Messy Monday – life is messy and so is my drawing but I love it!

I am doing my best to blog two to three times a week, but things are pretty crazy, as usual. Both girls are home all day, and we’re working all day long to train the puppy. On top of that, Princess has cross country practice Monday through Friday, at 7AM, at a different location every day. Our schedule is such a MESS!

But life is always messy, so I am doing my best to draw everyday and to get at least two blog posts out every week. And they may get posted a little late, but that’s better than not at all!

For this week’s Messy Monday, I thought I’d share a drawing I’m working on. 

It’s a mermaid! I’m drawing this one in Concepts on my iPad Pro. I decided to do this drawing in a deliberately messy style, using Concepts’ filled area tool to draw all the lines as well as other shapes, because I get the best results in Concepts when I draw that way rather than try to create very controlled lines and shapes. I started out using my Apple Pencil when I began working on this piece, but I wasn’t happy with how the Pencil was handling. The tip of the Pencil is so slick, it was just skidding across the screen of my iPad, causing me all sorts of problems, especially lots of stray marks. I mean, I wanted a sort of messy style, but not that messy! 

Desperate to get some sort of control over my stylus, I put my Pencil away and pulled out my old Wacom Creative stylus. Yes, it’s older. Yes, it has the fatter tip. But that tip is made of rubber, and it grips the screen so much better! So I decided to keep working with the Creative stylus.

Then, one evening, when I posted an earlier version of this drawing to Twitter, I happened to mention I was drawing it in Concepts and using my old Wacom stylus to do it. And you know what? The folks over at Concepts saw that tweet and asked me which old stylus I was using. After a bit of conversation about my old Creative stylus and the problems I was having with my Apple Pencil, they asked me if I might be interested in getting the newer Wacom Bamboo Sketch stylus. Uh, yeah I would! And that led to Concepts talking to Wacom, who just happened to be looking to give the new Sketch stylus to a few folks, and whaddya know?! Less than a week later (today, as a matter of fact), a brand new Wacom Bamboo Sketch stylus showed up in the mail!

I’ve been working with the Sketch this afternoon, and used it today on the mermaid drawing above. I like how it handles! The tip is definitely smaller than my old Creative stylus, but it still has a nice feel to it, gripping the screen of my iPad just enough to keep from skidding erratically all over my artwork.

I will post an actual review of the new Sketch stylus sometime in the next week. For now though, I just want to play with it for a while. I have a little free time tonight, which I’m going to take advantage of right now. Because with my messy schedule, you grab that free time whenever you get a chance!

Practice Drawing – Landscapes in Manga Studio 5 EX

I’m still doodling away with Craft-a-Doodle, but I’ve also been playing with something else on the side that I thought I’d share this week. I have always loved to draw, but I struggle with drawing backgrounds and landscapes, especially when I need to create them from scratch. This can be a problem for someone who’s supposed to be a webcomic artist. While I can usually get away with nothing more than a colored gradient in the background, sometimes I need to actually set the scene. If we’re outside, where are we? At the pool? In the park? On the moon?

After years of avoiding the problem as much as I could, I finally decided I needed to learn how to make landscapes. I started simply at first, working with basic foreground, mid-ground, and background layers. For a lot of this, I used Pixite’s Assembly app on my iPad, because it gave me pre-made shapes (trees, mountains, clouds, etc.) that I could layer over and under each other to get what I wanted. Then I started to get a little more ambitious, creating my own vector shapes in Pixite, making more complex trees, fancier mountains, and so on. And once I felt confident enough working with a library of pre-made shapes, I moved on to drawing things from scratch in other vector-based apps like Concepts or Inkpad on my iPad.

Today, however, I decided it was time to move from my iPad to my Surface, to see if I could take things a bit further. I love having a library of pre-made objects to pull from when I’m working on a more complex landscape, but I also want to be able to easily create organic shapes on the fly. My iPad apps let me do one or the other, but I haven’t found an app that lets me do both, so I pulled out my Surface Pro to see what I could do there.

It turns out that with a bit of fiddling, Manga Studio 5 EX is perfect for what I want. I was able to create a vector drawing tool that allows me to draw organic shapes, AND I can then save those shapes to Manga Studio’s “materials” library to use again later. The vector drawing tool I came up with is basically a dialogue pen balloon tool. I turned out off the outline, using only the background color to fill the shapes I draw. I set the correction for the pen stroke very low, since I want my shapes to be complex and not over-simplified. And then I just started drawing with it.

