Fan Art Friday: Stranger Things

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stranger_things_webHave you seen Stranger Things yet? I loved everything about it from the story, to the music, to the greenish color palette…and those kids. They were all amazing! While I didn’t get a lot of the specific call backs to thriller and sci-fi movies of the eighties, I reacted strongly to the theme of kids finding their own agency, and adventuring together.

There’s been some speculation that Eleven and the Demigorgon are different aspects of the same being, with some pretty specific references from the show that support the idea. I’m looking forward to season two, and hope that they explore some of these more sinister ideas that they didn’t really have time for in the first season…plus what happened to the other 10 psychics from the Hawkins National Laboratory?

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_messageThanks for stopping in and checking out the new work. If you’d like to help support this and other projects as well as getting some pretty great perks, please consider pledging on my Patreon Page. I really appreciate it, and couldn’t do this without you.


Fan Art Friday

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What does Dinosaur Jr have to do with Fan Art? I was listening to an interview with the band the other day and the conversation turned to their 1987 cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. Anybody can play the notes to a song, and sing the lyrics, but in good cover song, the band makes it their own; they add their unique voice to the conversation. Cover’s, like fan arts allow us to view an artist’s work through the lens…or against the backdrop of someone else’s. It gives the viewer something familiar to draw them in. By comparing  the two, we actually get a good sense of what makes an artist’s work their own.

Look up any of your favorite characters on google, and you’ll find a multitude of drawings, photos and tributes to that character by fans from around the world.

Lately, with the release of “Stranger Things”, “Kubo and the Two Strings”, and of course new “Star Wars” movies I’ve been seeing a lot of really amazing illustrations from fans of the shows. It’s amazing seeing the love that people have for these stories, and the desire to be an active participant in that love. As I work on my own tributes to the shows and stories that I love, I keep some basic rules in mind.

leia_color_web1.Do something that you love, not something that everyone else loves

I never want to be in the position of talking to someone who is a fan of something and having to admit that I just did this “Game of Thrones” drawing because it’s popular and I was pretty sure I could sell it. Fan art is about the love of the stories and characters. It should be fun. If I want to do something I don’t love, there’s plenty of other work out there that I can do instead. Doing artwork of the things you love is fun, but it’s also rewarding because it starts conversations with other people that love it. Those connections are one of my favorite things about this job.

hmf_starwars_4_web2. Make it your own

Copying the cover of Spiderman #1 by Todd McFarlane isn’t fan art. It’s stealing someone elses work, and if you want a big copy of it you can buy it. Making it your own it playing in a friend’s sandbox. We get to explore our own work while examining what works in someone elses. That’s pretty awesome.

Working on projects like a Star Wars ABC’s lets me tell jokes about something that’s been a part of my life literally since birth. It also lets me explore what I love about Star Wars, in addition to color palates, theme’s, and character designs.

3. Add to the conversation

What do you love about this world? What do you love about this character? What do you wish the creators had done with it but didn’t? Fan art is a place to ask those questions, and gives us a spring board to begin asking them about our own work.


Fridays seem like a good day to begin posting some fan art here, as a cool down for the week. Plus I’m a huge fan of alliteration so it’ll allow me to scratch that itch with Fan Art Friday. I went and saw Kubo and the Two Strings last week and as usual Laika did not disappoint. The movie was amazing. I’ve been a huge fan of the studio since Coraline, and look forward to each movie they put out. This week’s drawing is a pretty straight forward portrait of Coraline and the little Coraline doll. I’d like to explore my love of Laika for the next couple of weeks, and then see where we go from there!

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_messageThanks for stopping in and checking out the new work. If you’d like to help support this and other projects as well as getting some pretty great perks, please consider pledging on my Patreon Page. I really appreciate it, and couldn’t do this without you.

Starting in the Middle

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Craftness Monster Watercolor by Jeffrey JohnsonHaving a blog has been a huge part of my websites since I began working professionally for myself nearly twelve years ago. The blog is a great place to talk about current projects, and upcoming shows. It’s been a welcome break from production and opportunity to download my thoughts about work, art, and about my community.

