17 May 2018

Direct Watercolor

Marc Taro Holmes, whose watercolors I have long admired, has gotten together on Facebook with a few friends as administrators to issue a 30-day challenge for the month of June, called 30x30 Direct Watercolor. It's basically another daily practice challenge to get people into the discipline of painting every single day, a goal to which I aspire but almost never achieve. But the part that's different is the word "direct." His challenge is specifically to paint with little to no pre-drawing involved, to think in colors, shapes, masses, and light, rather than getting stuck on outlines and details. Since I have been all about the contour ever since I studied with Brenda Swenson and took up drawing with a pen, this is radically different for me.

I started thinking back, and can't honestly remember ever making a painting without first making a fairly elaborate and complete drawing. So I'm going to try it. It's not a requirement for the month, so I may also do some of my usual ink-and-then-watercolor efforts. But it's definitely a good method to change the way I look at my subjects, and it's probably about time I took on something different.

I had a little time this morning, so I did a straight, brush-to-paper rendering of the orange tree in my back yard as a practice, anticipating June. It definitely looks different to my regular efforts. This month will be interesting.

15 April 2018

Suitcase of tasks

To win prizes this year in our Teen Summer Reading Program, instead of a reading log we are posting a collection of tasks the teens can do. They still include reading a book or writing a book review, but they can also do other things, like check out an e-audio book, try a new recipe, learn some phrases from another language on Mango Languages, and take a selfie with our library gnome to post on Facebook.

The task page is already made for us—we are co-opting the one the adult program used last year, since all the tasks are inside of tiny suitcases, which is perfect for our travel theme this year. But I needed a graphic to go with it, and I wanted it to be more than just an array of books, like I usually do for the reading log. César Garcia, one of our publicity people, inspired me with a graphic he created for the adult program last year, so I stole his concept and reworked it to suit ours.

His suitcase graphic had the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Colosseum, a bunch of mountains, and some other popular travel destinations emerging from it. I copied his suitcase, and then "filled" it with things that symbolize our tasks checklist instead, and in the background I depicted (sort of like travel stickers) some of the prizes the kids can win for performing those tasks.

It's more or less a cartoon, so it was more an exercise in drawing and coloring in than showing any nuanced skill in watercolor, but it's bright and busy and I think it will perfectly suit our tasks page and our brochure. Thanks, César!

14 April 2018

Cruising towards disaster

For the third year in a row, our Teen Advisory Board (TAB) is creating an original lock-in murder mystery night as the finale of our Teen Summer Reading Program. Since the theme is "Reading Takes You Everywhere," interpreted as "travel," I suggested they place their murder on a bus to Washington, D.C., for their annual choir concert. No, they said, a bus didn't give enough scope, they wanted to fly. Okay, I said, murder on a plane!

They thought about it for a while and decided that this was likewise lacking in scope: Where would they accomplish the murder? A bathroom was too, erm, icky, and nobody wanted to be crawling around in the luggage space. How would they discover the murderer? After all, the audience is supposed to be able to walk around and question the suspects and the innocent standers-by, but how would that happen in the close confines of a plane? Also, they wanted more of a theme for their merry band of possible killers.

So the final choice was, murder on a cruise ship. And most of the suspects (and the murder victim) are members of an acting troupe hired to entertain the passengers, so the murder could take place on stage. I was happy to go along with this, as long as they gave me their venue and their title for this year's passion play.

Oh, a title. Much brainstorming ensued. The favorite (to much laughter) was "As-sea-sination," but they ultimately decided that while it showcased them as the ultimate punsters, it was a little hard to grasp for the uninitiated, let alone spell. So the final choice was "Death on Deck," and now it was my turn to provide an appropriate illustration.

Here it is. We'll see what they think of it.

My only personal concern is that the smoke "effect" is too realistic to go with the somewhat cartoon-y nature of the rest of the drawing. After looking at a lot of photographs of actual cruise ships, all of which were unimaginatively shot horizontally from the side, I ended up semi-copying someone else's drawing that had the qualities I wanted—the looming prow, the row of life boats, and not too much complexity in the windows. While cruise ships today don't have the smokestack, since the TAB has already decided that this might have taken place "back in Titanic times," I appropriated and added the smokestack so as to be able to also add the atmospheric suggestion of death coming out of it!

