Tracing is Like Singing with the Radio


While filming my new illustration class last week, I came up with an analogy that perfectly represents my views on tracing (for my own illustration process anyways). Here it is: Tracing is like singing with the radio.

Imagine you are driving around and your favorite song comes on. Windows down, wind blowing in your hair, you start belting it out, singing along with the song. You think: “Man, this is such an awesome song, and my singing is on point!” Then, for unknown reasons, the radio cuts off mid-song. In the split second before you realize what’s happened, you keep singing sans-radio and are immediately faced with the reality that your singing is… not nearly as awesome as you thought it was.


Maybe you’re a good singer and this has never happened to you. But I was not blessed with any musical talent whatsoever, so it happens to me pretty frequently. And I think it’s a great analogy to what happens when tracing too.


It’s the same scenario: you drew an awesome sketch that you’re really happy with. You tape it to your light box, tape a clean sheet of paper on top, and start tracing. But as you’re tracing you don’t see what you’re actually drawing, you see the original sketch. Just like when you sing with the radio, you don’t really hear yourself singing, you hear the musician singing. You finish tracing the sketch, are super satisfied, and then you turn off the light box, and are confronted with the reality of what you just drew. Again, maybe you were blessed with the tracing gene, and this doesn’t happen to you, but it sure does happen to me. But never fear, fellow horrible-singers and terrible-tracers—I’ve developed a work around technique!


Generally, I used to go through some variation of this process: Create a great sketch, then trace the final drawing in pen or very dark pencil on a light box. But with this process, my final drawings ended up tight and lifeless. They lost all the spontaneity and vigor from the original sketch that I was so happy with. I know I’m not the only one this happens to. I’ve seen so many amazing sketches and process work on other artist’s Instagram and Twitter posts, but the final artwork on their website doesn’t have the same liveliness and strength of their sketches. And I was seeing the same effect in my own work as well.


So to fix the issue, I experimented around, and changed my process! This is what I do now: I draw my sketch the same as before, and get it to the best it can be. Then I tape it to my light box, and tape a clean sheet of paper on top. Then, with an HB or lighter pencil, I trace the loose composition as lightly as possible. My goal here is not to trace every line verbatim, and not to create my final drawing in one swoop. I merely want to lightly trace the basic composition that I came up with in my original sketch. Once I’ve done that, I turn off the light box, remove the top sheet, and continue drawing on top of my light tracing sans-light box. I’ll go through the drawing with an HB pencil refining details and composition, and then I’ll go over finalized lines with a 6B pencil. If there’s a few stray lines I don’t want, I’ll remove them in Photoshop.


If I want the final illustration to be inked, which I often do with typography, I’ll do this whole process, and then tape another new sheet of paper (this time thicker bristol) on top, lightly trace the drawing, then turn off the light and ink on top of the pencil. After it’s done, I can erase the pencil lines, and have clean ink!


This process is more time-consuming in the long run, but it allows me to do two things that I wasn’t able to do before. It allows me to keep the original composition from my successful sketch, while still injecting spontaneity and looseness in my final drawing.

Maybe this is already how some of you guys work, but it was an eye-opener for me when I figured it out, so I thought I’d share my new process if any one else wants to try it out!


I’m currently hard at work editing my videos for this next class, and I can’t wait to share it with you guys! The videos will take an in-depth look at my entire illustration process by going through a full illustration assignment, from research, to sketch, to final drawing, to digital production! It’s definitely my best class yet. Thanks for reading, and I hope to announce the class in the next post!

Welcome, March!

A video posted by Christine Fleming (@tineybeany) on

I actually really love Monday mornings. And today’s a great one! My picture book dummy is officially finished! That is, until an agent/editor/art director gives me feedback/revisions/suggestions. But, it has made it to the next stage in it’s little book life! I feel as excited and energized with my book as Oni does with a stick in this video.


In other news, I’ve been working on my next illustration class, and will be wrapping it up this month! I’m beginning to film this week, and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s live. It’s more in-depth and detailed than any of my prior classes, and I think it’s going to be my best one yet!


