Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Drawing in 2020 vision

The start of a new year is time for change and renewal, a new self, new resolutions, new goals. Sounds good, but that’s a lot of pressure! Who can function under that? And how can you sustain a change that’s made under that type of pressure? Goal setting should be, above all, something that is doable and that you WANT to do. Right? Make it easy on yourself.
Or so I told myself as I debated what tasks I should set myself for 2020. There are so many things I want to accomplish in my illustration career. But setting resolutions has never worked for me. And yet… the pull to start something new is irresistible. What can I do that won’t cause me a ton of anxiety and derail me from the plan I already have for myself?
Luckily, I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic.” Ok, so my big new year’s resolution: Live Creatively. With caps, no less. I haven’t finished, but I recommend this book to anyone, really. Gilbert’s writing is like listening to a conversation. It’s great.
I have no illustration to accompany this post. But writing is creative, too (says the illustrator).

Monday, February 25, 2019

MATS Bootcamp 2019

For the first time, I’m participating in a Make Art That Sells course online, with Lilla Rogers. This particular course leads illustrators through a few exercises to bulk up their portfolios and get the creative juices flowing. It’s great so far. I’ve met a wide community of fellow illustrators from around the world. And everyone is wonderfully supportive and understanding. It’s great. Downside? Each illustrator is so good that, as inspiring as they may be, it can also be quite intimidating to show work. I have fought through that intimidation and persevered, though, and it’s worth it. Our first assignment was to do a journal cover with florals. This is what I ultimately came up with.
I’m looking forward to the next assignment!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April Maternity Wardrobe

Ah, maternity clothes. I actually love being pregnant, but this is not reflected in what I wear. The days are long and the nights are far too short, I'm tired and more concerned with my two-year old and having comfy footwear.

However, I discovered the #100dayproject and it really took my fancy. Basically, you decide on an action and post about it everyday on Instagram for 100 days. Not rocket science. But it seemed like a good way to keep me motivated to make art in the last few months of pregnancy.

So I'm doing a sketch everyday. I thought it would be easy to follow the example of one of my mentor illustrators, Emmeline Pidgen (she doesn't know she's my mentor, but I follow her career quite closely in a totally non-creepy way), and draw what I'm wearing for the month of April. It became a little agonizing drawing my own face and body so often. And also thinking of things to wear wasn't easy.

But triumph came when I realized I only repeated an outfit once. Maybe twice.

For April, I'm giving my face a break and moving on to something else. I'll continue to post on Instagram until baby gets here. Or the hundred days are up. Who knows what will come first?

Monday, February 26, 2018


I've noticed that one of the most important things to do as an artist is to try and stay fresh and original. But it's a hard thing to do. You want to develop a style that is distinctive and true to yourself, but you also need to push the boundaries and try to get better all the time.

So how can you do both? I don't know. Sorry, no answers here. I spent several years after art school not developing my style because I was too scared to alienate the clients I already had. But what this meant for me was that I stopped enjoying making art. So I gave up trying to do both things. 

This year, I'm dedicating my art time to experimenting with different media. It won't always be good. In fact, a lot of it will likely be poor. However, I will be enjoying myself.

I'm tentatively sharing some of my experiments on social media. On this blog and on my Twitter account, I've been creating a quick banner for each month. So far I've done:



The March one is done in watercolour.

Ok, they aren't the best. But they are fun and I don't have to think very hard about them (alway a bonus).

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Illustrating a book

It had always been a dream of mine to illustrate a children's book. That dream came true this year, as I was assigned by Orca Book publishers to illustrate Laurie Elmquist's Forest Baby. It is a very beautiful story about a mum and baby going for a walk in the forest. I was extremely happy to work on the project and the art director was a dream to work with.

However, I did learn several things from this experience:

1) Work SMALLER. I worked on huge 24x 20 sheets. But since I digitally alter them, I really don't need to work this large.

2) Scan everything on layers. Sometimes, adjustments are needed. If things are on layers, it makes it way easier.

3) Plan for time to rest my eyes. It's a good idea to look at the art with fresh eyes- this way it is way easier to see flaws or things that look a little "off."

Altogether, though, I am quite pleased with how the illustrations turned out. It will be in stores in March 2018. Now I'm looking forward to my next project!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Visual Storytelling

Storyboards from my graphic novel?

Sometimes, constraints on time are useful and good things come out of it. The past few weeks, I've been taking an excellent visual storytelling class at UBC, taught by Sean Smillie. The class is ostensibly for my "day" job to do with transmedia storytelling, but since we are supposed to have a story ready to go for the course, I've had to come up with an idea for a graphic novel on the fly. It's called True Migration. I confess, I've become somewhat attached to it.

It's kind of sci fi/fantasy, although I'm struggling with how to distinguish it from all the other post-apocalyptic stuff out there. But I have kind of fallen for the characters I created and I want to see how their stories play out. I could play it all out in my head. But maybe, just maybe, this will be the start of my long-awaited graphic novel. Long-awaited by whom, you ask? By me, my good reader. Only me.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tell Me Your Process

I get asked a lot about my artistic process. It's nice that people are interested, but I'm often confounded by this simple question. Aside from being happy that people are interested in this at all, I often also feel like I'm explaining the process to myself as well as them.

