While it may seem like I haven’t been making much art, the opposite is true. I’ve actually been in deep on a larger commission.
A friend asked me to illustrate the four seasons, as they are experienced here in the Northeastern US. The composition is around 22″ x 28″, which for a watercolor drawing (and for me, period) is quite large.
Instantly, I was excited about the piece after we discussed it.When I got my son to finally take naps that are longer than 20 minutes, which was a whole project on its own, I started working on sketches.I started with copy paper, and laid down some watercolor washes to get an idea of how each season’s colors may interact, and drew some indistinguishable shapes to represent figure/ground relationships.
In my mind, the piece needed to have sort of a cyclical composition — at first I thought that meant that two seasons would be upside-down, but then I decided against that since this will be on a wall, in a frame. So the whole thing just needed good transitions, I decided, and scale shifts, which I’m not great at.
But at the heart of the piece, I knew I wanted to illustrate the native plants, animals and insects in Vermont, which is where my friend lives now. She’s not a Vermont native, but has relocated there from Philly with her two young children and husband. I grew up on a forest-surrounded farm in northern New Jersey, and I have early memories of the seasons shifting– how hearing frogs at night meant it was summer, seeing Black-Eyed Susans meant fall was coming. I wanted to make this drawing about what her children might start to notice around them in the natural world, and what may eventually move into their memories of their childhood seasons.
not the greatest photo, but the whole piece as it is now, in-progress. clockwise from top left: Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall
This drawing has taken me longer to complete than I’d thought because of a myriad of mistakes on my part. First, I didn’t need to get so incredibly detailed in my preliminary drawings. I’m always fearing screwing up in ink on the final drawing, but I would have saved so much more time if I hadn’t first meticulously drawn everything in pencil, transferred it to the watercolor paper (another total tracing) and then pen outlined it. Second, on top of all that outlining, I ended up outlining everything a fourth and fifth time.
The fourth outlining was a result of putting down too much color (watercolor) on the final piece, which made the composition have less value change, which made the whole drawing lose depth. I should have left much more white space. I actually had a vision of the perfect composition as I was going to bed one night, when I was already halfway into the final version of this drawing– and my vision had loads of white space.
So, as it was, many of the plants didn’t stand out from each other. After I corrected some of the homogeneous value with gouache (which I ended up really liking, because it makes things look more painterly), I then had a fifth outlining session with white gouache because I still felt like things were blending together too much.
I should point out now that this piece isn’t finished yet, but it’s close. I’m writing this post now because I had to take a physical break. My hands are actually in some pain. I can usually avoid the pain by spreading out different techniques and tasks, but right now all I have left are pen details (the hand killers).
Luckily this piece is for a very patient friend, she has no deadline for the drawing to be done. This whole career artist thing is new to me. While it is still part-time, and being a mother is my full-time (that job can’t ever be part-time, and I have no complaints about that) I am grateful for what this commission has taught me. If I want to do this full-time, and move to larger projects, I need to find the proper workflow for my available work sessions. Confidence in my skills are always a must; I’ll need to be brave about doing more first and final elements on the final drawings. I’ll need to gradually build up color. Also, about three-quarters of the way through the final piece, I bought new brushes, which made a difference and probably would have saved me some more time along the way.
I’ll post the drawing when its finished. I’ve been referring to it as my “White Whale”, and then I’ve shifted to “My Opus” because it’s finally coming together.
Spring species, clockwise from beneath mountains: Balsam Fir, Chokecherry, Wild Columbine flower, White Admiral Butterfly, toad (specific species unknown) and Marsh Marigold
Summer species, clockwise: Bee Balm, Loon, Turtlehead flower, thistle (exact name unknown, and may not be native, but my friend likes these so I included it) and Rusty Patch Bee
Winter species, clockwise: Barred Owl (partially shown), Red Osier Dogwood, Balsam Fir branches, Winterberry (much of this portion is still in progress)
Fall species, clockwise from top right: Maple leaf, Checkerberry, Northeastern Aster, Monarch Butterfly, Moose, Balsam Fir (still in progress)