Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Coloring the Styles of the 1920s by Rachel Cohen

 I am lucky enough to work on some really fun paper doll projects! One of these recent projects was Rachel’s “Styles of the 1920s”. When she pitched her idea for a book, Jenny, Rachel, and I decided I’d add color to her strong, lovely line work. I’ve colored some of Rachel's drawings for fun before and it was a thrill to do this! If you'd like a copy of your own, you can grab it here, at Paperdoll Review. Check out Rachel's post, too!

  The very first thing I did was open the files in Photoshop. This is almost always my first step in any project! First, I determine the DPI or how high the resolution is on the image. If it’s a flat image, I separate it into layers. With Rachel’s, I knew it was a black and white drawing which made things easier. With black and white drawings, I go to the Image menu (step 1), make sure the document mode is set to CMYK, select the Black channel from the Channels palette (step 2), select it, inverse the selection, and copy it to a new layer (step 3). That all sounds way more complicated than it actually is! It really only takes a minute or two, and at the end of it, I have perfectly black linework on its own layer. At this point, I go back and change the document mode to RGB (DO NOT MERGE!!) and it’s time for colors!


 The other big thing I like to do in Photoshop is add a white layer. I select the line work, inverse the select, and then fill with white on a layer below the line art. This serves a couple of purposes. First, it becomes the “paper” for my coloring. Many of the brushes I use are transparent and this just helps me prevent colors showing gaps as I go along. Secondly, I can use the white layer as a clipping mask or a select for erasing bits & pieces. It helps me color inside the lines! 

From here, I port the document from Photoshop over to my iPad for coloring. Most of my drawing and coloring is done in Procreate on iPad now. I grabbed an iPad about a year ago. It’s been the single best piece of tech I’ve ever used for digital art!

Once in Procreate, the fun begins! I chose a 1920s inspired palette. I like to create a limited palette of colors so that the colors stay uniform through the whole project. Each color gets its own layer under the line art. I knew that Rachel’s lines were going to remain a pure black and that allowed me to try a technique in Procreate using a reference layer & color drop.


In the image above, I have one of the dolls with just the black lines. Tap on the layer, select Reference, and then create a new layer under that. The Reference setting acts like a selection tool and now I can only place color inside of those lines. I could fill in the lines on the black layer, but I always place my colors under the line art. That way I can change the colors as needed. Procreate has a feature where you can take the active color and drag & drop it to fill areas on the canvas. That’s what I did here.


Once the base colors are blocked in, I tap on the layer and set it to Alpha Lock. Again, this acts like a selection. I can now only color on top of the base color. I use a bunch of different brushes to render the lights & darks. I really like Jason Heeley’s soft basic tinter brush from this set: https://folio.procreate.com/discussions/10/28/31055 It’s a free set and it’s great! I have two versions of this brush: I set one to Multiply for shadows and I set one to Screen for lights. I use those two to get my basic shading using the local color. So what that means is if I use a pink base color, I use the same color set to Multiply for shadows and set to Screen for lights. I have other brushes that I use to deepen the shadows and brighten up the lights, too, but it starts soft and builds up. I also tend to add a purple shadow that adds yet another layer of depth.

It all sounds way more complicated written out than it is in action! It’s methodical and requires some organization, but it gives me the exact level of control I like. I don’t have to worry about making stray marks when I use the Alpha lock. I have a nice subtle transition between light, dark, and midtone but using my brushes on different settings.

Overall, it took about 5 hours to color the dolls, plus a little time in Photoshop. I used the same method on every single page of the book. Once everything was colored, I brought it back into Photoshop for tabs, layout, and cover designs.



Friday, February 24, 2023

Studying the (Paper Doll) Masters - Fanny Gray in Color

 Last week I started a study of Fanny Gray, one of the earliest American paper dolls. I started with a pencil sketch, scanned it, and continued in Procreate from there.

The video above shows the 5 or so hours it took to line and color Fanny Gray in Procreate sped up to a 30 second video! One of the things I love about Procreate is that it automatically does this. I know how long I spend on a project and that's pretty great.

Here's the breakdown in photos.

The very first thing I did was distortion and proportion correction in Photoshop. There were a few stylistic changes that I made at this stage, like giving her a prettier face. I also find file setup up is easier in Photoshop. And then it was on to lines. Strong lines make it easier to cut out a paper doll. I also like to do any correcting at the line stage rather than tinkering with the final project. It's just easier. Here, I used a pencil brush to simulate the soft lines of the lithograph. I'll tell you right now, I didn't keep track of the brushes I used as well as I should have! 

