Blending Arts

Today was supposed to be my first day back at work after a week long holiday. Then my student caught a cold and my class was cancelled, so woohoo! Extended holiday! Armed with a cup of tea and an empty house, I did what I’d been doing for the last week: I was creatively productive for Bone Wall. I tickled out another 1700 words today and that combined with what I wrote over the break put me at just over 33,000. Awesome. But it’s still only a fifth of my word goal, which is actually a good thing considering I’m 33k in and I still haven’t gotten my main character’s butt out the door.

To be fair, things are a little rough in that protagonist role I gave him. Specifically, he doesn’t have all the much to do in the first half of my outline. Mostly, things happen around him that frustrate him until he does something stupid. Which is fine. But set up needs to happen via the other characters, and one of them in particular became so amazing that I accidentally gave her an 8000 word chapter, all for herself. For real.

That chapter wasn’t even supposed to be there. It wasn’t written into the outline at all, but a she had to take a three day journey through the desert that I had originally intended to be a time jump until I realized hey, this is a good opportunity to set down some scenery and toss in a few world building seeds for later. Well, it turns out that those seeds grew like hyperactive bamboo, and the next thing I knew, I had a whole other subplot in my arms, wailing and soiling itself. Fortunately it’s an easy enough thing to tie into the main plot later on, however, I now have 8000 words devoted to a secondary character, while my protagonist, for all intents and purposes, is at home twiddling his thumbs. It’s a problem, and I’m struggling to find things for him to do.

“Well, why don’t you just make the more interesting character the protagonist?” I hear you say in my mind, because my readers have suddenly become telepathic.  The answer to that is, because the secondary character has nothing to do in the second half of the book, and the protagonist is running around having all the cool adventures. It’s a tag team; they’re working together to frustrate me now, and I won’t have it! Hardship and turmoil all around. That’ll teach ’em.


Because I had a week to kill and no plans to go anywhere or do anything other than turn my brain off and drool for a couple days, I thought I’d flex my art fingers and do some sketches for my WIP. Drawing is a nice way to relieve some pent up creative energy that won’t go easily into writing. Mostly, I wanted to do some costume design. I have a sort of a vague notion of what the cultural costumes for the characters are, but because I’m absolute shit at retaining images in my head for more than a few seconds, it really doesn’t hep me unless I can physically see what I’m trying to describe. It also doesn’t help that every single costume book I’ve bought has this bizarre idea that, aside from France and England (and the rest of the western European counties to a lesser extent) no one else in the world wore clothes.

Anyway, I’ve based my designs on what I could scrounge up on Pinterest of Turkish costumes, as those are as close as I can get to the vision in my head. At the moment they borrow heavily, but I can’t branch out creatively until I fully understand the root of what I’m drawing.

Before I self-consciously reveal my artistic soul to the whole, cruel internet, there’s a few things you should know:

1) I’m not phenomenally good at visual art. It’s not a skill I’ve spent a lot of time honing in recent years. As a child, I drew and drew and painted and painted, and there were some offers to attend art school and all that, but my father told me again and again that there was no future in art, and I stupidly believed him. (Lesson here, kids: if anyone tells you that you’re a fool for pursuing what you love, stick your fingers firmly into your ears and shout “LALALALALALACAN’THEARYOU!”). Anywho, in the end I decided I wanted to be a writer more than I wanted to be a painter, or a banker, or a veterinarian, and so I’m aware that my art will never make it into any beautiful galleries. I’m fine with that. (Really *sniff* I am *sniff*.)

2) Copics aren’t my usual medium. I get the most satisfaction with the finished product of my artwork from pencil or acrylic. But I now live next to an art store (just as dangerous as living next to a bookstore, believe me) and a whole world of medium has opened up to me. Copics are a sort of alcohol based marker that are more versatile than regular old Crayola felt pens. You have more control over transparency and blends and they can combine to form some really cool visual effects. I like working with Copics when I want to put some quick color onto a drawing, or experiment with color combos, but I am by no means fluent in their use. I’m a two year old finger-painting on the wall with my own diaper leavings compared to some of the art that can be drawn up with them.

3) These were mostly done as an experiment in design and color. Not a great deal of planning went into any of the designs here. I messed around with different pens and markers until I got something close to satisfactory, and changed my strategy for each new picture I did.

So, with that in mind, here is the product of three days of tinkering:

IMG_1742I started with this one. At this point I was just messing around, considering how my characters might dress. It’s not all that spectacular.
Things I Learned:
– I really need to find my outlining pens. Regular permanent markers bleed like a stuck pig when used with Copics.
– The colorless blending marker is not very good at blending. It is, however, somewhat decent at highlighting, if you can control the bleed.
– Textured paper is no good for Copics.
– Small detail work in a vastly different color needs to be done with another medium. Copics bleed together too easily. Probably because of the paper.
– I’m not skilled enough to make large shoes not look like large feet.
– I need to learn how to draw proper folds in clothing.



