Latest Posts

BEHIND THE BEANS: HOW I CREATE BLACK & WHITE ILLUSTRATIONS

I love black and white. It’s such a powerful color palette, one that forces onlookers to move beyond the surface and explore the details contained within. Since my style of illustration is predominantly black and white—and trust me when I say that style comes with a whole set of unique challenges—I thought I’d share my process, from beginning to end, to highlight the rather detailed journey I undertake every time I craft a new piece. So, dear readers, shall we begin?

/ PEN TO PAPER /

My process always begins with a concept. A foundation. An idea that inspires me and implores me to create. From that idea, I craft rough sketches in my sketchbook using nothing more than a standard no-frills black pen. These rough sketches help me put my ideas on paper and are typically messy. But once I have a firm grasp on the style, elements, and layout, I move on to formal sketches. This stage is more structured and involves a careful application of ink to paper in order to generate the desired look and feel. Since the formal sketches are eventually scanned, I draw them on 110-lb. white cardstock using illustration pens.

When I start to gain momentum in the formal stage, it’s not an odd occurrence for me to draw with two pens in my hand (typically a fine tip and broad tip) so that I can easily switch back and forth. Although all the elements of my illustration are compiled using one or more sheets of cardstock, I don’t worry about composition at this point. My biggest concerns are the line work and each element’s relative size.

/ SCANNING /

When I complete my formal sketches, I scan the work. Regardless of whether the illustration is for print or online, I always scan at 300 dpi (dots per inch) to ensure quality output (this will show up as 300 ppi in Photoshop, i.e. pixels per inch). And since my style is black and white, I will either scan in Grayscale or convert color scans to black and white in Adobe Photoshop.

/ ADOBE PHOTOSHOP /

With the elements imported to my laptop, I begin to create the composition! That means each element of the illustration must be copied from the original scan and then pasted into my master document (which is usually 8″ x 10″). However, since this piece employs an inverted black-and-white palette, I must do some fancy footwork before I move on to the next element.

The most obvious task is inverting the item. But since that technique does not produce a bold white, the step that follows requires the Levels feature to brighten those whites in order to create the desired contrast.

Next, I must remove the solid background so that my illustration’s master background is revealed. To do that, I erase the extraneous details from the original scan, which is followed by selecting the color/areas I want to remove (using the Magic Wand Tool) and pressing Delete. That leaves me with a beautiful white-line gesture drawing atop my scanned texture background.

Composition and detail

Now that all the elements are imported and refined, it’s time to create the composition and various artistic details that will bring the whole thing together (note the small changes in each screenshot as I move through the process and realize that certain decisions no longer work well). For this piece, I want a somewhat playful and magical look and feel, not only for the composition but also for the details. Therefore, I knock out the fill from the jar and light bulbs, and then add and arrange a pattern (from scanned craft paper) behind them. The two screenshots below show the knockout as well as my reducing the opacity of the background to determine the final arrangement of the patterns.

With that in place, I move on to refining the composition, which in this case involves quite a bit of time moving stars around the sky, resizing, and adjustments to the ground elements. As with every illustration I create, I use guide lines to ensure each component is aligned in a way that produces asymmetrical balance.

The following screenshots highlight what I look for in terms of balancing the elements: the relationships between the primary elements (yellow), the secondary elements (green), and the overall balance (purple and green). Click on each image for a closer view; and please forgive the casual nature of the highlighted lines…I was a bit impatient!

 

 

 

AND NOW, DEAR READERS, the final illustration…On Ideas & Fireflies: “Float into the night sky and flicker among the stars. Dance within the imaginations of all who dare to dream. Illuminate their minds and brighten the first step forward.”

Writing, photos, screenshots, and illustration © 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

BEAUTIFUL CHAOS & ITS ELEGANT FRAME

All creative work must begin somewhere.

That “somewhere” is generally unkempt, to say the least. But stepping back a bit from the slovenly linework and disjointed ideas reveals a piece of art, a magical composition, always unintended but pleasantly surprising. For the sake of this thought train, my attention is focused on visual art and the “somewhere” native to that discipline: Sketch studies.

