Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ten tips for choosing what to draw for your portfolio, and ten ways to find inspiration

Sometimes figuring out what to draw is easy. These times come in fits and starts and can’t be counted on, especially when you need to create new art and characters for your portfolio. I’m lucky in that I tend to get lots of ideas, except when I want to make a new portfolio. Then the ideas seem to run and hide. (Argh!)

Here are ten things I do to help me choose what to draw, and ten ways I look for inspiration:

1. What are you good at drawing? What do you like drawing? What are you bad at drawing, or afraid to draw, but want to learn how? Draw one thing (or more) from each answer.

2. Draw on old images (not literally draw on the images, but draw on the ideas). Is there a way you can turn an old drawing or sketch idea into a new character or series of images? Write the possibilities on your list.

3. Are there any specific requirements for the industry you’re creating a portfolio for? For instance, in a children’s book portfolio, kid friendly art and sequential images that tell a story (featuring the same character with different poses and emotions) are important. Draw a picture or series of images with those guidelines in mind.

4. Go for a walk, see a movie, take a shower, read/watch the news, talk with people online, or clean the house. Some of the best ideas come when we’re not trying to find them. I get a lot of ideas from skimming Twitter (when I skim, I tend to mis-read tweets, which leads to silliness the original tweeter never intended, which leads to Ideas with a capital I).

5. Start drawing and see what happens. Doodling can jumpstart your imagination and pull up new ideas you hadn’t thought of. You might sketch a character you’ll want to do another sketch of, then another and another.

6. Ask someone else what to draw (in person, by email, on Twitter - wherever you talk with people). Or open a dictionary to a random page and draw the first word you see. You never know how that’s going to turn out (might even spark a story idea)!

7. Make a list of all the possible images for your portfolio. If you don’t draw everything on your list this time, keep the list for next time. I always have things left over when my portfolio is done. When I make my next list, I don’t necessarily want to draw the things from last time. However, sometimes an old list can jumpstart a new one, or there’s a leftover idea that becomes the showcase piece of my next portfolio, or it just makes me realize what I don’t want to draw this time.

8. Set a deadline (self imposed, or for something like a conference). Don’t underestimate the power panic and deadlines! They can be good motivators, unless they put you into a stress induced coma, then they’re bad.

9. Make art that’s not for your portfolio. This might seem counterintuitive, but having fun and playing with art that you don’t have to do, can jumpstart ideas for art you do have to do. It also gives you a break and lets you play with other mediums or subjects. I find that the personal art I make bleeds into the art I make for my portfolio and makes it better. When I don’t do art just for me, my portfolio art suffers.

10. Find inspiration! Here are ten ways you might find inspiration (add to this list with things that inspire you personally):

I. Take your camera or phone out and start snapping pictures while you’re out and about, or around your home. Look at them later to see if they suggest a character or story, or if they would make a great background for an idea you already have.

II. Participate in an art or illustration challenge, or make up your own. Illustration Friday is one example. This is a fun way to draw without thinking about your portfolio, and it could end up being a drawing or character you can use. (You can see some of my Illustration Friday art here.)

III. Draw a picture about your favorite season, or the season it is now, or draw a holiday scene (doesn’t have to be a big holiday, it could be a smaller holiday, like Arbor Day).

IV. Draw your dog, cat, hamster, or fish. Or draw your children, parents, or friends (draw from life, or look through photos from a vacation, family gathering, or photo holiday cards people sent you). You might want to ask permission from people to draw them, but don’t worry about the fish. (Though if your pictures don’t look like the people you’re drawing, you might not need to ask the people either.)

V. Go to a museum. Any kind of museum will do, as long as it has something you are interested in, whether it’s art, nature, history, etc.

VI. Go on a field trip or just out for lunch. Draw while you’re there, or wait until you get home and draw the feeling you had while you are there. You don’t have to draw the actual place, people, or animals. Maybe that cafĂ© was so busy it felt like a circus, or the park was filled with so many plants you felt like you were in a jungle. Draw the jungle and the circus and whatever characters you imagine are there.

VII. Keep a dream journal and draw what you remember happening. This wouldn’t always work, but if it did, it could be magical … or really scary!

VIII. Design a new book cover or movie poster for a book/movie you loved.

IX. Pick a subject and draw it every day for a week or more, like cows, or dogs. (I did both of those every day for a year!)

