A few weeks ago Ana Goldberg, a YouTuber I’ve been following for a while now, proposed to her Patrons to do a zine together. The topic would be “Our most cherished items and why we keep them”. Ana left her home country a few weeks ago and had to leave behind most of what was dear and home to her. I felt it was a great topic because it made me think about the objects that make our houses our homes. And also if our relationship with objects go deeper.

Choosing a cherished item

I felt called to do an illustration about one of such objects for me, so the first step was to look for an object I cherished so much that I’d never get rid of them. Despite my efforts I had a hard time singling out one piece. My paint box was all I could think of. But even that is replaceable. I can buy paint anywhere.

But then something struck me. A memory. A memory of an object I cherished a long time ago but that I lost and desperately long for at times. My old bear.

The illustration process

I made a video about the story behind the bear, which is also a speed paint of the digital painting I made of it. You’ll find it a little further down this blog post. But here on my blog I’d like to share the entire process of this illustration. You see, I have also finished the sketch in my sketchbook and painted it. I wonder which you prefer, the digital or the analogue version?

So let’s start with this explorative sketch…trying to draw the bear from memory as I’d even lost the photo and had no reference to draw from. It was much harder than I thought:

From exploring memory to a scene

After I’d formed a visual image of my memory on paper I did a sketch of a grown-up figure cherishing her object-of-times-gone-by. She’s lying on the ground, as I did in my memory as a baby. She’s in pieces and yet whole, as I feel many if not all people are as the vast majority of us gets damaged in some way or other somewhere along the path of life. And she’s naked as she displays something very sensitive and intimate.

The first digital version

Then I worked out the sketch digitally as a part of trying to build on my skills in that department. I always find it very hard to get the same feeling digitally as I have when I paint. But fortunately I felt the illustration worked out okay somehow. This is a first version:

The second digital version

It may have been okay, I didn’t like the weight of the brown floor in my illustration. It caused a chaotic feel as it took away my eyes from what my eyes should be drawn to. And then there’s the incredible up-side of digital art. Making changes is so much simpler as you don’t have to redo the entire painting. In this case I simply inverted the colors of the floor layer and the interfering brown turned into a cool greyish blue tint that’s a perfect complementary color to the ochre of my bear. And suddenly both the me-figure and the bear popped out the way I wanted them to. Looking back I’m just not too fond of the blue nose…

Process and story

This is the video I made about the digital painting process. The voice-over tells why this bear is such a cherished object to me.

Going analogue

After uploading this video, putting together all these images and writing a text for Ana’s zine I was finished. Or so I thought at the time. But leaving a sketch page unpainted in my sketchbook? Nehhh….I just can’t do it. I’ve literally never done it in recent years. So I put on an audiobook (“Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders” by Mick Finlay) grabbed my fineliner and watercolors…

Digital versus watercolor experience

Having done this illustration both digitally and in watercolor made it easy for me to compare both techniques. I had experienced quite some frustration and unhappiness during the digital painting process and beyond the steep learning curve of a new medium there was also something else that I hadn’t quite been able to pinpoint.

Looking back on my digital version I realised that I just love the embodied experience of real painting with water and pigments. For me there is absolutely no physical connection between me and what happens in the image with digital painting. I don’t feel it, don’t smell it and the paints don’t interact with me. It feels dead. In addition it’s all pre-planned and much less intuitive. I’m not a fan of digital art as in general it’s very obvious when something’s created digitally. It’s just not as ‘alive’ as real paintings are. I have seen VERY few illustrators and artists who pull of that sense of realness and aliveness with their digital art. So as an audience digital art is points behind for me. But also from the creator’s perspective I don’t feel life in the work while doing it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a rookie with digital painting techniques. And maybe, if I’d master them, it would feel differently. But I’m not sure I’m willing to put in the years and the effort and sacrifice so much time for real painting during that time. Because the moment I sat down with this sketch and my paints to do the page in my sketchbook, I felt alive and happy again. The paints were talking to me and together with them this illustration grew on the page. And I just really deeply love that process.

What are your feelings about digital art?

You’ll understand that this makes me very curious which of these versions you like best. The digital one or the watercolor one. Don’t spare me if it’s the digital one! I can take it. And I’m also wondering what you think of digital art. Do you know digital artists who make work that touches something inside of you? That feels alive? If you do, I’d love you to write down some names in the comments. Maybe there’s things I can learn from them….

Oh, and should you know which bear I’m talking about and where I can find it…please let me know…even if it’s a hundred years from now.