I also neglected to put a ship name (the USS Sappy Seas?) on the prow, as would normally appear. I'm going to ask them about that and will perhaps add something, though I don't want it to distract too much from the title of their "play." We'll see.

11 April 2018


I posted the last one on World Watercolor Group's Facebook page, and asked for opinions. It was about evenly divided between "I like that the books are flying off the page! It's lively, and it's not a photograph, it shouldn't have to be in perfect proportion" and "Every book is drawn from a different perspective, what were you thinking?" (What I was thinking was, I'm NOT good at perspective—if I could have made the first one proportionally correct, I would have!)

So, I did it over. I decided to simplify, by using three books instead of four, and simply setting the mug on top, instead of having it shoving a book off the pile (which worked last year but somehow just wouldn't, with the exact same mug, this year). Since I was doing it over, I took the opportunity to switch out one of the books, and I think the resulting color combo is more pleasing to the eye.

One would like to think that one's skills improved progressively over the years, but I have to say that I think I did a better job both last year (see previous post) and the year before (below). But...it will do! On to the next challenge...

08 April 2018


Today, I set out to do what always seems like the most difficult illustration: Book Café. First of all, I have to pick the right books: They have to be colorful, compliment one another without being too much the same, and work with the Book Café mug. Second, the mug isn't made yet (it's on order but won't arrive for a couple more weeks), so I have to make it up from a stand-in mug and put the logo on it, hoping that it looks like it's actually printed.

Here is last year's illustration:

I was pretty happy with it; although the top book got a bit messy, I liked the extreme color contrasts of light and dark (I especially loved the unusual red pages on Crooked Kingdom), and I was pleased with how the shine on the bottom title (The Diabolic) worked out. I also liked the layout.

This year was a special challenge, because instead of just picking three or four recently published and hopefully popular books for the summer's illustration, I wanted books that had titles reflecting our travel theme. I brought about a dozen home with me, but the best titles (Wanderlost, Rules of the Road, etc.) had less than optimum covers (teenagers kissing, can you imagine?). I finally picked four books, three fairly new and one pretty old.

I also just couldn't bring off the logo for the cup drawing freehand. I made it in Photoshop, and although I could have traced it if I'd thought ahead, I didn't bring a printout home with me, and my home printer gave up the ghost some weeks ago, so I couldn't trace it to get it right. Here's a screenshot from the DiscountMugs website:

Arched, spaced lettering is a challenge, beyond me without electronic tools! I therefore opted to just do the "Book Café" part and leave the rest of it off. For that reason and also for the uneasy layout of the books in this illustration (some slightly strange angles make the top two books look like they're about to float away), I may end up doing this over; but I'm happy enough with it that I probably won't, just because of time considerations!

It always interests me what you have to take into account when putting disparate items into a picture together and making them work. I'm kind of sorry that I picked two books (top and bottom) that both had white lettering, because with the white of the 2nd book as well, the whole comes out a little blander than I would like. Also, after I painted the lime green mug and put shadowing on it in darker shades of green, I waited for it to dry before adding the purple lettering, so I spent my time putting in the little shadows under each book. Then, when I put in the purple lettering, it became glaringly obvious that I had used that particular purple only on the mug lettering and nowhere else, and suddenly the picture didn't work. So I went back and added the same purple into all the shadows, and even into the shadows on the mug itself, and suddenly there was a cohesiveness about the picture.

Like I said, I may do it over, tracing the complete logo onto the mug and also perhaps reconsidering my choice and layout of books. This stack was perfectly stable, and yet in the picture the top two look a bit tipsy. And finally, I probably should have put a great big cast shadow to the left of the books, but I couldn't bring myself to risk it, after all the work I put in.

Second-guessing is a bitch.

07 April 2018

Cover art

When we first decided to use "Reading Takes You Everywhere" as a travel-oriented theme for teen summer reading, we were looking for road-trip books to feature on our book list, and came across one that had the perfect cover for our TSRP brochure. But not only was it someone else's photo, it also happened to have words and drawings superimposed over the picture that were difficult if not impossible to remove and still maintain the background. So I decided to recreate the whole thing and make it into a painting.

