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.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Practice Safe Art

"Pink" - 6 x 6" acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
Click here to bid.

A reader and fellow artist, Bethany Caskey, sent me this e-mail today:

I was contacted last week by a couple that wanted to purchase five paintings. They gave an address in England. I received a cashiers check today - for far more than the amount of the paintings and shipping- and thinking it was fishy, took the check to the bank to have it looked at. About 30 minutes of sleuthing later, they came back with the information that it was indeed a phony check. The couple was using the names Kelly and Frank George and claiming to live in London and Alabama but the check was from a bank in Maine. Hey, they had good taste at least.

You may have already heard about this scam -- it's been around for as long as there have been cashier's checks -- but if not, be wary. There will always be people trying to get something for nothing. Which brings up an important topic for artists: security and money. I generally like to follow ten important rules on this front, and I'll share them with you here.

1. People are evil. Okay, perhaps not all evil. But for every innocent Adam out there minding his own business, there is definitely at least one Eve who is not only going to bite into that apple, but convince some other schmuck to bite into it too. Just realize that there are more Eves out there than a friendly person would like to think, and keep your apples close.

2. Get it in writing. It doesn't have to be in the client's own blood or anything, but definitely ink, and definitely signed. If you're doing a large commission with a new client, you'll both be a lot happier if you have limits set and on paper for the world (and any courts) to see.

3. Get it up front. Thou shalt not set pen to paper until thou have received a deposit. I didn't use to do this. Then I had an Evil Person commission a work and never reappear to take it or pay me. Oh, I weep for my lost innocence.

4. Money's money except for when it isn't. Cash is pretty much always cash. I suppose someone could slip you counterfeit bills but I haven't heard of it yet. Checks, believe it or not, are almost always money. I know it's easy to give someone a bad check, but I've never gotten one. And considering the number of times I've been paid with a check, that's pretty good odds. But money orders and cashier's checks . . . wait until your bank smiles over them before releasing any paintings anywhere. And since they're the most scam-worthy currency, turn on Ye Olde Gut Feeling when deciding when to accept them as payment.

5. Keep receipts. From the post office, the art store, the bank, the costume rental place . . .
wherever you spent money for your art, keep the receipt for Mr. Tax Man (who definitely falls onto the Evil side of the population, especially if you cross him) and also for clients. If someone quibbles over how much they paid for shipping (and this does happen, because people assume you're Evil too), you want to be able to show them the receipt from the post office, saying that it really did take $90 to ship that ceramic baby hippo that you mailed to them.

6. Have a credit card or debit card from a purely business account to buy things. It's easier to keep track of things, you feel really important when you say "put it on my business card, would you?", and life in general will be rosier with more cupids flitting about.

7. Make all your art purchases at one time. Shipping costs can add up faster than calories on a donut spree, and it will make a big difference to your overall budget if you can both cut shipping costs and get bulk discounts on items like frames and paper.

8. Watch out for your clients' well-being. If you have a client who loves to buy but her desire outstrips her budget, think about talking with her about it. I've had clients who loved my art but they bought so much they couldn't even hang it on their walls. The idea of it stacked somewhere in their house . . . that's not what art is for. Leave your clients feeling good and guiltless about their purchase and they'll come back to you later -- and recommend you to their friends. Talk them into a higher priced piece and they'll regret it like that Mercedes they bought last year.

9. Be quick to offer refunds on your mistakes. If you overquote shipping, offer to refund or give a credit. If they accidentally paid twice, get on it like a tacky button down on a computer geek. Even if they refuse, they'll know you're honest. Every step you can take to convince them you're an Adam and not an Eve will be one closer to repeat business.

10. Reward yourself. We're starving artists, I know. We hoard. It's what we do. But when you make a great sale or you sell a piece you've been dying to sell . . . reward yourself. Just a little splurge, and you'll feel motivated to both pay the electric bill and paint the next big seller.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

20,000 Leages Under My House

Sketch for Musicians Piece - in my sketch book (which remember, once it's full, I'm drawing a random member of my blog subscribers and giving it to them - so if you're a reader - subscribe!)
Colored Pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.

Y'all may remember that my computer crashed last week, sending me plummeting eons behind on my shipping and commission work. Well, as insult looks best when accompanied my injury, today the water company showed up on my front door step and inquired as to how my family had managed to use 160,000 gallons of water in the past month.

I normally have a fast answer for most questions, but that one made me stop and think for a moment. Obviously, the first response that popped into my head ("to wash down 160,000 bags of potato chips?") wasn't appropriate.

So I followed the Water Guy out to our water meter, which he said was spinning like a front wheel car on a wet road (I'm paraphrasing) when he'd first checked it. Well, the sucker wasn't moving when I got there. Appliances tend to behave when I'm around. They know I'm always up for a good appliance-smackathon.

"It was spinning," insisted Water Guy. "And you have used 160,000 gallons of water. I think you might have a leak."

Ya think?

He then looked around our dust ridden yard as tumbleweed blew gently across the dunes and camels pined for want of water and asked if I'd noticed any large puddles lying around. I didn't tell him that the only puddles I'd seen lately were the ones of barf left by my morning-sick dog. I did tell him I'd call my landlord. I did thank him for sharing my usage of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water with me.