IMG_1744This one I had much more success with. I had a mission: to actually create something aesthetically pleasing. Something with some cool design elements. Something flashy. I ended up flubbing the pencil sketch, but the coloring turned out all right.
Things I Learned:
– As much as I shudder at assigning different poses to different sexes, drawing a noblewoman in a skirt with her legs spread looks awkward.
– Boobs mess up perspective.
– Either a cloth is all the way shear, or all the way opaque. Combining the two looks confusing.
– Light source is important.
– As is knowing the direction of the cloth fall.
– The colorless blender is boss at making something look like damask or brocade. Especially when used with a jell or milk pen.
– Reds bleed like, well, blood. It’s very messy.


IMG_1746With this final picture, I had a lot clearer picture in my head when I started it. I went in it with some clear ideas as to what I wanted the final product to look like.
Things I Learned:
– Screw finding my old outlining pens. Let’s by a new, expensive Copic drawing pen… that bleeds just as badly as the permanent marker.
– Even if you’ve got no other shade to use for shadows, don’t go with one that’s radically darker than your base palette.
– It doesn’t matter if it works in the photograph, the design has to make sense on your own page.
– Don’t get lazy with shading and highlights.
– White milk pen makes amazing patterns for cloth.
– Lighter Copic colors are easier to work with than darker ones.
– Outlining designs in fabric doesn’t work. Line art is best reserved for outside boundaries only.
– Don’t use shadows sparingly. There are three different shades for each color for a reason.

So that was a little view of my artistic endeavors for the week.

How do you blow creative steam?
Have you ever had a story hijacked by a side character? What did you do about it?



20 thoughts on “Blending Arts

  1. Dear Foreigner
    1. I am no good as an Visual Artist and I am impressed by your costume drawing. Since the theme of Burning Man this year is Caravansary and the Man will be surrounded by a Souk, I certainly need what you have designed. I will send you my size, but we leave Friday night, so you will have to hurry.
    2. Yes, sometimes other characters and places do tend to take over a story (although I don’t know if they 8000 word take over. I end up doing the hardest thing I have to do and that it cut and trim, called “editing” by some and bloodletting by me.
    Thank you for the read

    • All right, I’ll be sure to draw you up some nice Turkish inspired paper clothing for your souk. Have fun, too, and I look forward to seeing the pictures!
      I’ll have to see how much of it I need to trim and how much can stay. It has a reason for being there (Now, because I made one up, hahah, I love being a writer) but it’s still really long for someone who isn’t the protagonist. Balance at the moment is more important than the cutting, because without that chapter, the beginning feels very empty of any kind of action.

      • With the theme of Caravansary this year, it will be interesting how the creative community of 70K will come together on the Playa and represent a journeys end from strange and unknown lands, trading goods and receiving goods unavailable for the most part from the traders home of origin. Establishing a Souk or marketplace, where there is no currency exchanged, no bartering or trading, I am excited to see what people bring to share.
        1 thing I am certain of. I will see people wearing outfits similar to what you have offered here.
        I’m still jealous that I can’t draw.

  2. Wow–writer AND illustrator. You’re a one man show. Fantastic. Especially the illustrations, they’re terrific.
    I can identify with needing a visual when writing–whether seeing a character, their costume, or surroundings. I usually have to visit and steep myself in the place where I write about. I snap a lot of photos, sketch pictures and videotape everything. It’s hugely helpful for me. I even go searching for the exact dialect I envision and try to immerse myself in the sound while writing voice. Kinda quirky, but it’s extraordinary useful for me.
    Good luck with the extra time. What a treasure.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one. My visions tend to be vague outlines, and so description is a b it of a difficulty for me. But seeing it and feeling it and capturing that feeling as it happens is great. Whenever I travel, I write down my sensory experiences in a notebook for later. Who knows when I’ll need them.

  3. First, you are a wonderfully talented artist. I think your ‘sketches” are suitable for framing. Have you ever illustrated one of your books? Second, oh yeah, I’ve had a character hijack a story. In this case, I had to smack her back into shape because it was not where I wanted the plot to go. However, I brought her back at the end and she reappears in a third book. So if you don’t want this character to get in the way, save what you wrote and bring the character back later. Another idea: some of the backstory can be a wonderful post on your blog in anticipation of the book’s release!

    • Haha~ Thank you, my artists ego is pleased. No, I don’t illustrate my stories any more. It used to be how I kept notes for things, but these days I draw when I want to keep my creative juices flowing, but don’t feel like writing.

      The character elbowing in on the spotlight is integral to the plot of this book. The problem is less that she’s getting in the way, and more that my main character doesn’t have much to do at the moment. I’m throwing all kinds of issues at him, but I’m finding more and more than his goals are too singular at the moment, and I don’t know if I can change that without juggling another subplot on top of the four others I have already.

      • Ah, those subplots. You could always write your book from more than one character’s perspective. The character I smacked came back at the end of the book – she’s managed to wiggle her way into the third book, but I need to do her in.

