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I suck at pottery

Ever have one of those wine and painting courses? Well, I haven’t.

However, I’ve had wine and pottery. Yeah, wine wasn’t included. Should have been though because my pottery probably wouldn’t be this bad.

But, like anything else, you get good by doing.

I did pottery when I was a little kid. My parents enrolled us in summer courses where we learned everything from pottery to photography. I got pretty good at photography. Even learned how to break open a film canister under a special thick black blanket and put it in one of those film things that you dip in the solution that processes your film.

Film? Yes. That’s right. I was really good in the darkroom.

All those dodge and burn things you young ones do in Photoshop? I did that stuff in real life. With film.

But pottery? A completely different beast.

So, decades later, I did the pottery thing. And it turned out, well, crooked.

But, it’s absolutely perfect for my watercolor brushes!

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Arthur Rackham – English Artist

Arthur Rackham Little Miss Muffet

If you’re a Westerner, you’ve seen Arthur Rackham’s work. You may not recognize his name. However, you’ve seen his work in fairy tales when you were little.

You’ve more than likely seen the featured image of Little Miss Muffet and the spider. Yes, that is Arthur Rackham.

Little Miss Muffet 
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Arthur Rackham quick bio

He was born in 1867 on September 19th in Lewisham, England. Rackham got famous during the Golden Age of English book illustration, which were 1890 until WWI.

He did everything from Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Anderson to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Rackham actually made pretty good money in his lifetime, both for his works for private collections and also for his work for children’s illustration. Of course, he’s best known for the latter.

Arthur Rackham The Valiant Little Tailor
Arthur Rackham The Valiant Little Tailor

I knew the above piece as Seven in One Blow. Maybe the English call it The Valiant Little Tailor. As a child, that was one of my favorite stories as the kid had a certain smugness to him. I loved that, and an adult, I preach confidence.

So much better to err on the side of confidence than doubt. The little tailor had a swagger to him that got him to conquer the giants, save his kingdom, and marry a princess, despite coming from such a humble beginning.

Anyways, Rackham died of cancer at the age of 71 at his home in Surrey. Long after his death, his works still sell quite well. You’ll also see his works on greeting cards.

I was heavily into fairy tales as a kid so I remember his work quite fondly.

Why he’s so important

Personal opinion – childhood culture is highly important. I was adamant about reading to my son as a child. I read to him Treasure Island and all seven of the Narnia books. Although Rackham didn’t illustrate any of those books, I’m sure my son has seen a lot of Rackham’s works in the fairy tales I’ve read to him.

Fairy tales form the basis of childhood culture. I remember every single one I read, and when I stumbled across Arthur Rackham’s name in Wikipedia by complete chance, it immediately brought back a lot of memories.

I’m a huge proponent of culture and the arts. We should know this stuff as it enhances our brains and creativity big time!

Arthur Rackham Alice in Wonderland
Arthur Rackham Alice in Wonderland

Rackham didn’t do the first few editions but did do the 1907 edition of Alice in Wonderland. He also illustrated a story Wagner made into an opera.

Arthur Rackham's Rhinemaidens
Arthur Rackham’s Rhinemaidens

And that’s what I’m getting at. As childhood culture is highly important, expand it and you get the fantastical stories that Wagner drew from. And Wagner is my fourth favorite composer (after Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Brahms).

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Life is teamwork

When was the last time you expressed gratitude towards another person?

I’m grateful I have a supportive wife, who’s also my number one fan and number one critic. I’m grateful I have a son that’s in his mid-20s and is completely independent.

I also think, where would I be today if Allie never approached me about replacing my former model? Then after Allie did, Roxy did. So, I was in a rut, and suddenly, I have two beautiful young ladies modeling and inspiring me to paint.

And musically, I’m by no means doing this alone. Last month, we finally released Opium Tales Volume I. It took forever. Everything went wrong. I lost musicians. Gained musicians. Musicians got sick. I had a musician get stabbed and miss a recording session. Yes, he’s fine now, but was quite a scare.

My voice is not good. I can sing on time and on key. However, my tonal qualities are terrible.

Thus, I only sing harmony vocals. Instead, you get to hear two lovely ladies sing on the three songs that have vocals. Two are instrumental.

