MelvinHatcher

Where do ideas come from?

I think we all get asked where our ideas come from as if there’s a store you can go to and pick them out. Sadly, this is not the case. Ideas are everywhere. They’re in every interaction, random thought, daily task, dog walk, the Olympics (here), and even the news.

Tracy and I went to a conference last Saturday (we’ll give you the scoop in a future post). In the frenzied preparation to get my portfolio up to speed and create a new postcard, I was mining for ideas. Remember that not really true or maybe it is true story about knitting sweaters for penguins? Even Snopes isn’t sure about that one. Well that gave me a great idea! I imagined a little girl knitting sweaters for penguins. Now to write a story to go along with it (which needs to include chickens).

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First sketch on Instagram


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Revised sketch


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Finished piece.

I used this image as my postcard which is now en route to various publishers.

If you’re an editor, art director, art buyer or anyone else at a publishing house and would like to receive one, let me know!

Experimenting with Gouache, a not quite tutorial

I’ve recently started using gouache. I’m still calling it experimental even though I’ve used it for client work. No matter what I do, I always end up using a variety of media. It’s usually some combination of paint, acrylic inks, Caran d’ache Supracolor pencils, and Photoshop or Manga Studio, with a side of collage of some sort. In other words, I use whatever works to get the job done.

In this first photo I first printed out a colorized sketch onto my Fabriano hot press watercolor paper (reddish sketch). Then I painted in the shadows with a mix of blue gouache and purple acrylic ink.

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Underpainting of acrylic ink mixed with gouache.


Here I’ve laid in the basic colors in gouache on the figures. There’s not much detail, yet.



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Basic colors laid in.


Now I’m starting to define details and add more modeling to the figures with color pencil. I use Caran d’ache Supracolor pencils.

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Adding details with color pencil.


I decided the yellow background wasn’t working so I took this old watercolor and salt painting into Photoshop to colorize and lighten it.

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Watercolor with salt painting.


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Colorizing the background.

I added a vignette border to the background for the final piece. At Renee’s suggestion, I also painted some glare on the ice in Photoshop.

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The final piece.




I hope you find this helpful. I’m still learning to use the gouache, but I’m loving it so far.

This piece came from my sketching while watching the Olympics. If you’re following me on Instagram, you’ll recognize them.

My Transition from Photoshop to Manga Studio 5

Hello everyone! It’s been quite a while since I posted here! For the past few months I’ve been knee-deep in illustrating a new picture book set to come out in the Fall.

I’ve had my head down illustrating pretty much every spare moment I had since September, but I’ve finally emerged from my art coma and want to tell you all about my experience with Manga Studio 5!

I transitioned over from Photoshop to Manga Studio with this latest project, so I got four months of serious on-the-job training with the program. I went from ZERO knowledge of the program to it becoming second nature.

I have to admit that I had tinkered around with the program for a while last summer, but gave up because I just wasn’t feeling comfortable with it. Then right before I started this last project, I fiddled with Manga Studio some more. At the same time, Photoshop started becoming finicky and began feeling super clunky. I went back to Manga Studio (with some nudging from fellow SMA illustrator¬†Tracy Bishop) and gave it another try because I was just getting too frustrated with Photoshop feeling like it was laggy and slow.

When this last picture book project came along in September, I bit the bullet and decided to go for it–to try and complete a painting in Manga Studio. The cover was due first and I figured I could attempt the cover in Manga Studio and switch back over to Photoshop if things didn’t pan out.

Well, let’s just say I fell in love with Manga Studio and never looked back.

Here are a few of the main reasons Manga Studio is the clear winner for me:

