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You may have noticed a distinct lack of daily daily doodles. Between the kitchen renovation, the holiday festivities and having a book art deadline looming I find myself in a place where something had to give. Since the point of daily doodles is to make sure I draw everyday, no matter what, and I am busy on “real” art for the upcoming book. The doodles have been relegated to the back burner. (Kitchen pun intended.)

I will post rather sporadically over the next couple of months as the final push for the book art is in full throttle. No matter how well I plan time in advance of my deadlines, it seems as if there is always something to throw a monkey wrench into the works. At least I am getting better at forging forward when said wrench appears to muck up the works.

I recently received a copy (free – in exchange for my feedback and editing help) of Tara Reed’s Goal Wheel for Artists. She is a friend of mine who licenses art internationally and uses her marketing know how to help other creatives get a foot in. I was able to read through her very well crafted goal setting guide and use the knowledge gleaned from it in the production of my book art. I highly recommend the e-book download to other illustrators and writers who have trouble breaking down their goals and projects into do-able bites. Thanks Tara, you totally rock!

My drafting table is growling at me so I had better go and sharpen those pencils, kneed those erasers and make magic on paper. I’ll see you when I see you. Good energy and thoughts for deep creative well springs and accomplishment are always welcome and appreciated.

We went to my grand daughter’s piano recital last night. She is very sweet and really enjoys the musical instrument. She’ll play when ever she can. Sadly, some of the other students didn’t seem to have the same ideal. The stops and starts through out the performances were painful to observe. It was nice to spend an uninterrupted hour and a half sitting next to my hubby and the grandson and daughter.

Mudding and taping on the drywall began yesterday. The floor guy will come in when that is done. It looks like I get to paint primer on all the drywall next weekend after the mud is dry and sanded and before the floor guy comes. Then over the New Year’s weekend I can put the color on the walls. Since it will be a three day weekend, I am considering getting some stencils and jazzing up the walls in the dining room with something fancy. We’ll see how ambitious I am feeling after the floor guy does his bit. Also, how far along I am on the final pencils for my newest picture book.

The full size pencil stage always takes the longest to finish, the little changes and back and forth for approval can eat up days. I got approval on the final image thumbnail for the cover. I can’t wait till I get to lay in color. That is always the most fun part for me.

My husband has proclaimed eating out has gotten old. I am attempting to make meatballs for spaghetti in the crock pot! So far it smells good. I plan to “boil” the noodles in the microwave. Wish me luck. I have a feeling I am going to really need it to pull off a home-cooked meal without a stove! LOL

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There comes a time when I wonder if anybody is actually reading this blog. It’s so hard to tell when so few leave comments. I am busting my butt to get interviews with accomplished illustrators. The spend their time answering the questions and supplying me with their art for the blog, I spend my time making it all come together. And then I send it off into cyberspace hoping people read it. Did they like it? Did they find it informative and enjoyable? Is there any point to me nagging other busy artists to answer questions and share art? I am sure I am not the only blogger who has these misgivings. I just wish there was a better way of knowing if I am having any impact aside from the occasional comment.

Getting a comment is like a getting a new shiny wrapped gift. I don’t know what is inside, but I cannot wait to find out. Most of the time I am thrilled with what’s inside the little comment wrapper of my email. I guess I am like many other creatives, or any blogger for that matter. A comment on one of my posts telling me I am making a difference in some one’s life makes my day. A lot. In a big way.

So if you enjoy the daily doodles, the advice on illustration and the artist interviews, please tell me! I do my best to answer the comments and if the comment maker has a blog, I visit and return the favor by commenting there. Sometimes I find places I want to visit again and again. Like I hope their writers are doing with my blog.

I am really missing my kitchen right now. So the doodle for today was cookies. They will be the only ones I will be making this season. Until I have a kitchen again, there will be no cookies for me.

Work on the kitchen is proceeding. Today the last of the drywall was hung. Tomorrow the men will lay on the first layer of mud and tape. Monday they will do the second layer and Tuesday the floor expert will come in to sand and patch the hardwood floor which is in surprisingly good condition considering the history of the house and all the layers of other floor it was buried beneath. After the dust has settled, I get to paint. Looks like that is what I will be doing the holiday weekend. At least the paint is green. In keeping with the spirit of the season. Not tree green, more a pale muted dusty green, but green none-the-less. I was going to take pictures of naked drywall, but I need to buy new batteries for my camera and I will have to wait until after the holiday madness subsides. I went grocery shopping in the middle of the day today and had to circle the parking lot several times before I could even find a space for the car. I’m digging in and hiding out for the duration!