Because I’m using a tool meant for dialogue balloons, I can set the tool to either draw on a new layer or on a pre-selected layer. This way I can sort the pieces I draw in an organized fashion. And even if I do draw multiple shapes on the same layer, each shape retains  its own vector path instead of merging into other vector objects on that layer. So I can still select each individual object to edit it as I need to.

I realize all this sounds very technical, but if you’ve ever worked with vector drawing programs, you probably have some idea of what I’m talking about here. And if you’ve ever worked with Manga Studio and are looking for a way to play with it, this is a pretty good option!

Anyway, here’s the current landscape that I’m working on. It’s inspired by a postcard I have of Sequoia National Park. The postcard was painted in the style of the old WPA posters, perfect for vector graphics. The original was painted by Doug Leen and Brian Maebius. They did an entire series of postcards for the national parks, and you can find out more at

In the meantime, here’s my version of their postcard 🙂

Vector landscape

Manga Stuio 5 EX vector landscape in progress

Like I said, this is a work in progress. You can see that so far I’ve done the trees in the background and in the foreground. I’ve only just started working on the mid-ground. But what’s nice is that I’ve been able to save pieces of this as objects in the Materials library, so now I can reuse them again if I need to. For example, those big trees in the background could come in handy later on! And they’re saved as vector objects so I can easily adjust their size, color, opacity, etc., as needed.

Anyway, that’s it for this week’s drawing practice. I’m working on doodles of cats this week, so that will show up in next week’s blog post!

Artwork in Progress – Undead Merlord

I do not have a good title for this one yet, but Undear Merlord is a pretty descriptive title. I’m drawing this one in Adobe Illustrator Draw on the iPad. I hate that Adobe Illustrator Draw won’t export its files in a vector format (it only exports to Adobe Illustrator CC), but I still think it’s one of the best vector drawing apps out there. Fortunately, I can export drawings from Adobe Creative Cloud to Threadless, and I have reserved myself one of their new artist shops, so I’m going to play with this to see if I can make some groovy t-shirt designs 🙂

Artwork in Progress

Work in Progress – Undead Merlord by Helen E. H. Madden

Evil Artwork – “Background Orc #6” and getting stuff done a little bit every day

Handsome Orc!

Background Orc #6

Feast your eyes on this beauty! Isn’t he adorable?! He’s an orc, but not one of those big, bulky hero orcs that look all intimidating and muscle-bound. Sadly, this cutie is one of those guys that gets stuffed into the background in fantasy movies because he’d totally steal the scene from those insecure alpha-male type orcs. That’s why I decided to draw him. He deserves to get a spotlight all to himself!

And all of this is my way of saying that I’m still working on drawing every day, though this past month I dropped the ball for a while. Drawing is something I need to work into my schedule every day, and that can be tough. I work on the webcomics first thing in the morning (unless I’m overwhelmed by some other project, like I was last week). I spend my afternoons handling email and office admin stuff (and there are plenty of both right now, thanks to Girl Scout cookie season). And I spend my evenings just trying to keep up with the house and the kids.

But I think there may be a time when I can do a little drawing. The trick is to figure out how to remind myself every day.

I came across an article on Lifehacker this week entitled “Encourage New Habits by Stacking Them On Top of Preexisting Habits.” The basic idea here is that you create a new habit by building it on top of something you already do, and then you reward yourself for doing it. This is something that I have been playing with for a while. For example, I like to grab a cup of coffee in the afternoon before I sit down at my desk to work. Between grabbing that cup of coffee and heading to my desk, I walk right past my purse/giant-man-eating-bag-of-DOOOOOOOM, where I stuff all my receipts. As I walk past it, I have begun prompting myself to grab the bag and take it upstairs with me, so that I have all my receipts right by my desk. And doing that now triggers me to scan in the receipts as soon as I sit down to work, so that I now have all my expenses recorded and I no longer wonder what the hell I spent all my money on.

It’s a simple idea – set up one habit to trigger another I want to encourage. And since it’s worked so well for receipts, I’ve decided to use the same technique to get me to draw more as well.

First, I need to figure out what habit could trigger me to do the drawing. Since I do so much of my drawing on the iPad, I’m thinking that the trigger should be something I do every day on the iPad. I’ve gotten into the habit of scheduling the next day every night before I go to bed. So I’m thinking that once I’ve finished doing that, I can simply switch over to one of my drawing apps and do a short bit of sketching.