Writing about my artwork, and the work of my friends and peers has allowed me to consider what I do and why I do it in a thoughtful way. Blogging about what I’m doing has helped me to develop the language and eyes I need to self critique in a helpful way. It allows me to repeat my successes because I know why they happened. It also allows me to explore my missteps so that I can avoid them in the future.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to write for this first post in the new blog. It was tempting to pull a bunch of old posts from the Handmade Family Blog, or even from the old Red Herring Illustration blog. With literally hundreds of posts to choose from, there must be SOMETHING to fill this space with, right? The idea of using old content to pad out the new page, even temporarily, just didn’t seem like the answer. I could do an introductory post, but I’m not really new, and that just felt silly. So how do I start a new blog mid-career?

dilophosaurus dinosaur watercolor by Jeffrey JohnsonWhat I settled on was writing a normal blog post. Starting in the middle, as if the past was right there in the archive. Anything else would be buried before long, right? After spending hours working on color matching prints I thought that might be an interesting thing to talk about so I took some photos, gathered my thoughts, sat down to begin writing, and…

Ended up writing something completely different. Apparently, while I was worried about WHAT to write about, my brain was more interested in WHY I should write anything in the first place. I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about why the blog is important to me before, but it obviously is. I keep coming back to it, after all.

I love instagram and facebook. They allow me to tell my story as an artists, maker, and most importantly PERSON in the moment as it happens. That’s a valuable resource as an artist. The blog though, allows me to focus on one thing. It lets me take a close look at a process, or an inspiration. It allows me to develop a worldview and share that perspective as it develops. Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Watercolor Wednesday: Craft Yeti

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Every year, as winter ends and spring begins, she travels from the remote snowy mountains of somewhere all the way to Green With Indie. She arrives with the spring.Craft Yeti watercolor illustration by jeffrey johnson of Red Herring IllustrationCraft Yeti is the mascot for the Green With Indie craft show held every March at Webster University here in Saint Louis. When we started talking about Craft Monster, and the different characters we’d like to include she was of course part of the family. The hardest part of her was taking someone else’s design and converting it to a style consistent with the other characters we are using while remaining true to the original. Oh yeah, and all the white.

Craft Yeti was a really fun challenge. On these recent paintings I’ve been mixing colors before painting them, which is a departure from how I usually work by layering pure colors on the paper and allowing their transparency to blend them. Also I’ve been experimenting more with using colored pencil to finish off the paintings. I really like how the pencils deepen the watercolor, and allow for quite a lot of control while adding additional texture.

Thanks for stopping in and checking out the new work. If you’d like to help support this and other projects as well as getting some pretty great perks, please consider pledging on our Patreon Page. We really appreciate it!

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Watercolor Wednesday: Craft Monster

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Craftness Monster watercolor illustration by jeffrey johnson of Red Herring IllustrationMy first year of doing art and craft shows as part of my job was full of learning experiences. The very first thing I learned and what I always tell people that aren’t sure about having enough work to show was, “There’s nothing like needing to have the work to make you do the work.” The second lesson came about halfway through November. A girl walked up to my table and said “Oh, I saw all your stuff at another show.” As she walked away, I made a vow that I would always have at least something new at each show from then on.

Watercolor Wednesday is an opportunity to experiment

I came out of the holiday season this year with a pretty severe case of burn out. I felt like all of my creative equity had been used up, but there was still work that needed to be done. In addition to the regular work coming in, the studio flooding over the Christmas break making things for myself just seemed like too much. So I kind of took a break.

While getting personal things back in order, I started looking for artwork that inspired me. On Instagram I stumbled across Iraville, a wonderful illustrator from Germany, and I fell in love with her style and her speed painting videos on YouTube. Watercolor Wednesday is partly about having new work, but it’s also an opportunity to experiment with new styles and techniques. Armed with inspiration, I just needed a project to get started on.

As it turns out, I have no shortage of projects. The largest right now is Craft Monster, a maker showcase I approached the Saint Louis Craft Mafia, and the Saint Louis Science Center about last year. The Craftness Monster is our mascot, and it just seemed fitting for her to be the first Watercolor Wednesday painting of the new year.

Thanks for stopping in and checking out the new work. It’s going to be a great and busy year and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all. If you’re interested in helping support this and other projects as well as getting some pretty great perks, please consider pledging on our Patreon Page. We really appreciate it!

