Portraits 02 - Digital Color, Mindset

Updated: Apr 21

The portraits have taken on a life of their own! It's suddenly and surprisingly conceivable that I may focus entirely on these for the foreseeable future. I'm having such a great time working on them and really loving the interplay between the three steps of the process: penciling, inking, and color.

The ultimate goal is to make these entirely analog and have them available for commissions as gifts, so I'm chipping away at watercolor and mixed media a little bit each day. My experience in that department is honestly quite thin: I took a single illustration course in college (ironically, through the theater department, the art department did not have anything that emphasized traditional materials) and beyond that I only have a small amount of personal experience.

That means I'm pretty rough at it, and there's a real mental struggle there. It can feel bad to be, well, bad at something, and the presence of Instagram and the Internet in general makes it so easy to compare ourselves to others. The feeling of failure can creep up on us quickly, even when we know deep down we're on the right path.

Something that has helped me tremendously through the process of working on the watercolor is Carol Dweck's book on Mindset. If you haven't read it, the basic premise of it is simple but profound, and she does a nice job of providing examples throughout the book to layer meaning and significance to the idea.

In her words, there are two mindsets a person can have: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset expects to automatically be good at things with little struggle, while the growth mindset accepts challenges and failure as part of the journey toward being great. A person with a fixed mindset tends to give up as soon as things become challenging because they believe their skills and knowledge are fixed, whereas a person with a growth mindset can actually become excited by failure because they recognize they are learning and growing.

For reasons I am not entirely clear on yet, I have definitely leaned toward the fixed mindset for most of my life. So the first two portraits I tried doing watercolor on really did not go well and it took a lot of energy to keep sitting down and working at it while feeling disappointed and embarrassed by the progress.

Hence the digital color, where I feel much more comfortable right now.

It seems silly to have to remind myself of this, but I know plenty of good people who need to hear this as often as I do: everything in life is a skill that can be improved. Literally everything, from listening to music to twirling a stick to navigating difficult conversations with friends and family.

Applying conscious effort to something will yield better results over time, which means our future attempts at something will never be as bad as our first one.

I heard a great analogy for this recently, which is that it's like pushing a car that's in neutral. The first few steps are a real struggle, the vehicle barely moves. But each step we take gets easier, until eventually the car's momentum will carry it with little or no effort on our part.

So while I'm working on getting up to speed with analog media and reaching a place where I feel the images are presentable, I'm having a good time doing the 9"x12" portraits digitally. I've actually enjoyed that process enough that I may stay in that lane even after I feel better about the physical media.

Also, on a side note that I'll dive into much more next time, I recently became inspired by a couple people I follow in Instagram (@david.amyot and @kopfscheu) to make some small-ish portraits, and I'm super glad that I did.

It's AMAZING what a difference playing with scale can make. Surprisingly, I feel like doing these little ones (each one would fit on a 5"x5" piece of paper) will really help me refine the larger portraits, and I learned some fun new things about linework in the process. The added variety won't hurt anything either.

I'll share more finished ink images and color versions of these next time, but in the meantime here's a little timelapse vid of the inking process for one of them. Be good to yourselves until then!