I worked my way down the drawing at this point. I started with the hair, then the skin. Each section is on its own layer. For the face, I worked "back" to "front": first, the skin tone, then all of the features on top of that.  As for brushes, I tried to keep to dry media types - pencils, grainy brushes, etc. I really like the pencil and pastel brushes in this set from Design Cuts. (**That isn't an affiliate link or anything - I just really like this set**)

I continued down the drawing, working on the shawl and dress. I tried to pay attention to the colors and folds of the fabric. It's not obvious in the video, but I often look at my colors and adjust the saturation if the colors look too dull or flat. I did this quite a bit with the browns. Browns are the most difficult colors for me to work with digitally. 

The apron was tough. I'm not totally happy with the lines but it's ok. The basket was tough, too. I roughed in grass for the base instead of the very elaborate farm scene on the original. 

There are five outfits in the Fanny Gray set from 1854. It's a morality story and the clothing reflects this. The outfit with the cloak has Fanny barefoot, down on her luck, and selling matches. I didn't like that very much so in mine, she just gets a nice red cloak. It's all painted on one layer and I played with color and saturation a lot with this. The other outfit I drew has her holding a weird looking cat. Somehow, my cat is even weirder! I still may go back and work on that. As for the other two costumes, I haven't drawn them. Maybe I should! 

Because I needed to feel like this was "complete", I added tabs and laid it all out in Photoshop. This was a fun little exercise and I might try another one!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Studying the (Paper Doll) Masters - Fanny Gray

 I've been in a creative funk for a while. Getting the new office set up has helped a bit, but I'm still just not quite feeling it. It could be the time of year, it could be the chaos of parenting, or any of a zillion other things. 

And that's ok. Sometimes it comes easily, and sometimes it doesn't.  

One thing I've been doing lately is immersing myself in other people's art. I love learning about technique, both traditional and digital. I love watching an artist create something radically different than what I make. And I'm trying to get my spark back a bit, too.

This week, I watched a video by Scott Christian Sava (https://www.youtube.com/@ssavaart). He has such a terrific presentation style. I just love listening to him and watching what he makes! He gave himself a project - create 60 studies of the masters in 60 days. As I was watching it, I thought, I can do THAT! 

I'm going to riff on his idea and "Study the (Paper Doll) Masters)". I won't get to 60 but that's not the point! The point is to create a bunch and see what happens. In my head, I'm thinking 10 or 12 but I'm not sure yet. I'm open to suggestions!! 

Today, I'm sharing my study of Fanny Gray from 1854.

I wanted to start with Fanny Gray because it's an early American paper doll set. Some say it's the first American paper doll set, some disagree. I'm not wearing my Art Historian hat today so I'm not weighing in on that argument. If you want to read a terrific article about Fanny Gray, check out the "Regency Romance" issue of Paperdoll Review Magazine

Fanny Gray is a paper doll where you swap the head into each outfit. It's a boxed paper doll set that tells a morality story about a little girl who goes astray and finds her way back to righteousness. Very 19th century! It was created in Boston in 1854, published by Crosby, Nichols & Company. The doll itself is color lithography by Chandler, S. W. & Brother. You can really dig into color lithography here. It's essentially offset printing created by applying color to stone or metal plates and printing each color individually.   

So that's just a tiny bit about Fanny Gray. There's more, of course, but that'll be ok for now.

As for what a "study" is - it's just a fancy art word for "practice". Sometimes artists will create a study for a larger work. Or they'll create a study of another artist's work. It's not the same as copying or forgery or anything like that. A study is a tool for learning about art and applying it. That's my plan here.

 For my study, I started on paper. I was struggling with this, so I scrapped my first drawing and started over. I created a 1 inch grid on tracing paper and laid it over the Fanny Gray image in Paperdoll Review. That helped me sort out some of my proportion issues. In about an hour, I got a to a place where I thought the drawing was ok. It isn't perfect. My plan was to tweak it in Photoshop, mostly because I can. Could I keep drawing it over & over until I liked it? Totally. 

Here's my drawing along with a scan of my reference. I sketch rough and dark! I always have... I can see some obvious issues. First, my face is a little too big. Second, both arms are a little weird. To be fair, the arms on the reference are kind of odd anyway. Also, there's one foot I like and one foot that I don't.