X. Go shopping. Seriously. Color themes and stationery can help you to think of settings or moods for your art. And if all else fails, buy a new pencil, or some paper, or paints. If you have new art supplies, it might just make you want to use them!

Note: I don’t use all of these every time – what I need to jumpstart my creativity or be inspired is different each time, which is why there are a variety of options here. I hope one (or more) of these help you choose what to draw for your next portfolio!

Off to work on my portfolio now. I thought up a really great idea when I was going through some old files …

Friday, January 23, 2015

robots, teddy bears, Popsicle passion, and toy tools

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is passion.* My picture for this week is a new sketch that I'm working on for my portfolio. It's a girl and her robot friend who love their teddy bears (they have a passion for bears, and toys, and teddy bears).

Here's a closer, cropped view, where you might be able to see that the girl's teddy bear is also a robot (as evidenced by the antenna on its head):

The hearts were already on the teddy bears when I sketched this yesterday. I made the hearts red to stand out more, plus I've always loved the way the color red pops when you put it in a black and white drawing.

My first thought for this week was my old drawing of a ghost with a passion for Popsicles, so I'm posting the ghost too (updated to fit in with the theme):

* When I found out about the theme this week, it was Thursday night at midnight (so technically Friday, but only by a few minutes). I was about to post my IF drawing for the prompt last week, which was toy. (BTW, they used to change their topic Friday morning at 10am EST, not at midnight, so I was surprised that they had already changed it. Would have posted earlier if I had known they were posting new topics Thurs. night now.) I had three possible images for last week, including one that I spent almost the whole week working on, but in the end decided it's not yet ready to share. The second image was the robot-girl-teddy-bears sketch and technically fits into the theme this week, so I posted that for the passion prompt.

The third image I was thinking of showing last week is a word that's hidden on a tool belt in my picture book, EWE AND AYE. One of the main characters, Ewe, is wearing a tool belt in one of the scenes. Originally, there were four tools in her belt. When I went to final art, they felt too crowded, so I removed one of them. Afterwords, I realized that the remaining tools spell out the word, "TOY." It was a happy accident and works with the narrative of the art in the book, so I left it in. So far nobody has noticed. Here's what it looks like:

Website: www.sruble.com

Book: Ewe And Aye written by Candace Ryan, illustrated by Stephanie Ruble - in stores now!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

nefarious puppy for IF and a new painting style

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is nefarious. I had several ideas, but this sentence kept popping up in my head, "The kitty wonders why everyone loves the new puppy, when clearly he is a nefarious little furball!" So I decided to illustrate the nefarious little furball:

This is a new digital painting style I've been playing with off and on for a few years. Below is a crop so you can get a better look at the style.

I especially like how the cat turned out, and how the image feels a lot like messy paint, but without the mess! This image is probably the best I've done in this style so far, or at least shows the most control over the final look of the image.

My favorite piece in this style though, is probably still Blue Moo, which was one of the first ones. I did it for the Blue Moon Ball at the SCBWI LA conference in 2009 (I printed this on a shirt that I wore to the party). It might be my favorite because of the party, or more likely, because I like to draw cows, so they are almost always my favorite images!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

invention art for IF, book signing, and recent reads

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is invention. My first thought was a little girl inventing robots (I wrote and illustrated a story/comic about that once a loooooong time ago, but that was a different girl with different robots).

I ended up sketching an inventor girl creating a new robot friend for her robot cat:

The mouse robot might not be so happy about having the cat as a friend. Here's a closer crop of the three characters:

The pencil got a bit dark in places, but I still like the sketch!

* Update 01-19-15 *
Colby Sharp has started a new hashtag on Twitter for illustrators to see how big they draw. Take a picture of your sketch/art with a quarter to show the size. Tag it on Twitter with #idrawthisbig when you post it. You can also email Colby if you’re not on Twitter. More info, including email, here.
This is mine, or should I say, #idrawthisbig:

How big do you draw?

Recent Reads: I almost never read adult novels because my reading stack is full of children's books and YA novels, but his year I've read two good ones already!

1. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey - It's a zombie novel (I love zombies). The main character is a ten-year-old girl who is not sure exactly who she is, and at the same time is navigating the strange new world full of hungries with her teacher, a scientist, and two military men. Did I mention it's a zombie novel? If you like zombie stories, check this one out!

