Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Last Butt-Kicking of 2007

Successful people believe that they have the internal capacity to make desirable things happen.

This is perhaps the most central belief shown to drive individual success. People who believe they can succeed see opportunities where others see threats. This comfort with ambiguity leads people to take greater risks and achieve greater returns.

Successful people tend to not feel like victims of fate. They believe that they have the motivation and ability to change their world. They see success for themselves and others as largely a function of motivation and ability, not luck, random chance or external factors.

Okay, folks. Here it is. My last friendly butt-kicking of 2007, for artists, writers, moms, and anybody else who reads this blog. I don't pretend to be the most successful person in the world, but I can say that I'm happy with where I'm at as a brand-new 26-year-old. I'm better off this December than I was last December. If I've made the same leap by next year, I'll be happy next year too.

I'm a big believer in goals, so for me, setting New Year's Resolutions seems pretty obvious. I tend to write down my resolutions right before the New Year and then modify them throughout the year as I meet them. And I do tend to meet them. Want to hear some of mine from last year's resolutions?

1. make my living entirely from art again this year (despite a ghastly October that had me eating way too much spaghetti with no sauce, I did this) (and I had a set money figure that I wanted to meet for myself to count as "making my living", which I'm not going to share here, so don't ask, you nosy buggers)
2. get a contract for one of my novels (regular blog readers will know that LAMENT is coming out in Fall '08)
3. get into American Academy of Equine Art's exhibition (didn't do this but got into the Colored Pencil Society of America's International Exhibition instead).
4. teach more workshops (the Detroit branch of the CPSA flew me out there to teach a three day workshop in March, which was very fun & I've been asked to do a series of 5 workshops in Northern Virginia in '08)

For me, there's no need to convince me about the value of New Year's Resolutions. Setting goals works, because it makes me accountable. How can I be successful if I don't know what I'm supposed to be trying to do? With that in mind, I've dug up some useful goals links for the wafflers amongst you to read before setting your goals. Setting bad goals is worse than none at all, so make sure you're doing it right.

Make Your Goals Specific
The Mindset of Successful People (scroll down to get to the good part)
Hokey Article about Visualizing Goals

The most important thing is to make your goals specific. "Make Money with my Art" is a crummy goal. "Make xx,xxx" with my art is a better goal, because you'll know when you've achieved it. And if you only make x,xxx amount with your art, you know how far you still have to go, and you'll stretch to reach it.

The next thing is to make your goals something that you can mostly do under your own steam. Don't put "Achieve world peace" (which is another sucky non-specific goal by the way) unless you think you can do most of that on your own.

And the next important thing is to not make your goals too easy. Sure, you can throw in some gimmies. But throw in some stretches there. You risk not making them, but you also include that chance that you might. And if you don't put them in there, I can guarantee that you won't make them.

And finally, show them to everyone. Remember that accountability thing? The more people that see them, the more real those goals are. You have a reason to achieve them, to prove yourself to others as well as to yourself.

With that said, here are my top ten goals for 2008.

1. Make 75% of my income from my art. (I have an actual dollar amount that only my family knows).
2. Make 25% of my income from my writing.
3. Shift my art income to 75% prints, products with my art on it, and workshops and the rest from originals.
4. Get a contract for at least one other novel and the sequel to LAMENT.
5. Learn to play my two favorite O'Carolan pieces on my harp (this is my gimmie, but I wouldn't make time for it unless I put it on the list).
6. Visit New York City with my husband (and maybe my toddlers).
7. Inspire at least one other person to go full-time with their art.
8. Comfortably run a mile by the end of the year (this is another gimmie, but like the other one, I wouldn't feel like I had to do it unless it's on this list).
9. Get into the studio to record a lament for LAMENT & build website for book with the tune as a download.
10. Land a good literary agent.
(11). Get my dog Ginger to stop smelling like fish.

Looking at that, I'm sure I'm missing some things, but I'm going to jot them down as I think of them. And you know what I'm doing right at this moment? I'm taking that list, using a beautifully fat and smelly Sharpie to write them on a piece of cardstock and taping it next to my desk where I can see them every day. And I can't wait to start crossing them off.

