I had a bit of a hangup about drawing kids for years. And yeah, they come up a lot in kids' books. To keep a character looking very young, though, you can't add a lot of details or lines to their faces. As a result, drawings of kids (my own included) often get reduced to circles and dots and smiles and rosy cheeks and big heads and tiny feet. On the flip side, in books where the drawings are overly reliant on photo references, the kids are often overly rendered and a bit creepy. But real kids are dripping with personality and so are their faces and bodies, and are only rarely creepy.
I created the above image as part of a pre conference "homework" assignment for a masterclass at the SCBWI conference in NYC. And dang it, just as in most other drawing challenges, when I forget to think and just draw, the resulting images have so much more life. Having kids of my own has made drawing kids far more natural than it was before. I know what their bodies look like when they sit and lounge and run and play and dance and eat and flail around. I love a huge range of children's book illustrations, some of which are very graphic and stylized. But in my own work, I look for that sweet spot where my characters are quirky and whimsical but natural enough to have full personalities in their faces and bodies. Forever a work in progress. This one seems like a step forward.
You can now follow my daily sketching on Instagram, and please do! You'll find the good, the bad, and the ugly at arianakilloran_draws, or click the Instagram icon on this site. (Don't worry, this is an 'art only' account so you'll be spared the copious images of my kids on this one.) I have been looking for a place to put daily sketches, and this seems like the perfect home. With client work and kid wrangling and sandwich making and looking for misplaced phone/keys/gloves/whathaveyou the sketchbook doesn't always feel the love. But I am trying to find those elusive minutes and make some marks. So join me as I bumble along in my sketchbook, and maybe it will inspire you to squeeze in a doodle here and there as well!
I updated my website recently (LONG overdue) and asked the hive mind for feedback. (Much as I hate to admit it, Facebook is amazing.) By necessity, my website is just a small selection of images that represent my work. But a dear friend requested that I add one image that didn't make the cut. It is enormous—a 5 1/2 foot tall charcoal drawing done in 2004—not an illustration, and has no place on the website. But, it was a game changer when I drew it. So I am giving it its moment here.
I was in my last semester of art school. I had put so much pressure on myself in my illustration work that I no longer really enjoyed making art, though I wouldn't admit it to myself. The one exception was a figure drawing class with Mark Eanes. The immediacy of figure drawing allowed me to stay out of my head in a way I could not in my other work, and Mark's approach to drawing urged us to leave visible the pentimenti, the errant marks and mistakes and do-overs rather than erase them. It was incredibly freeing, particularly after all the planning and sketching and refining that went into my illustrations. But for the final assignment we were asked to create a near life-size figure drawing and spend eighteen hours drawing it. I panicked. Procrastinated. Overthought it. My modus operandi for any assignment. Did some sketches, snapped some reference photos. And then, with eighteen hours to go, I started drawing. I couldn't see around the drawing because of its size, and I couldn't see the passage of time because I was in a windowless campus studio, and I couldn't hear what was going on around me because of my headphones. So I drew...and drew. Occasionally I stepped back to get some perspective on my drawing, and was surprised to find that I had a whole new cast of studiomates and that my drawing was gradually coming to life. More than that, I became aware that I was smiling. Really smiling, inside and out. I was having a blast...for eighteen straight hours! And that was when I realized how unusual this experience had become. I needed to feel like this more often. How could I transfer this experience to my illustration work?
To this day, before I begin working on an assignment, I spend a minute remembering this drawing and the ingredients that made it most joyful—the fearless mark-making, the clarity of the task, the focus, the humbleness with which I approached the page, and the layering of imperfect marks to create a finished piece. I don't always succeed, but I always try to incorporate all these elements into my working process, and, when I do, I do my best work.
I've always loved life drawing because of the timer. A figure drawing is a record of an experience. It is finished because the timer says so. It is what it is, imperfections and all, and everybody gets that. In my illustration work, though, I am the queen of the do-over, the endless tweaking, the "version 100", and my expectation is that this is part of the process. I plod along and keep on hitting it till it says "uncle". There's this magic moment where suddenly it's right. And until that point, it isn't. This means it takes me a crazy number of hours to finish anything. Or it did.
Now I'm a mom. And there aren't crazy numbers of hours. There are minutes. Pulling an all nighter means something different than it used to, cause instead of sleeping away the day after a deadline, I have to keep two tiny kids alive. Today I turned in a book cover image. It didn't get tweaked. It didn't get edited. It was option two of two. A last minute experiment that ended up being the one the author chose, so it went to press. There are about a million things I would have tweaked, a million other versions I would have tried given the chance. But the timer went off. Time to pick up the preschooler. So it's out in the world. This is how my work is going to be for at least the foreseeable future. Illustration Light.
And that's a good thing. What I had going on before was Illustration Heavy, which came with big pressure. Each new image had the potential to be a masterpiece, if I just hit it hard enough and long enough. This potential would keep me from making anything at all. I always loved figure drawing more than illustration work, because it was just about making an image, getting something down before the pose was gone. I'd have a stack of pictures at the end, some horrible, plus a few gems. Nowadays I have two choices: either I hang up illustration until the kids are older, or embrace the timer and just make a stack of pictures. Might be a few gems in there.
I put together a packet of images tonight to send to Cricket magazine. I feel reckless, slapping together a mailing, hurling my work out into the world. I feel none of that preciousness I used to feel about my work. I'm not thinking about career direction, portfolio building, or any of that. Just ready to make another picture cause somebody needs one. After I find out why the baby's awake again.