2. THE BISHOP'S WIFE by Mette Ivie Harrison - It's a murder mystery full of twists and turns that's set in a Mormon community. As the Bishop's wife, Linda doesn't have an official capacity like her husband, but she's the mother of the ward and looks out for everyone there. When one of the community goes missing, Linda helps out and can't help investigating what happened. If you like murder mysteries or crime TV shows that keep you guessing until the end, or books with a side of feminism, or a look behind the scenes of what being a Mormon bishop's wife is like, read this book. Even if you're not sure if you like those things, you might want to check this book out. It's a good read!

In other news: I'm going to be part of the January Picture Book Bonanza this Sunday, January 11 at Books Of Wonder from 1-3pm, with Steve Antony, Susan Verde, and Jimbo Matison. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

snowmen, sand people, zombies, and penguins for the new year

I'm not really a resolutions person. Sometimes when I start a new year, I look to the past to see what I've done, instead of thinking about what I need to do. Not just the last year, but other years as well. Sometimes this helps me to decide what I want to do in the future, especially when it comes to art.

In 2011, my blog post for the New Year featured zombie snowmen! Since I'm currently reading a zombie book, I thought about posting the zombie snowmen here again:

I painted this in December, 2010, and it turns out, I painted some other snowmen that year too. If you're not into zombies, maybe you'll like the one watching a penguin skate:

Or, maybe snow is too cold for you. If so, I have a solution. These snowmen aren't technically snowmen at all. They're sand people! And at least one of them is a sand woman.

It's a crop from a larger sand people painting I did as a blog header for WaWe (a watercolor site which no longer exists):

Then again, maybe you're not into snowmen at all and really prefer the penguin. In that case, how about a painting of a penguin and bear making snow angels from 2008?

All this reflecting and looking at art has made me realize that I really miss painting. It's been a while. It's also clear that I used to make more time for fun art (not for a project or book, but just because I wanted to make art).

Despite the fact that I'm not a resolutions kind of person, I do like to make goals (all year, not just in January). One of my goals for this year is to make more art for fun, and some of that art will be made with paint!

Do you make resolutions or goals to start the year?

Whether you make resolutions, or goals, or just wing it, I wish you a wonderful year full of amazing things (and no zombies)!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

five things for illustrators - a.k.a. five things that helped me and will hopefully help you too

I thought I'd share five things that helped me to push my art to the next level, and will hopefully help you too:

1. Take writing classes/workshops/conference sessions. Think of the characters you draw in the same way that writers are taught to think about the characters they write. What are your characters strengths, weaknesses, wants, friends, enemies, favorite things, emotional reactions, family, etc.? Use those things (a.k.a. who your character is) when you  draw your story (how your character looks, where they live, and who they interact with).

2. Read current books like the ones you want to illustrate (PBs, MGs, etc.). Pay attention to which illustrators you love/hate. Try to figure out why you love/hate them, and how you can make your work stand out like they do (by being inspired by them, but not copying them).

For instance, if you love the emotion and facial expressions someone does, look at your own characters. Do they show enough emotion? If not, how can you amp that up in your work?

Another example: if you like the character design, what makes an illustrator's character design stand out to you? Is it the shapes? Hard/soft edges? Exaggerated features? Compare what you like about their character design to what you're doing. Can you push your art further to make your character design stand out in a similar or opposite way?

Read the words and see how the illustrator translated that into the art. How would you do it? The same? Different? Then look at your art and think about the story you're trying to tell. Do you mirror the words? Extend the story? What would make it even better? If you can't think of anything, consider asking for help from an illustrator friend, critique group, or a critique at a conference.

One artist I've looked at over the years is Tuesday Mourning (and not just because of her name, though I do like it). Her drawings of Princess Peepers by Pam Calvert were really interesting to me. I loved her art when she was only illustrating novels, and then loved her picture book art too! I was inspired seeing the similarities/differences in her art for different age groups. It was also fun and informative to see how she extended Pam's story in her drawings. (You can learn a lot by studying how another illustrator chooses to picture a story, and thinking about how you'd do it differently, or if you would keep their art and wouldn't change a thing.)

3. What area of your art do you need to work on? (If you're not sure, what do critiquers say you need to work on?) Design a project that helps you to achieve that goal.

