According to my last few blog entries, I have been spending time exclusively on nature walks and furniture arrangement. But I have been drawing too! It’s just that since I've incorporated higher quality scans, I've had to start saving up new pages in batches to scan them in-person rather than post lower quality photos each week.
I had hoped to finish these first 18 test pages by August (meaning, within five months), but I officially finished up yesterday (eight months). With illnesses, politics, and a move, I'm okay with that. And then last night, I was very antsy during election coverage, so I redid an entire page that I wasn't happy with between 8pm and 2am. There is one other page I would like to redo (page 2), as well as a couple individual panels, which I would need to retroactively photoshop in to complete an otherwise solid page.
Here's a spot-the-difference! I'm kind of embarrassed by the original (right), but I think this shows how much you can learn and refine a style with a few months and a lot of practice. Here are some clear changes that have developed:
This is what all the pages look like together so far. I'm enjoying the ladder of purple part-way through. Funny how patterns like that develop unintentionally. At this point I don't think I can photograph them as a group anymore because the footprint is too big! Channeling Jo March with her pages-on-the-floor technique.
I started yesterday with a scenic walk in a pretty chilly wind. A lot of the leaves have suddenly fallen already because of the big snow last week. The pond near our house is so charming and I made a friend in the small duck pond in the park. I'm still watching election coverage as I write this and am trying not to fall into a panic spiral while results remain unclear. That said, the closeness of this race and the hypocrisy, callousness, selfishness, and cruelty fueling the Trump movement speak to the shameful state of this country. I cannot see eye to eye with any individual who supports Trump and his conspiracy theories, as he stands for so many hateful things and is incapable of exhibiting basic human compassion.
I'll wrap this up with some calming photos of ducks and fall leaves and moving water instead.
There continue to be a lot of curve balls this year. A couple weeks ago we learned that my guinea pig Ivy had an abdominal mass, and we ended up needing to do an emergency spay. This is normally pretty routine with dogs and cats, but for small pets it's extremely risky and depending on what they find for emergency spays, they may not recover. As we saw with Archie last year.
Thankfully, she came out of surgery and bounced back quickly! It felt like the best news we've had all year (although I would've taken her not having a tumor in the first place too). She's a small creature, but she's tough. She even had babies when she was only 6 months old, before she was abandoned with them in a box outside. She's a trooper!
Meanwhile, since starting my new medications, I've been having trouble with my eyes. My right eye gets bloodshot almost every day and I regularly have tension headaches and light sensitivity, so much that I can't even look at a TV from across the room without wearing sunglasses. I've never really gotten headaches in my life, so the sudden onset seems to indicate that it's a side effect. There was one day where it was so bloodshot at night that I couldn’t fall asleep for hours. Eye drops didn’t help, and eye mask didn’t help, and I just kept thinking about how I could feel my swollen eyeball under my eyelids whenever I closed my eyes. I ended up taking a sick day because I got so little sleep and the idea of staring at a screen seemed awful. Later in the afternoon I tried drawing with an eye patch, but that really takes the wind out of my sails. Depth perception is way trickier with one eye, as you might imagine.
I spoke with my rheumatologist who recommended I make an urgent appointment with a rheumatology specializing ophthalmologist, but the appointment isn't until a month from now. He said that if that happens, I should just go to the Mass Eye & Ear ER and have an ophthalmologist look at my eyes day-of. There are many causes of a bloodshot eye and it's not worth taking any risks just because of scheduling. So yesterday my eye was again acting up and we made the trek downtown in the car. I was there for four hours and had a complete eye exam, which I've never had in my life. They asked when my last eye exam was and I said, "Uhm... never? I have 20/20 vision..." Really I had a few eye exams as a kid while on the same meds (which can cause longterm vision damage so they regularly monitor to stay ahead of it), but I think they were just basic look-in-the-machine exams. I was only 5 at the time though so I really don't remember.
During intake, they asked if I have had any falls, which reminded me to address that I have vasovagal syncope and it can show up for random reasons. Typical causes like blood tests and low blood sugar, but also more curious causes, like crowds, cold temperatures, smoke, hot temperatures, reading something grotesque, and not being able to sit down. They asked if it's triggered by people touching my eye and I said that I guess I wouldn't know until I tried it.
