Pen and Ink Art for a Great Project…Coloring Nature

Green Metallic Sweat Bees pollinating a coreopsis

Last year, from an art friend and colleague, I learned about, and volunteered to create, art for a new coloring book project called Coloring Nature. Having taken up pen and ink drawing again a couple of years ago this was perfect! Most of the artists are actual scientific illustrators, but I have enough of a background to be able to do the research, know what I’m seeing and accurately depict it.

The theme of last year’s book, the first one I contributed to, was “Along the Atlantic Seaboard”. Most of the illustrations had already been assigned or finished but I found to my absolute delight and puzzlement that no one had done an alligator yet. Then I needed to find an appropriate coastal habitat and create a composition for approval. I had plenty of east coast alligator reference from visiting a couple nature reserves in Georgia a few years ago. Every element, plant or animal, has to be correct and scientifically accurate. The birds are an ibis, a great egret and a green heron. I did a fairly finished pencil drawing, submitted it, got the go-ahead and here’s the result…

Each artist gets a $25 honorarium for each of their contributions (not a lot but in a world where artists are usually expected to work for free for a “good cause” because “we love what we do” this acknowledgement of our contribution of time and talent is appreciated). The proceeds of sales of the coloring books are donated to a conservation group.

This year’s theme is Pollinators, without which life on this planet would not be possible. Last fall I did two pieces.
These are two native Hawaiian birds, an apapane and an amahiki. The former is on an ohi’a tree and the other on a species of koa.

The second one I did was a sphinx moth. This time, instead of have to comb the googles for almost all of my reference (I did have some apapane photos from our last trip to the Big Island) I was able to use my own reference for the moths and the penstemon flowers they’re on. It was the only time we’ve seen one of these big, beautiful moths in the fifteen years we’ve lived on our one acre property. I used three different photos of the same moth for the composition.

A couple of months ago the founder/editor realized that insect pollinators, especially bees, were not adequately represented and the call went out through the Facebook group. A list of options was created and first-come, first-serve we could pick our subject. I knew nothing about any of this so I gave myself a crash course in bee pollinators and finally settled on the Green Metallic Sweat Bee, partly because I thought they’d be fun to draw and partly because I found a decent variety of reference. I also went back and forth over what plant to use, initially deciding on one of their favorites, alfalfa, but ultimately realized that the number of flowers I’d be required to ink would take up too much time and the deadline was looming. I then found that they also really like coreopsis flowers and that choice gave me a great design background to show the bees against. I used the same monoline style I had with the other two, but the editor thought it would look better with more line variety and she was right. So yesterday I got the master art out, redid it, rescanned it and emailed it off. She likes it!

So this gives you a bit of an idea of how Illustrators work (it’s fun putting my “illustration hat” on occasionally, especially on such a fun and worthwhile project).

My process: After choosing my reference material I start out with composition thumbnails to work out the design. Then I go through a couple of steps creating a finished pencil drawing on tracing paper at the final size. I put a sheet of heavy vellum tracing paper over that and do the inking with either Sakura Micron or Copic Multiliner technical pens. Touch-up (and there’s always some) is done both with white gouache and digitally after scanning. I do that step with a CZUR Pro overhead scanner (highly, highly recommended!). Save it at full size. Create a it as a zip file and email it off. The file is around 3MB.

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