I also just got this amazing feedback on my first Skillshare class, Scientific Illustration: Conveying Information with Charmand it makes me so happy that people are learning from and enjoying my classes! Thank you, wonderful students!

Just an FYI: The ‘Scientific Illustration: Conveying Information with Charm’ is an amazing class. I have about 8 pages worth of notes on Illustration technique that I took from the class that I’ve been referring to regularly in my exercises. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to strengthen their drawing muscles.It’s one of my favorite Skillshare classes to date, to be honest.


It’s now March, so #Kidlitart28 is sadly over. I really enjoyed the challenge, and it was good to have the extra motivation to draw every day. I stuck with it, and even though I had to double up a couple times, I still came out with 28 drawings in 28 days! And I planned ahead, so I’ve got all these puppy drawings that are definitely being put to good use! So don’t worry, this isn’t the last time you’ll see them.



Baby Puppies!


It’s February! This month there’s a drawing challenge going on called #KidLitArt28. Basically, you just have to draw something everyday during the month of February, and post it on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag. You can draw any subject, or you can choose a theme to stick to throughout the challenge. I chose to draw a different dog breed (in puppy form) everyday. I chose this because A) I love dogs, B) I wanted to get better at drawing dogs, and C) I have an exciting new project coming up that will use all these dog drawings! It will be about  a month before I can announce it, but I’m really excited about it! Here are some of my favorite puppies I’ve drawn so far:





And I am finally closing in on my picture book dummy. I’m very, very, VERY close to finishing it, and I can’t wait to start sending it out. Here’s a teeny tiny sneak peek:


New Products and Process


January has flown by! This month I was busy working on my picture book, making new products for my Etsy shop, and doing some design work on the side. Here’s a little peak at some of the new pieces in my shop:

MC-january-2-blog-2A wood burned ampersand typography sign.

MC-january-2-blog-3A new set of custom-ordered nesting dolls—this one with a science theme!

MC-january-2-blog-6And an illustrated kitchen tea towel. I was quite happy with how the artwork printed on the towel—look at those crisp lines!

MC-january-2-blog-4And finally, a few peaks into my ongoing sketches and drawings for my picture book. We’re getting close guys… real close!


What a Year!

MC-new-year-2-blogWhat a year, what a year! 2014 went by crazy fast, but I’m excited to begin 2015. Like anyone who freelances for a living (or anyone who works in the arts… or maybe anyone at all), I’ve gone through my ups and downs and my “Look at me, I’m killing it!” ‘s and “Oh god, what am I doing with my life?” ‘s. Haven’t we all? Internet lives (like this blog) are funny because you typically only post the “look at me, I’m killing it” moments. You obviously don’t see everything from someone’s life by reading their blog or following their Instagram. So, before I jump in to talk about what’s on my studio desk on this first Monday of 2015, I want to thank the only person who sees my floundering, “I just want to wallow in a sea of blankets and socks” moments. This year was probably my most successful and most accomplished year since I began freelancing and illustrating, but it was also the toughest by far. I grew physically, emotionally, and artistically and went through all the growing pains to get here. And there was one guy who was there for it all—who always gave me the kick in the butt I needed to emerge from my blanket cocoon. He’s the hardest working, smartest, most ambitious person I know, and I’m lucky to have him here with me going into 2015. Thank you for everything.


Ok, ok, sentimental commentary over! Welcome back if you skipped that paragraph. One of my favorite experiences of last year was teaching on Skillshare! I currently have three classes: Scientific Illustration: Conveying Information with Charm, Picture Books I: Write Your Story, and Picture Books II: Illustrate a Story. As of this post, I have 2,312 students, 62 reviews, and a 98% positive rating on Skillshare! I’m so excited that people are enjoying the classes, and learning how to follow their passions. I also recently took Elizabeth Olwen’s Skillshare class, Pattern Design: Creating Inspiring Repeats, and I highly recommend it! She does a great job showing her process of creating repeat patterns, which was something I had been wanted to learn for a while now. Here’s the project I created for her class, based on an illustration I made earlier last year:


In illustration commission news, I’ve been working on a set of logos for young kids, and have been having a BLAST (ha) making them! Here’s a snippet of the most recent version of the logo design. I’ll be making a blog post about the final design and process work once they’re complete.


