Thursday, December 9, 2010

Zen and the Art of Christmas Card Making

After last week's marathon project and subsequent post, I spent the next day and a half staring blankly at my sketchbook wondering what project I can possibly do this week. The last few weeks have been like this. This blog pressures me to constantly one up my previous week's work. I feel that if I don't do something new I'll let down my readers..all 8 of you! Anyway, there I sat. Staring blankly at my tabula rasa (Thanks, Dave!) wondering what I could do. I asked my wife for an idea. She says, why not do a family portrait? A good idea. I could further challenge myself by drawing the thing I hate most...NO, NOT MY FAMILY!...FACES!  
I was inspired. I began to give it some thought and I decided that a neat idea might be to draw our annual Christmas card. Usually, Rachel sets up some sort of still life of snowmen and Santas and puts Sophia in 3 outfits and struggles to take a picture of an active toddler who feels that taking her picture is tantamount to pouring acid in her diaper. So I decided to spare Rachel and Sophia the fun of this and try something different. So here is the Baldwin Christmas card this year:

The best part was that we didn't have to fight to keep Sophia still!
This project was a ton of fun. It was a struggle but I learned a lot about my abilities and I even rediscovered an old Zen concept that I had forgotten about: The Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

I remember reading Master Suzuki's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind when I was in college. It was one of those books where the concepts makes sense but you never truly grasp them until the right situation comes around that brings it home. Master Suzuki's quote on the Beginner's Mind is fairly self explanatory but to explain further it is considered a state of ultimate freshness. Try to remember the first time you learned to ride a bike or learned to swim. If you can't remember that far back, try to remember the first time you fell in love. Everything is new in the beginning, it's uncharted territory where you have no expectations, except to experience something new.

My blog has been that way for me. I have been rediscovering art, regressing back to my old lessons and hearing my old teachers correcting my layout and techniques. However, I never regressed as far back as I did when I was struggling to properly draw Rachel's face for this project. I could capture the upper part of the face (her eyes, hair, and glasses) but I just couldn't get the nose and mouth to come out right. I sat there for an hour, drawing and re-drawing her mouth and I eventually became so frustrated I started drawing pseudo smiley faces with her hair and glasses like a 5 year old. Surprisingly these simple renderings captured her essence better than any of the detailed drawings I tried earlier.  In the 2 minutes that followed this realization I was able to draw myself and my daughter.

It was at that moment that Beginner's Mind made sense.  I stopped focusing and struggling on the minute details of the face and simply had fun with it. I felt like I was learning a completely new way of looking at things. I have moments like this when I would play with Sophia and draw her quick sketches on her magna-doodle. For her, my pictures never need to be precise...actually I never have time to be precise since she spouts off a different idea every 5 seconds. It's those moments where I feel like an art God...I can draw her anything and she feels such utter joy with the results.

This leads me to next week's project. I am thinking of trying my hand at a comic strip for the blog. I could use a good idea, so if any of you are willing, send me your ideas/stories that would make a great comic strip and I'll see what I can do.

Until next week!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Follow the Long and Exhausting Yellow Brick Road

I know I'm a week late on my post. I fell victim to holiday procrastination. I was still drawing everyday but I never got around to writing anything. Since I missed last week's post, I am treating (or subjecting) you to two projects.

Don't tell my wife but while I was home for Thanksgiving, I fell in love! Actually, she knows...she paid for her. Get your minds out of the gutter!! I'm talking about a new toy I picked up while Christmas shopping for my daughter. We went to Commercial Art Supply to look for an easel for my little one, a budding artist at the age of 2. A quick aside...My daughter really surprised me today, she actually drew me a picture of the moon and it was recognizable. It blew me away! For those of us parents, we see the art our kids produce and at that age and generally it looks like something a blind ape would make with poo on a wall. Even though I have no idea what her creations are, I find it heartbreaking to get rid of them. I have boxes of her art in the closet and in my attic.

Anyway, back to the story. While we were shopping I decided to look around for a decent art pen. I was getting ready to purchase a standard studio pen (sort of like a fine tip Sharpie) when I decided at the last minute to ask one of the store reps about what they recommend to use for illustration. He asks me, "Have you ever tried a fountain pen?" I said, "No, not since 8th grade art class...and I hated it!" He suggested I give it another try. So he takes me to this counter with a glass case, kind of like what you would see in a jewelry store. He pulls out an assortment of pens and told me to give one a try. The lines these pens created were fantastic. The pen were light and comfortable. The heavens opened up, birds sang, and a unicorn came out from around the corner and told me that I was destined to own this pen. I was in love. Then I saw the price tag...$30!!! FOR ONE PEN??? I felt like asking him if this pen requires gold ink. So I look over at my wife, who I might add looked absolutely gorgeous and radiant (wink, wink), and gave her my most pathetic look. She said, "Go ahead and get it." Have I mentioned how much I love her??
This leads me to my latest project. Marvel comics recently released a comic version of the Wizard of Oz.

I decided to purchase this book because I liked the art and I was inspired to create something for my daughter's room. Basically I wanted to replace Dorothy with my daughter and draw her and the other characters on the yellow brick road. I did a bunch of sketches to figure out how to draw these characters. I can definitely tell I am improving because when I look at the art of others, I am immediately breaking it down to simple shapes and quickly recreating them. The characters were surprisingly easy to draw. Once I mastered the look and style of the characters I decided to create my own layout and do a smaller draft version (below).
Pen and Ink draft

I have to say that I am really happy with how this turned out. I love the lines that my new pen makes. This was so much fun I spent another 9 HOURS yesterday recreating this on a 20x30 illustration board using water color pencils and ink (below). In retrospect, I kind of like the ink version better but it was more fun to do the big project.

I haven't done a marathon session like that since I was in college...actually, I don't think I have every did that when I was in my prime. I actually felt like my brain ran a marathon. It was an insane feeling... I kept telling myself to stop because I'd done enough already, but every time I looked at the picture, I kept adding and adding. Afterward, I couldn't focus on anything. I tried to read and couldn't get past one page. I don't know how professionals do this all day, everyday.
Final 20x30 Illustration Board Water Color Pencil

Anyway, I'm spent. I need a day or so to decompress and think about my next project. See you all next week!