Watercolor art gifts

I don’t take commissions but I do like creating unique gifts for family. Here are a few watercolor greeting cards I made in 2019-2020 for birthdays. They reflect the personal interests of the recipients.

Raptor Penguin Tea Time
Western shootout on golf carts
Dr Whooves. Note I did copy this from another artist who had a similar pose of Dr Whooves. I can’t seem to find the original link though but am happy to add it.
Magus from Chrono Trigger
Hummingbird

Cyrus Albright

I played Octopath Traveler on Nintendo Switch in 2019 and loved it. I found myself getting attached to Cyrus Albright. I just found his personality and dialog very amusing and likable.

So I made a few fanart pieces of him over the past two years. Here they are all together. His hair is especially fun to draw and paint.

2020 Cyrus portrait / Watercolor & ink

The one below was based on a scene from the fanfic Letters by thatarikuchan.

2020 “Letters” / Watercolor & ink

These last three were done for the Huevember challenge of which I completed 5 days of.

2019 Huevember day 1 / Watercolor, gouache, and ink on toned paper
2019 Huevember day 4 Cyrus / Digital

I think this last one’s my favorite…

2019 Huevember day 5 Cyrus / Watercolor and ink

Re-Branding

Branding is an important area for any business but especially for an online business. Your business logo is often the first thing new customers see and what they will use to form their first impression of your business. While your icon helps existing customers recognize and attribute your content and posts.

Last year I decided to rebrand PaperDemon.com because I was unhappy with what we had. Our existing logos and icons lacked personality, didn’t meet various practical needs and didn’t communicate what we were about.

Typographical logo

Up until circa 2019, the logo looked something like this and we used this for 10 years. The typeface was very thin which didn’t show up well on small sizes and it also lacked a lot of personality and character.

Circa 2009 logo

Temporarily I had changed it to this hand lettered logo in some places but it still lacked a lot of personality and was missing the wing.

2019 logo

Today’s tech world is full of forgettable logos. So often I see companies following modern trends and just copying what the big boys like Google and Apple do without doing anything unique or special.

I knew I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I intentionally wanted to do something different. The thought of reaching out to a design agency didn’t sound attractive because with the budget I am on I knew I’d get something forgettable. Even the experienced and pricey agencies may not be able to get me something that would work given that graphic design and illustration are wholely separate skills and what I wanted was something that required the skills of an illustrator.

Good thing I know someone who has experience with both (haha, I mean me). But, in all seriousness, while branding is not by any means my area of expertise I did get some experience in this area while I worked at Google and I felt confident if I focused on it I could come up with something.

I wanted to do something that was more akin to our 2005 logo which was also hand lettered. I liked the character and feel of it, but as you can see below it lacked balance. What the heck are those shapes hanging off of the P and the D? You can see this logo like the new one you’re about to see also uses Celtic letters.

2005 logo

Using an existing font and just making a logo out of that was NOT going to cut it. We are an art and writing community after all. Our logo has to be one of a kind and artsy. There’s no way I would be able to find a typeface that would do what I wanted it to do. So I knew going into this rebrand that I would be hand lettering this thing.

Some of the keywords I wanted my logo to evoke were paper, story book, fantasy, and fairy tale. Having a list of words of what you want your brand to evoke can help guide the creative process.

My inspiration for it was Celtic illuminated manuscripts, Celtic knots, and the title cards for early animated Disney films (think Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty).

We also use a Celtic font and Celtic knots for some of our other marketing imagery so going this direction also makes things feel more cohesive.

I also wanted the wing to become a part of the logo again, much like it was in the 2009 version. I also wanted the letters to have a worn out look to have a visual connection to “paper”. This was something I did for the lettering I had done for the 2020 Red Curtain Erotic Fantasy calendar project and I had liked the results so I decided to carry over those elements. If you look closely, you can see little notches in the letters.

PaperDemon.com 2020 logo horizontal

I am SUPER happy with the results of this. I fully intend to keep this logo for a while.

The only down side is, again, this logo doesn’t look the greatest at small sizes because of how detailed it is. I do have a simplified variant of it though, scaled smaller here for demonstration purposes

PaperDemon.com 2020 logo simplified version for small sizes

Social icon rebrand

In addition to rebranding the typographical logo, I also updated the social icons.