It’ll take a little while to set up the new drawing habit, but I’m hopeful. And to reinforce building this – and other – new habits, I make sure to reward myself using Habit RPG . Habit RPG lets me set up a check list of habits and daily tasks and assign a certain amount of virtual gold coins as a reward for completing them. When I collect enough coins, I then spend my REAL money on a REAL reward for myself, like a new book, yarn, lunch out, a day off to do nothing but watch TV and crochet, etc. I keep the rewards small/inexpensive to keep from breaking the bank, but still, I make sure I reward myself.

But the real reward is in setting up these new habits. Because more drawing means more finished artwork, and more artwork means more fun/weird products on Zazzle and that could mean more money! Yay!

But for now, I’ll settle just for getting more drawing done. Especially if I get to draw cuties like the Background Orc #6.


Original sketch done in Sketchclub on the iPad

Sketch imported into Adobe Illustrator Draw for the iPad.

Sketch imported into Adobe Illustrator Draw for the iPad.

Pretty colors!

What pretty eyes he has!.

What are the rules for the Weekly Art Challenge?

So I decided to do this weekly art challenge at the beginning of last month, with the idea that it would force me to do more drawing that I had been doing. Well, I was right about that! In the last month, I think I’ve done some drawing or digital painting every night.

But I haven’t done what I initially thought I would do – turn out a new drawing every week.

The first week, I completed 3 digital paintings. Just in the first week! But then I tried working with an app that didn’t give me the results I wanted, so I ended up with an unfinished doodle and since I didn’t like how the app in question handled, I decided to abandon that picture and move on.

Weekly art challenge - unfinished monster

Abandoned sketch. He started out cute, but the app wasn’t cooperating.

Then I started work on the current painting, the “Zombie Portrait.” I’ve spent a lot of time on this one. The pencil sketch alone took at least a week. Now I’m slowly getting the painting part of this done, and since I’m doing this as a painting instead of a sketch or cartoon, I know there’s no way it will be finished this week.

But does that matter? Is it against the “rules” if I don’t turn out a new image every week for the “weekly art challenge?” I don’t know. I started out with no more specific a goal than to draw or paint something every day. So I think if I do that, I think I’m doing pretty well.

Anyway, here are the latest images of the work in progress. I’ll keep working on this one until it’s done, and then move onto the next piece!

The almost finished pencil sketch for the “Zombie Portrait…”

Weekly Art Challenge - Zombie Portrait

And the current painting in progress! Ta-daa!

Weekly Art Challenge and a Year of Halloween – A Priority for this Year

I recently realized that I really wanted to make more artwork. I love drawing. I always have. And I’ve always thought of myself as an artist. The problem is that to be an artist, you have to make art.

Drawing and painting is one of those things that had fallen by the wayside over the past two years. I was drawing the webcomic, but I never seemed to have the time or energy to create anything else. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, volunteering for Girl Scouts and the kids’ school had managed to devour most of my waking hours.

This was really starting to bother me, especially since I thought I had set myself up two years ago with all the tools I needed (a new iPad, a Surface Pro tablet – very expensive tools) to do my artwork on the go. Of course, two years ago, part of being “on the go” meant I sat on the side lines a couple times a week while the kids took karate classes. When the kids’ homework load made it impossible to take them to karate classes after school, I lost my best opportunity to just sit and draw.

So I stopped drawing, except for the webcomic. And I was really starting to get angry about it.

Around the start of October this year, I was bit so hard by the urge to create that I couldn’t ignore it no matter how hard I tried. I crocheted a zombie cupcake. I make a gorgeous sugar skull applique and stitched it to black shirt for Halloween. I pulled out some unfinished Halloween projects from last year (zombie Barbies, anyone?) and finished them. I opened up a few of my long unfinished pieces on the iPad and got back to work on them. Spurred by longings for creepy art and the gothic atmosphere of Halloween, I started to get back my creative groove. On Halloween night, I felt like the Queen of the World!

On November 1st, I woke up and mourned the loss of what I thought was my best excuse for throwing myself headlong into my creative urges.

It reminded me of waking up on New Year’s day, after the holidays are over and the ball has dropped. All I was left with was a bunch of empty candy wrappers scattered over my yard and the remains of the new projects I had started but not completed during “Halloween Season.” I hated it.

But then I thought, “Why can’t Halloween last all year long?” And then I thought, “Why can’t Halloween last all year long?!” And so I decided that Halloween would last all year long, because in my world, it does.

To make certain that Halloween, and thus my “excuse” to make art, lasted all year long, I decided I needed to set a goal, something that I would work on all year long, that gave me that Halloween feeling. And I decided the best place to start was a weekly art challenge. I would work on a new drawing each week from November 1st of this year until October 31st of next year, to turn out 52 pieces of creepy, spooky art that made me feel like an artist again.