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Talking About a Resolution

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The holidays are a natural time to think about what we’ve done over the course of the year and about our plans for next year. New Years is when a lot of us do it. We see a need in our life and want to make a change for the better. Is New Years really the only time we can make a change in our life? When is really the best time to start a resolution?

resolution2-300x300There’s something in my brain that seems to want to start new things at the beginng of the week, the month, or the year. Maybe, there’s some solidarity I feel in starting at the same time as a lot of other people. We’re all in this thing together! Doing a Photo or Drawing-A-Day challenge starting at the beginning of the month instead of joining in the middle. Saying “This week, I’m going to do all the drawings and still get to bed early.” The problem I’ve always had with this is that there will come a day when something comes up. When I just…can’t. I’ve set myself up for failure by making an all or nothing statement, because I can’t just move past the drawing that didn’t get done. Now I owe two. I might let this pile up on me for a little while, but then I feel like I just have to admit that it’s impossible. I can’t get twelve drawings done this weekend. I give up. I’ll wait and try again next month.

“All his life has he looked away. To the future. To the Horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.” -Yoda ESB

Yoda - Dagobah -Why though? Why wait until next month? I’m thinking that maybe, the best time to start a new resolution is now. Start developing it as a new habit while I’m most inspired to do it. I read somewhere that most resolutions are destined to fail. Not because we want them to, but because of that all or nothing statement. Yoda may be cool with saying “Do or do not. There is no try.” but I prefer to try a different approach. Instead of calling this new thing we’re doing a resolution, let’s call it a project. Like a resolution, a project has a goal, but its usually short term, and has a work pipeline, or certain steps happening at certain times, to complete it. There will be day’s that working on the project just don’t work out. That doesn’t mean it’s all over and I’ve failed, because the days themselves aren’t the project. Having a pipeline will help build habits. At the end of the project I’ll have the work and a jumping off point for the next “project.” Changing my life in a meaningful way may eventually be the outcome, but moving forward on the project from day to day is the goal. So instead of saying that I’m going to work in my sketchbook every day I’m going to build that process into my first project pipeline.

Inspired by a drawing that a friend of mine posted from his Inktober sketchbook, I’m going to make a coloring book of gnomes and animals. Using my handy chicken, egg-timer, I’ll spend 30 minutes daily doodling in my sketchbook. This will be playing with borders, stories, scenes and illustrations. Starting in week two of the project timeline, I’ll add a second 30 minutes of the hour to begin developing the previous week’s sketches into more finished compositions. Week three will be beginning on final drawings, and week four will be finalizing the inked drawings and laying out the book. My goal is to have a 20 page coloring booklet completed in four weeks.Life With Girls comic by Jeffrey Johnson

I love to document my work, and my days and I’m sure that those of you that follow me on Instagram ( @redherringjeff ) will be seeing a pretty good amount of what’s going on behind the scenes as this project comes together. Every week I do a larger behind-the-scenes post for my $2 and up Patreon backers that is delivered directly to their email. It features scans, photos and commentary on what’s up in the studio. Thanks for stopping in and thank you for sharing our work with us. We couldn’t do this thing without your support.

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Thankful Like Mark Watney

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CalvinI always think about pretty specific themes around the holidays. Thankfulness, giving, and resolutions to make changes in our lives in the new year. I love seeing people’s thankful posts on facebook and twitter, and it’s a great tradition to spend a minute each day thinking about the ways in which we’re blessed. Usually these posts show us at our best and most generous. That’s great, but what about all the times we are raging about the unfairness of it all. What about when everything seems like it’s going down hill and there’s no stopping before hitting the brambles at the bottom? How are we supposed to be thankful then? What would Mark Watney do?