Let's see your goals, folks. Post a comment here if you've put your goals up on your blog, or if you're afraid to do it that publicly, feel free to email them to me (portraitswithcharacter AT if you want me to help you feel accountable.

Happy New Year! It's going to be a good one.

Friday, December 07, 2007


"Grayce (take two)" - 2.5 x 3.5" colored pencil on drafting film.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
E-mail me at portraitswithcharacter AT to purchase art-card sized portraits ($40 each).

I don't consider myself an unfriendly person, but neither am I snuggly, cuddly, approachable or hands-on.

Since I've gone full-time as an artist, two years ago, I have read multiple studies on how hand contact will sell more product, and how a warm hug will often cinch a deal that a handshake wouldn't. Intellectually, I take that all in and think fascinating. Practically, I imagine putting the concept to use and think Cooties.

I just . . . I just don't like this whole hugging of strangers thing. I don't like hugging of friends thing. I hug my dog. I hug my dad. I hug my husband. In three entirely different ways. But otherwise -- hm. I'd rather eat bell peppers, and that's saying a lot.

The problem is, there's no real way to broadcast the fact of my anti-hugness without appearing unfriendly. Well, perhaps there is, but I've lost the knowledge as I've aged. In college I was broadly labeled as "scary" by those who knew me and guys would tell me that they had friends who wanted to ask me out but were too scared too. They would hoot when someone tried to lay a hand on my shoulder or otherwise pop a personal bubble which I prided on being no less than ten feet. On either side of me.

But now I seem to have people hugging me all the time. They can't help it. They mean well. They want to show me how glad they are to see me. They don't realize they're setting off all kinds of personal alarms and making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like Carrot Top's hair.

I wish I had porcupine spines. Then I wouldn't have to say anything, you know? I'd be automatically repellent. And it would also be great for branding purposes, wouldn't it?

BUYER 1: Where did you find that awesome painting?
BUYER 2: That booth down near the entrance.
BUYER 1: Which one?
BUYER 2: The artist with the spines all over her body.
BUYER 2: I know just who you're thinking of.

Also spines would be great for organizing my life -- I'd never lose another business card. Just stab that sucker onto one of the spines and I'm a walking Rolodex.

Guys, I gotta go. I need to revise my Christmas list. Need me some spines.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

(look at all my pretty prints . . . they look like a real artist did them)

Hey gang – I’m going to be at the Richmond Christmas Craftsmen Classic for the next three days, so don’t expect me to be posting much. At least after that I go into winter break and I should have a bit more time off. (Ha)(Nay, double Ha!)

I have to say that I love this show. The promoter is awesome and does more for their booth fee than any show I’ve ever been to. I hear the show advertised non-stop on the radio, see billboards for it all through town as I drive to it (and this is Richmond - billboards ain’t no small thing), get donuts and coffee in the morning, have porters to help load and unload my booth, and have booth-sitters in case I have to run to the bathroom. There’s a reason Sunshine Artist voted them #6 – oh yeah, and the fact that 35,000 customers come through each year.

That said, here’s three random suggestions for art shows:

1) Sell yourself. Your art may be beautiful and your booth wonderfully set up, but when it comes down to it, your attitude will affect the majority of your sales – or your non-sales. I once read somewhere that you should wear make-up to shows. I scratched my head over it and thought “uh . . . “ But having been to shows, I get it. No one wants to buy something from a grumpy old hag with hair sticking up and a shoulder-slump that says “my spouse isn’t supportive and I don’t believe in myself.” You don’t have to be an A+ hottie to sell art (though I am)(kidding), but you should be neat, clean, and smiling. Your attitude should be positive - nay, effusive. You should inspire. Sell yourself.

2) Help your fellow artist/ artisan/ craftsman/ person inundated with too much imagination to be functional in a desk job. If a fellow vendor needs help moving something, offer. Don’t wait to be asked. Be known as the helpful artist and it will come back to you tenfold. Look for opportunities to make someone’s life easier – and remember those who do the same for you.

3) Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Which direction are they walking from? What will they see first? What will they love the most? Be objective. Be creative. What would you like to see in an artist’s booth? Where would you like the prices to be? When people come to look, treat them as you’d like to be treated, not like a sulky teen or a scary-clingy stalker.