This is, perhaps, the strangest and most roundabout way I could have found to motivate myself to draw again, to give me a reason to make my work a higher priority than the volunteer work that has almost engulfed my life. Don’t get me wrong – I love working with Girl Scouts and the school. Just not at the expense of giving up those things that make me who I am.

So far this month, I have worked on 4 drawings, all done with various apps on my iPad. I work on these drawings in the evenings when I sit down to watch the news with the Hubster. Prior to the start of my “Year of Halloween,” that was time I had used to collapse in exhaustion and play mindless video games on my iPad (yet another sneaky little thief of my time). But having made drawing such a high priority, now I make sure to click on my drawing apps before clicking on a game. “I only have to do a few minutes of drawing before I can switch to a game,” I tell myself. But once I start drawing, hey presto! I lose myself in the artwork for at least half an hour, and thus drawing gets done.

And I am happy about that. Very happy indeed.

So happy Halloween, everyone!

Weekly art challenge 04 - Gothic Portrait

Weekly Art Challenge #04 – “Gothic Portrait” by Helen E. H. Madden, work-in-progress

Evil Crafting – Mini-Coffins and Zombie Dolls

The girls and I decided to make some new Halloween decorations this year. Naturally, because we are who we are, these decorations are somewhat twisted in nature.

First off, mini-coffins. Our local A. C. Moore's is selling small wooden coffins for $1 each. I got 5 of these and the girls and I have spent a few afternoons decorating them. We're using basic craft pains – Folk Art acrylic paint, some glitter paint, a little Mod-Podge. Each of us is deciding what to put in them.

The other half of this project is based on a zombie doll tutorial I found last year. We started with some fashion dolls from Dollar Tree. I spray painted these with white primer, then the girls and I started coating them with craft paint, using various shades of green, grey, black, and of course, red. We took a couple apart, removing a head, an arm or leg as we saw fit. And like the tutorial, I've glued a couple dolls together to make zombie conjoined twins. We've also coated these in outdoor Mod Podge, which gives them a sort of slimy look. And we used the excess limbs and heads to fill up the mini-coffins as well.

Here are some photos of the works in progress.

This is my coffin. It's boring right now, just painted seashell pink and sea foam green.

Here is Princess' coffin. She's stuffed it with some cheese cloth and left-over bits of zombie fashion dolls.

This is Pixie's zombie doll. She plans to hang it off our front porch.

Princess decided her zombie doll needed something special, like a plastic skull instead of a head.

And finally, here is my zombie doll, in progress. I still want to do more painting, and haven't put together an outfit for it yet, but so far I'm pretty pleased with the results.

And that's our evil crafting project!


The webcomic is late, so enjoy some filler art!

I was hard at work on last week's webcomic when I had to set everything aside to go off to a karate camp for 4 days. When four of the highest ranking instructors fly all the way from Okinawa to teach someplace you could actually manage to get to, you drop everything and go.

But I am home now and back at work on the webcomic. It's still not ready yet, though, so here's some other artwork I've been working on. Let me know what you think!

(It's BMO, but not exactly BMO. I'll explain it when I finish if, if it needs explaining then.)


Work-in-Progress – Adventure of the Heart

Work-in-Progress – “Adventure of the Heart”

I'm too lazy to do much of anything this morning, so I decided to doodle instead. This hopefully looks like Finn from “Adventure Time.” No great dramatic pose, just some doodling and playing with colors and brushes. I'm doing this is SketchClub on my iPad.

Have a fun Sunday morning. I'm finally going to get up and move now.


Zombie Dolly and the Eye-Screams of Doom, plus new Zazzle products!

I started a new piece of artwork last night. I’m calling this one “Zombie Dolly and the Eye-Screams of Doom.” I have no idea where the idea came from, beyond the fact that I like drawing zombies and I love kawaii-style artwork and ice cream cones.

I’ve taken some of my other recently finished art pieces and set them up on Zazzle as coffee mugs and other items. Take a look!

Bleeding Heart Mug Mugs
Bleeding Heart Mug Mugs by Cynical_Woman
Design your own personal coffee mugs online at Zazzle.
I’m still working on getting the Tiki-bot artwork set up on Zazzle. I’m thinking of making it a print, and possible putting it on a mug. If anybody has any other products they’d like to see some artwork on, let me know. I’m hoping this summer to beef up the Zazzle store and get plenty of new stuff set up on it.