Letters from Somnolescent December 29, 2023

Happy Five Years: Further Down the Artsy Rabbit Hole

by mariteaux

Happy extra image that didn't make it into the proper post!

January 2024 marks two whole years of me taking art seriously. I read back through last year’s art retrospective, and I’m guessing it was partly that one year of progress isn’t a lot in all reality and partly that what progress I did make in 2022 was bumpy (as tends to happen when you start learning a new skill), but I was surprised at how tentative I sounded. I ended off that post with a big fat “pretty good for a first attempt ^^”, if you catch my drift:

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.

Thankfully, if 2022 was the year of trying to draw anything at all, 2023 has been the year of learning to draw confidently. I used to get plagued by a feeling of every drawing being a fluke, that it was just because I had someone’s actual art off to the side while I drew that I made it look anything like what it was supposed to, but I don’t get that anymore. I actually really like what I draw now! It still looks amateurish in spots, but that’s starting to taper off, I think.

Not to say I don’t still have a long way to go, but for actually properly enjoying what I do and feeling confident in it, this year has been very good to me. I understand eyes and snoots now, for one thing… Let’s go back through some highlights of this year, like we did last year, and have a bit more positive to say this time around, shall we?

January 14: “The Games That Shaped Me”

"The Games That Shaped Me" header for cammy.somnol

I’ve spent a lot of 2023 filling out cammy.somnol, my more personal, nostalgic, lo-fi personal site (compared to mari.somnol, which is more of a portfolio thing these days–check the Macintosh Garden version for what’ll be going there soon). One of the pages still to be completed in the aboveground section is a timeline of games that have really affected me as a person throughout my life, inspiring me, turning into long-term fascinations, or I’ve just continued to return to for one reason or another.

The page still isn’t live because of all the game-specific illustrations I still haven’t done, but the header’s all done, I really like how it came out, and it turns out I only ever posted it in an old journal entry, so we’ll start us off with this boy! cammy.somnol is really why Setter is still my go-to easy-to-draw comfort character; I’ve just gotten so much practice in with him and he always comes out how I like, so I use him when I’m getting a little more experimental or trying to show more personality in a pose. This one’s a three-fer: sitting on his legs, which is tricky, a profile shot on the head, which I still wasn’t quite used to, and the guitar controller, which is a pretty high-detail prop.

Sidenote, actually, I found out doing this one that I really like drawing guitars? Ignoring the strings, they’re detailed enough that making them look accurate is satisfying, but not so many details that they become a complete faff. This being a Guitar Hero guitar, I obviously didn’t have to worry about strings, but I still got the pickguard in there, still got the whammy bar with the rocker assembly, still got the cord coming out of the right place, and it all looks reasonably straight, so yeah, very pleased with how it came out.

April 22: Vansire Lince

The full J-card template for the Vansire Lince
The lyrics are to their song “Eleven Weeks”, if you can’t read them.

Wow, this one was kind of a trip. I occasionally buy things for folks to ship out to them at a later date, either stuff they can’t buy at the moment or stuff they can, but have shipped to me because the international shipping would be absurd. I don’t think dcb had a bank account yet, and there were these limited edition Vansire (who are a fairly local dream pop outfit to him) compilation tapes Spirit Goth was doing, and I wanted to grab one for him before they were all gone. This being me and me never knowing when good is good enough, though, I wanted to include some art. I mean, it’s Vansire–and he used the four portraits thing as his own branding for some time, and I guess occasionally still does.

At the time, I was experimenting with a floaty coloring style where I’d just paint on the dark spots with the airbrush in FireAlpaca and have the light spots fall off to pure white. Given that the drawing had kind of a frosty, wintry vibe (as does Vansire’s music), I decided to give it a go. It looked fantastic! This was seriously one of the first moments where I couldn’t believe I had drawn that–of course now, I see it more critically, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still like it and doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a really fun thing to include in the tape and not tell him about.

And about that! I actually drew this onto a cassette J-card template and printed it out on our cheap Canon PIXMA printer onto cardstock, then cut it out and fit it inside the J-card that was already in the tape shell. From the outside of the tape, you’d have no idea anything was inside, but once you opened it up…

The Vansire tape with dcb's surprise art inside
And in case it bothers you like it’d bother me, don’t worry, I did trim the excess paper off the print after I took this picture. I just obviously don’t have the tape anymore to take a better photo with.

I seriously could not stop telling everyone in DMs how excited I was to see his reaction to all this. It was worth it! I still have much to draw for people, but we’ll leave the 2024 aspirations for a beat. Still reminiscing here!

