Thirty Days of Making: Illustration

I’m in Day 23 of a short series: Thirty Days of Making. Every day for the next thirty days, I intend to make something, anything, that is in some way connected to school. There won’t always be pictures, and I reserve the right to credit myself for things that I help my kids make. But I’ve decided that I need thirty days of maker success and maker failure under my belt to be a better designer.

I’ve decided that artwork counts, but not writing (unless it’s part of the art, like calligraphy). Digital work counts, but it has to be useful or publishable.

Some days there will be pictures, some days there won’t be. Each blog entry will contain a list of some of the materials and tools, a quick review of the success or failure of the Making, and a reflection on what I think I learned from the endeavor.  (My friend Alicia is beginning a new series along these lines, 12 weeks of the Artist’s Way — I wish her well in her process, go check her out!).

Reason for the Project: 

Thirty Days of Making: illustrationTomorrow, my school plays host to a small workshop or conference on Design in Education — that is, the role of teaching design and design process to K-8 students.  I am the lead teacher on the conference. Actually, I’m the only teacher leading the conference.  I should have planned things with multiple teachers, but we’ll save that for next year, I guess.

One of the key concepts that I intend to teach is that drawing is a teachable skill, and that it is a vital one, too, for the designer. Back in 2009 in August, Dave Gray taught me to draw.  It’s a 7-8 minute lesson, one which I intend to teach tomorrow.  In January of 2010, I did this illustration.  I still don’t feel that I’ve mastered color at all, but I’ve made good progress on my linework.

Process and Result

One of the things that’s been particularly helpful to me has been the traditional astrological imagery of Picatrix, Cornelius Agrippa, and other 15th century occult texts.  Many of them will say something like, “the span of Libra is 30° across the sky from such-and-such a star, to thus-and-such star, and the image of the constellation is a scale with a giant thumb resting on the south pan.”  This is something that can be visualized, or drawn — and the act of drawing it becomes practice of the visual art.  For example, in this current illustration, a man and a woman work together in an alchemical lab.Thirty Days of Making: illustration

From such an image, it’s now easy to see what I still need to work on — formal two-point perspective is still an issue.  Female figures, still an issue.  Accurate male figures, still an issue.  The creation of an imaginary landscape is getting easier, especially when that landscape gets filled up with theoretical and imaginary objects. Even though the proportions and the layout of lines are wrong, it’s still recognizably a laboratory of some kind.  The presence of the globe and telescope, as well as the beakers and test tubes and burner, suggest a more thorough-going scientific education than might be expected.

The final version of the image, less a few strokes with a pink eraser, came out quite nicely, I think.  It’s a testament to that initial connection that Dave Gray gave me, and the way I’ve grown and improved my skills since then.  I don’t know that anyone is ever going to celebrate me as a great artist or illustrator, but I think I can hold my own now as a talented amateur.

Thirty Days of Making: illustration
This is the final version

Reflection on My Learning:

Apparently it takes four years of haphazard practice to make someone into an amateur illustrator.  Or maybe a year of dedicated practice to make someone into an amateur illustrator, and a couple of years to turn out a quality illustrator.

But a lot of it comes down to lines, angles, arcs, blocks of shading and ultimately color.  I still haven’t learned to use color effectively in either my paintings or my drawings.  It’s something I want to master.

But I’ve learned to give my linework meaning, I think.

General Learning Reflection

I think that the foundation of a Design Thinking program is rooted in visual language.  If we’re not teaching at least some basic drawing skills, it’s probably criminally negligent in a design program.  Diagrams, drawings, flow charts, mind maps, renaissance style one- and two-point perspective, drawing grids, medieval-style illustration, scrolling illustrations as in video games… It’s all essential to the aspiring designer, just as much as 3D orthographic drawing or isometric drawing. They’re mission critical skills.


Five out of five stars. Any day on which I can produce a picture is an awesome one.

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      • It’s going well, though sometimes I feel annoyed writing the Morning Pages every day… it’s a resistance that feels like being a little kid and saying I DON’T WANNA. So I’m moving through that 🙂

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