Made with Love: Or What That Means, Exactly

So if you’ve been anywhere within a ten-mile radius of me anytime in the last week and a half, you’re probably well aware of The Big Card Project. I took it upon myself to design a set of six macabre Valentines, thinking it’d be a a fun little project that’d get me away from the computer, make me feel more creative, and force me to relax a touch.

Thumbnail Sketches
Thumbnail sketches. This is how things started. I hate showing people my sketchbook because things invariably look like they were drawn by a blind five-year-old. Basically, I'm just trying to get the composition right.

Of course, I forgot to factor in the fact that I’m a crazy workaholic perfectionist with an insomniac streak a mile wide whenever I get really passionate about a project. My little lark of a project kept me up late, made an utter warzone of my apartment, and still took far longer than I’d anticipated.

I made this card last year and still had the sketch in my book. I think that was done in pigment liner and watercolour, and was severely lacking in calligraphy and mass-production capabilities.

However, it did succeed in teaching me to use my digital camera more effectively, so I’m grateful for that. I took a lot of photos along the way, mostly because I became highly paranoid about committing to ink and mucking things up, and I thought it’d be interesting to share a bit of the process that’s involved.

Line Drawings
Initial line drawings. I marked off an active "image area" space using my health card as a ruler so as to keep the illustrations roughly the same size.

I started by drawing “proper” versions of each illustration on this lovely smooth square bristol board. I’m anal-retentive, so I tend to prefer mechanical pencils (they’re also easier to find at the grocery store when you run out, although they typically stock a .7 lead and I like a .5 better).

Lauren modeling an arm position
Here's my roommate modeling her best "hungry arms" for me. I had her do a few different positions. You can tell how impressed she is about it.

I’m always surprised when drawing things by what I don’t know. Like “what an astronaut breathes from”, for example. Or how long the optic nerve is. This was an awesome lesson in anatomy, although I’m still not quite sure I got everything right.

My calligraphy tests for the captions. I can't do calligraphy without graph paper, so I ended up developing a style of lettering for each phrase, then re-inking it a few times on a clean sheet, scanning the sheet, and selecting the best one.

After developing line drawings I was quite happy with, I became paralyzed with fear that I’d screw them up in the inking process and would need to start all over again. I realized this was insane, but appeased myself temporarily by working on the calligraphy designs instead. My calligraphy’s still a little questionable, but I’m starting to get the hang of it, and it’s more interesting than my (slightly bizarre) handwriting.

Inked Lines
No turning back now! Line drawings, all done in ink. I refused to use a ruler and was quite tired, so you can see where I screwed up, especially with the lines of the cage.

That dealt with, it was time to commit to the drawings, and start inking! I like using a proper dip pen, but that’d be too messy, so I used a 0.1 pigment liner instead. These are lovely creatures and I absolutely adore them–it took me a little time to find a good pen that wouldn’t smudge when erasing or inking over top. The inking process took FOREVER and gave me insane hand cramps.

Pencil shading
Yep, I'm anal retentive enough to shade first in pencil. I might actually like them best at this stage.

Since I still was suffering a fear of commitment, I sketched out all the shading in pencil prior to inking the lines again. In some cases (the ball-shapes in particular) this actually helped quite a good deal, as cross-hatching in ink isn’t exactly the most forgiving method of shading.

Inked Drawings
More arduous work that took forever and nearly made me blind. I have strange depth perception issues anyway, so I typically work with my face about two inches from whatever I'm doing.

After that, I inked the lines with a pigment liner slightly smaller than the outline liner. I really wish I could find a liner smaller than .05, although I suspect that they don’t make one, and I should have just made these illustrations larger, then scaled down from a thicker primary pen.

Adding the red accents. I used pure red ink and it gave a lovely hue, especially when laid over the shaded lines. I'd originally planned to use a much lighter wash, and possibly use some other colours, but then I liked the red so much (surprise!) that I decided to keep it.

I think it was at about this point that I started saying “I’m nearly done!”, which probably went on for another two days until I actually WAS done. Even painting in the red was an arduous process, and I tried really hard to ensure that there was a good balance of colour in each. (This is why the little cannibal girl is a redhead, and not because I’m a raging narcissist.)

Test Prints
At this point, I thought I was done. Wrong.

Next, I scanned all the final illustrations and calligraphed captions into Photoshop at gigantic resolutions, in case I ever need to make a gorey billboard, I guess. I cleaned up major messes only, since I had doing tedious Photoshop masking work, pieced everything together, and printed it out. I also made a design for the back of the card involving a little calligraphy and a little handwriting.

Mistakes often create really lovely things, unexpected and impossible to reproduce.

My last step was to create a full set of cards, properly printed on my cardstock. This was, by far, the most arduous and painful task of the entire operation. (My laser printer is a beast. It weighs about as much as I do; people think it’s a high-tech humidifier, and it sounds like a jet plane taking off.) I ended up crying and yelling at my printer for about three hours, surrounded by an utter MESS of half-printed papers and falling-over cards. It wasn’t pretty, but I eventually (sort of) figured it out.

I’m excited to learn to screenprint instead of wrangling with this beast, but my workshop isn’t ’til early February, so the timing wasn’t quite right.

Final Cards
Finally! Finals.

And in the end–was all the effort worth it?

Of course it was! I ended up learning SO much, and, while I genuinely doubt I’ll make ANY money whatsoever selling them (the profit margins seem pretty low) the experience of selling them will give me an opportunity to learn a little about retail business, which I haven’t dealt much with since becoming a designer.

And now I can send out delightful cards to all my friends and enemies!

They come on white or ecru stock, with a blood-red envelope and a hand-painted heart sticker to close the whole she-bang. I am a sucker for pretty packaging.

(PS, if you like them, you can see more on my website here, or purchase them at my new Etsy store. I’ll also be selling them at the Harbourside Market in Dartmouth February 6th and 7th.)