I received an email from a fan the other day. She was a young artist, 9 years old, according to her message. She asked my advice on how to become a better artist. I’ve thought about it for several days and decided that more than one fledgling artist or illustrator could benefit from my answer to her. So instead of just sending her a reply, I am blogging my advice to her here.

The 5 things to do to improve your skill as an artist:

1. Draw every day.

This is number one because in my mind it is the most important. Drawing is a skill. In order to improve the skill, one needs to practice it every day. Think of musicians and athletes. They practice for hours every day. Even after they have achieved a level of success, they continue to practice. Practice is a life long commitment.

Drawing every day gives the artist time to explore new ideas, work on challenges in perspective, proportion and perception. Drawing everyday strengthens the eye-hand-brain coordination and the pathway from the brain to the hand. Contrary to popular belief, the artist’s talent lies in his or her head. The muscles between the head and the hand need to be stretched continuously in order for the ideas in the artist’s brain to appear on a blank piece of paper.

Drawing can be likened to running. A marathon runner trains a long time before running an actual marathon. It is a rare runner indeed who can decide one morning to run a marathon that afternoon and actually accomplish such a goal. Short distances are covered over a long period of time until the body and muscles are ready to pursue the miles in a marathon. Daily sketching is akin to the training sessions of the runner.

2. Draw from life

Even fantasy artists have to study life to see how things work. Physics work for a reason. A muscle is attached to a bone and joints work in certain ways. The only way an artist can learn these things is to study actual models in action. By studying people, animals and stationary objects in real life, an artist can add to his or her visual data banks. The way light acts in different settings, the way people move and interact, the way trees grow, all of this is necessary knowledge for an artist’s works to be believable. Looking at subjects in 3 dimensions is a huge bonus for all artists working in any kind of representational manner. Yes, some artists only use photographs for their reference, but when beginning a career in the arts, nothing is as good as daily life observation and recording. Photographs just can’t supply all the relevant information since they take the three-dimensional and make it two-dimensional. This is especially true if an artist is attempting to recreate any kind of foreshortening.

3. Study the masters

The work of master artists you admire is the best teacher you can have. My personal favorites are Michelangelo, D’Vinci, Durer, Mucha, Escher, and Rembrandt. I also have some modern-day artist web sites book marked and visit their sites over and over to study their art. When I am struggling with a new subject I have never attempted before, visiting the web sites of other artists to see how they handle a similar image often jump-starts my creative process and I can get over the hump.

In many art programs, the students are given assignments to study and recreate great works of art. This a wonderful lesson in learning technique and style. Of course, it is meant as a learning tool in developing one’s own unique style and vision. After all, the masters of the past often started out as some one’s apprentice before striking out on their own. Many masterpieces attributed to a Renaissance master are also works contributed to by his apprentices. Modern day comic book artists work in a similar manner. They do the original pencils and then hand off the sketches to inkers and colorists. Walt Disney animations had huge staffs of artists working behind the scenes to create all the cells needed to animate the feature-length films.

4. Attend classes by other artists

In my early career, I took many art classes with visiting professional artists. I belonged to many different groups to get access to the workshops provided by artists from all over the country. In fact, I still take art classes every once in a while now. A different artist works in a different manner, with a different palette and a different set of tools. It is a rare class where there isn’t something I can gain from the teaching artist, even if I have been creating art as long as they have.

5. Find your own unique style and perfect it

Whether you are a commercial artist or a fine artists, if you wish to be a professional, people must be able to recognize your work as yours. Think of the list of masters I mentioned above. Even if you are not familiar with all the names, the names you recognized bring up a style of art specific to that particular artist.

This doesn’t mean you can’t change and grow as an artist. Even the masters have different periods of art in their histories. An artistic career can span decades. The work created in the beginning of a career will in all likelihood be very different from the work created in the present. What is consistent throughout each artist’s career is their signature style, their way of handling and perceiving light and subject matter. This signature style marks a work as theirs, even before the signature is affixed.

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It’s hard to believe that there is only a couple of weeks left to this calendar year. I will finish out the year with my face studies, but I am beginning to feel a bit bored by them so I will move onto a new theme with the new year. Somehow that seems appropriate.

I have a couple of ideas, but I am always open to suggestions. What would you like to see my lovely readers?