It’s easy to be positive, to be thankful, when things are going well. When the words are just flowing, when all the seams match up, when we’re not already behind and there aren’t a gajillion other things that need to be taken care of as well. It’s even pretty easy to bounce back from having to start over if everything else is going okay. When everything isn’t just coming together as if by magic though, when it’s all work or worse, when it just seems terrible and I feel like I’m wasting my life and just want to burn the whole thing down. It’s hard to be thankful for anything, when everything seems terrible. I take a deep breath, and try to be thankful like Mark Watney.The-Martian-viral-teaser

Mark Watney is the main character in the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Left for dead after his team was forced to abandon an exploratory mission on Mars, Mark is trapped eight months away from any possible rescue, four years from any likely rescue, and only enough supplies to last a handful of weeks. What he did have though, is amazing resourcefulness, skills that allowed him to make what he needed out of what he had, and eventually, help filling in the gaps from the people at NASA. Sure I know it’s just a book, but it does put problems like a bad day into perspective. So I ask myself “What would Mark Watney do?”boy_spaceman_web

Being thankful like Mark Watney isn’t a “Count your blessings, there’s people that have it worse than you, so you should be happy” type of solution. It’s a method that begins by acknowledging that there is a problem, and being thankful that the problem didn’t kill me. Then I decide if I need to do anything right now to prevent it from getting worse, like mopping up the cup of coffee I just spilled on my drawing before it gets to my computer. Most of us aren’t on Mars wearing a broken helmet, and trapped in an airlock that just got blown out of our habitat…so this shouldn’t be too stressful. Then I take a deep breath and look at the different parts of the situation. Most things can be broken down and addressed through practice, research, asking for help, or just moving forward and doing the work. Every day, I’m thankful to live in a world where all of these resources are readily available to me. Sometimes it just takes an adjustment to my approach, sometimes it means starting over. I always try not to forget though that it’s not enough to just be thankful, I also have to move forward and act on my own behalf. Otherwise, I may never get off Mars.

As always, I’m thankful for my Patrons on Patreon. Your support and encouragement go a long way towards making all this possible. If you’re not a patron yet, I’d like to encourage you to check it out. There are thousands of creators out there, and most offer some pretty amazing perks in exchange for a small monthly contribution. Thanks for looking, and I’ll talk to you all again soon!


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Watercolor Wednesday – Yellow Crook Necked Squash

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Felt Farmers Market by Handmade FamilyToday, I’m showcasing the final painting from the current fruits and vegetable series. There are ten items in our Felt Farmers Market, and our goal is to have a painting of each of them for marketing, and to make some related products for them.  This week I was having trouble deciding whether to paint the squash or an eggplant. Carrots crossed my mind to briefly, but I decided to put them off until sometime in the spring when I’m talking about the garden that I didn’t get around to planting this year. The yellow crook necked squash is always a favorite among the kids, because it’s one of our larger veggies, and its shape really sets it apart from the rest. Since I only did the one painting this week, I decided to photograph it as I worked and sort of talk about my current process a little bit.

Toned background of painting by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade FamilyWhen I graduated from art school in 2000 I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. This was in the days before having an online store was common, and when “Social Media” really only consisted of message boards. I lived in a small town, and was waiting for my wife to graduate so I got a job working retail to pay the bills and pass the time. During the four years between graduating and moving to Saint Louis, I got into miniature wargaming. The game itself was fun, but what I especially loved was building and painting the little models and creating scenery for them. I don’t really game any more, choosing to use that time on being a better artist and crafter, but there are a lot of things that I learned during those four years. Working in collaboration with a group to tell a story. Putting effort into all the parts of a project makes a much more satisfying presentation. Using the details put in at the beginning to do the heavy lifting for the rest of the work.

All of my paintings begin with a detailed line drawing. Not just a light drawing underneath that will be hidden with layers of paint, but one that uses heavy and varied lines to create levels of detail. This Squash painting started off with red ColErase pencil, then edges were sharpened and details were picked out with brown ColErase and black Verithin. Finally, Gouache shadow layerusing a black Prismacolor I add in the outlines and heavier lines. Then the painting gets an overall wash of watercolor to give the painting some texture and tone.

After the background has dried, I get out the Burnt Umber gouache to begin defining the lights and shadow areas. Gouache is an opaque watercolor which will cover over the areas beneath it, but can also be worked into later so when we go over it with the transparent watercolors later it really deepens them and feathers a bit on the edges. This is where the painting really starts to come alive for me, as we’re able to see where the different objects overlap, and how they actually interact with each other. Much of the work on defining the form of each squash is done at this point, so when I go to add color I don’t have to think so much about where everything is in relation to each other.