And here are the minor adjustments that I made. I lengthened one arm, shifted the other, and made the face slightly smaller. I also duplicated the foot I liked and plopped it in place. The basket became totally skewed but that's ok. My plan is to take it into Procreate and refine it from there. 

Just as a bit of an aside - sketchbooks are meant to be messy. Not every idea that goes down on paper is perfect of precious. And that is ok. 

I took my sketch into Procreate and created linework. It's a little wonky so I'll likely work on it a little bit more before I add color. I ran out of time to color it but I'll work on that this weekend and post an update next week! 

Any paper doll masters I should put on my list? Feel free to share!


Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Big Game

 Surprise! I had a few minutes today to create a paper doll set for The Big Game...you know, the one with the copyrighted name?! 

I'm not a big football fan but we'll be watching the game. My husband LOVES football so it'll be fun. Maybe I'll take a minute to cut these out, too. If you'd like different dolls, pick any of the fashion model series and it'll fit. Have fun!

Friday, February 3, 2023

My NEW Studio!!

 Initially, I wanted to post a new paper doll today. That did not happen.


Because I moved into my new studio!! 

My husband and I bought our house 12 years ago. It was a snowy February when we moved in with our oldest son. The house was built in 1960 and we've been working on it ever since. It had a three season porch off of the family room that got a ton of light but was in rough shape. So I managed with a basement studio that I used in between child care, elder care, etc. And then the pandemic hit. My husband took the basement - he needed it. I facilitated remote school for the kids, working wherever I could. Sometimes the couch, sometimes the kitchen counter. For the last year, I've been at a tiny antique desk. But after about three months, I have my shiny new studio! 

This is how it started. Thin windows with a thin carpet over cement with an ugly ceiling fan. It was not good. 

And this is what it looks like now!! Beautiful (and practical) laminate floor. A cozy chair that was EXACTLY in my budget and PERFECTLY fit in my car. The easel my father built me and the antique drafting table he restored for me. And bookshelves! 

My comfy chair, complete with sketchbook and the remote to my own personal heat pump for heat and air conditioning.
My easel with a long-unfinished painting. This bookshelf is mostly paper dolls and books about art technique. And dolls. I love dolls.
My chaotic workstation. I'm still trying to figure out how to set this up. I have a Surface computer, iPad Pro, an external hard drive, and extra monitor.
This bookshelf is mostly art history and art museum guides. And more dolls.

These are architectural flat files for storing art and prints. My color printer and scanner are on top.

It's really great to have my own space, exactly the way I want it. I've spent the last couple of weeks slowly moving things in from the various nooks & crannies around my house. I still need to put up art & pictures, etc.

Friday, January 27, 2023

More 2022 Paper Doll Wrap-Up

 Today is the last of my 2022 wrap-up posts. I did a lot more in 2022 than I thought! This post is all about Paperdoll Review so there will be lots of links to those projects. I did a lot with Jenny in 2022 and I can't remember ALL of it, but there are a few projects I want to highlight. 

At the beginning of the year, I had a really unique opportunity. Jenny asked me if I'd like to color a set of Tom Tierney's drawings. Of course!! And then I was hit with a bit of imposter syndrome. How could I ever do this?! Once I started, it was fine. I colored these in Sketchbook Pro on my Surface. It was this project where David Wolfe gave me the feedback that has stuck with me since: push the values. He was absolutely right! I went back in, punched up the lights & darks, and there we go!! Much better. The cover concept came from David, too, and I executed it. There are loads of pictures in the link above.
And then, at the other end of 2022, I colored in a set of paper dolls by Brenda Sneathen Mattox! We met at the convention which was a definite highlight for me. This one was so much fun! Again, I felt slightly intimidated. I really love Brenda's soft watercolors and I wanted this to have that feel. I don't think it does, but I'm really happy with it. One of the great advantages of digital art is the variety of colors available. I tried to use this advantage in this book while staying true to the theme and Brenda's art. The cover concept and execution are all mine here. The illustrations were colored in Procreate on my iPad Pro and the covers were "painted" in Sketchbook Pro on my Surface. 

 I also worked on a lot of books in 2022. Some were reproduction clean-ups. Some were new books. Marilyn Henry's Lady Georgiana and Norma Lu Meehan's Fashions of the Regency Era are two of my favorites. David Wolfe's Cut-Out Club was a real labor of love, too. I really, truly LOVE every book I work on, even the ones I haven't mentioned here. 
I have also been working on books by Deanna Williams, two of which were a lot of fun to work on.

