Letters from Somnolescent February 3, 2023

Four Becomes Five: My First Year in Art

by mariteaux

I’ve been fooling with the idea of doing art since early 2021, but January 2022 was when I officially started. That’s when I drew some scrunkly Wyns for Caby and tried my best to sketch out a whole ton of the ideas I’ve had lying around for, I dunno, years at that point.

Leaning Wyn redraw from February 2023

It’s taken a lot of nerves and a lot of personal growth to get here (plus practice), but I can pretty confidently say I’m getting somewhere with it now. For the big one year (give or take a month), I’m gonna show off five (or maybe more?) drawings from throughout 2022 and mix memories and art critique. Everyone gather in a circle now.

January 11: Sitting Wyn

A sitting Wyn from January 2022

While not my first ever piece of digital art (that would go to this Dai I drew in mid-2021, also one I’m fond of despite how kinda incompetent it is), this was the first drawing I did after dedicating myself to becoming an artist in 2022. To give you some context, at the beginning of the year, I didn’t even know to resize the photo before I started lining over it.

It’s rough, but it’s a start. I wanted to draw this fantasy Wyn design, but the outfit intimidated me, so I just simplified it to this weird red tunic thing. I struggled a lot with eyes this year. Folks tend to either draw (everything, but including eyes) too big or too small when they start; I draw way too small, so they’re just creepy beady things, and I didn’t know eyebrows existed yet. Yet somehow, I still find this charming? My baby drawings…

Still, on a positive note, this was the beginning of me doing stuff way above my pay grade inadvertently. I’ve long been a fan of other people’s digital art, people way more skilled than I am, so I imitate them and their poses and detailing, not the stuff beginners traditionally do. Not that this is a crazy complex drawing or anything, but sitting poses are tricky. I definitely take some pride in never doing the thing that’s easy to me, even if that means I overstretch myself sometimes.

March 21: Maldwyn

Maldwyn from March 2022

As I said, I used to draw on paper (originally on printer paper, then in a sketchbook, how fancy), and then take photos of it to line and color digitally. (I did scan one drawing and color it without lining, and that’d be this Cammy from October.) I still had basically no confidence in what I was doing at this point, so I was evading a lot of my bigger ideas, like giving my writing-only characters official designs (something I’m still struggling with today, admittedly).

So instead, I made up a cat in a robe with a big stick. I actually drew this guy after I woke up from a nightmare one morning. (He wasn’t in the nightmare, that was just when he was drawn.) I kinda like this one still. By now, I’d roughly figured out how eyes work, even if the pupils are still really small, and this was my first time ever trying to light a drawing, which I think came out remarkably well. (I credit my history with level editors for 3D game engines for that.)

Caby helped me name him Maldwyn, and he really is due for a revision (and just more art of him in general) as I figure out how I prefer to draw cats. Big thing that sticks out to me is that I make the cheek fluff on them way too big and chunky for no reason. (On a related note, even today, I still use very thick lines, which admittedly also lowers my ability to fit details like finer floof into my drawings. Definitely gotten more aware and cognizant of it, though.)

April 28: Devon

Devon from April 2022

Devon (the sona, not the person, though I guess also the person) was going through some pretty major revisions in early 2022, and she was feeling down, so I wanted to use this newfound ability to draw to draw her some gift art. This was the first time I’d done my now-trademark chunky curly hair on a lad (of course, that hair being on pretty much all of my sonas, thanks to me having it in real life), plus props! That plant was originally going to be a fern, but I just could not figure out the fronds, so it became a very tiny and sad sunflower instead.

Aside from the plant and rudimentary watering can (cool shape though), I’m pretty fond of the Devon here. There’s definitely some issues in the anatomy, like how I have the arm hanging off the torso as opposed to the torso connecting behind the arm, but I think her markings and ear floof were pretty well done, I love that sweater (is a shame she doesn’t have it anymore), and claws! I added those for funsies. Love chunky claws, super cute.

May-August: A lot of false starts

Unfortunately, the summer became kind of a drought for my art. I can tell you from experience that so much of art is not your technical skill, but you personally and what you put into it. If you don’t believe in your abilities, you won’t attempt things that feel lively and dynamic, and it will show. It’s not that I wasn’t drawing! I have sketches and stuff from that time, but it was all feeling very overwhelming, and my work came to a standstill.

I know narratively, three months is a big jump, so have some unfinished drawings to fill in the space. I really do not like how the Dai and Maldwyn turned out at all, hence the lack of background, and the Rocco (one of my old characters! And a neat action-y thing too!) was cool, but I wound up never lining, and now honestly I could just do a lot better starting over. Oh well.

