My Plein Air Process
En plein air is just a fancy French way of saying painting outside. I never really considered myself capable of plein air painting until my first season as a ranger in Yellowstone in 2015. While in the park, I had the opportunity to learn from Suzie Garner, a fantastic watercolorist and plein air painter. She opened the door to landscape painting for me and gave me so much confidence! Now watercolors are some of my favorite ways to document my trips and ranger seasons.
Now that I’m back in Yellowstone, I’ll be doing a lot more plein air work this summer, so I thought I’d break down my materials and process for anyone who might be interested. I spent the morning painting the Teton range, so check out the progression below the jump!
I’ll start by saying that I tried really, really hard to have a progress video, or at least an illustrated tutorial for February’s “for artists” blog post, but as you may have seen on social media, the universe was against me this month. I’d set up a screencap video for the piece of Remus Lupin below, but it failed thirteen minutes in. So I tried to capture a different illustration on my phone, but I kept running out of memory, and then half the clips were eaten by Internet goblins when I tried to transfer them to the cloud. So I set about doing a simple face and shading tutorial, when I realized that with the frustration of everything else, I apparently no longer could draw a face, at which point I nearly gave up on February entirely.
So finally, as I came down the wire, I decided to give you something that didn’t require me to draw anything new at all, and that’s to share my method of setting long-term goals to progress my art. I started doing this several years ago—setting specific objectives, usually at the beginning of the calendar year, of what skills and concepts I wanted to practice next.
Most of these goals were easy to come by—they were often concepts I was struggling with or felt like my pieces were lacking. But sometimes our weak points aren’t easy to pinpoint—these are great reasons to have artist friends or crit groups that will give you honest, supportive feedback. I’ll share a few of these resources at the end of the post.
So! It seems I’ve saved February’s art blog at the eleventh hour, despite the best efforts of a vengeful universe/crippling professional anxiety. Here are the stylistic roads I’ve journeyed on the past five years, the resources that helped me slowly progress, and where I hope to head this year. Includes Ye Olde Arte and some pieces I’d really rather bury but am posting for your amusement. See it all below the jump!
It’s the same every year—shortly after Halloween, when Pumpkin Spice gets the boot in favor of Peppermint Mocha, my anxiety shoots through the roof. It’s November 3rd! It’s practically Christmas Eve! My love language is gifts, and my husband is gift-challenged, so the majority of holiday gift brainstorming, researching, purchasing, wrapping, and giving ultimately falls on me. I like it when I can come up with the perfect gift (like the 7-Eleven Tour de France bike jersey I got for my husband a few years ago), and I get stressed when I fall short (my brother’s wish list ranges from ‘airplane’ to ‘ski trip in Vermont,’ so I invariably end up getting him gift cards, which always makes me feel stupid).
Anyway, this year, I had a great gift idea for my youngest daughter. Before she was born, I wrote and illustrated a picture book for her sister called “Fairy for a Day.” It featured my eldest rescuing a fairy and being gifted wings and a fantastic floral wardrobe, replete with sparkles and friendly woodland creatures. Both my girls love reading it, and I figured it was high time my youngest had a picture book of her own.
The catch is, of course, that picture books take time. A lot of time. There’s a reason hiring an illustrator is so expensive, and it’s because nothing kills the look of a project more than it being rushed. Here’s a secret: I actually don’t like reading the Fairy for a Day book I wrote for my eldest. The writing is bad and the illustrations are bad, and it’s because I did it too fast, trying to whip it off with enough time to send to the printer before her birthday.
I’ve grown a lot as an illustrator since then. I dedicated most of 2016 to honing my ability to work efficiently. I’d set timers for digital paintings and make myself consider the piece done when the time was up. I participated in Inktober for the first time, which forced me to move on to a new piece each day. It’s not easy working like this—it’s a skill that has to be practiced. And of course, nothing tops the quality gained by a generous deadline. But sometimes we simply don’t have the time. I’m still not as efficient as I’d like to be, but I’m a lot better than I was when I created Fairy for a Day. So it was with more confidence that I set about creating my youngest’s Christmas present--Mermaid for a Day.
In this month’s blog post, I’m sharing some suggestions for how to create an appealing, dynamic piece while on a tight deadline. See them all below the jump!
This month, I am so stoked to bring you an extra-special guest post PLUS the biggest Creatures of Light giveaway yet! As many of you saw, earlier this month I attended Electric City Comicon, hosted by the Anderson County Library System in South Carolina. There I got to moderate a panel with three fantastic SFF authors, judge the Fan Art Contest, and do some super-fun live-drawing for an excitable peanut gallery. It was a great event, but the biggest thrill for me, hands down, was seeing the legendary Sadie by Design cosplay Queen Mona.
Look at this gown! Look at it! Look at her crown! Her pendant! Her hair! Her freckles! From the moment Sadie told me she was thinking of cosplaying Mona, I knew she would be absolutely perfect, but I never expected to be this blown away by her work. Her friend and fellow cosplayer Virginia also showed up in a spot-on rendition of Mae.
My heart, y’all. I think many authors would agree that the ultimate dream is seeing artwork inspired by our books. I spent the day in a sort of foggy high, grinning and clapping every time Sadie glided elegantly through the event. Unsurprisingly, she won second place in the Adult Cosplay Contest. And now she’s been gracious enough to break down her process for you and provide some insights into how she meticulously and lovingly created such fantastic cosplay.
And to make things EXTRA special, we’ve collaborated to bring you the epic CREATURES OF LIGHT PRIZE PACK GIVEAWAY! One lucky winner will receive a signed trilogy set from me, two stunning photo prints of Sadie’s cosplay, and a handful of CoL bookmarks and stickers. Check out all the details and enter to win at the end of this post!
Now it’s my honor to introduce Sadie from Sadie by Design---take it all in below the jump!
Katara Progress Video and Tutorial
I've said it before and I'll say it again: fan art--and fan fiction--gets a bad rap, despite having this amazing power to build community, support other creators, and expand an artist or writer's skills. It took me a long time to stop feeling embarrassed about creating fan art and -fiction--now I can look back and see all the strides I've made because I was inspired by my favorite books or movies to draw and write, and I can safely say I wouldn't be at the same place, technically or stylistically, without sketchbooks and Word documents full of fan-fueled creations.
It's timely, then, that I'll be giving two presentations this summer on the power and value of fan art! I'll be sharing some work that has made a difference in my career and doing a live-drawing demonstration of a popular character the audience will help me pick (for more info, see my Events page). To get ready for these programs, I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers to vote on a character I should draw for my May blog post. Out of a poll of four cool young women, Katara beat out Hermione, Eowyn, and Moana!
I got into Avatar: The Last Airbender in undergrad, which at the time felt way too old to be watching a kid's anime, but now I love referencing it as an example of masterful storytelling, worldbuilding, and character arcs. And I hadn't drawn Katara in so long! So here she is---check out her progress video and art tutorial below the jump!
Celeno's Design: Mini-Tutorial
This month, in the lead-up to the Creatures of Light paperback release, I've been producing all kinds of bonus content--including character profiles for a few final main characters. The most significant, of course, is Celeno, Seventh King of Alcoro and sort of the unwitting epicenter of all the messes everybody's sorting through in the series. His character design has remained fairly constant from my early drafts--my mom fan-cast him as Oscar Isaac pretty early on, which has given me a good stable design foundation (as well as a phone gallery full of Poe Dameron screencaps).
For Celeno's official character portrait, I took a video of my Photoshop process, from sketch to finished product. Check it out below the jump:
Emily B. Martin
Author and Illustrator