Sketch studies are scary and wondrous places.

They unshackle the mind and give license to move within and around ideas. Studies explore nuance and grand contrasts in equal measure. And above all else, they open the door to surprises—happy accidents—that can, in fact, reveal far greater ideas…notions that would never have seen daylight without this unbridled investigation.

Sketch study for my Mad Hatter illustration. © 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

The excitement to explore new ideas can leave a creative with barely a single breath. But at the same time, the mind can struggle against the pen in an effort to achieve perfection. And it will cringe when an errant mark defiles what was once beautiful chaos. That’s a good phrase: beautiful chaos.

I’m reminded of the Mad Hatter (Tim Burton’s version) because I think he exemplifies that phrase. So let’s investigate things that begin with the letter C…curiosity….creativity…..creation……a crazy calculated and clever cacophony…….uh, sorry, I’ve digressed.

But yes, chaos. It can be beautiful. Disarray and disaster, within an elegant frame.

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

The Mad Hatter | Joe Blend | Illustration

ON HATTERS & HEARTS

beneath the hat…truth
rich minds…deep hearts…playful steps

We’re all a little mAd!

The Mad Hatter, from the Tim Burton interpretation of Alice in Wonderland, was an odd bloke to say the least. Definitely odd…and bizarre, a bit disturbed, and certainly loony. But he was also a passionate artisan who had a kind heart and good soul. Mad is a word that has multiple definitions, but I think the best one of all is that which implies being carried away by enthusiasm. Which you could also read as a playful passion for life. So, in that sense, all of us—to some degree, in some way, at some point in time—are a little mad!

Illustration and writing © 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

SPILLING THE BEANS—020218

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Ink SnackTM, a book of bite-size writing and nutritious thinking!

My latest book project is a publication of original haiku and drawings—created by hand—in a handmade journal I purchased at a local store. The name refers to small portions that provide sustenance when the mind is starved for creativity. And of course, it’s all crafted with ink.

The content contains a variety of artwork alongside the haiku—art that reflects the meaning behind their respective poems—and includes the blackout technique and collage, in addition to drawings. The book is one of a kind; however, once it’s sold, it’s gone forever.

The Ink Snack | Bite-size writing and nutritious thinking                  

IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE that none of the content was created using a computer. For example, the page numbers (along with the “About” page content) were created using an antique typewriter. Furthermore, all the writing and drawings were done by hand using a black pen (i.e. no erasing my mistakes!). And, the book itself is handmade (not by me). Handcrafted in Nepal, the book uses local raw materials, basic book-binding technology, and a skill set that can only be described as ancient. I can’t think of a better vehicle for poetry and fine art.

The book should be ready for sale within the next month. So, stay tuned!

Images, writing, and artwork © 2016-2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

ON SMOKE & MIRRORS

Ladies and Gentlemen, magicians are real. Flesh and bone, living and breathing.

They are not, however, the masters of prestidigitation who dazzle us with trickery born from distraction, smoke, and mirrors. Although they employ wands —to fabricate marvelous creations and previously unimaginable accomplishments—the exclamation Abracadabra!, for them, is nothing more than eleven letters and a bit of punctuation.

Real magicians spin yarns of wonder. They immerse us in worlds where anything is possible. They create something from where there was once nothing, and their stage is much larger than wood planks betwixt two curtains.

Their magic resides within the pen, brush, and camera. Artists are magicians.

Writing © 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved; illustration © 2016 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

ON FAILED IDEAS & HOPE REBORN

Failed ideas. Attempts at something that eventually yielded nothing. Hope and excitement, shattered; a mess of broken ideas clearly born from inspiration that was delicate to begin with. But as the accumulated detritus is swept away—Whoosh!—a spark flickers. Hope is among the remnants.

Therein rises the Phoenix.

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

KID DESIGNER & THE POWER OF A PAPER VOLTRON

I once made my own toy, when I was a kid. I did so in order to participate in an adventure I knew others were experiencing.