Actually, just take out the art related comments in those suggestions and apply them to life in general.

Any more suggestions for selling and attitude? Put ‘em in the comments and I’ll pull the good ones out for a recap on the last day of the show when I come back. Bye, y’all! Love all of you! (well, except the scary-clingy stalkers).

Friday, October 26, 2007

Color Me Beauttifffuuull

Welcome, boys and girls, to color correction part one. This is the post where Maggie takes a Crap Photo* and makes Maggic.

*Crap Photo in this case meaning something that looks like a black cat at night

I'm starting out with a photo instead of art because you can be a bit more free with a photo. With a photo the idea is to get it looking beautiful. With a print file the idea is to get it looking like the original piece of art. Not at all the same thing. Well, slightly the same thing.

Anyway, this is just a very fast correction of a very drastic example. The methods I'm using here, however, are some of the most common ones I use in my every-day artwork Photo-shopping. Uh, what else did I want to say before I began? Oh, don't try and make prints from this lousy of a photo. And now, without further ado . . . the Crap Photo.

Step One. The Crap Photo before alteration. I had my camera set on the wrong setting so it pretended like it was starved for light. There's information there -- I can sorta see the puppy -- so with my endless optimism, I decide I can probably do something with it.

I open up Adobe Photoshop. I have the whole thing (an older version - 6.0 I think?) but you can do most of this in Photoshop Elements as well, which is much cheaper.

Step Two. You're thinking - holy cow! What did she do!? Right? What I did was use PS's extremely useful "Adjust Auto-Levels" function. In my version, you can find it by going up to the Image heading, finding Adjust, and under that, Auto Levels. Adjust Auto Levels has significant drawbacks and is pretty tactless, but for a quick fix or to see if a photo even has enough information in it to fix, it's priceless.

Note on Auto Levels: if you have a photo with extreme brights and darks, Adjust Auto Levels won't work well for you. It works best if the photo is all mostly too light or all mostly too dark. You can isolate dark areas or remove a super bright area that is skewing the rest of the image's values to good effect, but that takes a bit more skill.

Step Three. In most dark photos, the color leaves a lot to be desired, so I headed straight for Color Balance. You can find that Image > Adjust > Color Balance. I nearly always adjust my photos' colors the same way - up the yellow and the red. This one is no exception. In this step I've done Blue -22 (though I think of it as Yellow +22 -- basically I'm warming it up).

Step Four. I'm not done with the color. Back to Color Balance. In real life, I would just drag the scroll buttons to where I wanted them all in one step, but I wanted you guys to see the difference each color modulation makes. In this one I increase the red by +27. I should note here that I know that my monitor and Photoshop in particular tends to make photos look a bit more green than they really are, so I always do a bit more red than I think I ought to.

Step Five. More Color Balance. The final slider - magenta/ green. I pull it to - 12 green. I'll probably tweak later after I'm done with other adjustments.

Step Six. I head to Image >Adjust > Brightness/ Contrast. I pull the contrast up to +14 and the brightness up +8. Be careful with contrast. It's a lovely toy but it can obliterate details in a moment. Brightness is useful for finding details, especially if it's for a commission photo and you need info, but you can also wash your photo out pretty quickly.

Step Seven. Now to one of my guilty favorites: Image > Adjust > Hue/ Saturation. I love bright, over-saturated photos. I'm just a sucker for that look! So I could probably get away without the crazy saturation, but I increase it +16 because I want to soooo bad.

Step Eight. Now I don't like the color anymore. I need more yellow, so I go back to Color Balance and slide it to Blue -11. Almost done. I'm nit picking. This isn't bad for such a Crap Photo.

Step Nine. I go to Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen and see what that does. It does crap; it just sharpens all the pixels and makes it look grainy. In a pretty good photo, you can get some nice effects with Sharpen, but with a photo that started out this bad, you tend to just get graininess. If I were playing for keeps with this photo, I'd ditch step nine and keep the version I got with Step Eight.

Any questions?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Mattress Paid for by Fairies

"The Library" - 12 x 16" colored pencil work in progress.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater
email me to preorder prints

Last night was my first night sleeping on a mattress paid for by fairies. Regular blog readers will know that I recently sold the rights to my first fairy novel to Flux and that I was going to use part of the advance to buy my husband and I a new mattress. Well, I did just that, and last night was the first night on it.