You can guess what happened next. The doctor gave me eye numbing drops to do a pressure test, and the instant I felt my eyes go numb and heard her say, "Now I'm just going to gently press on your eye", I started getting tunnel vision. After the 30 seconds that the test lasted, I told her I was starting to feel vasovagal and she reclined my chair, and a nurse and attending came in with cold wet towels to put on my forehead and neck. My blood pressure dropped down to 80/50 and they had to get me to actively breathe in and out because my heart rate was so low. I think I lost consciousness for a few seconds and came to while the attending shined a light in my eyes and asked if I knew where I was and if I could state my birthday. It took me about 10 minutes to feel better and they gave me some cold cranberry juice in the meantime. Certainly nothing that I haven’t experienced before, but always a little traumatizing.
Of course it wasn't over though. After that, I still had the majority of the full eye exam to go, so next had dilating drops. Again, this is all stuff I've never experienced before and without any eye problems in the past, getting drops feels really foreign, not to mention the added sensation of the specific drops in question. I started getting tunnel vision again, but luckily, after a brief machine exam, they needed to let me sit for a half hour while the drops went into effect, so I just sat in the dark room, reclined again, and tried to rest.
The rest of the exam went fine, and it was really interesting to see the different tools used to look into the back of the eye and examine the nerves and fundus. It was so peculiar seeing a bizarre but crystal clear refracted image of the fundus; I thought I was seeing things when I realized I was seeing my own eye blood vessels! This is all very novel to me but I'm sure everyone else has experienced this multiple times. Not being able to see from my face to 5 feet in front of me was troubling though; I figured out how to do talk-to-text to let Chris know when I was done.
The results were encouraging; my eyes are structurally perfect, vision still 20/20 so headaches aren't a sign of needing glasses. Though the next step may be neurological diagnostics, perhaps including an MRI. I've had a couple at age 5 and age 12, because the disease originally changed the shape of my skull. The attending explained that when headaches and eye problems are not caused by the eye itself, the eye is attached to the brain so that's the next place to look. And while that might be a big jump in general (ie could it just be dry eye or side effects?), given my type of scleroderma, it's better to make that jump early and rule anything serious out. Which I appreciate.
On the brighter side, Chris is slowly feeling better. He still gets bouts of chest tightness and shortness of breath, but since it's now been going on for 3 months, he feels he has identified a trend that it comes every couple weeks or so, but the severity decreases each time. He's working on building his strength with chest exercises and hopes to start going back to work once a week in August.
As for art-related topics, which I haven't posted about in ages, I've officially completed 12 pages of the chapter. I had hoped to complete the first 18 pages by August (since the first 18 in this chapter are the most tedious, at 16 panels/page), but I hadn't accounted for all of the recent crises so I'd say I'm doing alright considering. I was going at a pace of a page a week, but now it's a page every 2 or 3.
Above are two panels that I like a lot; the first taking place at night so a lot more shading. You'll see that the first shot is violet instead of blue-violet. This is because caran d'ache doesn't make the exact shade of blue violet that I was looking for, so each time I have one of these darker panels, I draw in violet first, and then go over with Prussian blue (one of my favorite pigments in oils!) I really like the split complementary color palette of goldenrod, green, and blue-violet, and violet just looked too juicy for the subdued tone I'm looking for.
I made a time lapse of a few recent panels on Saturday. I think I was subconsciously remembering techniques from my ninth grade drawing class. I don't remember doing tracing in that class, but do recall using graphite paper (kind of like carbon paper) at some point in that class so we must have. I think we may have used similar techniques in my sophomore printmaking class in college too, when doing etchings? For this, I traced a setting I needed to draw two more times by using a tracing paper, and then made my own graphite paper by shading the back with a 2B graphite pencil. It worked really well! Hard to see on camera but just enough to go right over it with colored pencil and not need to go back with an eraser that much. Before this, whenever I had a repeat background I was using a ridiculous system of measuring and transferring and it simply wasn't going to be scalable. Maybe I'll invest in some actual graphite sheets next.
Here's a little slideshow of what I've been working on since mid-March... the images are terrible quality because I haven't scanned them in or anything, but you get the idea.