      • Yeah, that’s what I’ve had to concede. I only wanted one perspective initially, but the story decided to be difficult, so now I have three, at least. Possibly four. *sigh*. It would be nice if characters would just stick to the plan, huh?

  4. Nice drawings Nicole!!! That’s unfortunate your dad had that attitude, I also listened which is why it took me so long to do anything remotely art-related. Wow living next to an art store would be VERY dangerous…. ! Have you tried any of the Japanese gouache? They have some amazing acrylic gouaches there.

    • Thanks! I know my dad was looking out for my best financial interests for the future, but I’ve always loved art. Don’t know what would have become of me if I tried to make a career out of it. Maybe I would have crashed, maybe I would have been a success. Who knows. I’m happy where I am now, regardless.

      Yes, the art store is incredibly dangerous. We live right beside an art college, so that’s why the store is there. I have a whole collection of gouache, actually. I nearly ran out on my last painting. They’re expensive, though. Being an artist isn’t cheap. XD

  5. It’s funny how many qualifiers you wrote before showing the art. No need to put your drawing ability down. I’m no artist myself, but these pictures look wonderful (to the untrained eye–wait, did I just put myself down? Guess so).

    With the secondary character taking over the show, that’s a tough one. It would be great if you could find something for your protagonist to do early in the book, but that’s probably easier said than done.

    I wrote a novel set in the 1800’s and my female protagonist often witnessed the action instead of participated. In the editing phase, I focussed on developing her backbone so that she did more and more as the story progessed.

    • Well, I suppose it’s a relative thing. Compared to what I usually can produce, these are kind of mediocre. I’m glad they’re being enjoyed, though. They were fun to create, if nothing else.

      I’m trying to find things to the main character to do earlier, yeah. My secondary character keeps trying to butt in with backstory, so I’m shelving those ideas for later, just on case.

      I suppose my protagonist has a similar problem. He’s from the upper tier of society, where no one does anything for his or her own self. What’s creating the problem is that he’s literally just sitting around, waiting for news to come to him. But that’s boring. Time to get him out of the house.

  6. I was going to ramble about how characters just do what they want, but then I got to the drawings and . . .

    Coming from someone who has the drawing skills of a flyswatter (sorry, couldn’t think of anything and there’s a flyswatter near me), I can’t tell you how badly I wish I could draw out things from my books. My map-drawing attempts are more than laughable (but necessary), and I SO BADLY WISH I could draw what my characters look like.
    The colors are seriously so cool on those. How long did all of that take you?

    • Thank you! When I draw maps for my books it usually ends up as a lot of blank space and some random points in a weird, irregularly shaped border. Characters I draw more often (or I used to. I find I don’t have enough bored time these days to pick up my sketchbook).

      Each picture took about 2-3 hours to make, so around 9 hours total, from designing, to sketch, to inking, to coloring.

      • LoL, my maps are soooo bad! I’m dreading the one I’ll have to draw for this new series. Also not looking forward to having to contact an artist to draw maps for some of these books (to actually go IN them), just because they’ll have to go off of mine and I already feel so bad for them in advance. haha
        It will be really cool to see the end result though.

        Just wondering . . . Are you planning on illustrating your own covers? That would be awesome, to be able to do that.

        2-3 hours for each really isn’t all that bad, especially with all the details and the intricate color changes. They were seriously super cool. 😀
        Is it okay that I’m a little envious of your talent? Not in the ‘GAAAH HATE YOU’ sort of way (I don’t get why people feel that way), but the, ‘I seriously wish I could do that’ sort . . .
        Would there be a better word for that than envy? Probably, but I doubt my brain would cooperate enough for me to find it right now.
        Wow. Rambling. Apologies.

      • I have to beg Alex to do maps for me, because she has the patience for that sort of thing, and she wields colored pencils like a pro. Fortunately, my maps are just for my own reference. I won’t torture an artist with trying to figure them out.

        As for my covers, I’m planning to go the traditional route, so the covers are out of my hands. I don’t think I have to skill to make the sort of cover I’d want on my book anyway. 😛

        It’s easier than it looks. If you can get your hands on some copics and some smooth, thick paper, you can get the same color effects easily. They’re really fun to work with, too!

      • I kind of lucked out in not needing a map to accompany the Reave Series, but I’m definitely going to need them in a few others. I’ve been putting off trying to find an artist for it, possibly because I’ll feel so bad for them having to work off my copy. (And possibly because I can hardly find the time to do anything, lol.) I need to get on that soon.

        You looked pretty skilled to me! But I definitely understand wanting to have THE BEST you can get. That’s the thing about going traditional – it’s all (for the most part) out of your hands. I’ll cross my fingers that you get some absolutely spectacular covers for your books. 🙂

        HAHA, trust me, when it comes to me and being artistic? It’s even harder than it looks. Me messing around with those markers (they ARE markers, right?) would just be lines on paper. XD
        I CAN color in the lines though. That’s about as far as it goes . . .

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