It took a bit of getting used to last night. For starters, it's one of those pillow tops, which means it's taller than our old mattress. A lot taller. But it looked comfy, so I pole-vaulted on up there and gasped a bit, my lungs adjusting to the thinner atmosphere.

Huh, I thought. This is strange. Where's the dying animal sound that normally accompanies my arrival in bed? This new mattress, unlike our old groaning one, was silent and glad to see me. I could almost hear it saying in a pleasant air stewardess voice: welcome to your new mattress bought by fairies, maggie stiefvater. we hope you have a pleasant night with us. we're planning a nonstop trip to morning.

So then I lay down to find my first comfortable spot of the night. Then - gasp - I didn't wake up until eight this morning. That freaky air-stewardess voice in my head hadn't been kidding on the "non-stop" part. And my eyes didn't feel gritty when I opened them. Could it really be morning? As strange as the painless awakening was, imagine my shock when I looked in the mirror and discovered I had no bags under my eyes. I was beginning to think those babies had moved in for good.

And the best part? My hair looks fab. I couldn't figure out why this was until I looked at the neat and tidy sheets. Sheets that hadn't been tossed and turned in. Hair that hadn't been teased into a rooster fro by fretful pillow rolling.

I almost don't feel bad that I bought this mattress instead of a Camaro project car. Almost.

Anyway, you're probably wondering what the images are all around the text. Well, my lovely publisher Flux is having my cover and title meeting on the 16th and they've invited me to send in cover and title concepts for consideration. Of course this has led to me creating a great deal of digitally pleasing trash (you've seen some of it here) and depositing it in my editor's inbox. "Stolen" and "The Midnight Bird" are my latest two suggestions and the rest are ones that I made look slightly more official from before.

The girl with the key was the most popular one last time -- how about now? And which title grabs you the most?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Planning & Painting

The Puppies! Three weeks old and getting terribly cute and friendly . . . due to various life crises on the part of some of the buyers, there are now four of them available, so let me know if you're in the market. :D

Last week (before my life got slightly crazy with going to the zoo, puppies, mid-life crisis, and other indoor sports), one of my blog readers asked a good question. She asked:

Dear most wonderful Maggie (okay, I made that part up, but the rest is true):

You can create these beautiful, big, well-composed paintings fairly quickly (at least it seems quick from the rate of posts) and I'm wondering what kind of prep work you do. I find it way easier to work on something once the painting is underway - the planning stage is where I procrastinate.

Do you work from well-composed photos, or do you sit down and work out compositions first? How long does that take you? I saw your WIP posts of the big horse - do you do that level of planning for every painting? How much time do you spend planning out focal points and contrasts?

This is a question I get a lot at my workshops. Artists tend to be perfectionists, and insecure ones at that. Combine the two traits and you end up with paintings that take 2.5 years to complete.

I am no exception, but I've come to grips with both -- most of the time. Basically I've given myself permission to create a crappy work, because I'll just do another one. You'd be surprised how freeing it is. And you'd be surprised how much more you improve when you paint 300 imperfect paintings a year instead of 5 perfect ones.

That aside, onto the Maggic of it. How long it takes me, and what exactly falls into the definition of "it."

(by the way, everything I'm about to say applied to my acrylic paintings but not necessarily to my colored pencil pieces -- which are a bit harder to do fast that large).

SIZE: 16 x 20"
MEDIUM: Acrylic
TIME SPENT: 3 hours

First of all, I want to say that part of why I'm so fast is by virtue of creating a painting or drawing every single day for two years. It means that a lot of the prep work becomes automatic. What I used to agonize over, like choosing a good crop, now takes five minutes. Figuring out values and adjustments from the photo used to take another three or for years. And then color choices? Oh man. I remember a simple 8 x 10" colored pencil piece that took me two weeks of work, off and on. Now that piece would be done in 2 or 3 hours. So keep in mind when looking over these steps that, like everything else, practice makes perfect. Or at least close enough to perfect that no one else will notice.

