by Susan Morris
I first became acquainted with colored pencils in 2000 but did not become serious about learning all I could about them until 2018. By that time, I had become acquainted with Facebook and other online resources for colored pencils. As I began sharing my work on social media, friends began asking if I would draw their pets. After much thought, I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted my first commission. Eventually, a friend asked if I would draw a family member that had passed. Drawing people was way outside my comfort area, but I agreed to do the drawing. I looked for every resource I could find explaining capturing skin tones with Prismacolor colored pencils and I asked for Divine Guidance every step of the way. At one point, I remember looking at the drawing and wondering where it had come from, as it actually looked like the photo reference. It was then that I adopted the motto, “God does it, but He lets me hold the pencils.”
Does that mean it all came easily? No, I still had the responsibility and desire to learn all I could. The concepts of values, tones, hues, and composition were all foreign to me and I quickly came to understand that if I wanted to do more than throw color on paper, I would have to learn how all those concepts worked together. I learned about different brands of colored pencils, different surfaces for drawing, fixatives, solvents, etc. I had a day job, so I drew every evening and on weekends to practice what I was learning. Each new project held challenges that continued to push the boundaries of my comfort zone and promised growth in an endeavor that was not only a calling and purpose but had also become a passion.
"I know You Baby Girl" My first portrait drawing of a special moment between a father and daughter.
Continuing to look for ways to learn and grow as a CP artist, I began to participate in online weekly and monthly challenges as well as entering contests and competitions. I entered local competitions and looked for artist groups and guilds that I could join. Some of these went well, some did not. I learned from each experience and moved on to the next.
“As I began sharing my work on social media, friends began asking if I would draw their pets. After much thought, I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted my first commission.”
The end of 2021 presented two of my greatest comfort zone annihilators. First, after much discussion and asking for Divine Guidance, my husband and I decided I would leave my day job and become a full-time artist. Shortly after that decision, a friend, who was one of my biggest supporters and encouragers over the years, told me she had written a children’s book and asked if I would illustrate her book. My mind began whirling with all the reasons I could not do the illustrations: I don’t have the skillset; I work with photo references; I’ve never done illustrations.
"The Diving Cats of Bucerias" book cover.
Finally, she said, “I’ve thought about it, and I don’t want anyone but you to illustrate my book.” So, I agreed to take on the project. Then, she said she was off to talk to her publisher and would introduce us to each other in the next couple of days. I felt sure that the publisher would advise my friend to use a seasoned illustrator for the project. However, the publisher was kind and easygoing, and I told her upfront that this would be my first attempt at book illustration. She said that she had seen my artwork and loved it. She also assured me she had worked with new illustrators before and felt confident that it would be fine.
So, I did what I always do—overthought it. I thought I needed to draw illustrations like other children’s books. I bought books, tutorials, workshops—whatever I could find that would help be draw the perfect illustrations for the book. Then, I felt a tap on the shoulder of my subconscious and an inner voice reminded me that my friend asked me to illustrate her book because of the style of my current artwork; the publisher saw and liked my current style of artwork—bottom line: you have this opportunity because of your style of artwork as it is—don’t change it. Lesson learned.
“Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone initially and continued to do so as the opportunities presented themselves, I would not have learned all that I’ve learned, experienced all the ups and the downs, nor would I have arrived where I am today.”
The next hurdle? What am I going to do about photo references? The book was about a clan of cats who live in Bucerias, Mexico. This clan gets up early in the morning to clean up the town and beaches, including diving for trash in the ocean and driving the trash away on John Deere tractors. Not many photo references available for those scenarios, are there? But I kept pushing past my comfort barriers and located references I thought I could put together and tweak a bit to achieve the goal of the drawing.
After a lot of sweat, pencil shavings, and great teamwork, The Diving Cats of Bucerias was finalized. To see the culmination of all that time and work come together between a front and back cover brings out feelings that just cannot be described with mere words. A second illustration project soon followed as I had the opportunity to illustrate a book called The Rainforest Fairies.
"The Rainforest Fairies" Book Cover
Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone initially and continued to do so as the opportunities presented themselves, I would not have learned all that I’ve learned, experienced all the ups and the downs, nor would I have arrived where I am today. So, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
About Susan Morris:
Susan Morris, the artist behind SH Morris Art, loves creating art that tells a story, captures a special moment, or passes along a treasured memory. Her attention to detail and use of color help to create her unique style. Susan's work can be found in homes across the US and Internationally.
See more at: http://www.shmorrisart.com/