Time trials

Map sample by Myfanwy Tristram

tryouts by Myfanwy Tristram

Having my portfolio up on the Brighton Illustrators’ Group website has really been working for me recently, and I’ve had a couple of jobs from it in the last fortnight.

When a new commission comes in, there are lots of things to talk about with the client – scope of the project, the deadline, how they envisage it ¬†looking – and then there’s cost.

In theory, it ought to be easy for me to set a price: I have a day rate, so I can charge by the hour… but the problem is, of course, at the beginning, you are never quite sure how many hours the job will take.

The part that I find hardest to quantify, and the part that is perhaps hardest to justify to a client, happens before you sit down and start on the finished piece. Above, you can see just a few of the many tests I did to find the right colour, medium and style for the work. All together, they added up to many hours.

Now, what do you do? Half of me thinks it’s right to include these in the cost. But I also have a nagging voice which says ‘If you were a better illustrator, you wouldn’t need to have this period of experimentation. You’d just sit down and make a start’.

In my heart, I know that won’t be true, unless every project you embark on is in the same style. Some illustrators do work very happily in their signature style for an entire career, and I guess that’s where this voice comes from: there’s a part of me that believes that I should be selling my accomplishment, not my experiments. There’s another part of me that thinks experiments are what make a work the best it can be.

It has taken me a long time to see this initial period, when you know what you’re striving for, but are not quite sure how you are going to get there, as a natural part of the creative process, and not a reason to panic because things don’t come out as you think they should, the very first time you put your brush to the paper.

Map sample by Myfanwy Tristram

Here is a small peek at the final style I decided on, after all that colour mixing, medium-swapping and style-hopping. And supressed panicking. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to skip the panic phase all together.That’d be nice.

Green Shield stamps paddyfields

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

In the last few days, I’ve put the finishing touches to a complex collage of paddy fields. It’s made of tickets and postage stamps (many contributed by kind friends) and maps (including one I used to navigate around Japan, before the advent of smartphones in my life). These elements symbolise travelling over great distances.

I also used Green Shield stamps, which don’t symbolise anything, but which seemed so right for the landscape. Then there’s a bit of ink.

You might remember my first drawing of these steppes, which was a simple version in painted inks, from this post.

Paddyfields by Myfanwy Tristram

Then came this valley, also populated with random stamps.

stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

Now the two ideas come together in a new landscape. I’m really pleased with it: from a distance, I think the details of the stamps and maps make it look like an aerial photograph.

I’ve been fiddling around with placing birds over the top of it*, and then I went away for a while and had the idea of just showing their shadows.

Stamps landscape by Myfanwy Tristram

This is all still work in progress, and I am going to have to get the original collage scanned professionally. As you’ll see if you click and view it larger, this is a composite of several scans. Why don’t they ever match up?!

* These are drop shadows, created from the airmail label bird I showed earlier. That took a bit of thinking through: once I decided I wanted the shadows, but not the birds themselves (because the background is so fussy, it’s really hard to make out any detailed birds, no matter what colour they are), I had to figure out how to do that. Make the bird layer invisible, and the shadow becomes invisible too.

In the end, I expanded the canvas, put the birds outside the main frame, pulled the drop shadows way out from their ‘parent’ shapes, then flattened all the layers and chopped off the margin with the actual birds in it.

I bet there’s a more conventional way to do this. As a self-taught Photoshop user, I am aware I often go all around the houses to do something that a pro would be able to do without thinking.