Now I'm sitting in my house and wondering if I'm about to sink into a bottomless pit of water and the potato chips I used it to wash it down with. Ah, these stressful times . . .

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Notebook

"Summer Girls - work in progress" - 8 x 10" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
e-mail me at portraitswithcharacter AT if you want to call dibs on it before I'm done.

I know Monday's supposed to be my day for art business posts, but I got off a day and I don't want to wait until next week to talk about it. My topic for today is . . . duh duh duh (not quite the same effect typed as when said out loud) . . . time management. I've talked about this before in my How To Juggle post, but now life is getting more complicated for me for two major reasons.

1) getting a book deal that means my novel has to be completely revised according to my revised synopsis in short order
2) having two toddlers whose naps are getting very Very short

As it's just not an option dropping anything out of my schedule, I'm going to tighten my ship. I just know there's enough time for it all in there if I work hard enough. Soooo. What am I doing, you ask? Cloning myself? Hiring a manservant? Neither, dear readers! I've bought a notebook.

GASP! duh duh duh (okay, that really doesn't work in print . . . I need something new to indicate suspense).

In it I'm putting every day of every week for this month. First I'm crossing out every Sunday. Sunday's my day off. I don't do anything productive that day at all. Just lounge around. I need that so on Monday I want to go back to work so bad I'm crawling the walls.

Then I'm crossing off every Friday evening and every Wednesday afternoon. Those are going to be my writing times.

Then I'm pencilling in "commissions" on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Then "shipping" and general art on Mondays.

And general art on Saturdays.

And I'm sticking to it. I already know that if I give myself a deadline, I work better. Better even than if someone else gives me a deadline. Because I'm less forgiving! I'm also going to pencil in the exact commissions I'm working on each day so that when I sit down, I don't spend any time going "uhhhh . . .", I just get right to work.

My finding is this: the less time you have, the more you have to schedule it. So who else is buying a notebook this week?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Trees 1" - 6 x 6" colored pencil
copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
not for sale; in my sketchbook which will be given away to a random subscriber to my blog once it's full (so subscribe if you want to get a change to win it!)

Remember I said that I was going to do 30 days of trees? Well, here's the first one. Yes, I know. I started easy on myself in mostly black and white and a close up to boot. Just sticking my toe in the water. Who else is doing trees with me? Hmm? C'mon, Jo, I know you want to!

Yesterday we went to "the city" to run errands and had lunch at a restaurant. It had been awhile, and I'd forgotten how much the enjoyment of a dining experience with toddlers depends on the personality of your waitstaff. Our waitress was . . . hmm. I think bad waitstaff falls into five categories.

1. The National Geographic Waiter. This was what our waitress was. Like a National Geographic documentary filmmaker, this waiter adopts a strict policy of non-involvement. Though they may see that endangered animal cub starving to death before their camera, a documentary maker is merely an observer in the circle of life, not a participant. Likewise, the National Geographic Waiter watches you from a safe distance as you struggle to eat without the proper number of forks and slurp noisily at an empty glass.

2. The Bad First Date Waiter. Like a lousy first date, this waiter has no sense of personal space and sits on the booth next to you to take your order. When you look mildly disgusted at the uninvited contact, the Bad First Date Waiter perceives this as interest in their life, and tells you all about theirs. He doesn't just want to know what you want to drink -- he wants to know where you went to college and how you came to be blonde and what your favorite color is.

3. The Comic Relief Waiter. After suffering through a meal of this waiter's lame jokes, you leave a 1% tip and then cut your wrists with the edge of your receipt.

4. The Forgetful Waiter. This waiter amazes all by taking your order without writing any of it down. He strides with confidence to the kitchen and thirty minutes later sends you a tableful of menu items you didn't realize existed. While he's apologetic about his mistakes, he doesn't write down the next table's order either.

5. The Angry Waiter. "What do you mean it's not cooked enough!? Fine I'll take it back."

I was a waitress, by the way, in college. For a week and a half. Yes, I was one of those waitresses that walked off in the middle of my shift. But at least I made sure everyone had refills before I left.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Maxfield Bookended & A New Project

"The Color of Winter" - 8 x 10" colored pencil on paper.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater
Click here to bid.

All right, I know I said I was going to wrap up Maxfield Parrish's month today, but I'm afraid I've decided to leave it partially open-ended. I'll explain in a bit, but first of all, here's been the posts on good ol' Maxfield for the month:

I still am fascinated by him and his commercial success and I think that I still have more to learn from him -- I'm going to be tracking down more books on him in the months to come.

I was feeling frustrated this entire month as I like to do a piece in the style of my monthly artist, and I just couldn't figure out what do like Maxfield. Then I realized I was coming up against the same wall I had with Waterhouse. I can't do trees. Both Waterhouse and Parrish do trees for breakfast. Well, that's probably a horrible analogy, but you get what I mean. Trees are their bread and butter. They rock at landscapes.

I, uh, suck at trees. That's the polite way of putting it.

So this is what I'm doing for my Maxfield Parrish project, and it's also becoming my August Monthly Artist Project as well. I'm doing 30 days of trees. A sketch of a tree or an animal piece with trees featured prominently, once every day but Sunday for the entire month. Until I figure those buggers out. Anyone who wants to join me can blog about it and send me the links and I'll try to remember to link you in my project posts.