So. First step is choosing the photo. Or taking the photo, depending on your subject. (Or setting up your subject if you're working from life) I really recommend taking your own photos as practice for building good compositions. A good rule of thumb is that crap photos make crap drawings, at least until you're ace at manipulating them. If you're unsure if you can pull it off, stick to good photos with nice lighting. Do not agonize over this step. Remember, your painting will take you 3-4 hours, so you can always do another if it didn't turn out perfectly (and they never do).

Step two is cropping and composition. Composition is a wonderfully complicated subject that I didn't care about at all when I first began. I didn't understand it was important. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that composition makes a huge difference. Take a look at the first photograph -- well, the second. Not the cute puppies. The shot of the Irish town. Then take a look at the painting. The uncropped photo shows you a beautiful town, but it's not as pleasing to the eye as the cropped painting. For any photo, there are usually dozens of options for cropping. Pay attention to the basic compositional rules and then pick the one that pleases you the most. Not your husband, dog, friend, artist partner . . . you. Because cropping and composition will become part of your style.

Now there are a lot of different composition rules, and I can't tell you why they work, but the ones that I consider pretty crucial are:

  • You should have a focal point.
  • The focal point will generally be the point of greatest contrast -- if it's not in the photo, it behooves you to make it thus in the drawing or painting
  • Divide your canvas into thirds. Your focal point should lie roughly on one of the intersections of these lines (see how the road vanishes on one of the thirds? That's my focal point. And the front car lies on another one)
  • Don't divide your painting in half. Your horizon line should lay on one of the thirds
  • Every corner of the painting should be different.
Every other compositional element is negotiable. I play with the photo in one of my photo editing programs for about five minutes before I begin the painting. If it's a complicated image or I'll be cobbling together a lot of reference material, I do a preliminary drawing, like the one I did for the colored pencil piece I'm working on today. In that case, I do a very brief 2 minute sketch with only three values to work out where everything goes and what problems I might encounter. I do up to four of these sketches if a piece really stumps me. If I can't make it look clear in a three-value sketch format, I pitch the painting and start over.*

*by the way, I'm getting very close to the end of my sketch book and I'll be drawing a name out of my blog-subscribers to give it too -- so subscribe if you want a chance at winning it

Step Three is slopping down the actual paint. This used to take me longer as well, until I did the John Singer Sargent project in January of this year. Sargent told his students to slop down paint with confidence instead of dragging a dry brush across the canvas, showing the world how you hesitated. With that in mind, I work quickly when I paint. I don't do a preliminary drawing on the canvas. Instead I block out the rough shapes with a warm color for the foreground shapes and a cool color for the background shapes. This takes literally ten or twenty minutes, because I'm talking very rough and very ugly.

I let that dry for about a half hour while I mix up big globs of paint, and then I start putting down more realistic colors. With each step, putting down more realistic colors, I refine shapes and tighten up details. This process take me about two hours, maybe three if you throw in a half hour here and there for drying time.

Really the secret is not to second-guess yourself and to start rough and refine as you go along. Don't waste time doing a detailed drawing on your canvas. It'll work itself out. (Well, if it's a portrait, you might rethink this. People tend to like their portraits to look like the subject).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Streetscape in Progress

"The Streetlight" - 16 x 20" acrylic on canvas.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

Tonight was Gordon Ramsay and Kitchen Nightmares so no long blog post tonight! I'm just going to post this work in progress series of my latest cityscape and I'll catch y'all later!

Just a brief description of my thought process for my painting (each photo's stage represents about 20-40 minutes depending on the complexity).

1. Rough in shapes in the color/ tone that I want the finished painting to have.
2. Adjust values: light, dark, & midtones and start to work on color. Refine shapes with each pass.
3. Continue refining shapes and begin to block in with my stained-glassesque black lines.
4. More refining of shapes and adding complexity to colors. For instance, where I've blocked in orange before, I mix a better orange with a bit more nuance to it.
5. Nearly there. I add complementary colors to make it pop - bright green and blue.
6. I tidy up my black lines and make sure all edges are tidy and make sense.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yikes! Put Those Things Away!

"Early Morning Test" - 5 x 7" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

I thought today I'd answer a reader's question, scrubbing out all personal names and details so that their identity remains more secret than Britney Spear's career plans.