We practically have an army of musicians. You’re hearing three different bass guitar players, tons of string players, me playing all the electric and acoustic guitars, piano, and synthesizers.

We also have a small army of sound engineers. Randy Burk is the lead one. He also plays all the drums and percussion.

You are not alone

Now, this is probably way more than you care about. But that’s not the point.

You have friends with talent. You may even have some talented family members. Have you ever considered working with them?

This may surprise you. I struggle with language. I’m not that good of a reader. I like reading Harry Potter books because that’s about the level I’m at. Yes, seriously.

My math skills are off the charts. But reading? I’m not that good.

All these smart friends of mine tell me “Roman, you need to read such and such book. It’s a classic!”

And I pick it up and struggle through the first ten pages.

I couldn’t finish Les Miserables. I got about twenty pages in before giving up. Yes, there are kids who can read better than I can.

So those lyrics I wrote? Took me forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think they’re good. They just took forever for me to write them.

Ask for help

Now, you know what I’m really good at? People. Yes, people.

I’m a people person. Always have been and always will be.

One of the few extroverts left. I strongly think too much phone usage has killed people’s social skills. You see it everywhere. You ride the train and everyone’s on their phone. I remember back in the days when people had these things called “conversations with strangers.” A thing of the past. Unless the stranger is over 60.

Anyways, next release, I won’t be writing any of the words. The vocal lines, yes. But the actual lyrics?

I asked friends for help. And they’ve responded.

People like to help. But, most people are afraid to ask.

The thing is, don’t be one of those assholes who asks for help, then doesn’t appreciate it. You do that and nobody will want to help you.

Appreciation

So, simply show some appreciation. It’s not that hard.

I remember a week ago, I held two doors open for some bitch on the phone and she didn’t even look up. Didn’t acknowledge I was standing there, holding the doors open for her lazy ass. She just kept her eyes glued to the phone. No thanks. No smile. No nod. No nothing.

Now, that’s someone I won’t be inviting over to my next BBQ or cocktail party.

I always show appreciation for those who have helped me. Always. No matter how small it may seem to them.

And yes, I’ve done pretty well in life. But it wasn’t at all without help.

In my late 20s, I didn’t know what a 401k or an IRA or a stock purchase plan was. I just started working at a corporation after doing manual labor, waiting tables, and delivering pizza for years. Suddenly, I realized I needed to make more money because my future wife and I had a surprise baby. As you know, babies cost money.

So, I had to change my path. I went the corporate route. And I didn’t know what to do with my salary.

You may laugh. But seriously, I didn’t know.

Some older guy with a house told me all about 401k’s, IRAs, stock purchase plans, and saving a downpayment for a house. I literally didn’t know any of that.

And I don’t even remember his name. It was so long ago.

Thanks

So give thanks when appropriate. Of course I thanked the guy and offered to buy him dinner. He laughed and said it’s nothing. But you know what? It’s not nothing. My wife and I have now been to Europe three times, the Caribbean three times, and South America. We’re going to do a Panama Canal cruise in January.

It’s not nothing. It literally changed my life.

And if Allie never approached me about replacing my former model, I would never be an artist today. I’d still do my music. But I wouldn’t paint.

I used to do photography and dabble in drawing. That’s it. My former model, bless her heart, had a nervous breakdown and got fat, then of course stopped modeling. I wish her best. I’m really hoping her new boyfriend and her get married and do well. It’s going to be a struggle though.

So thank you Allie. Thank you Roxy. Thank you wife. Thank you Randy. And all the string players, other session musicians, woodwind players, brass players, sound engineers, and my future lyricists. Thank you Sarah and Liel for your lovely vocals.

Life really is a team sport. We need each other.

And thank you reader for reading all this. It’s therapeutic to get it off my chest.

Now it’s your turn. Think of someone in your life that has helped you. And tell them what they did for you and how much you appreciate it.

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Experimenting with gradient washes

If a man comes up to you, and tells you he knows absolutely everything about watercolors, ask him how long he has been painting professionally. No, not just for fun. Professionally.

If he says anything under 20 years, walk away slowly. The man is probably an axe murderer and has bodies in the basement.