Social distancing in response to COVID-19 has been a strange experience for me so far, as I'm sure it has for everyone.
I'm lucky that 1. I still have my job and it can be done 100% from home and 2. my natural default is to stay at home working on quiet things. I know that considering oneself an "introvert" is all trendy right now, but being in the comfort of my own home working on quiet things is where I'm happiest. I've slowly realized that it's how I recharge, so being able to do that every day - even take work calls from the comfort of my personal desk - means that my social battery is full much more consistently, and a fuller battery means that I have more energy to work on projects.
My company asked my team to work from home the week of March 9th, which was fairly early in the Boston area, and so it's been almost a whole month already. Time slips by pretty imperceptibly and the days melt into each other without the normal commutes and different surroundings to break up the day and mark the time. But I'm really grateful to have an activity that keeps my mind so occupied during such a scary time. I save at least 10 hours per week not having to commute, I get more sleep, and I can still stay up a little later working on projects without worrying about being tired at work the next day (I'm naturally a night owl, as much as I've tried to be otherwise).
In the last 3 weeks, the only places I've gone are the grocery store around the corner a total of four times, and the local Blick art supply store, which I rollerbladed to for a curbside pickup order of art supplies. That's it. Otherwise I've gone for walks around the neighborhood, sat on my deck, and stayed in my house. There are moments where I'm a little concerned about how much time has passed with me moving within such a tiny radius for days at a time - mostly because it's just strange - but for the most part I feel in my element being tucked away in my room with my guinea pig and headphones and a very clearly demarcated 8 hours for work each day that end exactly at 5pm. Then I usually eat dinner with Chris and spend 4-5 hours working on art.
I've made so much progress in the last month and it really knocks me on my butt how productive I can be when I'm not feeling tugged in every direction at work and getting deflated by the rough commute. It's like art school again, where the main expectation I had of myself was to be at my desk getting things done. The more I do that for my day job, the more I can build a routine for it on my personal time and it feels less intimidating to sit at my desk.
Obviously it's not all sunshine and daisies; there is a different kind of stress always looming, you know, the big, lumbering kind that comes with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and economic crisis and dread that I have the virus and am asymptomatic. When I go to the store, I've started wearing a mask that I use for oil paint mixing, just in case. And I know I'm lucky that I still have a job and that I can put myself at minimal risk and that Chris is still working, while so many people in my life have been furloughed or laid off entirely or have to put themselves at risk. Chris works as an electrician and technically falls under the "essential" category of work, but he also works with his dad and stresses every day about either exposing his dad to the virus or his dad being exposed on a job site. They just applied for a small business loan to keep them afloat so that they both have the option to stop working and stay home. Chris might even stop at the end of this week just to reduce the risk that his dad is facing, even though they tend to go everywhere together anyway and are exposed to the same people and surfaces. But he worries that if they don't get the loan, they won't have any income.
But it is a relief to carve out a quiet part of this bizarre period to work on something I cherish. I started working on much bigger paper, and am really invested in the idea of working with colored pencils all the sudden. I may incorporate watercolor washes still, but I do love simple contour drawings. That said, I kinda feel like the crayon/colored pencil look with monochromatic shading has been done a lot lately (especially with digital drawing platforms) and it's a bit uninteresting; I don't just want to choose to do it that way because it's popular right now and I know it will be accepted fairly easily. I still don't see that much watercolor out there in the graphic novel world and it's one of my favorite mediums because it can both be extremely bright and extremely subdued without feeling all over the map. I may still push to see if there is a way to incorporate it. But the last thing I want is to make unnecessary work if what I have stands on its own, or to trash something by incorporating too many ideas.
Looking over the year so far, I've made a ton of progress with thumbnailing which is a huge relief. It's not the most interesting thing to post about, but I've tried to force myself to chip away at that and now only have maybe a quarter left to thumbnail somewhere in the second half of the book. It still seems like a lot to go, but I was worried if I didn't start allowing myself to dive into the finished product, I would stall out and get discouraged.