And… you guessed it! I’m still chugging away on my picture book. I think it’s been almost a year since I started it, and it’s changed drastically with each version and each round of feedback. It’s been extremely fulfilling and frustrating, but I finally feel like it’s all coming together and accomplishing what I set out to do with it. Getting close to dummy-ready!


In non-illustration news, I’ve set up on Etsy shop and have actually had people order things! Amazing. I made this set of nesting dolls below for a woman’s nephew, of the nephew in his hockey uniform, his two dogs, and two cats. The largest doll is 4″ and the smallest is .5″! It was so much fun to make, and I’ve already got an order from someone else to begin! This upcoming set is science-based and I’m super excited to get started on it.



I also bought a wood burner in 2014 after a camping trip where I was plopped down in front of a log and handed a lighter, and immediately became obsessed. This wooden plate charger below took an extraordinarily long time to make, but was so lovely and put me instantly in my meditative zone each time I worked on it. The pattern is inspired by the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. I definitely want to burn more things and put them up in my Etsy shop.


Here’s a little Instagram video showing a snippet of my wood burning process:

That’s it for now! Happy new year, and I hope you have a fantastical year ahead of you!


Picture Books II: Illustrate a Story

An Online Skillshare Class by Christine Fleming

Happy Post Thanksgiving! I hope everybody else ate as much pecan pie as I did, and had a relaxing long weekend!

I’ve got some great news to share with you today! This week was the official release 0f my third class on Skillshare! This class is called Picture Books II: Illustrate a Story, and is the second in a two-part series on making your own picture book. You can watch the video above to see what the class is all about, or visit the class page to read more! I’ve already gotten some 2 reviews on the class, including this fantastic blurb from a student:


“This much-anticipated sequel to Picture Books I can’t be missed! This is the most comprehensive set of instructions on book illustration that I have found anywhere on the internet. Christine patiently and thoughtfully takes you through each step of her process, and shows you how to analyze a manuscript, conceptualize your characters, refine the flow and rhythm of your storyboard, and figure out your overall colour palette before finalizing your images in Photoshop. After watching this class, I finally have a plan of attack for illustrating stories on my own. Thank you, Christine!!”

Whoo-hoo! I’m so happy that people are enjoying my classes! I really kicked it up a notch with this class, and focused on having live demonstration tutorial videos instead of all slideshow based videos. I also did the Project Assignment myself, and recorded my entire process from blank page to final colored illustration—and it’s all in the videos! It was kind of scary to record my whole process live, but it turned out to be really exhilarating.

This class has 22 video lessons that make up 4 units:

SKL-pb2-manuscript-blog Picking Apart Picture Books: Learn about he elements of picture book illustrations including composition, color, white space, perspective, style, and typography, revealing spreads from some of her favorite picture books to show strong examples of each concept, as well as my process of breaking down a manuscript.


Developing Your Characters: Learn about my criteria for a successful character and my character development process, from experimenting, researching, refining, and creating a final character model sheet.


Drawing Your Storyboards: Learn how to storyboard a story, from types of illustrations in picture books, setting up your storyboard, breaking up the story, creating rhythm, pacing, and movement, and creating a tiny dummy.


Creating Your Final Illustrations: Learn how to set up your sketches, refine sketches, create final drawings, clean up your drawing in Photoshop, add typography, and digitally color in Photoshop.


Plus, as with the last class, there’s a bonus locked layer of content explaining the step-by-step process of creating an illustrated dummy and how to submit it to publishers! This booklet is available to enrolled students as soon as they post their process work in the Project Gallery.


I’m so excited about this class, and I can’t wait to see everyone’s illustrated spreads! Students can post progress work in the project gallery and view and comment on each others work. I’ll be looking at all the posts as well and giving my own thoughts about everyone’s work! I hope you’ll join me over at Skillshare!

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