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Illustration class sounded to me like it was going to involve a lot of drawing, maybe even painting. Traditionally, these are things that scare me. Does that sound ironic coming from an artist?

I’ve never put much faith in my hands to accomplish what I see in my head. This might stem from having used the computer as a primary creative outlet for 16 years (and I’m only 22). So I sat in the first weeks of this class feeling like I had failed before I had begun.

Assignment #1 was to improve upon an existing album cover of our choice. I decided upon the soundtrack to 1995’s A Little Princess. It’s one of those albums that whisks me off to my happy place more reliably than almost anything else. And I felt that I could indeed improve upon this:

…which for me amounts to little more than an awkward Photoshop job. It doesn’t quite evoke the themes of identity, purity, and mystery in the face of trial — the ideas I wanted to be able to bring out in my design.

I began to think of more symbolic imagery, using the locket to represent Sarah’s strength of spirit. The jungle stands for her world of unknowns in which she sees great beauty.

But back to my little phobia. After talking to God about this general defeat I was feeling in the realm of traditional illustration, I realized three truths:

1. There is no right or wrong when it comes to illustrative style. On the contrary, it’s an arena of incredible freedom. Whatever style I end up with will be unique, so there’s no need to compare myself to others.

2. I can become better at drawing and painting if I practice. It’s not a question of having the gift or not. If I choose to develop them, these skills are totally within my reach.

3. If I don’t feel like an artist, maybe it’s because I’m not living like one. Why have I been relegating my creativity only to assignments? It would be so much fun to cultivate artistic exploration in my life, for me.

These might seem obvious, but they were complete epiphanies to me (especially #2). Because of them, I’m happy to say I tackled all my illustration assignments this quarter with fresh energy. I could probably add one more to the list that has been coming on slowly for the last year:

4. I’m in school! The goal is not to achieve perfection and wow everybody all the time. The point is to try new things, fall on my face if necessary, and learn stuff. (Again, duh… but it took me so long to figure this out.)

It’s vital to have good reference photos when doing an illustration. This was great news — nobody expects me to be able to draw all these things from my head. Taking my own photos is preferable to the seduction of Google Images, and puts me in charge of the creative process from beginning to end. Thankfully, I had items readily on hand to photograph for this idea.

And though it was not officially endorsed, I made full use of Photoshop in order to perfect the composition of my tight sketch, and then to try out color ideas. This is the digital rough:

At this point, I painted what you see at the top of this post. Or almost. I used Photoshop to fix a few color issues and, of course, to add the type. If I were to go back and redo the project, I would also shoot for a little more drama in value — the lights and darks. Since I didn’t take very many risks while I was painting, things became a bit middle of the road.

Thanks for reading! Now I would recommend listening to the soundtrack for yourself!

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