October 21: Setter’s Island

Island Setter from October 2022

This drawing right here is what turned it around. This was the drawing that convinced me that I really could make art happen for me. I actually started it back in September, as I wanted to get back to working on my still-in-progress personal site cammy.somnolescent.net and decided Setter would be the mascot to suit it. (Helps that Setter is infinitely easier to draw than Cammy…) During a call one night, I drew a little island and plopped a Setter on top of it, and I was astounded at the potential the sketch had. I had to finish it.

Over the next three weeks or so, I refined it. I shaded it with not just one, but two levels of darkness. I did highlights for the first time! I simulated fogging effects using folder transparency. The tree took a lot of work, but I finally got some good looking plantlife in a drawing! I stuck in some Botania flowers for extra color. This really came out of nowhere, and it was such a confidence booster that I immediately started chasing it. Now, Setter’s easily the boy I’ve drawn the most, and I feel like his design and his feel is truly my own.

December 12: Mage Cammy

Wizard Cammy from December 2022

Given that I started the year off with fantasy stuff, it only felt right to give Cammy his own fantasy update by the end. Caby drew him a little fantasy explorer outfit back in 2020, but I can’t help my love of droopy sleeves and open garments, so I made him a wizard instead! Even better is that that combination of green and gold is one of my favorite color schemes ever, so it being an outfit option on my main sona pleases me muchly. (Cammy used to have red glasses like Setter, but I’ve since decided to color code their glasses to make them all more distinctive; Cammy gets gold ones, Setter gets red ones, and Alexi gets icy blue ones, though all the more recent Alexis have him without glasses entirely.)

Cammy himself is still tricky to draw though, I must admit. I found halfway through drawing that a big reason he was looking off to me was because I’d made his forehead way too big (badgers don’t really have foreheads, but Cammy needs a little bit of one to make his hair work). Pushing it down helped, but really, I just need to play with him more. The outfit, though, is excellent. I realized at the end that I’d basically put him in a bathrobe, and that’s both hilarious and fitting.

February 2, 2023: Leaning Wyn Redux

Extra! This would’ve worked better had I used the leaning Wyn from last February at the start of the post, but I felt like the one from January demonstrated the point better. I drew him in this weird leaning standing position last year, and since I’d had redraws on the brain, I decided to take another crack at the concept.

This took two days. Two days! And it feels so much more natural of a pose and expression, and the sweater actually looks like it has weight in the right spots, and there’s clothing folds–agh. Very very proud of this. Part of the reason I get shaky sometimes is I forget just what I’m capable of, and man, if I can do this? I think I’m well on my way.

So how best to summarize 2022?

It feels odd and arbitrary to end off this retrospective right here, because it feels like I just started. Really, I did just start. It’s only been the last four months or so that I’ve really felt confident enough to start making big strides. I’m proud of my progress, but honestly, a lot of months in my 2022 folder only have one or two drawings in them apiece, and August has none at all. It’s like a weird disconnect I need to push through between really liking what I’ve done and being quietly convinced it’s all been a fluke that I can’t replicate. (That redraw really has killed that notion for me lately. Hot damn!)

I think every artist needs to grapple with the question of why they start drawing. I’ve seen a lot of people (even former Somnolescent people) draw for other people’s approval, and they stop drawing once they stop getting it. Honestly, I just want to draw the things I like: animal people, comfy outfits, magical themes, and scenes and interactions to go with my stories. I don’t have big lofty ambitions of making it as a freelancer or getting hired to do design work, I’m just drawing because there’s stuff I want to see drawn. In that sense, right now, as I write this, I’ve accomplished everything I want to.

Obviously, I’m not stopping here. I don’t think I’ve accomplished 10% of what I can accomplish. I think I’ve been playing it really safe so far, and I’m hoping to break out of that more and more as my confidence builds. There’s so many other designs to come up with, things to practice, refinements to make, and ways to apply my art that, honestly, I feel like I should’ve been doing art this entire post instead of writing it.

It’s good to appreciate how far you’ve come though. In one year, from practically nothing, I’ve made some pretty damn good progress. I think by next year, I’ll have something really special.

About mariteaux

Somnolescent's webmaster with way too much to write about and a stack of CDs he'll never finish.

One comment on "Four Becomes Five: My First Year in Art"

  • fiveducks says:

    hell yeah, man! crazy to see the leaps you’ve been doing, which I think is owing to you trying to do something new in every piece. can’t wait to see where you are in another year >:3c

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