Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lessons Learned (Or the Saga of The Mermaid Huntress)

When last we met, I was preparing to take the Mermaid Huntress through the last stages; finishing up the layering of colors and refining lines overall, then adding a nice blue watercolor wash. Remember when I said that sometimes things don't work out, and if they didn't I would be philosophical and shrug and say "Oh well, I learned never to do that again"?

(Sigh) Things did not work out. I was not entirely philosophical.

At first, everything went well. The final layers of colors came together and I was pleased with the result. Next came the experimental part - the watercolor wash. I like watercolors. I like the fluidity and the effects that can be achieved with washes and letting a bit of the paper show through here and there. I love using pearlescent watercolors over ink in my fantasy work. But I've never mixed them with color pencil. So now, why would I take the chance when there was a deadline (all of the Team challenges have to be finished by midnight on Friday) and when I'd publicly (that would be you!) promised to display it?

Well, a challenge is about stepping outside of your comfort zone, expanding your horizons. Doing a Mermaid in color pencil is something "right up my alley". I've done lots of them, probably in the hundreds in my lifetime, so far. In fact, I added some to this blog  to add a bit of color and break up all the verbiage! (These particular Mermaids are either on my website now, or were recently sold. They are all small - only 3.5 x 2.5" - done as Artist Trading Cards.)

So, "Mermaids" not necessarily a challenge. To change things up I decided to do a 9 x 12' drawing, giving me space to do a full scene rather than a small vignette. The idea came to me almost immediately. I wanted to do something that showed a Mermaid, not striking a stylistically, beautiful pose, but doing something I imagine she might do to survive in the sea. I wanted an element of danger, as I imagined there would be in an ocean full of predators. And then I saw her quite clearly, pressed back against a rock, tensed for a fight (to the death if need be), a Mermaid Huntress following the shadow of a Great White overhead.

I drew it in pencil rather quickly, with the image fresh in my mind. As I began planning the colors, the idea popped into my head that a wash of blue water color in the background would give it the right look - after all it was an underwater scene. I could have left it at that, and just filled in the background with watercolor. Easy enough to do. But then I had the idea to wash the whole thing with blue watercolor. I thought it would be beautiful if the entire picture had a blue overlay so it would really look like it was underwater. (Sigh)

So there I was, with a nicely colored drawing - all the colors looked just right. Instead of coloring it solidly as I usually do, I left a little paper showing through here and there so the blue watercolor would soak in. Time for the wash. I did hesitate. After all, it looked nice the way it was. All I had to do was color the ocean with color pencil. I knew that would turn out fine - I'd done it countless times before. What if this wash messed it up? I wouldn't have time to start all over...

This was about challenges, right? I got out my watercolors. The pearlescent ones. Thought they'd add some shimmer and shine. Oh dear. The blue is looking grey. Well, I'll just add a little more to deepen it. Gasp! What's happening to the Mermaid's pale skin? It has grey spots all over it! Oh no - whatever makes the watercolor pearlescent is giving the Mermaid speckles! And there are grey streaks all over the picture. This isn't going well at all! Blot, blot, blot with paper towel! Try adding regular watercolor! Oh no, the paper is too wet - it's going to scrub up if I add more! Ugh! It's ruined!

I (literally) put my head in my hands and considered the consequences. It seems silly now, but I truly despaired. I felt all kinds of yucky emotions; sorrow that I'd ruined something beautiful, disbelief that I'd poured all of that energy and creativity into something only to have wasted it, shame that I'd felt so smug about doing a Mermaid challenge, embarrassed to publicly admit I'd made a mistake, and hopelessness. I gave up. I decided to go have a late lunch (somehow the day had slipped away and it was waaay past lunchtime) and think about it later.

Eventually ( a little food and some time helps) I began to rally. I was sitting on the couch, watching some mindless TV show, determined not to think about my mistake, when little by little I started to climb out of the gloomy depths. A thought came to me - maybe I could still do something with it. Another thought - maybe it was still salvageable. Another thought - I owed it to the work to try. Another thought - it couldn't hurt - it was already too late to start over, so what could I lose but a little more time. It was as if the drawing was calling out to me, from the spot on my art desk where I'd (sob) abandoned it. I actually kept sneaking glances away from the TV and toward my desk where it lay. Finally my mind reached the tipping point - more thoughts collected on the artwork side of the scales and fewer remained on the TV. Click! Decision made - TV off. I went back to the desk, a little wary of what I would find there.

Well, it was bad, but not as bad now that it was dry. I looked at it as if it were a patient. Symptoms; grey speckles on the Mermaid's skin, drawing of shark obscured, overall color washed out, watercolor wash splotchy. Diagnosis: Original drawing sound but obscured by bad color. Treatment - fix the color. Prognosis - 50/50. :)

So I started in refreshed, even a little excited about the challenge! I was at peace with the thought that it still might not work out. I didn't mind admitting that I'd made a mistake. I no longer cared what anyone else might think. All that mattered is that I give it my best effort and if it worked - hooray! If not, I would take stock of what I had learned, and share that with others.

First order of business - the Mermaids skin. Now that the paper was dry, it turned out that a fresh application of color pencil took care of the speckles! Say, that meant I could do the same for any other object that was washed out! Here you go, Shark! A  little darkening of your original color and voila! You look marvelously menacing! Here you go plants! Let's brighten up your leafy parts and add a little definition - nice! Hey, rocks, lets' deepen that nice purpley color a bit, so you'll make a better backdrop for the Mermaid - let's make her pop! Oh, what fun! I get to re-do the swirls in the Mermaid's hair! Always a favorite thing to draw anyway. Gee, your hair actually looks better - terrific!

Yeah, but what about that awful splotchy watercolor background? Well, on closer inspection it's kinda cool, cuz it pools here and there, just like water. Dirty, muddy water. Hmmm. How about I take my good ol' trusty color pencils and enhance this effect? Let's see - dark blue in the pools, white swirls to highlight the eddies... Gasp! Look at the cool effects! This actually looks good! Much better than the wash I had envisioned.

The picture was saved! And, I had learned something after all. With art, it's not always just about the result. It's also about the process. Not everything works out - but everything you try tells you something about the materials and about yourself.

Without further ado, here is the final result: 

 Ok - that's done! What's next on the list?


DoodleDollies said...

Great work!! you will do great! who needs a day job when you have so much talent?

Cindy D said...

Oh my, I was worried for a while there. Such angst! Such uncertainty! And then... triumph! Well done, and it came out really nice. :)

Also, I really like the new background. Very nice color and texture and subtle enough not to intrude on the text. The banner looks quite lovely as well, although it doesn't fill the screen so it has space on both sides? Not sure if you see the same thing because browsers can vary. If you can't get it to fill the screen maybe darker colors on the sides? Either way, it all looks quite nice!

Sheri McClure-Pitler said...

Thanks, DoodleDollies - I hope you are right!

Hi Cindy,
It seems silly now that I experienced all that drama, but perhaps the work is better for it. I'd like to think so! :)

Re the new look of the blog - I was thinking of you, looking at that bright glaring light on the former background, when I created this one. I appreciate that you told me it was a distraction - otherwise I would have put off re-doing the design. It's not my favorite thing to do.) I tried resizing the banner several times over a few days, but just couldn't get it to fill those spaces. I think it's because it's a template which I tweaked to the point of no return. So at this point I'll leave it because I think I will have to start over from scratch with a different template that may be more compatible. Ran out of time to work on it. Other things on the list were calling me away....