Happy day after Valentine’s! Yesterday I sent out emails containing the link to my annual card, and I received dozens of wonderful and heartwarming replies. Every year it brings me such joy to create these reminders that the day isn’t just about romance, but that love surrounds us all in many forms — not least of which is the love I have for all my family and friends!
I start every year unsure what that year’s valentine will look like, and this year was trickier than usual. When I first sat down a couple of weeks ago to start brainstorming the valentine, I thought I had a good idea: an exploration of how challenging the past year was for me, how much I’ve learned, and what I’m going to change this year (artist dates, taking risks, etc). I made some notes and sketches and then put the sketchbook away. But when I returned to these notes last week, they felt all wrong; the story was too self-centered, and while the insights were good on the blog, they didn’t make sense as an annual update to loved ones. So it was back to the drawing book.
That night, I talked it over with Erik, and he suggested a much better theme: community. I realized that while I’ve grown a lot in the past year, so much of it is due to the people I’ve connected with, who’ve supported and inspired me in so many ways. You, the blog community, have been a huge part of this! So I decided this year’s valentine would be dedicated to my community, in thanks. I developed a new concept and started sketching it out, but soon realized that (yet again) there was too much me in it. So I changed it again, this time to the final Where’s Waldo?-esque drawing with me standing off-center and surrounded by family and friends.
I started the sketch in pencils on Saturday night, and completed it with pens on Sunday morning, using reference photos (thank you Facebook!) for each face and figure. Some of the likenesses are better than others; I would have liked to make each one an exquisite mini-portrait, with distinctive clothing and facial details, but I just didn’t have the time. Between the pencils and the inks, I also used tracing paper to place all the hearts. Then I scanned in my drawings and attempted to color them digitally, which is the method I’ve used for the past few years. I’ve gotten by with mediocre Photoshop skills because the previous valentines have been relatively simple, but with as complicated a drawing as this one, there was just no escaping my ignorance. I spent a couple of very frustrating hours trying to get the lines smooth and all the shapes filled in. By the time I arrived at the image above (you’ll see it better if you click to zoom), I was tense, half-blind, and going completely insane — and I hated the total opacity of the skin tones. So I took a deep breath and stopped for a late lunch, and then switched gears entirely.
This time, I photocopied the original ink sketches onto watercolor paper, then did all the coloring in actual paints. This took me the rest of the day; overall, I estimate I spent about 8-9 hours on the valentine on Sunday (thankfully, I got a forced break late in the day because of a family birthday dinner!). I hadn’t counted the figures as I was drawing them, wanting to include as many people as possible, but after I was done I counted forty-three. That’s forty-three skin tones, hair colors, and outfits! Though I did use the same colors on many people, I still had to mix everything from scratch, and then wait for shapes to dry before painting the adjacent areas. Erik and Lyapa were subjected to my heartfelt groans at regular intervals as I labored over the tiny figures of some of my favorite people. When you consider that the final painting measures only eight inches by nine — smaller than a normal sheet of paper — you get a sense for how bitty everything is and how cramped my fingers got! (I couldn’t work bigger because my scanner bed is only 9″ x 12″.) After I finally finished with the watercolors, I added the hearts in ink and brush, and in pen, and then quickly colored the other image (thank god, that one was fast and easy). Then it was back to the scanner and a quick run through photo editing software, a short stint with my webpage software, and voilà! Valentine.
Love to you!