Saturday, March 5, 2011

Personalised baby boy card

Today I am going to paint a card for a baby boy called Charlie. The two recipients of recent baby cards - the Anna one and another with a recipe for a baby on it -  immediately said they were going to frame them and put them on the baby's door, so I think this one will be a good bet too.

I really like the combination of light blues, and I wanted to do the letters of the baby's name, but I wanted to add something cute as well to make it a bit more exciting.  I thought that the cuddly animals looked really good on the card for Anna but I wanted a cleaner, simpler look, so I decided to choose just one animal...but which one? None seemed right, and I even considered doing a little boy, but I couldn't see it in my mind. Remember, it is crucial to see what you plan to do in your mind before you start. If you can do this successfully, it is almost as if you are just "colouring in" and it's plain sailing from there! Suddenly I had it - monkeys. Little boys are terrible monkeys, after all...
So I decided to do the name CHARLIE in block capitals, in a mix of baby blues, with mokeys clambering all over the letters, in shades of brown and beige.

Now, for some reason, I am not very good at drawing monkeys. The ears look wrong, the head always looks wrong and the body is usually pretty wrong. That's where the internet comes in.
First, at the risk of looking very useless, this is how I draw a monkey with no references:

Not great. So I had to turn to the internet for inspiration. I googled "cute monkey photos". Lots of beautiful pics of adorable baby monkeys came up. I saw a tiny, hairy baby orang utan with bright orange hair sticking straight up from his head; some kind of extremely cute blond fellow of uncertain species who looked like he missed his mummy; baby chimps frolicking like bear cubs. But none of them looked right. They didn't look cheeky enough. I googled "cheeky monkey photos". No luck there. Curiously, nobody else seems to be able to draw cute monkeys either - I saw lots of drawings of monkeys and they were all dreadful (except for one tiny monkey tattoo which was very cute).

So it's back to an idea that had formed as I browsed the net. I may not like other people's drawings of monkeys, and I wasn't particularly inspired by photos of monkeys, but I am inspired by sock monkeys - I think they are terrific. It also gives me the option of using colour, especially....tartan! Now I'm excited.
Now back to the web, this time for "sock monkey photos". Lots of gorgeous pictures. (Enough to make you want to make one...which I will, and I will describe it here!)
Here is a sketch of one of my favourites:

1. So, to the drawing. I approach it in the usual way, starting with a sketch, drawing out the letters nice and evenly:
 I know it is barely visible, and I apologise for that, but I think it is still useful to see how simple the first stage is. The main thing is to ensure that the letters are roughly the same size, evenly spaced and level.

2. Next, we make the letters into solid shapes. This is done by blocking out the areas around each tentatively-drawn letter, in such a way that all the letters are of equal thickness, more or less:

3. Then I draw the monkeys and a few patterns so that I won't go way off the plan when I am doing the final version:
These monkeys look nice, but they didn't come so easily. I fiddled with their size (they were too big), their eyes (took ages for them to be cute enough) and their positions for ages, but I was happy enough in the end. This is a reminder of the importance of having nice heavy paper to start with - it has to be strong to withstand lots of rubbing out. Also note how the patterns were drawn to keep them uniform and evenly-spaced.

4. Next comes the tracing. Remember I have mentioned in previous posts that you are free to choose your favourite lines at this stage, or to change them a bit:

 5. Next, you transfer the tracing to the piece of paper you are going to use for the card. As I have mentioned before, you simply draw on the reverse of the tracing paper with a 2B or B pencil, and then carefully lay it onto the piece of paper, hold it very steady, and scribble over the lines quite firmly so that the pencil line is transferred. The paper I have chosen for this is my usual gorgeous "The Langton" by Daler Rowney, 140lb weight. Wonderfully heavy so that it will make something that's really nice to keep.

6. Once that is done, you may want to go over the lines with a B pencil. I didn't, and within a few minutes they had almost disappeared from my hand rubbing over them as I worked.

7. So, to paint: I already mentioned that I wanted to keep quite a tight palette of light blues and browns. I used Dr. Ph. Martin's Concentrated Water Colors (DPM) mixed with Permanent White gouache for all the painting. I could have used the DPM neat, but I like the chalky effect you get when you mix them with gouache.

8. In this picture, I have already gone quite far - I got lost in concentration and I forgot to take photos! I have used a variety of colours for the blues: I have mixed Turquoise Blue with white for the C, and then I mixed up some Ultra Blue with white for the H, A and R. I also addes a bit of turquoise to the Ultra Blue mixture, as I wanted to make sure the change would not be too sudden. Then I mitigated against that anyway by darkening some of the triangles in the C. That is the first time I have used this Argyle sort of pattern, and I like it so much I shall be Argyling lots of things to come!
(I would like to point out that it was very hard to concentrate as I had a very bored nine-year old boy for  company throughout the execution of this card, who was letting me know, chapter and verse, what a dreadful day he was having. He eventually ran out of steam but it took a long time. I just steeled myself and ploughed on regardless - my husband would be meeting the new daddy later on, and I had no time to waste.)
9. In this somewhat blurred photo you can see that I have finished my blues and started on the browns.

Now seems like a good time to comment on the very satisfying way that I paint, especially if you are a control freak. It happens that I am quite an untidy person. Not as bad as some, but certainly a lot worse than others. My mother cannot understand how I leave a trail of disorder behind me and yet have such a manically neat way of painting. The truth is that I long for order, but it's just too hard in real life. There is too much stuff, not enough cupboards, it's too boring, I'd rather do it later...but I still love it. So I satisfy my need for perfect order in my painting. I can tell you that if you are a control freak (I think I'm too messy to qualify properly) then you, too, will love painting this way. Think about it: no dripping water, no paint bleeding into other paint, nice sharp lines, colour combinations exactly as you want them...bliss.

10. Now we're nearly done. I painted all the little sock monkeys and drew in their eyes with a 3B pencil. leaving a little highlight for cuteness at the outer edge (doesn't matter which side you choose, just keep it consistent). But that wasn't quite dark enough so I painted very carefully over them with DPM Black.
I also picked out the outer edges of the letters in a mix of Ultra Blue with a tiny touch of white gouache, and the outer edges of those little guys in a dark brown (Sepia), again, with a tiny bit of white gouache added.

11. Lastly, I decided to paint the background in a very soft cream. I mixed some Daffodil Yellow (just a tiny drop) with some white gouache, but that was too yellow, so I added the tiniest drop of Golden Brown and that did the trick. I wanted a cream that was almost a light beige - but not quite. Painting the background had the effect of making the whites really stand out, without compromising the impact of the letters and monkeys - which would have been so if I had chosen a darker colour.

Et voila!
My beautiful card, all firm and texture-y, on lovely watercolour paper. It really would look great on the little guy's bedroom door, or on his wall...

Now my kids want to (a) make sock monkeys, (b) want me to make them sock monkeys and (c) want signs for their doors with their names and sock monkeys on them. I guess the tidying up will have to wait.

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