In January I signed up for a five month series of classes on visual storytelling and illustration. The series was taught by Tara Larsen Chang, a fabulous illustrator and instructor at Cloud 9 Art School.
In this series of classes Tara introduced us to many amazing illustrators, past and contemporary, and to such a wide range of visual concepts that it was hard to keep up!
We learned about developing ideas, thumbnail sketches, composition, value, color comps, and practicing technique before ever starting the final painting. It has really been such a great foundation for adding storytelling to my art. (She will be offering this series again in 2020.)
Here is my finished piece, called Sea of Stars, done in watercolor, gouache, and color pencils, size 22 x 15 in. / 50 x 38 cm.
Storytelling in my artwork is a new direction for me. Instead of painting directly from a photograph, the challenge in Tara’s class was to create my own narrative using parts of photos, memories, and my imagination to create a story.
This work was initially inspired by an old family photo of me and my brother, Richard. It was taken many decades ago and I have no real memory of the circumstances of the photo but I like the sense of sibling bond and the idea of looking ahead together. So for my painting, I focused on the bond between young siblings embarking on a journey of wonder and awe as they set out to explore a magical universe.
We needed to articulate our ideas for our paintings by writing a short paragraph about our inspiration, our story. That exercise help to clarify for myself what elements might contribute to my painting and what would just be distracting. Coming up with a clear idea was a strong starting point.
The idea of growing up together, learning about life and discovering both exciting and frightening possibilities along the way, led my choices. When I showed Richard the original photograph of us, I mentioned to him that even from a young age, he had his arm protectively around me. His response was that I was missing the fact that he was actually leaning into me for support. I love this feeling of give and take, adventure, and the sense that we are all under a sea of stars together.
Next we played with various formats (horizontal, veritcal, square) and sizes while sketching compositional ideas. Once we had a good idea of how to organize the shapes, lines, and elements, we explored various ways of shading. These value studies are purposely done in just shades of gray to be able to clearly see the values without getting confused by color choices.
Thumbnail studies are devoid of details. The objective is to study the play of light, middle and dark values of the biggest shapes in the composition.
Once we were happy with our decisions, we started to explore color palettes.
After all these variables were explored and studied, it was time to commit. Before starting my final piece I explored techniques for creating various parts of the painting that I did not have experience doing (such as creating the stars and the hair whipping in the wind). These studies were smaller versions of the final painting.
Once I was confident with my techniques, I began the final piece. This process has been a journey. Tara’s classes have taught me so much and changed the way I approach paintings. I’ve already started work on another storytelling piece and can’t wait to travel down the path of this process again.
Exploring ideas, compositions, values, colors and techniques is a joyful journey. Here is my finished painting, Sea of Stars. Happy adventures to us all!