Friday Social #4 – Getting Arty, For Free!

Artist Beastie
Welcome to the weekend, Beastiebuddies!

And since it’s the end of the week, my mind has wandered in an artsy direction for this Friday Social. In school, it seemed like art class always fell on a Friday afternoon, and it was a much nicer way to wrap up the week than, say, double maths or – gulp – SPORTS. That said, school art and I had a somewhat troubled relationship. While there were a few standout moments – making a kiwi-fruit inspired dress, or modelling cartoon frogs in clay – I seemed to spend A LOT of time drawing not-very-interesting things. In one particularly awful session, we were asked to copy the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait. For those of you unfamiliar with this highly detailed painting, with its lush textures and crazy use of perspective and reflections…

Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (Image from Wikipedia)

We were given an hour and a half to complete this task. “And if you have some time left over,” our teacher added, “You can write a short piece about the artist’s life and work.”

No wonder I left school with the firm conviction that I couldn’t really draw! Since then, I dabbled in doodling comics now and again, but it wasn’t until I started creating tailor-made personalised Beasties that I actually had a reason to up my drawing game. I figured a quick sketch was the best way to show people what to expect from their finished monster, and with each sketch, I started to feel a bit more confident about my drawing.

That said, these “quick sketches” weren’t really quick! As each one was hand-drawn and coloured with what I had to hand (colouring pencils), they were taking forever!
Beastie Sketchbook - A Design for Laura - CrawCrafts Beasties
So, as some of you may remember, last year I asked my lovely friend Julie from Juleco to show me the basics of Adobe Illustrator, in the hope that I might be able to get the computer to take on some of the more time-consuming tasks (I’m looking at you, colouring in). Our session was really helpful, and I could see the software being super-useful, but WOOOAAAAH is it expensive! I really couldn’t justify the outlay, and after availing of more week-long free trials than was right or proper, I let it slide.

But then, enter Simon from Planet Simon, with this handy post about how he was creating illustrations using free, open-source drawing software! I had actually looked at these programs briefly myself, but then I’d scuttled back to Illustrator because I found them utterly baffling. Once I knew which tools to use to make them work for the projects I wanted to complete, I was away!

And so, last month, I was finally able to present my first ever computerised commission sketch!
First Digital Sketches! CrawCrafts Beasties
I’m still hand-drawing the outlines, but the real time-saver (even though I’m working out the angles as I go) comes when I’m ready to colour in. Now I can fill a large area with one click, and I can match colours much more closely to the materials I’ll be using. Also, check out the skirt on that Beastie in the lab coat… rather than trying to replicate patterned fabrics by hand, I can photograph the swatch and just drop it into the picture! So much quicker – and my customer knew exactly what I was offering her, too.

So, which programs am I using? Well, I scan in my hand-drawn outlines first, then open those files in Inkscape, where I use the “Bitmap trace” to smooth out the less desirable bits of the scanned images – paper textures, ink smudges etc. I save that, then switch to GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) to do the majority of the work… correct wonky outlines, erase any pencil marks that survived the tracing, and most importantly, pop in those colours!

And, as I get used to the process, I’m not just using it for sketches any more! I created this image for my March calendar page, and thanks to the wonders of digital drawing, I’ve been able to rejig it into an Easter colouring page as well!
Beaster Image - Free Colouring Page by CrawCrafts Beasties
You can download the full-size version for yourself from my store… Just in case you have any little monsters of your own to entertain over the Bank Holiday weekend! It’s free, and you can print off as many copies as you need to!

Oh, and while you’re there…
April Calendar Image - Free printable download from CrawCrafts Beasties
April’s calendar page is also ready to go! I’m hoping this nice sunny image will help to kick-start some warmer, brighter weather for us all!

How about you? Do you use any nifty programs in your artwork that we need to know about? Be sure to tell us all about them in the comments below!

Have yourselves a super (B)Easter weekend, and join us again on Tuesday for more monster fun and games! See you then!

25 thoughts on “Friday Social #4 – Getting Arty, For Free!

  1. How fun! I love your computerized sketches! You are so advanced now bringing all that technology into your art πŸ™‚ I could image how long the hand drawn sketches were taking (they are a work of art themselves!)
    Love the April calendar page!

    1. Thank you, Tierney! Of course, I’ve done more digital sketches since this one, but they need to remain secret for the moment πŸ˜‰ They’re SO much quicker though! When I started doing sketches for people, it was when colouring books for adults were taking off, and back then I was really tempted to let other people colour the drawings for me to “relax”! Now that’s no longer an issue! πŸ˜‚ Cheers for stopping in!

  2. Ooh, I was wondering how you got those crisp lines on that coloring page for March.As for my “art”, I did recently purchase Scrivener to organize my writing. After resisting for so long I now see what all the fuss was about because I LOVE it! I’ve never quite mastered the hand-eye coordination to do much with graphics software, but I do know they can be scary expensive and have a steep learning curve. Glad to see you worked your way around one of the obstacles and seem to have conquered the other!!