Here's a photo side by side of the book cover and the "photo shoot" recreation I did with three of our book club kids (Allison, George, and Katrina) and my new Jeep:

Because our colors for the summer mimic the colors used in our Burbank Public Library logo, which looks like this...

...I wanted to keep the slightly unreal, filtered look of the photo with the turquoise shading to lime-yellow. Here are my efforts.

This is the drawing with its first layer of color. This was probably my first mistake—using sketchbook paper instead of putting this on real watercolor paper—but I didn't really want the texture of the WC paper to be a factor.

This paper stands up to watercolor pretty well...but I was about to ask it to stand up to multiple layers!

I spent about three hours on this, start to finish, and made various decisions as I went along, and although I'm fairly happy with it and will probably use it, I have some regrets. I overworked the capacity of the paper, so it's a bit blurry and scritchy-looking here and there, and the map isn't as "mappy" as I'd like. I didn't end up leaving enough whites showing; I saved some, but ended up covering a lot of them over as individual decisions that seemed right but turned out not to be. Next time I will hesitate and save them a little longer before making those decisions!

This will be the backdrop for the title page of my brochure, which will say "READING TAKES YOU EVERYWHERE!" in some appropriately funky lettering, and then inform about the dates and age range. I'll post it when it's complete, later this week. I'm hoping it works as well as (or better than) the pirated photo did. I tried to leave more space where I needed it (at the bottom) so that the type didn't go over their feet. We will see...

31 March 2018

Small progress

Today I did a couple of small drawings for teen summer reading. I was hoping to accomplish at least one more, perhaps one of the main ones (the brochure cover, Book Café), but I slept too late and had too many errands to have much time.

The first is for our book-making class, and I had initially planned to go with an array of book-binding tools, but time is fleeting, simplicity speaks just as well, and I ended up with this basic picture of a book signature:

I realized after I did it that the sheet of marbled paper I "inserted" so the kids would get the idea of how this is going to work would actually be facing the other direction (inward and away from the viewer) if this were correct; but I'm going for symbols here and hopefully this will give them the idea without them thinking too logically about it and saying "Hey, waaaait a minute..."

The second is a purely incidental drawing, but since we have decided to do away with reading logs this year, a necessary one.

For the past nine years that I have run the teen summer reading program, we have given the kids a reading log every summer. If they wrote down every book they read inside it, they could bring it in and get a librarian to sign off on their entries, and receive a ticket for each one. Their name and phone went on the ticket, the ticket went into a jar at the reference desk counter, and once a week, on Fridays at noon, we drew three lucky tickets from the jar at each of our three branch, for a total of nine weekly winners of small prizes. I say small, but they're not insignificant: We give them $5 gift cards to Starbucks, or Yogurtland, or Ben & Jerry's or In 'n Out Burger.

Sadly for the past couple of years participation in this part of the program has dwindled to the point that, where we once expected to have 250-300 tickets in each jar by the end of the six weeks, last year there were only 60-some in mine. It's not that the kids aren't reading; but they don't seem to have the time any longer to actually come to the library to put in their tickets. Or, as Anarda surmises, the prizes aren't big enough for them to bother. (I hate to think it's that.)

So, this year we decided to implement a different system that would include some reading prizes but also give out rewards for doing other sorts of things, such as downloading an ebook from Libby, liking us on one of our social media platforms, etc., and would encompass more prize winners and definite hierarchies of prizes, from small and silly to larger and more impressive. We're going to create a grid with various tasks in it, and if they do one, they either win a prize, collect points towards winning a prize, or win a chance at a prize, depending.

Because the program theme (Reading Takes You Everywhere) is travel-related this year, one of our tasks for the teens will be to check out (as in, use your library card and scan his bar code) the Library Gnome, take a selfie with him, and send it to us to post on Facebook and Instagram. Why do we have a Library Gnome? Oh, because five or six years ago, we did another travel-related theme, and we thought it would be fun to have an actual Travelocity gnome as part of our collection. So here he is, ready for his cameo in the "Hollywood Squares"-style grid of tasks for our teens.

It's this silly part of being a teen librarian that makes me happy. If it could all be this, instead of supervisors' meetings or nasty interchanges with grumpy grown-ups at the reference desk, my world would be a happier place!

Hopefully more illustrations before the weekend is through. If not, there's always next week.