Money was tight when I was a kid…at least for a period of time, long enough to prevent me from obtaining one of the most coveted toys on the market at that point: Voltron. There were three versions of this mechanized force for good—gladiator, warrior, and lion—and I eventually owned the first two. But before that blessing was bestowed upon my young imagination, I owned none. And during that period of none, the version I wanted most was the Deluxe Lion Set.

We can all relate to being a kid who doesn’t get what they want. Especially when others in your neighborhood had what you wanted. That’s how my Voltron period began. But instead of focusing on the problem, I committed to a solution: I made the toy I couldn’t have.

“Let me tell you that my level of patience as a kid was apparently, and significantly, more than what it is now, as an adult. At least that’s how it feels.”

Before I began, I knew I needed references and materials. Since I’ve always known how to draw, I drew the beloved lion Voltron on paper by watching the weekly cartoon and copying what I saw. That would serve as my template, and the easy part. The construction was a bit trickier: my materials were limited to poster board, clear tape, a pen, crayons, and something resembling brass fasteners (for the joints). Considering the toy would be hollow, the seams had to be spot-on and well-secured lest my handcrafted version fall short of what Toys “R” Us was selling.

The details of how I constructed it are lost forever, which is a shame because if you’re familiar with the lion Voltron, you’ll know that the large robot is supposed to disassemble into five separate components, each a mechanized lion on its own. But I did manage to create the toy, and it was sturdy. I’ll grant you there might have been some minor repairs here and there—cosmetic or otherwise—but it never became irreparable.

The whole experience, now that I look back on it, was an education in focus and determination, against the backdrop of adversity. I don’t know if my paper Voltron survived the many years that followed my last adventure with it. But one thing is certain: the artist who created that toy lives on.

something from nothing
paper, tape, crayons—unite!
fun does not need wealth

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

FOOTSTEPS & TIME TRAVEL

time travel in white
snow records a fresh journey
footprints, a story

While looking out of my studio window last week, I noticed a few tracks of footprints snaking across my driveway and side yard, after a light but fresh overnight snowfall. I didn’t see imprints from boots or loafers but instead, paths…decisions…time, by the moment. Someone was there. They had a place to go, or someone to greet, or maybe just needed to eat. And they were probably thinking about something, although the subject of that thought is now lost to the ages. But it doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that they had a story.

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

A FRENCH PRESS, STUDY #6

I don’t draw what’s in front of me. I draw what I see.

My style has been sculpted through careful study and exploration, and it found its momentum with a simple approach: perspective. The definition of the word perspective is, in part, concerned with “the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” (Merriam-Webster, s.v. “perspective,” accessed January 21, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/perspective.)

Relative importance. That’s how I see the components of a subject I’m drawing. I blur my mental focus—only paying attention to what jumps out at me, as the most critical elements to the function or form—in order to draw not what’s in front of me, but instead what I see. What my mind sees. Clearly, my artwork above is not a French press in its entirety. That’s because to me, a French press wouldn’t be a French press without the plunger and filter assembly.

Everything else is merely a support system. To me, anyway.

A French press, study #1 | Joe Blend | Drawing

SUBJECT: An original abstract drawing of a French press
DIMENSIONS: 7.75″ x 9.75″
MATERIALS: Black drawing pens on 90 lb. Strathmore mixed media paper; drawing created with acid-free, archival materials
PRICE: $125.00 USD (unframed; online retail outlet to be determined)

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

SPILLING THE BEANS—012018

A fresh blend of news, about photography.

I recently wrote a piece about black and white as an artistic palette, and how my passion for that palette developed during my now-finished digital photography days. Finished…that’s a word that carries a lot of weight. It leaves no room for doubt—its terms are absolute—and it implies closure. Finished, as in “my photography days are done.” Or so I thought.

The issue that caused me to part ways with digital photography was simple: perfection. The work I created with my iPhone was nearly flawless (granted, it’s the best point-and-shoot camera on the market). And when I tried to degrade the image, in the camera, it looked sloppy. That’s what caused me to leave digital photography, I think. But recently, and as a result of all the drawing that I’ve been doing, I found myself once again drawn (pun intended) to photography, which was shocking. So, dear readers, let me reminisce a bit before I dive into my latest epiphany.