What I had previously was the wing from the 2009 logo colored green and on a green background with foliage textures. It’s something that I had created somewhat quickly back when we first created our social channels and it wasn’t very high resolution. This made it difficult to use in print marketing materials.

Circa 2015 social icon

I felt the demon wing concept was really strong as a brand element. It is simple enough that it scales down to small sizes well, is memorable, and relates well to the name “PaperDemon”. So I carried over this concept to the new icons.

Here’s the updated one using the new wing which was designed with the new typographical logo. I’m not completely happy with the colors so I might change the colors/textures again later this year. But the overall shape of it is pleasing.

2020 PaperDemon Icon

Site footer

For many years, PaperDemon.com had a demon illustration in the footer along with the logo for the site. This illustration would get rotated out with a new one every now and then. Over the years, this tradition was stopped due in part to my artist block, my time constraints, and also due to complexities involved with making the site layout work well on mobile.

I’ve had a strong desire for years to bring this tradition back and with the launch of the new logo, decided now was a great time to do it. I also had a great demon illustration I had created recently that made for a good fit. So this is the new footer that now resides on the bottom of PaperDemon.com. The advantage is I can make the illustration and the logo pretty large to show off it’s detail because it appears in the site footer as opposed to the header where it might be annoying for users to scroll past constantly.

I hope this post inspired you to thoughtfully consider your branding for your own business or website.

Elemental changing crystal

Just finished this artwork yesterday of a premium item we’ll be offering soon on PaperDemon.com so that players can change their element.

Here’s another item I made late last year as a healing potion we’re calling “unicorn earwax”.

I’m having fun making these cute little items. Next I need to create items for gold currency and our premium currency.

2021 Livestream plans

I’ve decided to take a break from Livestreams for the next few months whilst I focus on making improvements to PaperDemon.com. I’ve got a ton of features and upgrades planned for this year and I want to focus on making these improvements because these are blockers for us turning up our marketing efforts.

I’d also like to make some changes to the frequency and content of my streams…

Content changes

It was in 2018 when I first began experimenting with livestreaming. I originally saw it as an opportunity to better connect with the PaperDemon community and reach a new audience. I initially began with educational streams about art fundamentals. But over time these ended up changing into “art chill streams” where I’d draw and chat with folks who walked into the chat.

I still believe in the potential value of educational streams but over the past year I didn’t have the time to invest in it regularly. The attendance and engagement of my chill streams wasn’t great and part of the reason for that was the value to our community wasn’t there. I don’t really have much talent or ability as an entertainer but I think if I focus more on my strengths, such as teaching, I can do more with it and bring more value. I also won’t have as hard of a time promoting it because I can promote it guilt free on PaperDemon because I’ll know it’s of more value.

Educational streams also have the added bonus of the recordings being reusable as valuable content later down the line. I can edit them into more concise videos and maybe even use them as bonus content for signing up.

I also have long term plans (thinking maybe 3 years out) to offer paid gamified art education content to compliment the Art RPG content. My original concept for PaperDemon’s gamification was actually going to be something like that but I decided to pivot for various reasons.

As for topics, I think I might do some streams on drawing basics like using shapes to create characters, composition, as well as color and style. I’ll be doing a poll with my community in discord in March to determine the first topic.

Frequency changes

Previously, I had livestreams scheduled every week (but often cancelled them at the last minute). When I start streaming again I will be limiting it to 1 stream per month and will keep the schedule rather than canceling due to anxiety issues. This will allow me to better prepare useful content and make them more manageable. And because I have announced them ahead of time with curriculum, it holds me accountable and makes me more reliable as a streamer to my members. As I’ve heard, consistency is important.

Platform change

I’ve also decided to switch to streaming from Twitch to Youtube. The main reasons for this are that according to the experts I’ve listened to (Devin Nash and Alpha Gaming), Youtube has much better discovery for small streamers. It’s very difficult to grow an audience on the Twitch platform. You often have to grow your audience outside (such as with youtube videos or a blog or mailing list) and then link that audience to your Twitch page. By streaming on Youtube I at least have a chance of reaching new people that maybe haven’t come to PaperDemon.com yet.

It also makes things easier for those who want to watch the recordings since Youtube has a better watch interface and automatically archives the streams to your youtube channel. And unlike Twitch, it won’t delete the recordings after a month or whatever.

Dates, times, topics and more info to be released at a later date!