Watercolor is awesome. No, watercolor isn’t for everyone. Because it’s so, well, weird.

Every time I feel good about myself when getting good at a new technique, someone else will come along and paint something totally cool and I’ll need to learn that trick.

So, this technique is not me teaching you how to do it. This is my very first time doing it.

Rather, this is me attempting something I’ve only done in my watercolor notebook.

If you’ve done this before

If you’ve done this before, don’t laugh. Rather, think about how your first one looked. Better? Worse? About the same?

See, this is why I love watercolors. I think of all the painting mediums, watercolor leaves the most open.

You’re going to be really good at certain techniques. Then, you go on to the next technique.

Mastery takes decades, assuming you spend the hours every year.

Yes, I will try oils one of these days. But, I’m having so much fun in watercolors (including gouache of course) that I think I’ll be doing this for at least the decade after this one.

If you’ve never done this before

Now if you’ve never tried a gradient wash on a large scale (this is a decent sized watercolor painting), I hope it inspires you to try it. Yes, it’s best that you don’t experiment on your best watercolor papers. However, I’ve been hitting the art stores so much that I’ve been snagging their sales and got me a few steals. So I can justify using good watercolor paper now for experiment since I literally have hundreds of papers around.

My first gradient wash experiment
My first gradient wash experiment

Yes, I hope it inspires you to try. Maybe I shouldn’t have done such warm colors. The model doesn’t pop. But you know what? It was an experiment. I’ll end up giving this one away to a friend.

Try it. You should be experimenting often anyways.

Colors used – Blick Artists’ Watercolor – Naphthol Red and Lemon Yellow.

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See those bands!

OK. Something personal.

I was supposed to see Prince awhile back. He played four straight nights in a small venue where we would have actually seen Prince. Not far away. Really seeing him.

To top it off, Carlos Santana jumped on stage and jammed several songs with him.

Imagine, seeing two Guitar Gods performing on the same night.

Then, a few months later, Prince died. We never bought this tickets.

Very sad. Not just for us, but for the whole music world. You can’t replace Prince. You just can’t.

Prince was one of those once in a lifetime people. Good at everything. Purple Rain to this day is one of my favorite albums of all-time.

So we decided after Prince’s death to not miss bands.

Iron Maiden

So when Iron Maiden came to town, no way we weren’t going to see Iron Maiden. I loved their first five albums. Hopefully this isn’t sacrilege, but I stopped following them after Live After Death. I got heavily into Classical music and didn’t really listen to modern music that much from that time period on. Nothing against Maiden. More my own personal musical transformation.

That said, I still listen to all five of those first five albums. And when Iron Maiden came into town. they played only their 80s stuff. Which was great. It was mostly the stuff I liked.

Iron Maiden - Flight of Icarus
Iron Maiden – Flight of Icarus 2019

Billy Idol

And, got to keep the Mrs happy. Her second favorite singer is Billy Idol. Her first is Frank Sinatra but I don’t have a time machine.

Billy Idol played locally. We decided instead to go nuts and rather than seeing him locally, fly into Vegas and spend the weekend doing really cool stuff.

Billy Idol put on a heck of a show. Steve Stevens did a lot of guitar solos, including one with a Flamenco guitar.

The band was tight and the crowd really got into it. Everyone danced when Rebel Yell came on. We all just got up and danced.

Billy Idol live in Vegas
Billy Idol live in Vegas

See those shows, my friends. Bands break up. People die. You might not get that chance again.

You got to keep scratching things off your bucketlist.

Any excuse to go to Vegas

Yeah, I get it. Vegas isn’t everyone’s thing.

The funny thing is, I don’t gamble. I just don’t. Not like it’s a religious or moral thing for me. I don’t gamble because I don’t like losing money. And like it or not, the house almost always wins.

But everything else? Great place to see live bands. We absolutely loved the venue, inside the Palms hotel.

We could have had a 7′ tall man sitting in front of us and we still would have seen the show. Absolutely loved how they managed to make the seats so you could actually see.

And of course, you always meet neat people along the Strip. These two girls were pretty cool. They were both having a pretty bad day because some drunk ladies took out their frustrations on them, just because they were there.