May 5: Miranda

Airbrushy Miranda

I’ve told this story about half a million times now, but Miranda started as an adopt that Caby had planned to sell (sidenote, Caby–if you do a 2023 retrospective, discuss your rapidly-growing Internet audience, it’s been genuinely insane to watch). Halfway through drawing her, though, she realized this is basically the exact kind of character I like–long hair, comfy clothes, I’m easy to please–and I adopted her instead! I always call it a draw-to-adopt situation, but Caby would’ve given me her regardless; it just makes me happier to say I did something for it (plus, it means I get to brag about actually drawing my new adopts :retarded:).

In truth, Miranda has actually been quite the struggle for me to figure out, for reasons I’ll get into in the next section, but the first time I drew her is still the one I like the best. This is another example of that airbrushy style! It’s really fun to just imply depth using color changes as opposed to another shading layer–after all, another shading layer just becomes color changes anyway.

I’ve since gotten a ton more down about her and where I’ll use her (she’s the maintainer of the Somnolescent Archives, the keeper of the Archives’ pair of immortal guinea pigs, and she uses her weird Internet-cat powers to track down all the things on the Wayback Machine for us), but mostly, I just have to draw her more. And get her on toyhou.se (stay tuned on that front!). And do that archives refresh, as implied.

July 12: Setter Ref

2023's Setter ref

More puppy boy! I started feeling a little dissatisfied with everything I was drawing towards the middle of the year, especially over the span of staying in Wales (did I mention I went to Wales this year?). As I said, every time I went to draw my new adopted kitty girl, I just didn’t like the results all that much. I find my dissatisfaction with art to be pretty healthy, which is surprising given my long-term rocky traumatic history with my writing abilities. I always take it as a sign something good is about to happen with my skills, and the only time I get put off is when there’s something I aim to do that I’m not managing. In the case of Miranda, it was making her head look correct (cat heads are difficult!) and it was eyes.

In the case of heads, it was supremely tricky drawing snoots at the three-quarters perspective I like to draw characters at. I’ve been able to fake it up to this point with a sort of bean shape implying a snoot, but that’s all it was. Meanwhile, eyes have been a perpetual stick up my ass since I started. I was afraid of them! They’re the most expressive part of the face, and they tap into that part of the primal part of the brain that assesses threats. Even big, cartoony eyes can look downright scary if something’s wrong with them–and that put me off anything more than dot eyes for a long time. These intermingled; it’s hard to know where to position the eyes if you don’t understand how to shape the head. I did play with that comic book-y cross across the face thing back when I started on printer paper, but it fell off really quickly because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do with it yet.

That all changed when I was fooling around with drawing one of my oldest OCs, Rocco, and realized I had enough space in the eye region to turn the dot eyes I’d been doing into proper eye shapes. Caby had shown me how to do this last year, but it didn’t quite click then. I was psyched. I found out that I could draw the nose and mouth, connect them up to the dot eye on the far side of the head, and have a nearly constantly foolproof way to have perspective-correct snoots, big, emotive eyes, and nicely-shaped heads.

Setter was the first to enjoy this new treatment with his ref for this year–making a year and a half’s worth of site illustrations not match anymore in the process, but that’s alright.

October 13: Fantasy BunnySetter!

Fantasy Bunny and Setter, armed with magic and neat weapons,,,

Yeah, I drew a lot of this dog this year, but again, he’s cute and I always like how he comes out. Did I mention I went to Wales this year? I wanted to do (and did!) a big, long retrospective of the trip with all the photos I took while I was there, and I realized halfway through building it I was gonna need some illustrations–there was no visual representation of Caby and I in any of the pictures, and Bunny and Setter are just adorable together anyway. Plus, I started feeling bad about how little I’ve drawn Caby’s sonas. In my defense, I was scared of screwing them up, but it’s always been unfounded, thankfully.

I think most of the BunnySetter illustrations for the trip diary are only okay, but this one genuinely rocks. This was for the day we visited a ton of castle ruins around suburban Cardiff. I’d already taken a ton of pictures for that day, but–come on. I’m known for my fondness of magical animal people, I had to. I’m still proud of pretty much all of it–Bunny’s robe and Setter’s sword are both from Skyrim, and I stole Setter’s outfit from something I found on FurAffinity (the outfit rocked, but the artist liked their overly-detailed human feet and I am firmly opposed, thank you). Layered clothes! Magic! I actually managed to draw her dangly ears!

If you’re wondering why I was back to doing dot eyes, it was to match the rest of the cammy.somnol graphics. You can see I still drew a snoot on Setter, because I didn’t have that epiphany for nothing, dammit.