Watercolor doodles

Just a quick post to share recent works I’ve been painting. These are all roughly 4″x6″. I often do these during group therapy sessions.

Winsor & Newton watercolor, QoR watercolor, gouache, white gel pen.

Forrest
Sylvain from Fire Emlem Three Houses
Jerle healing

Experimenting with QoR watercolors

I attend weekly group therapy video calls and I’ve taken to doodling in my little watercolor sketchbook during them.

I recently bought myself a starter set of 6 QoR high chroma Watercolor paints after seeing a few Youtube artists pimp them and did a little experimenting with them. The above jellyfish painting was the result.

Setup

Here’s the exact set of paints I bought. The set comes with 6 tubes.

I don’t like to work from tubes (too chaotic and wasteful) so I bought myself this little empty pan set and squeezed the paints out into pans.

This is something I stupidly never thought you could do. I always thought people who used paint from tubes were either ok with the waste or perfect at estimating how much paint they’d need. It wasn’t until I saw Art youtubers like Emily Artful tour their supplies that I learned this was a thing. So I pass on this knowledge to you!

Beware though because apparently not all tube watercolor paints work well in pans. Do research first.

A few (early) conclusions on QoR

With the QoR, there’s a ton of pigment in there and it lays on DARK. There is high paint load in these, which is a nice contrast to working with Winsor & Newton watercolor (my usual jam). I feel with the Winsor & Newton pan paints, I have to do several layers of colors like purple, blue or green to get the bright, rich, intense color I want. Which is frustrating if you’re like me and like to rely on the lovely bleeding/blending effects of watercolor which can’t as easily be done if you have to do it in layers (or maybe I’m just not good at doing it that way).

It also spreads out very fast, which can create some beautiful blooms. I still have some more experimenting to do with it. But this will make them harder to control.

They react well to salt, maybe even more so than Winsor & Newton.

I was also surprised to discover the Cobalt Teal is opaque allowing me to paint light on dark. It felt more like a gouache. I also love the Cobalt Teal and Quinacridone Magenta because these are colors I don’t have available in my Winsor & Newton pan set.

Do I like the QoR paints?

YES! I LOVE bright colors so these were the perfect paints for me to expand my collection with.

But I need more practice with them. This jellyfish doodle just doesn’t do the paints justice. More experimentation to come.

Do I recommend you buy QoR watercolors?

If you’re new to watercolor medium, these are not the paints I would start with. There aren’t enough variety of colors here, they’re harder to control and lift, and they’re pricy. But if you’ve already gotten your feet wet and are looking to expand your colors or options, these are definitely worth checking out.

Medium: QoR high chroma watercolors, white jelly pen

Jellyfish QoR Watercolors
Jellyfish

PaperDemon New Years

In this post, I’ll share the main stages of a recent piece I finished, promotional art for the PaperDemon New Years Cross Over event.

Digital Art done in Photoshop.

This art has my original character, Jerle, flying on a Dracostryx named Flurry. This was my first time drawing a Dracostryx.

The jellyfish and stars are meant to be lanterns. Why jellyfish? Because that’s what I like to draw.

ewe

Thumbnail sketches

I start as I usually do, doing a series of thumbnail sketches. My simple dracostryx looks pretty cute.

owo

Sketches

My process here is not out of the ordinary. I take my chosen thumbnail sketch, scale it to fit the canvas, drop the opacity, and draw on top on a new layer.

I then take that layer, drop opacity, and draw on top of that to do more and more refinement. You can see here the stars look perfect. That’s because I used the shape tool. The final line art is basically me tracing the stars with a pencil brush

Color Comp

Many of these look pretty similar. This is because I had an idea in my head of generally what colors I wanted but needed to experiment a little to narrow it down more. Typically when I do color comps, the options vary a lot more.

Finished piece and details

As you can see I ended up dropping the fireworks and added more layers of clouds. I felt the stars was already making the piece too busy and there were already too many different elements (the dracostryx, the star lanterns, the jellyfish lanterns).

A lot of the glow effects are achieved by using my brush on “screen” mode with a bright color. The rounded edge stars were done with a custom star brush.

Jerle flying on a dracostryx through a pink cloud filled sky with lanterns
Full finished piece
Detail

I really love the way that the subtle color changes turned out on the Dracostryx. That’s it for now. Bye bye o/

Family Camping

Here’s the first finished art piece of 2021. This piece is dedicated to Wilder.