Vegas girls
Vegas girls

We had fantastic bartenders everywhere we went. Killed a bottle of wine in the Luxor. We also had quite a few whiskeys in the Sands. The bartenders were fascinating people. I was most impressed by the bartender at the Sands. Under 30 and really had her future cut out well for her.

Anyways, not every blog post is going to be a watercolor lesson. I wanted to share some of my human side with you.

And I strongly believe that whether you believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, or this is all we get, you got to scratch things off your bucketlist in this life. See those bands you need to see!

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Improve your drawing ability fast with 5 minute sketches

You’ve probably heard of Type A and Type B people. If you’re a Type B person, you can probably skip this article.

I’m classic Type A. There’s a deadline for everything. And when people walk slowly and get in my way, it drives me nuts! I’m very forgiving of older or injured folks. But young, healthy people who walk slowly and get in my way?

Everything I do, I do fast. If I don’t learn something fast, I get frustrated. That’s probably why I get frustrated learning foreign languages. I really struggle.

The good thing is the older you get, the more you learn to play to your strengths. Type A people get a lot done in life, then die young because we burn out and collapse. But, we’ve sure accomplished a lot!

Yeah, life’s a trade off. No such thing as a perfect life.

Anyways, drawing. Drawing is the root of all art. If you can’t draw, your art will suck. I detest Modernism as most of these people are hacks.

Sure, I love certain pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Gil Elvgren, Mel Ramos, and especially Frank Frazetta. That’s totally different. They actually had talent.

But the ones who just do abstract crap and can’t even draw? Those aren’t artists. They’re hacks.

5 minute sketches

So I do everything I can to be more like my heroes and less like those hacks. The best thing for me is a daily routine, which includes a 5 minute sketch as a warmup.

I take a picture. I’ve used a lot from Game of Thrones. This one is of Paulina Rubio because lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Spanish music, trying to regain the Spanish I used to know.

I love music. Paulina Rubio is a Mexican pop singer. A lot of her songs are actually pretty good. They make you want to get up and dance.

Plus, she’s hot, which definitely inspires me to draw her.

Paulina Rubio 5 minute sketch
Paulina Rubio 5 minute sketch

Was it any good? Of course not! It’s a five minute sketch. Had I had 15-20 minutes, it would be pretty good.

But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to increase your speed and efficiency. You learn not to waste time.

Does she look like Paulina Rubio? Sort of. Paulina looks way better than my five minute sketch. But that’s ok. Once again, it’s an exercise to improve your speed and efficiency.

Note the focus

Note what I focused on for this five minute sketch. Paulina Rubio’s three strongest characteristics are her eyes, her lips, and her hair. She’s known for her hair. How many pop singers have hair that can rival Paulina Rubio’s?

She also has the loveliest eyes and lips. I’m really going to emphasize them.

A year from now, my five minute sketches will look much better. I actually wish I had been doing this exercise all along. This is something I recently started doing.

But since you only got five minutes, focus on the characteristics that make the subject special, whether you’re painting a bowl of fruit, a seascape, or a person.

Super easy

Anyways, a 5 minute sketch is super easy. You set the timer on your watch or phone for 5 minutes. And then you draw.

You learn efficiency. You learn not to waste time. And you learn to just draw.

It helps your focus and your speed.

I like getting things done. It drives me nuts if at the end of the day, I feel like I haven’t accomplished something. That’s a horrible feeling to me. Guts me at the core of my being.

Yes, I’m classic Type A. Like I said, this article wasn’t meant for Type B people.

I sometimes envy them because they can do this thing called “relax.” That’s something I’m not capable of without a stiff drink.

Yeah, I’m flawed. But at least I’ll never lie to you.

Try it

Anyways, try it. 5 minute sketches. First thing in the morning. You wake up, grab a picture you like, set the timer for 5 minutes, and draw!

Then when the timer stops, you put the pencil down.

This is a lifelong thing that I actually love doing. A year from now, my five minute sketches will actually look pretty good.

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When in doubt, paint something beautiful

Opium Tales speaker girls

Jin and Allie are both beautiful women. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I have two regular models – Allie and Roxy. And occasionally, I’ll work with another live model.