  • The brush engine is a million times better than Photoshop’s. There are way more options to finesse your brushes in terms of pressure and color blending, etc. Manga Studio also allows for creating brushes using multiple images at once which is something I have always wished that Photoshop could do.
  • The perspective guide/ruler is AMAZING. It came in handy SO MUCH. Manga Studio allows for your pencil/brush lines to snap to the perspective ruler which takes a lot of fuss out of drawing cityscapes (or anything in perspective, really).
  • The ability to create models of people in different poses and angles really helped for my latest project. I painted scenes where there were many, MANY people in them and my husband would only model for me for so long, so I had to build poses in Manga Studio (which is supremely easy to do).
  • You can set the fill bucket to close gaps in your line drawing, making laying on the first layer of color so much quicker than attempting that in Photoshop.
In all, I worked 100% in Manga Studio with this latest book project and just figured it out as I went. I have to say that my fellow Simply Messing About blogger, Tracy Bishop really, really helped me out if I found myself stuck. She’s been using Manga Studio for a while and had the answer to pretty much all my questions! ūüėČ Check out her wonderful Manga Studio tour¬†video!
In case you’re wondering, I never had to take any of my images back to Photoshop for any retouching or post-painting work. I suppose everyone paints differently, so there is a chance you might need to go back and forth for certain things, but I didn’t have to. I pretty much found a solution to anything I needed to do in Manga Studio. However, if you do need to switch back and forth, Manga Studio makes it easy to export or even save your file as a Photoshop file!
If you have the opportunity to try out Manga Studio, I highly, highly recommend it. It’s like Manga Studio’s creators took everything illustrators and painters love from Photoshop, made them a million times better and then added more awesome stuff on top! All without having to deal with the bogged down feeling that Photoshop can bring. I must also mention that Manga Studio is a mere fraction of the cost of Photoshop. Yay!
In the weeks to come, I will be doing tutorials based on some of my favorite things about Manga Studio….keep an eye out for them! Until then, do yourself a favor and at least¬†download a trial version¬†of Manga Studio 5 if you can!
‘Til next time!

Simply Messing About with Mediums

Over here in my head, there is always a debate over traditional vs. digital. Which is more appealing? Which is more fun to make? Which can get me more work? I switch back and forth all the time because my tastes change. My skills, however, differ in both methods. Sometimes I need them to influence each other.

Recently, I was approached to do a color sample in my sketch style and it turned my world around. It makes me ecstatic that this style may eventually be ready for publishing, but I still have a little ways to go. I wanted to show you a little bit of what my process looks like as I try to figure this out.

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This sketch is what started me thinking about all of this again.


I’ve been drawing like crazy in sketchbooks for a little over a year now, and most often my drawings turn out looking like the one above. Recently, I started incorporating Prismacolor colored pencil and Copic marker into my usual pencil and ink brush doodles. My eyes needed to see more color and finish in the sketches I had grown to love making.

But that Alligator and Armadillo tea party got me excited, so I took it to Photoshop to color it as fast as possible. Why? Because my skills in Photoshop currently surmount my Paper skills…it’s a crutch.

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I liked this color, but it didn’t have the same energy, so I left it as is…


In this particular case I was happy with the colors I chose, but it still wasn’t working for me. I went back to the drawing board…quite literally.

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That’s better, but still not quite right.


But, I was missing the vibrancy and saturation. I know that it’s possible to attain this with watercolor, but I haven’t figured out how to get there yet. Then, I remembered the gouache set I got for Christmas and started to play again with yet, another new medium.

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I started with a gouache warm up.


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And this is where I landed.


My goal for what I post on the Simply Messing About blog was always to document my journey back into traditional painting…that’s it. But with this particular project, I hit on an important fact, that it’s ok to jump back and forth always letting digital influence traditional and vice versa. And sometimes, they work really well – together.

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I added a background color to this gouache painting…digitally.


Until next time!~Renee





Manga Studio 5 Mini Tips: Color Palettes

There are two main ways that I use Manga Studio 5’s color palette.

  • Tip 1 is how I save the color swatches I use in Photoshop and import them into Manga Studio 5. This allows me to go back and forth between the two programs and keep the colors consistent.
  • Tip 2 is about how I like to create new color palette files for each illustration project and save it for future use. I really like how quick and easy it is to create new palettes. It’s also nice that MS5 gives you options to save it as a MS5 file or as a Photoshop swatch file.

Tip 3 is from fellow Simply Messing About contributor, Christina Forshay:

  • In her latest project, Christina made sure she named her swatches so she could use the correct color throughout her book. 

Tip 1: Import Photoshop’s color swatch file: 

I frequesntly import color swatches that I use in Photoshop into MS5. This is really useful when I move my illustration files back and forth from Photoshop to Manga Studio and want to keep the colors consistent.

In Photoshop: Save your swatch that you want to use in MS5.

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Save the .aco file. This is Photoshop’s color swatch file extension.

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Go to Manga Studio 5: Import the .aco file you just saved.

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Select your .aco file.

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Now you have your Photoshop color swatch in Manga Studio.