I was never one to sketch out first drafts carefully; I've always been messy and probably impatient. I remember I once had my good friend at art school tell me when I could progress from the draft to the final. "Not yet!" she'd exclaim as I'd sheepishly show her my sad sketches. I love my friend for her help, and yet this process never worked for me. The end result was always stiff and alien to what I wanted to achieve. Plus, it was just never good work.

I was always more comfortable building things. At art school, some of my best work was done in 3D projects and in painting class. I liked to feel the progress through my fingers, feel the emotions of making it, become immersed, get messy. In contrast, when I tried to create more polished illustrations, I failed in spectacular ways. A turning point for me was when an instructor told us not to fight ourselves. We are who we are, we do what we do and art school is not meant to change that. What we perceive as our weaknesses can be strengths and make us stand out. Unfortunately, this advice came a little late for me in art school, but I have never forgotten it and thereafter decided to throw myself into my messy, wild ways.

As such, I have long abandoned polished first sketches. Of course, if the client wants them, I'll do them. But they aren't really sketches. I approach them more as finished drawings. The actual sketches the clients never see. Am I tricking them or myself? No answer to that. Anyhow, if it's not required, I skip this step and go straight from rough thumbnail to the final.

It has always been crucial though, that I see the final product in my head. I must have an idea of what it should look and feel like. If not, it's like I'm flailing about in the dark. Sometimes, this vision comes to me as I sketch out rough thumbnails. Sometimes it comes to me in the shower, or as I research the topic. But that is where the process starts for me. In my head.

And then I feel it out with my hands. I prep the paper, put down layers of paint and build on those layers with more paint. I have a collection of paper I've painted on, sorted into different colours. I rifle through these, select what I want and cut out shapes. I draw on them and move them around until I'm happy and glue them down. Then I use pencil crayon, ink, and anything else I feel like. This is how I build rather than draw or paint. That's why I do collage.

Ultimately, I'd love to experiment with other media, maybe even experiment with using less types of media within one piece. And I should add that I am in now way married to this style of working. There are parts I cannot change, but if I find a better way to execute my work that also jibes with my natural inclinations, then I will use that method.

So that's it. My process. Now I understand it a bit better myself too.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Babe in the Woods

I'm so excited to have completed my first kids book illustrations. The book is called Forest Baby, written by Laurie Elmquist, and published by Orca Books.

The book is about a mum and baby going for a walk in the forest. It's a lovely story, describing the things they see, hear and feel. Strangely enough, the job came along while I was on maternity leave and my son and I would often walk by the lake or in the woods, just the two of us. So when I read Laurie's story, I felt very connected to the material. Also, I conveniently had large quantities of reference material to work from. 

Serendipity at work, I guess. Sometimes life is just like that. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Scary Project

Many things are not as fun after having a child. Things like drinking, staying up late and going out to eat. But other things become more fun. One of these is Halloween. At least, this is true from my point of view as the mother of a little baby. I'm open to the possibility it becomes less fun as your child ages and grows into a teenager.
But all that aside, I'm so excited for Halloween this year that I'm almost sick. To celebrate, I'll be doing one spooky doodle a day for the month of October on my instagram at Shantala_Robinson. Please check it out. I'm not promising they'll be good, or even scary. But they will be Halloween-y.
Update: I had to abandon this project due to a paying job that came in. Between that and caring for my none-month old, I dropped the ball. I know: excuses, excuses. But the job is very exciiting! See my next blog post!

Monday, September 5, 2016

When Things Just Don't Turn Out

Sometimes my artwork just doesn't turn out like I want it to. No matter how hard I try, my fingers simply won't create what I see in my mind. Like someone wasn't paying attention and a memo got lost somewhere, or someone else got sloppy on the translation. I suspect this happens to most artists, but my style of work lends itself most particularly to the phenomenon.

I never have much of a sketch in place before I start. I remember an old artist friend once gasping in shock when she saw I was about to start a final painting. "Not yet!" she yelled. And then she made me sketch some more and only let me start painting when it was ready.

I appreciated her efforts, but since then I've been taught a very important lesson from one of my art school teachers: don't fight yourself. If you have a style of working, go with it. Otherwise, it's a long and losing battle. So, I use my intuition, and go with it. I feel that I "build" my pieces more than anything. I can complete a piece quickly, and achieve a layered and textured look because of this. But it also means I do have many, many failed pieces of artwork. I'm like Frankenstein with his monster. Sometimes I keep these monsters to be used as surface for future experiments. Mostly, I just bemoan them. I had a couple of these monsters lately. Here they are.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Beast Within

If you could be an animal, what would you be? I would want to be something that flies, probably more like a bird than a fly. 

But that's really just something I think about when I look at these pieces. It was not my starting point. It's just that I spend a lot of time thinking about shapes. And these are shapes that I saw in some paintings. I like Rembrandt's hat, too, and I always wanted to copy it. There's a lot to be learner when you copy great works. Like what requires a light touch, why something was placed in a certain spot, and how subtly colours were used to create depth. And so on. 

Anyhow, I'd probably want to be an eagle.

Drawing in 2020 vision

The start of a new year is time for change and renewal, a new self, new resolutions, new goals. Sounds good, but that’s a lot of pressure!...