December 20: A Very Somnolescent Christmas

A big Somnolescent group picture drawn by Cammy

I’ve attempted to do group pics before, but it’s easy to underestimate just how much work drawing a whole bunch of fullbodies really is. This time, I was determined to make something happen. Only got like…seven Somnolians to include–how hard can it be? I got it done just in time to go to work on the 20th, which is five years to the day after I bought somnolescent.net and reinvented the group from sad, soggy Discord server to hip and cool art collective for people in the know. As such, it’s currently live on the front page there.

All the easy lads were on the left side of the picture–Cammy (who has seriously benefitted from my newfound snoot-drawing abilities, so much more of him to come), Caby, and Lince were all pretty automatic and were the first ones I came up with. Berry, I feel a little bad only having her head present, but I think I tried three different scampering poses for her and I just could not get them to fit in the drawing correctly. Jake’s sneaking off to take his melanin (which isn’t very readable in the drawing sadly), Cramble has taunted one too many chatbots and now they want his throat, and Connor was a very late addition, but I got his beloved Gibson ES-335 in there to make up for almost forgetting him.

Everyone took about two hours to draw in isolation, so yeah, this one was a several-day affair in total. I wound up leaving it unlined at the resolution I sketched it at, 1024×768–my sketchy style is still so careful that lining tends to just be a cleanup pass anyway. Didn’t post this one anywhere, but I think it’s cute and definitely suitably busy (like our group is these days!), so I think it should be seen a little wider. Dammit, we’re going outside next Christmas though.

Down with 2023, goals for 2024

I slimmed down what all I was trying to draw this year in favor of picking a few things to be able to draw reliably and confidently. It was a smashing success–I think I ended 2022 feeling like my art had potential but nothing I was too sure of yet, and 2023 has been me capitalizing on that potential in a big way. I not only have drawings I actually feel confident in showing off now (even to real life people!), but I enjoy the process a lot more now! I can do exactly what I wanna do for the most part, and even when it still takes a couple tries, I have a better bead on what exactly I don’t like and where I’m going wrong.

I’ve always been very fundamentals-driven with my art, and I think that’s been beneficial to me. I figure the more I can do things by hand, manually, the less I’m reliant on tools. I turned off my stabilizer altogether in late 2022, and now I don’t even think about wobbly lines, I just line it. I’m always amused when I notice lazy people doing copy and paste and mirroring in their drawings–we can always tell, and that’s why I don’t do it.

By the same token, that does mean I am still pretty slow and cautious, and my work isn’t quite as zany or toony as it could be. I’m still very focused on getting a drawing that’s correct more than I am something that’s really fun to look at or expressive. Some might say that defeats the point of toony stuff, but you can always break rules after you learn how to play by them. If you never learn to play by them, you just stagnate as an artist.

If 2022 was the year of learning to draw at all and 2023 was the year of learning to draw confidently, I want 2024 to be the year of learning to draw a variety of things. I want to give ferals another go–that means I’ll be able to draw proper animal-y animals, Pokémon, Neopets, all those wonderful fantasy creature OC ideas I’ve been meaning to get down on paper for many many years now. I want to shore up my mustelids; mustelids are my favorite animals, otters and martens and polecats and, of course, badgers, and being able to draw them comfortably means being able to draw effectively half of my character lineup.

A grumpy Seb with a Monster
Remember him? He’s all grown up now. And gay. (He is not gay, I just draw everyone really soft and rounded.)

And lordy, my character lineup! Sooooo many fucking characters I have never been able to get out of my head correctly. Miranda, Prince, Rocco, Marcela, Miguel, Simon, Lillian, Felix, Maldwyn, Edgar, Gale, Alan, Phineas, Roland, Gilbert, Miki, Mia, Arnie–I don’t expect you to recognize their names, but ideally next year, you’ll have faces to put to ’em, because I do. All I’ve had for them so far are written descriptions, and honestly, my mind’s eye is really undeveloped still and I don’t have a great bank of mental reference to pull from yet. I think drawing will help immensely. (I also intend to take my long-suffering toyhou.se account private on the 1st and rebuild it, character by character! Stay tuned for updates on that.)

If you wanna see more of what I was up to this year, do check out the (occasionally sporadically updated) art gallery on the temp mari.somnol I have over on Macintosh Garden. The layout isn’t what I’m going with, but the content is, so if you’re wondering what I have in store for that domain (lots new album reviews!), check around the rest of the site. Beyond that, I’m gonna go have a birthday call for Caby with the group. Keep on drawing, my friends!

About mariteaux

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

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