This is a gift for my new nephew who was just born a few weeks ago. This will hang in his nursery. His parents love the outdoors and camping. They also love penguins and bears so I combined these loves together into a unique gift just for their family.

Medium: Winsor & Newton Pan Watercolors, Holbein Gouache, Winsor & Newton Gouache

Paper: 300 Series Strathmore Watercolor paper

I thought I’d detail behind the scenes how this art piece was created so you can see what my process is like. I’ll eventually create a time lapse video of the final painting.

It all started with a thumbnail sketch. This is only a couple inches tall. I start most illustrations doing thumbnail sketches to try different compositions and ideas. For most illustrations I’ll do several thumbnail sketches until I land on something I like. For this illustration, I had the basic composition in my head already and one thumbnail was enough.

I then went on to create a more refined sketch in my sketchbook to better work out the composition in more detail. The composition roughly follows the rule of thirds with the forest and sky taking up the upper two thirds of the paper.

The elements in the illustration are personalized to the family that this gift is for. They love the outdoors and camping. They had decided to paint the nursery green and go with an outdoors theme. Wilder’s dad loves bears and Wilder’s mom loves penguins so it only made sense for them to be there. They also love listening to music. At every family gathering they’re supplying the music.

I included elements on the lower left and right to help frame the composition. I intentionally chose for the trees to have a diagonal line down toward the right which helps lead the eye into the tent and music which leads your eye into the main focal point of the piece, our little critters.

I chose a fox because of the bright colors and contrast it would have against the greens.

As you note in the final piece, the trees in the distance look almost like they’re in fog which creates a lot of beauty in the piece. This is achieved by using wet on wet techniques for the trees in the distance and using wet on dry technique for the foreground trees.

Part of the technique for making this look so beautiful is letting the colors bleed into one another and is my absolute favorite aspect of watercolors. I’m big into color and nothing gets my jimmies going like seeing all those pretty colors bleeding into one another.

Detail of the final illustration showing the trees bleeding
Work in progress image showing the trees in the distance painted in

I watched this tutorial on how to paint pine trees with watercolor and found it incredibly helpful. I’d never painted anything like this before so I needed to get some practice with it before starting the final illustration. I made several attempts, some of which were failures but I wanted to share these so you can see that it’s normal and part of the process to have failures like this. This is why many professional illustrators will do practice studies like this so you can work on the new techniques in isolation without worrying about ruining the final piece.

I realized after these attempts that the cheaper watercolor paper I used for the practice may have contributed to the lackluster results. These were done with Winsor & Newton watercolors on Soho sketch series paper (it’s not very good paper for final pieces but is ok for practice).

For many illustrations that I do, I do a series of “color comps” or “color studies” to try out different combinations of colors to see what will work best together. Sometimes, I have a clear idea in my head of what the colors should be. I went ahead and did a quick color study to test out the colors. I only did one color comp this time because I was satisfied with the first one.

The colors didn’t bleed as nice here because I ended up using the wrong side of the paper by mistake. Oops! But regardless, I was happy with the overall color structure.

I also did some practices with painting the moon. In order to get a smooth sky, I would not be able to simply avoid painting over the moon. Painting the sky required straight smooth strokes wet on wet. So I’d either have to mask it or paint white on top or lift the paint to get the moon.

I experimented with a few options:

  • Using masking fluid – wasn’t happy with the edges after using this. The edges were not smooth. And it’s also annoying to work with.
  • Lifting the paint – this was ok but resulted in weird edges from the paint drying. It would have been too hard to control and disrupt the smooth sky I wanted
  • Painting the white on top of the sky with gouache and/or white ink. – I liked this result the best so went with this for the final.
Moon studies. Top left : white ink. Top right: lifting paint. Bottom: masking fluid.

Something I didn’t include here is I also did several practices of the sky by itself attempting to get a smooth gradient using wet on wet techniques. The moon studies also served as additional practice for this technique.

I also did a study practicing some foliage. I wasn’t totally happy with the foliage I ended up with in the final piece. I think I could have used some more practice here but I had already invested what I felt was enough time in learning new techniques that I was ready to just move on to the final.

When I was ready to work on the final, I redrew my sketch onto the watercolor paper. I didn’t want to do the initial sketch on watercolor paper because a lot of erasing can disturb the surface of the paper and influence the way the paints sit and bleed. So I had to redraw (in pencil) onto the watercolor paper.