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Tip 2: Create custom color palettes for each project 

I like to create new color palettes for every illustration project I have and save it in the project folders. I do this because it’s easier to have the palette I use for each project accessible just in case changes are requested to an illustration weeks later.

Yes, I know that I can use the color picker but there are so many places where the colors are mixed that I want to know what original color I started with. That way I can make sure colors don’t gradually shift from the first page of a book illustration to the last.

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Tip 3 from Christina Forshay: Naming Color Swatches

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2014: Working Smarter

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Happy 2014! Just like everyone, I’m reflecting on what happened in 2013 and what I can improve in 2014.

Last year I experimented with how I could improve my work and how to do it more efficiently. Efficiency became key when I was lucky enough to be very busy with illustration work most of the year. I wanted to find the sweet spot between quality and speed. A lot of the blog posts here last year were my explorations in that.

The flip side of being so busy with work was I let my health slip. I stopped exercising. During all-night work sessions I would eat comfort food to get through the stress. My drawing arm and lower back started to ache. I started to realize that if I wanted a long career as an illustrator I needed to take better care of myself.

So 2014 is going to be the year that I figure out how to work smarter. This means I need to figure out a couple of things:

  • How to work in a way that causes less stress in my arm and back. I’ve partially solved this problem by buying a monitor arm that allows me to me to use my tablet monitor standing up and at any angle. This has helped my back and my arm a bit.
  • I need to figure out a way to work exercise in my schedule so I won’t just drop it when I get busy. I realized that if I keep myself strong, I’ll experience less of those aches and pains of over-working my drawing arm and back.
  • I didn’t do any personal projects last year. I want to commit to a project that I can do bit by bit this year so I can push myself as an artist.

You’ll see me post my various experiments in trying to work “smarter” this year. I hope I can figure it out and can report back good ideas.

Get out of the studio!

Last week I was so happy to get out of the studio with a college friend of mine. We went up to San Francisco to the DeYoung Museum to see the David Hockney exhibit. I knew nothing of his work, but I’ve found that I can always find something inspiring to fuel my own creativity. (Forgive my fuzzy iPod photos.)image

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There were watercolors, oils, charcoal drawings (my favorite), as well as iPad created paintings. His paintings are huge! He paints them using multiple canvasses. In addition to the art, there were also videos of nature shown wall size across many monitors. I’d love a wall of monitors with snowy or spring scenes in my living room. They were so peaceful and beautiful.

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 The most fascinating part of the show was the iPad paintings. There were 24×36 inch monitors with iPad art slide shows, including a video of a painting in progress. They also had iPad created art blown up and printed in huge installations. Some were full body portraits printed in about 6′ panels. Others were huge images printed in multiple large panels.

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To show the scale of one of the iPad paintings.


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Detail of iPad painting


It was so nice to just get out and see something different! It’s so important to fill the well, so get out of your studio and see something new.

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Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


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On the Importance of Attending SCBWI Events

Becoming a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators might be the second most important thing I’ve done for my illustration career besides getting an art degree.  Last week I attended SCBWI Los Angeles’ Art Director’s Day (scroll down the linked page to see the details).  It was probably the sixth or so Illustrator’s Day I’ve attended. Yep, that’s a lot of events, but I can’t stress how important it is to try and attend local SCBWI events at least once a year if you can.

No matter which level you are in your illustration career, these local events are helpful, fun and so informative that they really shouldn’t be passed up if at all possible.

Last week, for example, I had the good fortune of being able to listen and speak to well-respected art director Lauren Rille of Simon and Schuster, Isabel Warren-Lynch of Random House, Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and Cliff Cramp, an awesome illustrator and instructor at California State University Fullerton.

They all shared really, really tangible information that is relevant to attendees at any level of their career. Lauren Rille, for example gave a very detailed presentation on the working relationship between the art director, the illustrator, and the editors. Isabel Warren-Lynch discussed the emotional connection between the art and the reader and Cliff Cramp gave a very inspirational talk on how the fundamental role of an illustrator is to tell stories. And Kelly Sonnack really broke a barrier and gave some straight-talk on the topic of money and the illustrator.

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Here is a really bad (dark and far-away) picture of agent Kelly Sonnack showing an example of a great illustration website. Whattya know?! It’s a page from our very own Renee Kurilla’s website!




