I discovered watercolor in college. The fine arts department of my university promised that you would be an artist when you graduated and they fulfilled this promise by requiring you to take multiple levels of at least three mediums in addition to the beginner courses you had to take. Thus, I tried oil painting and acrylics and printing and knew they weren't my thing. Then I tried life drawing and B&W photography (this was old school peeps, with film!) and liked them. Then I tried Watercolor. Ah….Watercolor. My love, my joy and my sanity saver. I loved painting giant abstract pieces for hours, just allowing my subconscious to flow along with the water and paint.
So, no surprise that I would use watercolor in my illustration, right? And as digital illustration came into the scene, I just knew…knew that it wasn't my thing. I love many, many digital illustrators' work and am amazed at how people use it and make it better with each and every book. But, I had my watercolor. And that was enough. And I needed to sit at my desk and paint. I am not exaggerating when I say I dream in washes occasionally.
But, then I got my first book contract. I was so happy, so thrilled, so ecstatic to be working with Flashlight Press. When the contract came and stated that they preferred images delivered digitally, I figured no problem. I will find a large format scanner or a photographer and get it on the computer and send it to them.
I did not know what I was doing. I contacted some local businesses and found the scanning prices to be downright scary. When I found a local place, the scanned images were wrong. Wrong color, wrong tone, just awfully wrong. So, I contacted a friend who had a wonderful, professional camera, did research on how to photograph the images to get a certain a dpi that would work for printing and I painted and photographed and put them in Photoshop and was quite proud of myself. Then, I got an email from my editor. The images would not work. They were too small to print at the size they needed and looked blurry when they were stretched. To say I freaked out is an understatement. I was doomed! I would have to pay MEGA bucks to get my images scanned at a fine art place. I had a tiny scanner but knew nothing about piecing images together and didn't have the time to learn. Doomed, doomed, doomed. I called my husband, explained what was going on and told him how ruined I was. My husband (who is the left brained one in this relationship) said, "Don't you have a lot of friends that work digitally? Ask them."
Oh yeah! Huh. Good idea. So I posted on my illustrator group and emailed two friends who do lovely digital work and within minutes I had learned how photoshop has this wonderful automate thing that merges your images for you. Amazing and Brilliant these digital friends of mine. So, I tried it, and through a lot of late nights and practice and many, many, many mistakes and lots of questions, I learned how to scan, merge, and clean and tweak and even upload my work to an ftp site. And my work, it looked brighter, bolder, cleaner, more true to life. I was officially converted. I was not a traditional or a digital artist. I was a combo. And I really liked the results. I can be messy and wild in my watercolor and then clean and polish in photoshop.
Now, I have a ton to learn in photoshop. More than a ton. A billon of tons of things. But, I thought my watercolor skills were okay. I mean, I still had a lot to learn. I had this "style" and knew how to achieve this certain "look". (Any artist who doesn't believe they have a lot to learn is off the mark. In my opinion, that is art, the learning and exploring and experiencing through a visual medium.) But, I knew which watercolor paper I liked and which paints and brushes, etc..
Until a critique came back. You know when something is niggling at the back of your mind? When you look at your work and know that something could be improved and you work and adjust but still there is something that could be changed but you have no idea what they hey it is? Well, I had a critique that nailed my current issue. (There will always be issues, I'm just speaking of the most recent one here) and it was my beloved cold press. My toothy, absorbent-y, wild wash allowing paper might be a bit too bumpy for the feel of a story that I had written and was trying to illustrate. ( I loved it for Maya and do think it was the paper for that wild, emotive color and hair.) But what did I think about trying a different type of paper? At first, I balked. But then, I dug some old paper out and tried it. And…..I liked the results. It was still watercolor! It was different than what I had remembered from school.It could still flow and blend but had a different feel.
And so, in the last two years my style has changed pretty dramatically. And is still changing. The change to digital was dramatic enough that I completely changed my style of work and my portfolio. (Shout out to the patience of my editor here) The addition of the different paper (and white backgrounds) means that I will have two slightly different styles of work on my site. Here is an example of one piece that has changed as I have learned to adjust both my traditional watercolor style and learned how to work in photoshop a little bit more everyday.