    1. Hahaha! Thanks, Tammie – I’m glad it at least looks that way! πŸ˜‚ I’m still experiencing a lot of “but why is it DOING that?” moments behind the scenes. I haven’t ruled out Illustrator completely for the future (there must be a reason it’s the industry standard, right?), but the free alternatives are definitely doing the business for now! Now, tell us more about Scrivener… What does it do that makes it so magical?

      1. Somehow I doubt you’ll ever get away from any program causing those WTF moments. Perhaps you can think of a future illustrator purchase as a way to really reward yourself (personally, I just reward myself with beer and wine)!

        I’m only just scratching the surface of learning scrivener but it’s basically letting me take all my disorganized mishmash of scene cards and notes and outline tidbits and making them into this beautifully semi-organized thingiemahjig (only semi- organized since I’m still learning and still brainstorming). AND it formats both the print book and e-book with two clicks of a button!!

        1. Now that DOES sound handy! Because I think I remember those formatting issues causing you headaches in the past, and after you’ve spent so long writing a book, the quicker and easier it is to send it on its way, the better! As for Illustrator, I would dearly love to treat myself to it as a present, because I can totally see the value of making a single big investment that will make my life easier in the long term. Unfortunately, a year or two ago, Adobe switched to a subscription model for all their products, so I would be locked into paying per month, every month for it. And that would have me constantly stressed out that I wasn’t getting value for money!

        2. Oooh, I hate those subscription things software companies are doing now. At least give the option to buy, sheesh. I’m so glad the scrivener was really inexpensive and I was able to buy it outright.

  3. I’ d like to have more time to spend reading your posts! I can understand so very well the need to use an program to speed up all the process but your hand made drawings are amazing!

    1. Thanks, Tajana! Oh, I totally understand… I don’t get to drop in on my favourite blogs anywhere near as often as I’d like either! I do still enjoy doing hand drawings, and I’m working on getting them up to a standard where I’d be able to offer Beastie artwork for sale… But the design sketches are purely practical, so it helps everyone if I can get them done nice and quickly! And hey, it might even help me set aside more time to keep up with my online friends!
      (I wish! πŸ˜‚)
      Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Thanks, Tricia! It’s certainly saving me a good bit of time now… But I really needed to set aside a lot to get used to it at the beginning. I think it’s been worth it though! Thanks for stopping in! πŸ˜€

  4. Lovely post, Helen. I always found the Arnolfini Wedding fascinating (esp. all the little details in the reflections and objects), though never hazard-ed a hand drawn replica… much less in an hour and a half! Very glad to see that you made it back to drawing (and, happily, on account of the Beasties!). How exciting that the Beastie sketches have now gone digital. I’m can see how they would have taken quite a lot of time, in addition to the crafting, and am happy that that process is easier and new-improved. I love using GIMP these days, mostly for photo-editing – when I discovered the idea of editing images in *layers*, it was like the heavens opened up. April’s calendar page is a glorious field of colour and life – thank you for sharing this! Happy Easter weekend. πŸ™‚

    (Aside: I made any and all excuses to get out of gym. And, I’m so curious about this kiwi-dress you speak of!!).

    1. Thanks, Shirley! I hope you enjoyed the (B)Easter weekend too! And how cool that you’re using GIMP as well… I know what you mean about the layers, once you get used to them they’re so much fun. Have you also got hopelessly addicted to zooming way, way in and correcting wobbly lines on a pixel-by-pixel level? Or is that just me? πŸ˜†

      As for that kiwi dress… I actually still have it! And it still (vaguely) fits! I’ll have to take a picture of it next time I’m up visiting my parents. It’s just a shame I never have an occasion to wear it! πŸ˜‚ Cheers for popping in!

        1. Phew! That’s reassuring! You’ve piqued my interest about using it for photo editing too, by the way – are there any good how-tos you’d recommend?

        2. My use of GIMP is pretty (very) basic at this stage, but I’m slowly making my way through their in-house tutorials ( which I’ve found helpful, esp. for the basics, like cropping images, adding text, adjusting brightness/colour, and making circular pictures (lol), etc. (things which you have already gotten a handle on, I’m sure!).

          Their tutorial on Basic Color Curves looks fascinating. It’s a long read, so I’m saving it for later!

        3. Oooh, thank you! I’ll give those a try… I’m intrigued by the idea of circular pictures, that’s something I don’t think I’ve done before!

  5. Hhahahaha I mean, what?! Recreate a Van Eyck in an hour and a half?! What a ridiculous painting to choose for that exercise! But I assume you had plenty of time left to write a supplementary 15 page essay, obviously. I LOVE your drawings! You’re so good. And I’m really impressed by your techie work with this new software. Sounds like something that would end up with me yelling at the computer and giving up…. well done with your perseverance! I can’t wait to get back to the office and print out April (eeerrrrrr maybe I CAN wait bluuuughghghghgh).

    1. But Weekes! The lovely, lovely office in beautiful Poowich! Oh, I see what you mean. πŸ˜› Thank you for your kind words and support though! Much appreciated… And in fairness, I did have a phase of computer-yelling and giving up! I call it “last year”. πŸ˜‚ Never mind, at least I’m finally on my way!

        1. Please do! I hope you get to fill those April days up with all kinds of fun plans πŸ˜€

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