AROUND 11 YEARS AGO, I shot with a Polaroid camera for a period of time, and I loved it! It produced a soft, imperfect image within a cozy 3.5″ x 4.25″ space (with border). Since the camera didn’t have a preview screen, you never truly knew what the final photograph would look like…at least not until you survived the 30 seconds or so for the image to develop. How wonderful that was! With a DSLR (at least the low-end professional model I used), there was in fact a hairline-wide window of camera settings—a combination of exposure compensation, lighting, and natural blur—that, when used just right, could somewhat replicate an analog look. Somewhat. Of course, I eventually put down my cameras, even the point-and-shoot iPhone, but I never lost my appreciation for imperfect images.

So here I am, four years or so after my last formal attempt at photography. And only days after I posted a journal entry about being done with that discipline. What does it all mean? That’s easy: I’m returning to photography.

Shriek! Gasp! Oh my!

But my return does not carry with it the intention to produce polished images or digitally simulated imperfection. Oh no, those days are truly behind me. What I want to do with the medium is much different, and will actually be influenced by an approach I tried only once during my DSLR days (the final product was fantastic!) alongside the fun I had during my foray into Polaroid photography.

I’m going to print raw photographs (shot with my iPhone) onto newsprint and other nontraditional papers, while employing a small format (around 6″ x 6″, possibly a bit smaller). And of course, they will be in black and white.

I’ve said before that I love the black and white palette for artwork, and I still feel that it’s my artistic destiny, so to speak. And as someone who writes and draws—by hand—I’m naturally excited to create work that serves as an homage to the imperfection and handicraft of yore. Because it does me no good—as an artist who values craft—to print a perfect photograph onto polished paper. You can take that to the bank!

(Deep breath)

This is a new and exciting chapter in my work so stay tuned for updates, because this might take a while!

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

THE BRILLIANCE OF BLACK & WHITE

Black and white is brilliant.

Not when it comes to interacting with people, but instead as a visual palette for art. That’s because black and white dismisses distraction. It discards the surface to explore the depths. It banishes the jewel-toned “SQUIRREL!” factor I like to call “color.”

Let me say, in no uncertain terms, that I’ve never enjoyed working with color.

I’ll grant you that as a writer, I don’t struggle with color. But when I began my work as an artist—especially during my days as a graphic designer and fine art photographer—color was a challenge. What’s interesting is that it took a second, albeit brief, immersion into digital fine art photography for me to finally toss color aside and explore the limitations of black and white. And what I found was not restrictive: it was liberating.

The contrast. The simplicity. The powerful visual effect. It was all incredibly exciting! I felt as if I’d found the true underpinning of my work; my artistic destiny, if you will. Granted, my photography days are done, but I’ve since returned to the art of drawing and my passion for the black and white palette is still there. The beauty of lines created with black pen, Sharpie marker, or charcoal pencil, all on white paper: it’s powerful, to say the least.

“A study of a coffee cup.” Materials: black pen, Sharpie marker, and white pen on paper. © 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

In some ways, the black and white palette employs the same rich, minimalist approach as haiku…which happens to be a form of poetry I started writing on a commissioned basis, over a year ago, for businesses and individuals. Like haiku, a black and white treatment says more with less; it gives every element a well-defined purpose, and it wastes nothing. Which is quite the coincidence, because I already have a less-is-more perspective on life; that connection, needless to say, was a profound realization.

Art and life, genetically intertwined. I think that’s what it means to be an artist.

black and white…”simple”
immersion in rich meaning
beauty and knowledge

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.

An Extension of Waves and Time | Joe Blend | A 2-oz. Read

AN EXTENSION OF WAVES & TIME

life, priceless purpose
monuments to moments remind us
always love each breath

The artwork below was made using a black Sharpie marker, a Ranger white opaque pen, a Precise V5 Rolling Ball extra fine black pen, and a sheet of paper from a Moleskine journal. The piece was then copied in black and white using an HP copier. The artwork and haiku are inspired by “Beyond Waves & the Notion of Time,” my journal post about the importance of the journey.

© 2018 Joe Blend. All rights reserved.