One thing I did that helped immensely: I worked to figure out what publishers wanted, what I was good at, and what made good picture book art (because picture book art is different than other types of illustration and fine art). I also made my own art projects, including one that ended up taking two years (I drew and/or painted a cow a day for a year, then dog a day for a second year). I did that to help hone my skills after coming from an abstract art background. I needed to do it to start thinking about illustration rather than fine art paintings. It still took several years after that before I got a book deal, but if I hadn't taken the time to grow my art, I'm pretty sure I still wouldn't have a book deal.

4. Take time for personal art that you make just for fun (could be five minutes a day, a week long painting, or a craft project - whatever is fun for you). Every time I do this, from the daily drawing projects to painting, crafts, etc. my art has grown in leaps and bounds, and I've gotten ideas and inspiration for stories and portfolio art. One of my goals for next year is to try to squeeze in more time for personal art.

5. Have a website or blog, or somewhere online where a publisher can find your art. If they can't find you, they can't contact you about a project that could be right for you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I see sea birds riding the waves

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is sea. I see sea birds riding the waves ... no wait, that's a chicken, some ducks, and a few angry foxes (from my new online portfolio)!

In other news, my first picture book, EWE AND AYE, is out in the world. WooHoo! My launch party at Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, MN, went well, and there was even a cake with the book cover on it! (Note: there are signed books available at Red Balloon.)

If you would like a personalized copy of EWE AND AYE, I'll be signing at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, DE, this Sunday, December 14 at noon. (133 Rehoboth Ave., Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971) If you're in the area, please stop by! If you're not in the area, you can still order a personalized book from Browseabout's website, or by calling them at (302) 226-2665. There probably won't be cake this time, but there will be prizes! Hope to see you there.

Friday, December 5, 2014

light for illustration Friday, book launch party, and ABFFE auction

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week is light. Can't resist posting this image of a deep sea lantern fish that I drew for Ripple back in 2010.

Might have to do some more art in this style in the future, though probably not in colored pencil (I love colored pencil, but can't imagine using it for a long project like a picture book).

Two Reminders of events this week:

1.  The ABFFE auction is going on right now (until Dec. 8). You can get awesome art from children's book illustrators to put on your walls. I'm not just saying that because I have two prints in the auction - there are a lot of other illustrators in the auction. Check it out here. If you want to bid on my art, here are the links for my two prints:

Bid on a print from my upcoming picture book, EWE AND AYE, here.

You can bid on the Diverse Books Theater print here.
(Drawn in honor of We Need Diverse Books.)

ABFFE stands for American Booksellers For Free Expression. They work to, "promote and protect the free exchange of ideas, particularly those contained in books." For more information, visit ABFFE's site.  

2. If you're going to be in the Twin Cities on Sunday afternoon, I'm having a book launch for the new picture book I illustrated, EWE AND AYE, written by Candace Ryan, illustrated by Stephanie Ruble (me!). It's at Red Balloon Bookshop 891 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105. 651-224-8320 / 888-651-8320

The deep sea lantern fish and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

new website, wobble for IF, ABFFE auction, and Giving Tues.

I have a spiffy new website! With a new header, new art, and a preview of art from my upcoming picture book, EWE AND AYE. Check it out here: http://sruble.com.

The prompt for Illustration Friday this week, is wobble. Ewe is wobbly going downhill on her unicycle! And Aye is a bit wobbly running uphill while flapping his wings! (This image is from my upcoming picture book, EWE AND AYE, written by Candace Ryan, illustrated by Stephanie Ruble - Disney*Hyperion Dec. 9, 2014.)

Here's another image from my upcoming book. You can even get a print of this image, because it's in the ABFFE auction, going on right now (until Dec. 8). Bid on this EWE AND AYE print here.

There's art from other children's book illustrators in the auction too - lot's of great art! ABFFE stands for American Booksellers For Free Expression. They work to, "promote and protect the free exchange of ideas, particularly those contained in books." For more information, visit ABFFE's site

I actually have two prints in the ABFFE auction this time. The other one is Diverse Books Theater (shown above), which I drew in honor of We Need Diverse Books. You can bid on the Diverse Books Theater print here.

Speaking of We Need Diverse Books, their indiegogo campaign is still going strong, and they are part of #GivingTuesday (the global day of giving). Please consider contributing to the We Need Diverse Books indiegogo campaign if you are able to.

Happy December everyone!
(I can't believe it's already December. How did the year fly by so fast?)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! (Eat Pizza!)

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving filled with good food, people you love, and things to be thankful for!