I strongly believe that artists need to work with live models. You simply don’t get everything you need from painting pictures. You want to capture elements of the model’s personality in your artwork.

I’ll even go one step further. I also believe you should know your models well. I don’t work with anonymous models. If there’s no relationship (platonic of course as I’m married), you’re not going to paint as well.

It’s your job after all. Sure, you may have a day job. But I’m the type of guy that at the office, if I’m not friends with my co-workers, then I’d rather work elsewhere. Yes, this totally matters to me. Just as much as the work I’m doing.

On painting something beautiful

Now to the main point. I’m a totally different person than the kid I was growing up. My morals are entirely different. My goals are entirely different. Even my outlook is entirely different. We’re two completely different people.

However, the child got one thing right. I’ve always believed that we should do what we can to make the world more beautiful.

Everyone has different gifts. When I get more money, I’m planting trees. I freaking love trees, especially oaks. As a young adult, I’d go up in an oak tree for peace of mind and just sit there and think.

Now as an older adult, I’ve developed the ability to paint over years of drawing over and over again. I started off drawing lines and circles until they looked like lines and circles. And from there, I started drawing women.

The first model I worked with no longer models. I actually knew Jin before I met either Allie or Roxy. But Jin lives in Los Angeles so I only see her once or twice a year.

Anyways, my gift is persistence. I kept drawing until my drawings started to look good.

So now, I’m fulfilling that childhood goal of adding beauty to the world. I’m painting beautiful women in fantasy backgrounds.

So if you’re wondering what to paint, paint something beautiful. A beautiful scenery. A beautiful tree. Animals. Women. Whatever. Find something you find beautiful and just paint. Add some beauty to the world. Future generations will appreciate it.

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See more bands and other life advice

I’m taking my wife in a few weeks to see Billy Idol in Vegas. He’s her second favorite singer after Frank Sinatra. Of course, Sinatra died a long time ago so we never got to see him.

But no way we’re going to miss Billy Idol. My wife has been a fan of his forever.

I’m more into Metal and Classical music. Classical music is not going anywhere. For Metal, we finally saw Iron Maiden last month. Yeah, I missed them in their heyday. But better late than never, right?

Who are you your favorite bands? And more importantly, have you seen them perform live?

I’ll go to my grave regretting never seeing Prince or Dio. I got the opportunities to see them both (not together of course) multiple times and didn’t go for whatever stupid reason. Now, I can’t. They’ve both passed on.

I got a chance to see Dio in a small club, a club one of my former bands actually played at. It was cheap too. I really had no excuse whatsoever. I just didn’t go.

Prince – even worse. He played a small club four nights in a row and the show we should have gone to, Carlos Santana jumped on stage and jammed with the band for a few songs. Imagine seeing two Guitar Gods on one stage.

Prince died later on that year.

So if you get a chance to see your favorites, definitely go. It’s something you must do while they’re still around.

And it’s not just death. Bands break up all the time.

I did get to see Pink Floyd in 1994 and Judas Priest twice, once with each singer. Yeah, a lot of Judas Priest fans don’t acknowledge the Ripper years but I thought Ripper was fantastic. Of course, nobody could ever replace Rob Halford. I’m just giving credit where it’s due.

Judas Priest is my all-time favorite band. I do regret not seeing them in the 80s. But I was broke back then.

Work with live models

If you’re an artist, and you’re serious about it, then you absolutely need to work with live models. Some things, you just can’t pick up without them.

In this painting in progress, you can already see some personality seep through. Jin is on the left and Allie is on the right.

Opium Tales work in progress
Jin and Allie as speaker girls, work in progress

It’s funny because Jin’s actually an introvert. Allie’s more an extrovert. Both fascinating girls. Totally different personalities though.

Like I said, personality will seep through into your paintings. That makes the paintings that much better. We are all human after all. And when we paint humans, they want to see humans.

My favorite paintings with people all involve models that you’re wondering what’s going on in their heads. Like Ophelia with Lizzie Siddal. I even wrote a neo-Classical tune called Lizzie’s Opium Waltz after Lizzie Siddal. Inspired by a painting.

She died on opium at the young age of 32.

Don’t worry. Jin and Allie are both doing quite well.