The reader writes:
We are starting an Art Association in a small town of 3,000. Had 11 at first meeting which I thought was great and more said they are coming. We had a problem right at the first meeting though. A young man brought some artwork that was gruesome and almost pornographic. It's not something I would like to promote on an Art Association Website or say that we are even a part of. (He does have some decent work that is quite beautiful, so he won't be excluded entirely) You are so good with words can you help us with guidelines? What are your thoughts on this?

Having been to a couple different art association meetings, I know that this is a problem that haunts a lot of them. A set of guidelines or a charter of some sort is a very good idea.

This is what mine will say when I'm Queen of America:

The Queen of America Art Adoration Year Round Festival and Artists Group exists for the promotion of artistic types and the beautification of otherwise Ugly Places. We (that's the Royal We) also endeavor to provide a supportive environment for artistic types to further their abilities. A major part of the QAAAYRFAG is the public promotion of our work in the form of exhibitions and college students wearing sandwich boards displaying our art. The QAAAYRFAG does not discriminate by medium, though sculpture should be of a permanent nature (the exception being statues constructed from donuts, because the Queen is very interested to see what could be done with donuts as an artistic medium). Because the Queen does not care to be titillated on the way to work or while going through public places where group exhibitions hang, works of a pornographic nature or featuring Jason Statham will not be permitted. Tasteful nudity is permitted, however, the Queen will have to stare at all of pieces featuring nudity to see if they gross her out or not.

Now, since I understand that not all exhibitions are run by the future Queen of America (c'est moi), I recommend this boiler plate version instead:

Everytown Art Association exists for the promotion of artists (you can specify 2D here) and to increase public awareness of the arts in Everytown. The group also endeavors to provide a supportive environment for artists to further their studies. A major part of the EAA is the public promotion of members' work in the form of exhibitions, which will be juried by ____ (or by an outside juror selected by the members). The EAA does not discriminate by medium, though sculpture should be of a permanent nature. Because the EAA's exhibitions will be held in venues open to the public, works of a pornographic nature will not be permitted. Tasteful nudity is permitted, however, works containing nudity must be approved by the president/ head honcho before being allowed in a public exhibition. We also ask that members do not bring pornographic works or works with gratuitous nudity to group meetings.

Now . . . puppy pics tomorrow!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Work in Progress/ Secret Admirer

"Secret Admirer" - 4 x 9" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

I met up with an old friend from college today - she's been in Europe for a few years, literally - and it was great. Great times, great food (krispy kreme), and we're both much hotter than we were in college, which is always a pleasant revelation to have at a donut shop.

But it didn't leave much time for work, so I only got a quick one hour piece done today, with no background. Here 'tis.

Secret Admirer progress

Secret Admirer 2

Friday, September 07, 2007

Farewell, Dutiful Blade

Farewell to a tireless worker and constant desk companion. My faithful $8 sharpener grinded productively by my side for two years before finally having a psychotic break and massacring eight pencils before killing itself in a grating spasm that smelled of burning wood and melting electrical parts.

I could say that I could never replace you, dear sharpener, but that would be a lie, as I'm heading to Wal-mart tomorrow to do just that.

But until that, work grinds to a halt. Bugger.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ranting and Raving

"Nature Lover" - 4 x 9" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

Another work in progress sequence of a quickie (boy, I oughta get me some great google hits off that phrase). This sucker was probably an hour and three quarters from start to finish.

Again, the key to my technique is using the painter's technique of going from rough to detailed -- so I lay down messy color first, in light layers, and then with each consecutive layer, I tidy, until I'm where I want to be.

May I take a moment to rant? It's about colored pencils, so it's relevant. Sort of. When I was at the CPSA exhibition this year, the docent urged us to enjoy the show and then offered us magnifying glasses, the better to see the detail the colored pencil artists put in there.

Let's take a moment here, shall we?

The ideal viewing distance for an average-sized piece of art, say 11 x 14", is ten feet. That's where most people look at art from. Then, if they're curious, they sometimes draw in closer, to one foot or closer, to look at a detail or two. But for most of a piece of art's life, it's going to be enjoyed from a bit of a distance. Say, while its owner is sitting on the couch, thinking, boy, I'm glad I bought that piece from Maggie Stiefvater because it makes me Happy.

