Dreamy drawing by Marsha Riti for a book in the works. Stay tuned!!
Well, I’m very happy and proud to be a Girllustrator. Thank you girls to be so nice and supportive all this time.
A series of children’s musical cartoon shorts I co-designed are now appearing on the Mother Goose Club channel on YouTube. Here’s “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”; I designed the backgrounds and props, and my buddy Astrid Riemer did the characters.
"Wildest Dreams," Gouache and Digital, 2013.
At our last meeting, we created one killer assembly line and prepped our Valentine mailers super speedily! This kitty was my contribution to the card stack. I hope all this brightens all of our recipients’ Valentine’s Days! They were super cute little packets. :)
Last week, I visited the Living Desert out near Palm Springs, a zoo and botanical garden of sorts, and spent a few hours sketching the animals there. One of my favorite things to do is discover, in drawing, the little quirks that make each creature its own species and also its own character. The Chesire Cat face of the sand cat. The skittish curiosity of a particular Abyssinian Ground Hornbill (one of the oldest residents of the zoo). The way the Arabian Oryx, “Unicorn of the Desert,” tucks its legs under itself just like my dog for its afternoon siesta. All in the strange and wonderful landscape of the California desert.
I have enjoyed working in scratchboard ever since that first time in Mrs. Lovett’s class in 6th grade, when I magically made a bald eagle appear out of the shiny black surface. It was my medium of choice in grad school and my early professional illustration career. I tend toward faster, less labor intensive media nowadays, preferring to print sketches directly from the computer onto the paper that I will use. I still enjoy working in reverse: scratching the highlights out of the ink coated clayboard to reveal the subject, but the part that feels unnecessarily time-consuming to me is the drawing transfer. If memory serves, back in Mrs. Lovett’s class, we just started right in on our boards. But in the real world, when you’ve researched, perfected your sketch and gotten client approval, you hardly want to start again freehand on the final. Not to mention the cost of the scratchboard if you mess up and have to start over. I prefer to use Essdee British Scraperboard—as my grad teacher Carl Titolo said when he first told me about it, “It’s like butter!” I never want to use the cheap stuff again! Unfortunately, that was in NYC and I can’t find Essdee in stores in Austin. I have to order it from Blick online.
Even though scratchboard isn’t my go-to way of working anymore, I still get hired to do it, especially for illustrations that have a historical slant, which it lends itself well to. I find that students and professionals trying scratchboard for the first time are as mystified by the transfer process as I was in the beginning, so I thought I’d show how I go about it. I’m not saying that this is the only way, or even the best way, but it’s the way I’ve found that works best for me. I’d be happy to hear what others do! This is a project I’m currently working on for AppleSeeds magazine.
Step 1: Reference materials have been gathered. Sketch is completed and approved. (Who knew the daughter’s American Girl Doll Kaya obsession of 2012 would come in handy?)
Step 2: On the back of the sketch I use a white Conte crayon or pastel pencil to go over the line art. Can you even see it? I know, it’s tricky. For a while I used a red conte crayon so that it was easier to see where I’d covered, but the dust sometimes gets in your white scratch marks as you’re working and leaves unwanted color. Either way, it’s annoying, but I prefer to use white.
Step 3: Turn your sketch right way up and secure it to your board with tape. Then, trace with a pencil over your lines. I like to have a hand sharpener next to me while I work so that I can keep my pencil sharp. Otherwise, the transfer line will be thick.
The finished transfer. There’s a lot of extra pastel dust that’s stuck to my surface. No worries, it will blow away or rub off while I work! And since it’s white, if it settles in my scratches, no one will see it.
Next, start scratching! I work from right to left so that my hand won’t rub off my transfer lines before I get to the section. Lefties will want to work left to right. I also keep a bottle of India ink and a tiny brush next to me while I work. If I take out too much white, I can ink it back in. If I ink in too much, I can scratch it out again. One of the benefits of Essdee scratchboard compared to the cheap stuff is that the layer of white clay is thicker, allowing more back and forth before you hit paper underneath.
I’ll keep going on this project and post the finished art later. It’ll take me a few more days. Luckily, I have some delightful company while I work. My daughter is only 6 and has already taken up this magical medium!
Happy scratching! —Shelley
Illustration snippet from I Pledge Allegiance, by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, Knopf, coming April 2014.
I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Mora for coffee one Saturday morning. She is a sweetheart!
I usually don’t have insomnia, but if happens, the only thing that makes me go back to sleep is to imagine that I’m drawing or painting, that’s how I came up with the question: If people count sheep, What do sheep count?