The vast majority of the piece was painted with watercolors. But outlines for the characters and the yellow grasses were painted with gouache. I used gouache for the outlines because it gives me a consistent dark line, something that’s hard to achieve with watercolor. I also used it for the yellow grasses because gouache is opaque which allows you to paint light colors onto dark colors. That’s something you can’t achieve with watercolor because of it’s translucency.

The stars were achieved by using white gouache and splattering them onto the page.

Here are a few things I thought could be better with the piece

  • The foliage. I wanted to articulate ferns and larger leaves but struggled to indicate them and ended up lifting paint from some of my foliage attempts. I need more practice with this.
  • The sky wasn’t as smooth as I wanted. I ended up smearing the trees a little but I suspect no one noticed.
  • Making the fireflies greenish blue instead of orange and making them more prominent.
  • The shapes of the trees could be better. I need more practice with this.

And there you have it. The finished piece. This was definitely my most ambitious watercolor painting. Overall I’m happy with the results and I’m glad I attempted it. It definitely gives me more confidence in working with watercolor.

I hope you enjoyed this write up and learned something from it. Happy painting.

Reflecting on 2020

This has undoubtedly been an extremely tough year for many. While I did have my fair share of struggles, I am fortunate enough to have many things to be grateful for.

Let’s start with the challenges…

The challenging things

  • The stress and unknown of Covid19, obviously. Hard not to start there. The fears and strain of responsibility to protect those around me from getting the virus.
  • The physical aspects of my Anxiety got much worse. I had a period of weeks where my body was on high alert and couldn’t snap out of it and ended up in the emergency room with a panic attack. I tried new medication but it has come with downsides. I sleep nearly 12 hours every day as a result of it.
  • The anxiety was too bad for me to even go to the store and I had to rely on my husband to do the grocery shopping. I suspect many people with anxiety felt this way, too, due to the nature of the pandemic.
  • I’ve fallen out of my meditation practice.
  • I isolated too much and didn’t spend enough time seeing friends (in a safe way of course).
  • I dropped the ball on Dragon Mall Quest. There were many reasons for this. Mostly it had become too time consuming and I had to scale back my schedule. But even my scaled back schedule of one episode a month I haven’t stuck to. I also have some fears and mental resistance with it that I need to overcome. I’ll try to restart my efforts on this in 2021.
  • My business got audited by the IRS.
  • Crap tons of bug reports on PaperDemon.com. For whatever reason these stress me out. Perhaps because I know I don’t have enough time to fix all of them and I feel like I’m letting my users down.
  • I gained back all the weight I had lost from dieting in 2018. At the start of the pandemic I reached for comfort food, especially frozen pizzas and it left a mark on my waistline. I attempted to restart my diet in the summer but without success.
  • I barely livestreamed this year. In part because it fell low in the priority list and also due to anxiety.

The things I’m grateful for

  • This was a fantastic year for PaperDemon. We made great progress in terms of community activity, product direction, development, and growth.
  • Dracostryx joining PaperDemon. This was a HUGE validating moment for PaperDemon and demonstrates we are on the right path and serving user needs. They’ve provided a lot of input to help us with product direction.
  • Meeting Shyftlock at ShrunkenHeadMan Con and having her join the PaperDemon staff. Learning from her about the Art RPG world was a huge benefit and helped inspire our product direction for PaperDemon.
  • I felt really productive this year with PaperDemon which was a big improvement over 2019. I was crippled by anxiety after some serious shit went down. But I found my groove in 2020.
  • I created lots of personal art. This was probably one of my most prolific years for my personal art since early college.
  • In addition to being prolific, I narrowed in on a personal art style. I might discuss this more in a future video.
  • Despite some initial financial fears triggered by the pandemic, we ended up being just fine financially. Mike’s job remained stable thank goodness.
  • I had support from a peer organized anxiety support group
  • No one in my family suffered seriously from Covid19. While a few got sick, no one ended up in the hospital. The spouse of one of my friends had a serious case and he landed in the hospital but he recovered, thankfully.
  • My sister-in-law gave birth to her first child. What a blessing!

I’m looking forward to 2021. While 2020 was a terrible year, perhaps the worst year ever for many, I wouldn’t say that was the case for me. It helped that I already had a year head start on working from home.