Why in the world are these extremely talented artists spending 200 hours on a piece of art, only to put in details that can be seen with a magnifying glass? Wouldn't their time be better spent exploring more subjects and pieces and really populating the world with their art?

I love detail. But not that much detail. So for me, my messy layers work because from ten feet away, my 11 x 14"s look like a million bucks. Heck, from even a foot they look pretty darn good. But I can guarantee you that all you'll see through a magnifying glass is pencil strokes on mine. And that's how I like it!

Nature Lover 2

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stick Horses

"Dee's Stick Horses" - 14 x 14" (or something) design for T-shirt
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to see Dee's website.

Okay, this is still kind of a wimp-out post as I'm still mostly dead (Princess Bride quote anyone?) But I'm hoping to be recovered by tomorrow. Before I typed this, I had to sweep a mountain of used tissues from in front of my monitor in order to see the screen. It was not a happy moment.

Anyway, I wanted to take the moment to plug Dee Kegley's amazing stick horses. She and I met at the Roanoke Valley Horse Show and were booth-buddies; our booths were right next to each other. She does these amazing heirloom quality stick-horses, all by hand, with real hair and just amazing attention to detail. And every one is unique - they were very impressive in real life. She asked if I'd be willing to do a T-shirt design for her and I agreed. After much hemming and hawing, I've finally finished it (you can see it above), and you can see some examples of her horses below.

Oh, and for those of you who were wondering, I've also just gone and ordered two big jugs of Mexican vanilla. Ptooey on McCormick and their corn syrup! Ptooey! With double shots of snot!

Here, Have Some Inspiration

Karin Jurick, one of my favorite blogging painters (one of the very very few I subscribe to), blogged about how she got started, and it's very similar to mine. Enjoy!

The Pursuit of Happyness (remember I blogged about that too, not so many days ago - moral: get off thy buttocks and prosper).

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Gaze - Work in Progress

"The Gaze" - 4 x 9" colored pencil on paper (exactly the right size to fit in a business envelope - coincidence?)
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

Let me know if you guys get tired of these work in progress posts. This is another colored pencil piece I did today - probably only two hours on this one - and I took some more work in progress photos of it. They're not completely terrible photos this time so I'll try to explain briefly what I was thinking at each stage.

Step 1-4: I rarely do a preliminary drawing on my actual drawing paper. If I'm confused about the shapes or the values or I need to make sizable changes, I'll do a value sketch in my sketch book, but otherwise, for one of these quickies, I just dive right in.

So I start with the eye, always. I put as much dark value in as I can because I'll want to bring the rest of the values up to that level to match. When I need to "explain" a shape to myself as I work, I tone the paper with a light layer of a midtone to form the edge, rather than drawing it with an unnatural line -- you can see that on the edge of the leopard's face, right?

Step 5-8: I need to start establishing some more shapes here. I use the eye as a flat measurement and measure distances relative to that: i.e., the nose is two eye lengths away from the corner of the eye, the ear is two and half. Again, if I don't "understand" a shape quite yet, I tone the paper lightly where I think it ought to go. I can always adjust a little if I don't like how it turned out. I'm using a lot of greens and yellow-browns at this point.

Step 9-12: This is where it's getting fun. I start pushing the saturation. If I'm using a burnt ochre, I grab magenta or process red to push the colors a bit more. If the area's cool, I lay in blues. I want his face to come forward and his neck to move back, so I use lots of colors on his face and greys and blues on his neck. I never forget that Value is King, so everything has to look right in black and white -- the colors will work themselves out.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Secrets of the World Revealed . . . Sort Of

"Checking out the Competition" - 4 x 6" colored pencil on Bristol paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

Y'all should be flattered. I spend 2.5 hours today working on creating a detailed work in progress for you guys, pausing every so often to take photos of the wondrous maggic that is my technique, imagining your shining faces when you opened up your inboxes to find the wonder of this illustrated education.

Except my photos sucked.

I didn't have enough light in my studio for my camera to take nice pictures so I got a bunch of weird-colored things with no real value, like a tartan-colored possum.

But I'll throw them up for you anyway, to make of them what you will. Um, good luck.