I loved putting together Eight in the Evening! I'm absolutely in love with the cover design. Sometimes, things just come together easily and beautifully. This was one of those times! 
Mod Mom was a book I had picked away at for a while. I had the art cleaned up & ready to go but I got stuck on the covers and how to make it all flow. What story is this set trying to tell? Motherhood is a really big part of my life so I approached it from that perspective. The set follows a young mother throughout her pregnancy. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it could just be chronological. I wrote up a little story to go with it and that was it! Some 70s/80s inspired color blocked covers and it was good to go. 
I illustrated one book of my own this year, Miss Hollie Day. This one took a long time! First, I made the initial sketch years ago. I didn't date it so I can only guess at it, somewhere between 2010 and 2015. I should go back and see if I can narrow down that range... Anyway, I turned it into a Halloween doll. It was great! So I pitched the idea of a seasonal paper doll. This was the last full set that I illustrated in Sketchbook Pro. It feels like a transition. During the whole project, I felt like I was hitting a wall, like there was more I wanted to do and couldn't quite get there. It was shortly after this that I took the leap and got an iPad Pro. THAT helped me push those boundaries...which leads me to the next project.
 One of the best parts of working on David's projects is his extraordinary imagination! I would never have tackled the subject of glitter on my own. I LOVED this! It's also the first book I completed in Procreate on the iPad and I think it shows just how much I pushed through my own boundaries. David sent me the drawings, layout, and color suggestions. I rendered it all in Procreate with layout and cover designs in Photoshop. It's such a cool book, start to finish!! 

Like I said earlier, that's not a comprehensive list of all of my 2022 projects. Every one was a learning experience and so much fun to work on. Each and every book is my "baby" while I'm working on it, and each one is my "favorite child". I can't express how grateful I am that Jenny and all of the artists who work with her trust me to do this. I look forward to sitting at my desk every single day! 

So what's next? More books, more magazine designs, more of everything!

Friday, January 20, 2023

More Personal Projects of 2022

 Aside from the submissions I sent to Paperdoll Review magazine, I created a few projects that sold on my own or created for other reasons. There weren't a lot of those projects in 2022. Some of them were re-working previous sets and some were created for specific reasons. 


The first project I want to share is my "Hometown Girl". We have a local free newspaper (MethuenLife) who was looking for women who turned their passions into careers. I was featured, along with a couple of friends, and a few other local women. I made and shared this paper doll for the May issue. After that, the arts editor contacted me about an interview, which ran in the December issue. This paper doll features some of the unique things about the town I live in. It was so much fun! 

Another unique opportunity I had was creating paper dolls for a fashion line. Each of the fashions in this set is based on real-life clothing. It was a lot of fun adapting fashions to my existing mix & match paper dolls series. Created on my Surface in Adobe Illustrator. They are available as a file for download on my Etsy site.

This year also marked my first paper doll convention. It might be my last, too, because no others have been booked yet. There are regional parties which I highly recommend! It was a fantastic experience. I don't have many pictures because I was busy enjoying it!! I did, however, submit a painting for the silent auction and this paper doll was created to go along with the painting. This is another Procreate project where I'm still working out how to use the program (app? I dunno!). 

My long-suffering blog didn't get a lot of attention in 2022. I was busy with a lot of things and didn't devote much attention to it. Same goes for the Etsy site. One of the biggest projects on the ol' blog this year was the Witchtober set with Rachel. Another really fun set that I loved so much I re-used the doll. 

My biggest personal project of the year was a commission I received from a lovely lady I met at the convention. She asked me to create a custom paper doll as a gift for her granddaughter. It's a portrait based on a photo and the wardrobe is a mix of her real-life clothing & some that I made up to fit her interests. I printed it as a paper doll book for her and she was just thrilled with it! This might be a service I offer as a custom project on Etsy. I haven't decided yet. Regardless, it was such a learning experience as a joy to work on. 

Finally, my last personal project of the year is one I almost didn't share. I took my 2018 doodle-a-day project and turned it into a calendar. My art has improved significantly since then, but it's a project that still means a lot to me and felt unfinished. I turned it into a calendar (you can get it here) and the feedback was great! Thank you to everyone who bought a copy and shared their feedback online. I very nearly didn't share it. I am SO glad that I did!

Next week I'll share the last of my 2022 wrap-up and see what comes next for February!