Adding background elementsI do the sun element next so I can see how all the other colors in the painting balance against it as I work. I like to add little geometric elements like this to the more portrait style images I make because it gives them just a little bit more visual interest. I love how each color of transparent watercolor interacts with the layers before and after it. I don’t know about other watercolorists, but when I’m working there are certain color “recipes” that I use. For example on the sun here I used orange, then a thin wash of purple to add some definition to the bottom, and then some rose madder which is a red/brown to warm and deepen the purple.Yellow Crook-Necked Squash Watercolor by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade Family

Aaaaand, it’s finished! The yellows weren’t photographing well enough to do a play by play of the final painting. For colors like yellow, I’ll often use purple to deepen and cool down the shadows (using complementary colors in shadow areas is great for making the overall color richer) and prussian blue to warm and darken other areas. Finally, I use just a bit of white gouache to add highlights and rim lighting on the edges.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into my process. My goal is to do at least one painting a week, and two or more when possible as part of Watercolor Wednesday. All the paintings go up for sale in my web shop as soon as I write a blog post about them. If you’d like to take an active hand in deciding what gets painted as well as receiving one of the paintings each month I have a reward tier on my Patreon page that includes a painting plus several other perks, like a digital sketch book and discounts in our shop. Please check it out!

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Watercolor Wednesday on a Thursday!

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Felt Farmers Market Playset by Handmade FamilyThe holidays are Bananas, and make any kind of schedule extra challenging. We had a great Thanksgiving but as you may have noticed, there was no Watercolor Wednesday last week. My goal for December is to be a little ahead on blog posts so that the Holidays don’t get too crazy.

Last time, I talked about the importance of daily drawing and drawing outside of our comfort zones and interests. Sometimes this means that I just don’t feel inspired with what I’m working on. It’s like a child looking at a plate full of greens. It’s hard to get started on it, takes forever to finish, and can seem pointless and unfair when I’m in the middle of it. Coming out the other side though, I really am better for having put in the effort. I guess the take away for this story is that working through difficult personal projects helps prepare me to tackle other projects more readily, and helps build good working habits for the future.Pear Watercolor Illustration by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade Family

I’ve always loved pears, and felt like they were a great subject for a still life painting. I often compare working in watercolor to raising kids. There’s a balance that has to be reached between controlling it, and just letting it go and do it’s thing. It’s always facinating to me how each color effects the one above it and the one below it, and that it matters what order they’re put down in.Pumpkin Watercolor Illustration by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade Family

It’s been two months of working with you and Patreon now. KNOWING that there are people out there definitely helps keep me working and moving forward. I’ve been happy with keeping on a regular schedule with the Watercolor Wednesday posts, and will be working in new content this month. I’m working on a blog post about resolutions, and when is the best time to make them, and get started on them. What do you think?

Watercolor Wednesday – Apples and Bananas

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Apples and bananas by Jeffrey JohnsonDaily drawing and painting (or anything, really) allows us time to think, and experiment, and learn in a way that no class, book, or tutorial can. I read “Make Art Make Money” by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens this summer. Early on in the book she talks about the fairy tale “The Elves and the Cobbler” as an allegory for the life of the artist. Every day, the cobbler would sit at his work bench and cut the leather, and every night the elves would come and sew the leather into shoes. The daily activity of cutting the leather allowed the cobbler to build his skills, try new things, and ultimately take over the creative magic of the elves and become a master shoe maker in his own right.

Banana watercolor illustration by jeffrey johnson of handmade family

Watercolor Wednesday allows me to work on paintings that tangentially are related to the other work that we do. It allows me to paint things that I may not normally paint, to try out new techniques, and to learn how to deal with new textures and forms. For the next couple of weeks, I’m falling back to a classic painting subject of fruit still lifes. It’s amazing the variety of textures, patterns and forms that are presented to us with these everyday objects. Ultimately, the illustrations will be used for Story Starter Chips and display graphics for our Felt Farmer’s Market sets.

apple watercolor illustration by jeffrey johnson of handmade family

Thanks for stopping in, and we’ll see you again soon!
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