Not only do attendees get to hear invaluable information from the esteemed speakers, but they also get the chance to display their work for all to see. Yes, that sounds like a daunting task to some, but getting your work out into the world and in front of the right eyes is a necessary part of being an illustrator. Be brave! Having your work up there with everyone else’s gives you a chance to see how you can improve your craft and get ideas for portfolio presentation.

Yes, the informative aspects of an event take up most of the day, but the other HUGE plus is getting to connect with other illustrators. Sometimes (or most of the time), illustration is such a solitary activity and getting to hang out with other illustrators is so important! I’ve made so many friends over the years and we’re all at various stages of our career at this point. It’s great to be able to learn from my friends and share stories as well as help others out! I spent so much time chatting with friends such as Eliza Wheeler, Kimberly Gee, Ken Min, Mary Peterson and many others! It’s also super cool to meet online friends for the first time in 3-D. Hi Bob McMahon

So here’s a few pointers to consider when planning to attend a local event:

  • Research all of the speakers in attendance
  • Be brave and show your work and enter any contests that might be held. These are the places where you can put a face to a name and the presenters can too. I met Lauren Rille at this year’s big SCBWI summer conference and she remembered me this time around. It’s so important to build and maintain relationships
  • Be brave and connect with as many fellow attendees as possible (this is the hardest for me, by far! I’m pretty shy)
  • Take photos so you can have them when you blog about your experience (I really need to work on this too…haha!)
  • Take copious notes. I have a journal that contains notes of the past three SCBWI events I’ve attended. They are great to refer back to
  • Try and introduce yourself to at least one presenter
  • Send a courteous thank you note to any presenter you thought made an impact on your experience
  •  Here is a calendar of all the local and regional events you can try to attend in your area


By the end of the event, exhaustion has usually set in, but it’s such a great type of exhaustion! A long day of learning, sharing and hanging out with friends will get you tired, but it’s so worth it in the long run! Leaving for the drive home with a mind and soul full of inspiration is worth so much more than the price of admission!!!

Just do it!

What are your tips or things you try to accomplish when attending local illustration events?



Pushing a New Style: Photoshop Process GIF

When it comes to creating art for deadlines, my current weapon of choice is my Wacom Cintiq. But last week, I had a serious urge to grab a (real) pencil and put it to (real) paper beyond a simple sketch.

I decided to do a piece that will hopefully become one in a series of paintings based on classic fairy tales. 

I cracked open my sketchbook, cranked up some Henry Jackman music for some dramatic ambience, and got to sketching!

I got the drawing pretty far along and completed in my sketchbook, then scanned it into photoshop for some minimal refining. My goal was to remind myself that I can draw and that I don’t have to rely on the Undo button to create my art. I’m really focusing on trying to create portfolio pieces that incorporate more traditional media.

So, a quick rundown of how I did it (it’s very basic):

The cleaned up drawing was set to a multiply layer on the top of the others and the coloring was done using flat blocks of color on subsequent layers. Being that I tried to get all the darks and lights figured out in the pencil drawing itself, only minimal highlights were added to the color. After that, some glows were added on top of all the layers, and that’s it!

I had amazing fun doing this and can’t wait to sink my teeth into more!

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~christina

It’s time to play


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This is my favorite painting that I’ve made.


Play is important. Like REALLY important! I’ve forgotten that lately. In my push to improve my work, get more work, and life in general, I’ve let go of play. I think it shows up in my work. I keep thinking about all the preliminary play Melissa Sweet does in the beginning of her projects. I want some of that in my life.

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Work in progress.

So with that in mind, I pulled out some old canvases that weren’t working and just started gluing on different papers, smearing paint around. When I paint for fun, I don’t worry about what the end result will be, I just start playing. The hardest part is making that next mark, unsure if it will make or break the painting. I have to remind myself that this is just for fun and if I hate it, I’ll just cover it all over. I have a few canvases with a lot of layers that didn’t work under a painting that really works. I think all of those layers make the final piece just work even though you can’t see most of them. Painting like this requires a bit of bravery and a lot of letting go. I make a lot of bad paintings. It just doesn’t matter. Every once in awhile I fall in love with one of them and the process keeps me sane.

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I’ve repainted this canvas several times.


Go out and paint! Here’s some books that’ll get you started:Brave Intuitive Painting by Flora Bowley Painted Pages by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare Daring Adventures in Paint by Mati RoseMcDonough Taking Flight by Kelly Rae Roberts 

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Not sure about this one yet, but it’s growing on me.


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