Love

Love is underrated. It seems like so many people nowadays are scared of it. But without love, can you really truly be an artist?

OK, even worse. I think you should get your heart broken. Let’s be real. So many great songs were written after the songwriter got his or her heart shattered. Right?

So yeah, don’t be afraid to love and lose. You only get one life. And your biggest loss may turn into your best pieces of art.

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Homage to Mel Ramos

I’ve been in tons of bands. No, none you’ve ever heard of. The most money we’ve ever made a night was a whopping $43, that we had to split between four people. Yay!

In other words, we starved. But that’s the fate of 99.99% of bands. They starve. Then they break up.

However, I learned a lot. We did covers of some excellent songs – Megadeth’s Holy Wars, Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Ozzy’s Mr. Crowley, the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated, Slayer’s War Ensemble, Iron Maiden’s Aces High. Tons more. I’m not going to list every cover song I’ve ever performed live.

I will say that nothing teaches you an instrument faster than copying your heroes.

The same goes for painting. I do homages every once in awhile. For instance, I did my own version of an Alphonse Mucha painting back in June. This time around, I’m copying the style of Mel Ramos.

You’ve seen Mel Ramos’ paintings

If you don’t know him by name, you’ve seen his paintings. He’s done everything from superheroes to naked girls in martini glasses. He’s a fellow pop artist.

Yes, I’m a pop artist. Not a fine artist. Musically, I’m venturing towards real Classical music. But my art is for fun. I love doing it. It’s therapeutic.

But that’s the route I’m going down and I’ll probably always stay there artistically. I simply like it.

Mel Ramos was a Californian pop artist who was also influenced by Gil Elvgren. Elvgren influenced most of us pinup artists either directly or indirectly. It’s just like every American guitarist borrowed from people who borrowed from people who borrowed from people who imitated that strip of land in the Deep South that created the Blues.

I’ll do an homage to Elvgren later. For now, here’s my friend Jin modeling for my homage to Mel Ramos. He did a whole series of these keyhole pinup paintings.

Homage to Mel Ramos
Homage to Mel Ramos

And yes, if you’re wondering, her body really is that lovely in real life. I painted exactly what I saw.

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Honing the painting process

Process is what separates the amateur artists from the professional artists. You’ll see a professional artist with an excellent process. It will look fluid and easy reproducible.

But the question is – how did they get to that point? And how long will it take?

Just paint. You learn by doing.

This picture may look funny to you. But it’s after years of honing the painting process. And note, it’s not just years. It’s actually hours. Someone who spends one hour a week painting for ten years will look like an amateur next to someone who paints five hours a day five days a week for only two years.

Do the math. You’ll see how much more the second artist paints than the first artist.

honing the painting process
A new Speaker Girls painting in progress

I’ve written before on how I get skin tones in watercolors. Well, here’s a perfect example of my process in action. I paint seven total layers. The fifth one always looks the funniest because this is where I add the darker tones.

Once the seventh layer is down, it will all make sense. And it will look fantastic.

This is the thing though. If you want to build a painting process, you need to paint.

You could study textbooks. You can watch videos on painting. You could read every blog post on the planet on how to paint. But your painting is going to look like shit until you actually start painting a lot.

This is a serious problem with smart people. Smart people think too much. Too many smart people try to overthink anything.

Then some average guy comes along and passes them up because Mr. Average was busy doing.

You learn by doing

Action matters. Sure, it’s nice to read up on the right way to do it. But to really know the right way? You got to actually do it.

I’ve made several huge changes since I started painting. I developed the skin tone process by complete accident. I was trying to copy someone else and found that I couldn’t stand the way they did it when I actually tried to execute it. Sure, theirs looked fantastic. But when I tried to copy their methods, my pinup girls ended up looking like zombies, not hot chicks.

So I developed my own method.

The second major change – I originally used pencil. But pencil doesn’t look as cool as ink. Now, I take inking my watercolors very seriously. I think nothing looks quite like ink. I like how it makes my pinup girls pop.

Now, I’m only using my own methods as an example. Note that I’ve changed. I’ve tried out different things until I found out what works better for me.

You’ll end up doing the same. Just keep painting. The more you paint, the more you’ll hone your process. And the better your process will get.