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Click the image for an enlargement and a step-by-step demonstration of the latest design.
trimming the tree

At every single show in which I've had a booth, I've been amazed by the number of people who have asked me if my letters were created on a computer. I put up signs that said they were done with pencil and brush . . . analog creations, not digital ones . . . but that didn't stop the question. Even when I sat there demonstrating, eventually someone would be watching awhile, then ask about the computer. And now that the letters are being seen on the web via a computer screen, I knew I had to have a step by step demonstration to show my technique.

Each time I add a new letter to the collection, I'll show you how I got to the final version. If you keep stopping back, you'll soon see that I take the same steps almost every time:

1. THUMBNAIL SKETCH -- A sketch in my sketchbook, rough as can be, and about the size of my thumb (duh). An idea has to be jotted down (no matter how crudely) or it's forgotten. These aren't meant to be seen by the public.

2. FULL-SIZED SKETCH -- Every letter has to be of the same size and style if it's to stand next to any other letter in a name. Often, what seemed a good idea as a thumbnail is discarded when I try to shoehorn it into the outline of the 'real' letter. I have drawn an outline of every letter so each A looks like all the other A's. I put the outline drawing under a page of my sketchbook, trace the outline and start drawing the illustration within this "canvas."

MORE FULL-SIZED SKETCHES -- I don't always do this. Most of the time, I'll get everything figured out during Step 2, but not always. So, if I feel I need to, I'll do it again. I did just that for Really Roasted. Things really got out of hand with Duck Doc.

4. FINAL DRAWING -- I'll take a piece of tracing paper or vellum and trace the sketch done in Step 2 or 3, tightening up everything, fixing any problem areas (which I should have taken care of in Step 2 or 3)...I don't want to do any corrective erasing on the final surface (bristol board with a vellum, or "velvet", finish). I will do some smudge-removal on the bristol board with a very soft eraser, but that's done with a very gentle pressure--it doesn't damage the surface like erasing to remove a line might.

TRANSFER THE IMAGE -- After finishing the final drawing, I transfer the image to the bristol board with a homemade carbon paper made by scribbling graphite pencil on one side of thin tracing paper. I have commercial transfer paper that is more like what you think of as carbon paper (waxy), but the lines it leaves are too black and hard to completely remove. The image transfer is a pretty dirty process, which brings us around to the smudge removal process I was describing earlier.

WATERCOLOR -- Except for the areas I want to stay white, I paint a base coat with watercolors. The main medium for the letters is colored pencil, but without the watercolor layer, there would be little white specks of the paper showing through in areas where they're not wanted. The originals are just over 4 inches high, and at that size, the flecks have more impact than they would if I was working in a larger scale . . . so I paint first.

COLORED PENCIL -- I use colored pencils to do 99% of the work after the watercolor step, but they, too, are dirty. They leave little bits of colored pencil that, even though I take precautions, still manage to pollute the whites, graying them all down.

ACRYLIC PAINT --The final step where light (mostly white) acrylic paint is applied to recover the lights and the highlights lost in Step 7. Sometimes I have to paint a little more than just the highlights, and, if I've let the waxy colored pencil layers get too thick, further color won't stick (the pencil just slides over what's already there}. I use a fixative spray, but there's a limit to that, too. When this happens, I may have to finish with acrylics. Normally I only have to deal with whites and highlights (but I must confess I have a hard time resisting the urge to meddle with areas that should be left alone. Once I have a brush in my hand, I can't seem to put it down).

Too Hot to Trot