A couple weeks ago, I decided to illustrate a full chapter as a test-run: working speed, efficiency, practice with different faces, level of detail, color pallet, material, size, and texture. So far I have three pages done and I'm loosening up. I'd like to have this as a proof of concept by the end of the summer (I know that seems far away but I'm still learning and drawing comics is still foreign to me). Then by the start of 2021, I'd like to have a couple chapters to start shopping around and see if this could go anywhere. But that's not really the important part. Regardless of where it goes out in the world, I need this story to be on paper and not just in my brain, so it will always be something I'm working on even if people don't appear interested in reading it.
Anyway, yesterday I accidentally messed up some shadows in the last two panels of the third page and they really felt like eye sores to me... so now I'm going to spend the next couple hours tracing everything. Womp womp. At least I can fix some other little things that were bugging me I guess.
PS: I think I can actually draw a bike now without the need for a visual reference! I love the feeling of being able to invent something in my brain and put it on paper without needing to crosscheck Google images; though I do have a rich collection of bike images and other tricky-to-draw things on a Pinterest page, not gonna lie. Reference photos are always super important, but it's a relief when you can stop relying on them all the time and trust your own brain. The easier that becomes, the faster the drawing goes!
Watching the sunset from a plane window / dreaming as the sun comes up / four ships sailing into the distance / free diver floating underwater
This would be four pages with one large splash and two small panels on each (latter of which you can't really see).
Trying to keep up with the project. Here are some drafts of a chapter about some sensory memories from my grandparents house. I wrote this last fall so have been playing around with how that could work visually. I kind of like the idea of it reading like a children's book, with text on one page and a visual on the opposite page, recalling how I was a child when I was absorbing these memories.
I've also been working on some less exciting things, like making diagrams, building out chapter outlines, and mapping out different character motivations and intersections to make sure things are closing off by the end.
Whew. 300+ thumbnails in 5 days and have started a final draft of a 20-page scene, so far have drawn 2 pages/32 panels. Been having trouble sleeping though and have been lying awake stressing out about things and am tired all the time, so it's a mixed bag over here.
Recent hospital trip really fueled some thumbnailing. 160 panels to be exact?! These somehow all poured out over the course of 2 hours last night, excited to see where they go.
10/1 First stab at inktober. Not sure how helpful this will be in terms of productivity because I'm trying to focus on thumbnails after work each night and it's not penciltober. But had fun picking this set of panels from my thumbnails and imagining them at a later stage.
10/2 That one time I told my parents there was something in my sleeping bag and when my dad turned it upside down, a scorpion fell out
10/3 When I was 4 years old my parents and brother went to Disney World but I was too scared to join them (giant characters walking around seemed scary). My grandparents sat with me in the lanai that night and let me believe that the white rabbit hopping around their backyard was the Easter Bunny.
10/4 Grandpa Andy watching the rabbit hop around in the yard eating the contents of the garden, while Grandma Rose carefully carries me a cup of cranberry juice.
10/5 Day 5... Upgraded to nice paper from thin sketchbook pages because watercolors were getting a little wrinkly the last couple entries.
10/6 Home sweet home
10/7 These are based on some photos of my grandparents' garden from 1991. My mom diligently labeled the back of each print.
10/8 Added some more flowers to this collection, and think there may be a few more to add before I run out of room
10/9 Alright, time to move on from this collage. By the way Rattlebox is very poisonous and I think invasive in Florida, but very pretty
10/10 One way I've been processing loss is by trying to honor the people who are no longer here with what feels like a sacred study of their faces, their things, and their interests. Some things I noticed while studying Grandpa Andy's District Ranger certificate: he was exceedingly handsome, had a very distinct nose, eyebrows, and boyish grin, and wow was he a lefty. The date stamp and commissioner signature I drew with a set of Grandma Rose's colored pencils, which I'd originally sent to her two years ago as a gift for her coloring books, and which my dear Aunt sent back to me last month to commemorate her. I don't think I'll use them much. I want to preserve where each point was left when she last sharpened and colored with it. Special thanks to my aunt for letting me cherish these little mementos
10/11 The summer we drove to Florida the day Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out. We picked up our copy at midnight at the Barnes & Noble release party, in costume, and spent the whole ride down with Mom and Dad reading aloud from the front seat. By the time we arrived Andy and I were fighting over whose turn it was to read independently so we could find out what happens and we had to put caps on reading time. With the three following releases we bought two separate copies of each so we could each read at our leisure.
