Mixing Art and Writing

I’ve always loved to draw. In 7th grade I only got one elective and I had to choose between continuing playing clarinet in the school band, or finally seize the chance to take a drawing class. Looking back I think that my Mother favored band – that was what she did as a teenager. However in the end it wasn’t much of a choice. I was better at drawing, and although I enjoyed music, being the last chair with no serious aspirations, I took pity on my fellow band members and took to the silent arts.

At times it was a struggle. At the very least I doubted the support of most of my family. It just wasn’t practical. It consumed time while chores and school work fell by the wayside.

At first it was the typical girl stuff I guess – flowers and fashion-designing dresses. After a couple notebooks of faceless girls sporting my dress creations I decided that I just had to learn how to draw faces. That was before taking the art class so I went to the library and checked out some drawing books. Did I actually read them? Knowing me, probably not. I probably just looked at all the pictures and the step by step process. I picked up some of it and managed faces tolerably until the art teacher got around to teaching us.

I confess I am horrid at landscape and animals. Heck, I think I’d have to study and practice a whole bunch before I would be pleased by attempts at cartoons even. But somewhere along the way I took to drawing people – particularly faces. These days it seem that such is the only projects I take on usually.

Then I got hooked on Dragonlance Fantasy books in Jr. High. I started drawing the book characters from the covers. A bunch of those I ended up giving away to one person or another. However, it was still copy work. The idea of drawing my own characters was a distant, intimidating dream.

By High school I was well into writing. I started off with a teacher who pushed me, but lost him by a family move and ended up with a lax teacher looking forward to retirement. My focus and discipline pined away, taking with them any significant progress. However, I had one project that I titled “Heroes and Icons of Ogden High” where I drew a bunch of the teachers. That got some attention. Most of those pictures I either gave to the teachers or some of them I sold. But it proved to me that I could draw from photos, so I started keeping an eye out for models.

These days when I want to draw one of my characters the biggest thing I want to capture in a model is the expression – the personality. It’s nice to have other similarities, but hair, jewelry, scars and special features are easier to fill in.

The downsides of drawing your characters? Well, just like other things in stories, characters sometimes have this bad habit of evolving. They change ages from book to book, and sometimes change names, hair, build, personality and even races. Take Seth for instance – the conspiratorial elf. In one session of restructuring my world, I totally kicked out the entire elven race. Half of them I turned into my Elon race, but that culture has peculiar tendencies that just wouldn’t work for some “former elves” like Seth. So he suddenly became human and this image became obsolete. Some characters I’ve drawn three or four times. Ironically, I think the character I’ve started drawing the most is Ezra and yet I was never happy with the results so I still don’t have one of her. Diana’s portrait is too old since in Hall she’s only sixteen. Serena, the girl with the curly hair, used to be a major character but now is merely background (and yes, technically it did take me years to finish that one, because it was too tedious to focus on for a long time and I was a college student at the time).

Perg's Windwagon from Sagon's Book II: Of Ice and Flames (working title)

Yes, I have lots of sketches among my notes, which aren’t nearly as “finished” or refined as the portraits because they are made merely for my own reference and are mostly the bare bones of an idea. I rarely scan them in or share them with others. However, I do happen to have one page scanned in that I can share to give an idea.

I do draw commission characters and love having that chance because I know I love having drawings of mine. Vance is one of those that I particularly loved how it turned out. It’s below, the guy with light curly hair and the scarline near his eye. When doing someone else’s character, I’m not done until I get the okay from the author. Sometimes that means starting over – which is tedious, I admit – when I can hand them a drawing that they feel portrays their character, it’s just cool.

Below is a slideshow sample of my work, hope you enjoy!

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About Ren Black

Part-time novelist. Weekend artist. Full-time Mother. Ex-poet. Perfectionist by training. Compulsive researcher sporadically. Prone to fits of linguistic commentary Unorthodox Renegade occasionally. Sarcastic by habit... Dreamer Always... Consider Yourself Warned

14 comments on “Mixing Art and Writing

  1. They’re gorgeous! I can do a pretty mean landscape mostly, but faces are my downfall – always end up with flat noses!
    Very well done and keep at it!

    • Thanks, Grace. Yep, I’ve done some of my own flat noses, lol. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually figure out how to do a landscape…

  2. I’m looking forward to a couple Ren Black sketches in our upcoming Elf Anthology. 🙂


  3. Hey, Ren, I’m right there with you. My portfolio is dominated by portraits. I love drawing faces more than anything.

    Thanks for posting the slide show–you’ve got some beautiful drawings in there :).

    • I love characters, and people. I guess it’s easier for me to be inspired by trying to capture one of them. But they are a challenge too. I’ve messed up plenty, leaving pages of half finished sketches. And some of my early work all looked the same- the same face over and over.

      Perhaps I should wander over and check out some of yours too. It’s fun to see other people’s work and characters.

  4. Ren, this is very cool. Makes me wish I could draw. In a class I took from Eva Marie Everson early this year, she suggested clipping magazine pictures that look like your characters, but I hardly ever find such a thing. But, like you had to choose between band and drawing, I have to choose between learning to draw and … all the other stuff on my to-do list. Ah, well. A “someday” project, maybe. As it is, the only thing I can draw is maps. Because every book needs a map. Right?

    • Maps are great! I want to get better at map-drawing. Very useful skill there.

      I think Eva’s advice is great. That’s really all I have for my characters in Reality Crash, my current WIP.

      Thanks, Kristen – good luck on that to-do-list.

  5. Wonderful drawings they all look so lifelike and full of character.

  6. I gave up drawing when I gave up doors in my house. Can’t keep the cats off the art table. hehe! Great stuff, and good for you for keeping at it.

    • lol. No cats for me. It’s my kids I have to keep off of my art… They’ve attacked a couple through the years. Can be a bit upsetting, but as far as I’m aware somehow they’ve all survived the attacks and been okay – even if I can still pick out a faint mark, most other people don’t notice it.

      Thanks, Robynn

  7. These are beautiful, especially the one of the sword hilt. That is such a cool design!

    I’m still learning to draw semi-realistic portraits, but as tough as they can be, I still love ’em.

    • Thanks, Zoe. Actually the sword hilt is one of the bigger drawings. My scanner couldn’t even do the whole thing at once so I had to do two scans and paste them together digitally. All the characters fit in page protectors (some with a little extra paper sticking out the top). I’ve been working on another blade for a while now – tedious so I occasionally pick at it. With the kids around those occasions have been pretty rare as of late. I have focused so much on writing for the last while that art has been lax. When I finish that blade I’ll be sure to post it on here.

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