Last year I got really discouraged with my rough-draft writing. I wanted whatever I was writing to come out exactly the way I wanted it to go on the first try. In other words, I didn’t want writing to be a process, I wanted it to be the equivalent of spilling a perfect story out onto the page. Granted, some of my frustration was illness-based. I have a lot less control over my process now than I used to.
However, one day as I was musing over my frustrations, I realized something that has become quite a useful observation for me. I realized that any form of art never spills perfectly onto the page on the first go. In fact, the process of drawing, painting, or other art forms is just that–a process. Why should I expect my writing to be any different? When I draw, first I do a thumbnail sketch, then a preliminary pencil sketch with various amounts of erasing and redrawing. Then I wait a few days or draw something different so I can have a fresh view. Then I ink, then I apply markers, and so on. Nothing skips magically from my head onto the sketchbook page.
Writing is the same. Whether you’re an “outliner” or a “discovery writer”, no rough draft is ever the final draft. Ever. There is always something to tweak or make better. Sometimes you have to completely erase and “redraw” a section so that it comes closer to how you want it to go, and so on.
As soon as I realized that writing is a cousin to drawing, I instantly felt better. However, I’ve found some difficulty trying to explain my epiphany to others. So, in April when I was working on a watercolor experiment with the help of a friend, I took progress shots, and now I’m sharing them with you.
Here we go!
Step Zero- Initial Idea.
This is all in your mind. Some of it is vague, some of it is crystal clear and longing to be captured “just so”. You hope, just like every other time, that what you’re able to put on paper will match what’s in your head.
Step One – Thumbnail sketch.
Thumbnails, because they’re vague in parts, detailed in others, tend to capture your Initial Idea better than the steps following it. This can be a subject of frustration.
Step Two – Pencil sketch.
I didn’t take a photo of just the pencils, but you can see them here, lightly drawn, getting the basic shapes of what I want. Even just this first step took some erasing and redrawing to get the shapes closer to how I wanted them. Already there was some disappointment in how the sketch differed from thumbnail and my Initial Idea, but I kept going.
Thumbnail + Pencil Sketch
Step Three – Basic background.
Sketching with paint, is more like it. Trying to get a feel for how the background should function behind the foreground.
Step Four – More depth.
Step Five – Going All Out & Taking Risks.
I really didn’t know how to go from Step 4 to Step 5. How do you fill in a background with color and shapes so that it will function as a sort of hazy background and not detract from the foreground when it’s a finished piece? Yeah, I didn’t know. I badgered a friend (who knows a lot more than I do) with questions. I hesitated and considered for a long time. Then, gathering all my newly-acquired instructions, I made the plunge with crossed fingers and bated breath. Sometimes, we really don’t know what we’re doing or how to achieve the effects we want. But we try anyway and tell ourselves that if we break it, we can still fix it. The point is not to give up but to keep moving forward–and ask for help.
Step Six – Color correction.
The background turned out too blue for my liking. I have a huge dislike for blue and pink wildflower fields that certain impressionists have done. So I sought help again and tried a wash of yellow over it. Lines blurred more than I liked, but at least the grass is green again. I also tried my hand at some underpainting on the fairy. I didn’t do it quite right, but there was no harm to my attempt, and now I know better.
A Greener Spring
Step Seven – The Faerie & The Poppy.
More painting, and then I brought out my watercolor pencils for the foreground, which I enjoy working with. I ended up spilling orange paint on the wing, however, and was unsuccessful at blotting it all up, so it became an accidental feature of the piece. I freaked out at the time, but besides drifting further away from my Initial Idea, there was no lasting harm or foul, and I adapted the mistake to make it work with the rest of the picture. (Remember how this can apply to writing?)
The Faerie & The Poppy
Step Eight – Flattening, Inks, Details.
Next, my watercolor paper was curling, so I learned the technique to straighten the paper and did that overnight. Then I inked the foreground to make it pop more from the background, and added the finer details. I inked with a migraine at the time, so since I could barely see, my hand strayed many times from where I wanted it to go. Each time I made a mistake, I tried to adapt it so it appeared like something I did on purpose.
Flattening, Inks, Details
Here’s a close-up:
Summary: The whole process took me about a month from start to finish. I worked on it off and on, weighing each step, trying to figure out how to get the piece closer to how I wanted it to go since most of the time I just didn’t know, and seeking help when I needed it. The process would have gone much faster if I knew more of what I was doing, but the process itself: the thumbnail sketch, sketching and erasing till I had what I wanted, the layering and tweaking of colors, waiting for things to dry before I moved to the next portion, asking for help and a more professional opinion, the final detail work, and adapting to my many mistakes–this doesn’t change.