My commute home... getting into that left turn lane is always the funnest part when there's a Sox game. But it's still faster and less miserable than the train.
Another proof of concept with Blackwing pencil instead of micron, and larger format.
10/14 A little tired today, so just did some light sketches of a nice hot shower
10/15 8pm: I could go to bed early. Or I could start a 20-panel series about my grandma making me Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese when I was a kid
10/17 "Stir once during heating." To be honest, drawing macaroni & cheese has been all I can really handle with work this week, so that's why this has been happening at such a slow pace. Lunch will be served... eventually.
10/19 Getting some milk
10/20 First page done, think I'll try and crank out the last 8 panels today
I still have a label from a can of Chef Boyardee Macaroni & Cheese from one of these summers, which I was using as a bookmark in one of the Harry Potter books. Our grocery stores up north didn't sell the Chef Boyardee mac & cheese at the time so this was always such a special treat while visiting my grandparents. Made even more special by my grandma preparing it for me. I still remember her chuckling because she gave me half a can in a bowl the first time she made it for me, and said I could have more if I wanted. As soon as I finished the bowl, I said, yes, in fact I want more please. She was so tickled by my appetite.
This comic is sandwiched by some panels of me thinking back on our time together while riding my bike to and from work everyday, which is the best time to be alone with my memories (aside from drawing)
10/21 Biking down memory lane, if you will
10/23 Whew. One week and 32 panels = only a single page spread. Lots of great practice drawing hands, dishes, microwaves, and bike helmets.
10/24 Rollin up to the hotel pool like
10/25 My older brother with my dad and a pelican
10/26 Watercolor/colored pencil copy of one of Grandma Rose's Ukrainian eggs. I started this last night at 11pm because I was stressed out by some pet health issues. It was a relief to get lost in her design, learning the pattern and focusing on the same four colors. Even though I haven't tried pysanky in over 10 years, I still feel the appeal of meditating on something small and intricate. It's nice to feel that that is in my blood, even if I'm working on paper and not an actual egg shell. Also you can see her signature in the last slide, a miniature "rm" in cursive.
10/27 Grandma Rose selling her pysanky at St. Mary's bazaar. Simpler designs were $10, more detailed were $18. I think they're worth more! Thank you again to my aunt for sharing this one.
10/28 More diving
10/29 Beach bum
10/30 It's Halloween so here's a drawing of the year our Christmas tree fell over in the middle of the night and broke a bunch of ornaments with sentimental value. That was the last time my parents got a real tree.
Last day of Inktober was inspired by my niece's majestic unicorn look. Can't believe she is almost 18 months and is zooming around!
I think the largest benefit of this was learning that even after a long day, I can still find the energy to work on something creative, even if it's a simple sketch while watching tv in bed. I can still make things and relax at the same time. I went into every project with an open mind, only choosing to work on whatever struck my fancy that day, and my one constant was family and memory. Some days it was hard and I'd spend a whole hour wondering what to draw, but there was always something that grabbed me in the end.
Technically speaking, I learned a lot about the materials I'm looking to use and the size format, having done many watercolors on my chosen paper and with the same setup I'd be using for final inks, so this will hopefully help me envision the project more while drafting. And stylistically this was an excellent way to oscillate between approaches without having to commit to one.
Now that the month is over, I think it will be much easier to come home and know that, until my thumbnails are done, the task at hand is obvious rather than something I need to cast around for. And I still have the flexibility to not work in chronological order if there is a specific scene I want to dig into. Plus, thumbnails aren't meant to feel precious, so the inktober exercise of working two hours a night will hopefully help me churn out content more efficiently.
I was concerned that I would end inktober feeling burned out, but I'm glad I feel inspired to keep working!
This was my first time attending MICE! We attended a panel discussion on graphic memoirs, including Travis Dandro (King of King Court), and a Q&A featuring Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), led by my teacher from the Graphic Novel workshop, Paul Karasik (How to Read Nancy).
I picked up a few comics along the way, including one from a fellow classmate and another from her husband, and can't wait to dig in!
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.