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 Two- Be Honest

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INKtober Day Two by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring Illustration

Does anybody else do this? I tell myself that “I need to do work harder” or “I need to do more…” Whatever that more is. I asked for this skull for Christmas about five years ago as a reaction to one of those “I need to do more…” moments. Specifically I need to do more life drawing and this will help me understand form better.

I’ve owned this skull for (at least) five years now, and have drawn it twice before today. Both times were this summer as a lesson in the drawing class I teach at the community college. There’s a lot of things like that in my life, and I could probably doa lively little series on languishing dreams. That sounds a little morose though, so I won’t…probably.

This personal “You know what I need” conversation is part of my Love/Hate relationship with art books. I’ll say something like “Bernie Wrightson is such an amazing artist! He was inspired by watching hours of old ‘Hammer’ monster movies as a kid and drawing the whole time. Maybe if I did that too, I can get as good as him!” Ha-ha-ha!

First off, I’m not a little kid anymore. That ship has sailed.

Second, I’m inspired by the Muppets and the Goonies. Love and adventure. Monsters don’t really do it for me.

Third, and probably most important, I missed the main message of the statement. “DRAW FOR HOURS DOING SOMETHING THAT INSPIRES YOU”.

I need to work harder. 🙂

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_messageThank 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 1 – Making Marks

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INKtober Day One, Making Marks by Jeffrey Johnson of Red Herring IllustrationJust in case you’re not familiar with Inktober, it’s an internet community event started by Jake Parker. Anyone can do INKtober, just pick up a pen and start drawing.

INKtober rules: 1) Make a drawing in ink (you can do a pencil under-drawing if you want). 2) Post it on tumblr (or Instagram, twitter, facebook, flickr, Pinterest or just pin it on your wall.) 3) Hashtag it with #inktober  4) Repeat (you can do it daily, like me, or go the half-marathon route and post every other day, or just do the 5K and post once a week. What ever you decide, just be consistent with it. INKtober is about growing and improving and forming positive habits, so the more you’re consistent the better.)

Every year, I approach Inktober a little different, with mixed results. This year my goal is to have 100% completion. The goal is to use only Binary, black and white pens, and do a majority of the drawings from observation.

The focus of these drawings is to develop:

  1. More confident mark making
  2. Stronger daily work habits
  3. The practice of “sketch journaling”
  4. Open myself to the vulnerability of making mistakes with confidence

Making marks that are either there, or aren’t with no shade in between is both thrilling and terrifying to me. I’m used to working without an eraser, but not without the ability to choose which of my fuzzy lines is the right one.

This is going to be an adventure.

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_messageThank 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.

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Inktober – Finding the Passion to Practice

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inktober_webSeveral years ago, I made the decision to put away miniature war games and focus on art. The idea was that the artists who I admired didn’t just get good at it. One day, they made an actual, active choice to be a better artist. They intentionally decided to begin doing the work of being an artist. I realize that it might not sound like a huge epiphany. I mean, it’s pretty obvious really. Coming to that crossroads of working a regular job, and then going home to play games, or working for myself, creating something new was a big deal though. That decision changed the course of my life.

I began looking seriously at artbooks, mining techniques and inspiration. I’d go and draw my apartment complex in the mornings, slowly beginning to  learn to see my world and tell it’s story. I’d spend my lunch breaks sketching story ideas and characters, and eventually telling illustrated stories about my life as a dad. Looking back, even with four years of art school behind me, I still knew so little of the craft of making pictures. Heck, I’ve been doing this professionally for ten years and still feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. I still have a lot of work to do.

The year I got my first job, I went to an art conference/workshop in Montreal. Needing to have a portfolio for the workshop meant that I stopped to make one, and having that made it possible to get hired to a small graphic design shop when I got back. On portfolio review day, they asked me what I wanted to do with my art. What was my end goal for being there. I don’t know that I’d really thought about it before that, you just made a portfolio and got a job, didn’t you? I just wanted to make things and tell stories, so I told them that I wanted to illustrate role playing games and children’s books. While those are two very different markets, that statement set me on a new path, narrowing from “I want to make art” to “I want to tell stories.”

First though, I had to make more art. A lot more. I wasn’t there yet.

That first job at the graphic design shop was hard. I had to produce drawings quickly that were good quality, and were things that I wouldn’t normally draw. There was a lot of pressure, but I was building a visual vocabulary as well as expanding my portfolio. Which allowed me to get work for an indie game publisher called Hex Games.

locoviathan_webRole playing games don’t pay well, but I got to do a lot of work under someone else’s direction. It gave me the opportunity to draw a lot MORE things that I probably wouldn’t have drawn otherwise. I began to learn to draw backgrounds. I learned more about painting cover art. I became good friends with the people at Hex Games. Work that I’m passionate about helps me grow in ways I never really imagined. I believe in Hex’s mission (whatever that is) and love working for them.

The whole point here is that even as a professional, there’s room for growth. It’s important to keep striving for mastery of our craft. It’s important to do the work that we love, as well as the work that keeps the lights on. Maybe if we do enough of both of those things, they’ll eventually be the same thing.

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_messageThanks for joining me today. If you enjoyed this post about my personal journey, and would like to see more like it, I’m doing daily INKtober drawings accompanied by journaling over on my Patreon page. If you’d like to help support this and other projects like it, Patreon is a great place to do that. Check out my pledge page here for more details. https://www.patreon.com/redherringjeff