Diving into Digital
It's been a little over two years since I began making art on an iPad with the Procreate app but this certainly hasn't been my first foray into digital art. I spent hours in my younger years messing around with vector art on Adobe Illustrator and came away with a handful of logos and some fun art for small projects including some of the original art for my website (replaced with newer iPad art in 2019). However, I never spent more than a few days, maybe a week, on a digital project before Procreate. That has all changed dramatically as I just finished a project I've been dabbling with and learning on for over a year and a half. Whenever I had inspiration between field jobs, traveling, and the rest of life, I'd pull out the iPad and put some lines on the canvas. I used this piece as an opportunity to learn slowly, make mistakes, and figure out a style. It's been a long process involving a lot of sketches, mock-ups and re-do's, but I'm very happy with how it's happened.
The piece above depicts some of the coastal and offshore species we have here in New England in the winter. In addition to the birds in the spotlight I drew a handful of each of their most common food items. I can't lie, I did spend a very long time on the composition of this one. I tried as best as I could to swoop the lines around with the tail on the Long-tailed Duck, the wings of the Razorbill and the various seaweeds and sand lance. I probably put most of my effort into the composition on these pieces and at the end of the day I'm glad I do. It isn't always an easy thing to balance pleasing shapes with scientifically and accurately posed birds. It takes many hours of searching for images of these species in flight as I don't have easy access to specimens for those important details. Having seen and observed hundreds (if not thousands) of individuals of most of the species I've been drawing certainly helps me pin down what looks right and what looks wrong. That being said, since I don't have photographic memory, good reference photos are still an important lifeline, especially for those rarely seen underwing patterns.
The piece in progress on the right highlights some of my favorite mid to late fall lovers of the Virginia Creeper here in New England. This group shows a Scarlet Tanager, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Swainson's Thrush. I also attempted to portray some of the wonderful variation in the foliage of the vine. I always look forward to their deep reds in November but there is an almost
absurd variation in the intermediate colors this species can show.
There are a couple artists that have given me tremendous inspiration for this development in my work. Zoe Keller (@zoekellerart) has procreate tips that helped me immensely and her style of digital work has also been a big inspiration. Karin Rytter (@karin_rytter_studio), although working mainly with linocuts, has brought home the importance of composition with her gracefully organic arrangements of animals and their surroundings.
I've always been one who spent a long time on composition and was afraid of color and working on a large scale. Instead of acting as a crutch in those aspects I think digital has given me the freedom to learn without consequence and has upped my confidence for future projects in any medium. Portraits of individual birds on a branch still have a place for me but I wanted to go beyond that and I'm very happy with where I ended up. I'm also pleased with my choice of iPad for this work. I considered the option of a tablet for a while but was put off by the dual screen aspect of drawing on one surface and seeing the art on another. That gave it a lack of immediacy and connectedness for me compared to any physical medium. The iPad bridged that gap for me and made me feel more comfortable with its simplicity. Its portable nature was also greatly appealing. The learning process has been enjoyable and I'm looking forward to where digital art will take me next.