My first ‘commission’ . . .
Back in the first half of this year, sometime . . . I don’t really remember when . . . A lovely friend of mine approached me to do an illustration for her baby’s nursery. I nervously agreed, completely blown away that someone would want anything of mine hanging on their wall. I immediately knew what I wanted to do and ran it past Emily, who loved my ideas and gave me the go ahead. I decided on gouache because of its forgiving nature (unlike watercolours . . . DON’T get me started on watercolours) and also because I have this terrible habit of jumping straight in with mediums I haven’t used before in order to prove to myself that I can do it.
Who influenced my work?
There were two illustrators from whom I drew my inspiration, my two favourite illustrators OF ALL TIME; Freya Blackwood and Rebecca Green (make sure you check out their work, you will be absolutely enchanted!). I absolutely love the gestural lines used by Freya and the adorable way that Rebecca paint’s animals. . . Well actually, the adorable way she paints EVERYTHING . . . That actually goes for Freya too, I basically love everything these talented ladies do.
The process . . .
So, never having EVER done anything this involved or this detailed before I had NO IDEA what I was doing, so I just began (a lot harder than it sounds folks especially when factoring in high anxiety levels and a body that does not cope with stress) . . .
I began, as I always seem to do, by searching the wonderful world wide web for reference photos. I then began to sketch out animals on my trusty Ipadpro with my AWESOME Apple pencil. I was able to work and rework the animals and the background until I was satisfyed and then it was time to transfer the image onto the paper. My transferral process is pretty archaic I think. I print out the images in the sizes I want and back the front to what I want them to appear on the final (a lot of trial and error) and traced them on tracing paper with a 3B pencil. I then flip the tracing paper, place it on the paper in the position I want it to sit within the artwork and then with a hard pencil I shade over the traced lines in order to transfer the lead onto the papers surface. It works for me.
Once I had all the line work down in VERY light pencil, I drew over it with a brown pencil. I did this because lead pencil smudges and it disappears with the paint. I did not want my line disappearing, I was already freaking out enough.
Courage and watercolour paper . . .
I was so paranoid that the painting would buckle and get wavy if i didn’t use the right paper so I researched for the best paper to use and came up with Arches Hot press watercolour paper. Through my research I began to see the same phrase come up again and again . . . ‘Stretch your paper’ . . . WHAT THE WHAT? Upon further research I learned that in order to prevent buckling the best thing to do is to ‘stretch’ the paper by placing it inn a bath (literally A BATH) of water and soak it for 10-15 minutes, depending on paper thickness among other things. Well, I think I went white. The internet was telling me to take this perfect drawing that I had just created and SOAK IT IN WATER. . . So I did it . . haha . . . It felt so wrong! Anyway, once I pulled it out of the bath with the pencil lines still intact and I laid it flat on my drawing board, taped it down with artists tape and watched it dry completely flat, I breathed a sigh of relief.
You may be wondering why this freaked me out so much? Firstly, I suffer from anxiety and lets face it, anxiety NEVER makes sense. Secondly, I’m on a disability pension and that paper cost me $14, trust me, you would be freaking out too! Thirdly, I spent 3 hours the previous evening drawing that perfect image on that paper and for someone with severe chronic fatigue syndrome that is quite an effort. I did not want to see my effort washed down the drain, literally!
‘Courage, dear heart’ I whispered to myself . . . And it paid off.
Paint and patience . . .
This painting was a huge learning process from start to finish. I feel like I wasted so much paint while trying to mix the colours I wanted, and once I had mixed said colours I never seemed to mix enough. Thankfully gouache is a forgiving medium. It could have been dry for a week but I could go back in to specific parts of the painting and rework it simply by adding moisture. I did this A LOT. I learnt a lot about the different uses of lots of different kinds of paint brushes and now long for the day when I can justify spending $50 on a well made, single paintbrush. I learnt to ‘listen’ to the painting and let it guide me. This sounds all airy-fairy and wishy-washy but it’s kinda true. I went in directions with this painting that were contrary to what I had planned and it worked out well. Most of all I learned to have patience, to not freak out over every little stuff up and to believe in my own God-given ability.
I still have my moments of doubt when I look at the finished painting. I can see my mistakes, I can pick out all the things I wish I did differently and I can list of every little thing I don’t like, but I won’t. I will tell my inner critic in this instance to ‘please shut up’ as I try and enjoy this unique whimsical artwork that I painted . . . ME . . . having no training and no experience with gouache. I learnt SO much and my confidence in my own abilities has grown. What an experience.
On Friday I will give this painting to its new owner and it will grace the wall of her new baby boy’s nursery. I am so grateful to Emily for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.
Embrace the challenge folks, don’t let a fear of your own inadequacies hold you back.