Monthly Archives: June 2014

Illustration Workshop (NEW!)

digital painting of the astrological sign Gemini by christine mitzuk to be used in Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar

Let your imagination fly! Get a taste of illustration during this week long, half-day workshop.

We’ll work to develop a strong drawing for an imaginative piece based upon an existing story or your own idea.

Topics covered will include composition, brainstorming, thumbnails, research, sketch development, and studies for value and color. Emphasis will be placed on composition, and storytelling.

For the first class please bring a sketchbook, and your preferred drawing tools. If you have a laptop or other device with internet access, bring that too for reference research. If you have a specific project in mind, please contact me (

July 14-18, 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Instructor: Christine Mitzuk
$180, 1 week

oil painting of woman with sword and gun having just slayed a tentacle monster by Christine Mitzuk
Cheeky Slayer

Find registration information at The Atelier Studio Program of Fine Art is a friendly little traditional art school located in Northeast Minneapolis, MN (a bit on the outskirts of Dinky Town). The school is on the second floor of a red brick warehouse on the corner of Stinson Blvd. and East Hennepin Ave. Off-street parking is available. If you have difficulties with stairs, please contact the school for more information.

Today I offer up a peak into a bit of my process for creating the cover image of Llewellyn's 2015 Astrological Calendar. I created maquettes for several of the animals on the cover.

sculpey maquettes by christine mitzuk
Sculpey over aluminum foil and wire for the antlers. All atop my makeshift mountain. The goal here being to see how the same light source falls on the forms and to get a little more information about perspective. Plus it gave me an idea of how the head and horn shadows would fall on the bodies. I dismantled everything when I finished the project. The white to the right is a piece of foam core to bounce light back into the shadows so they weren't too dark and revealed a bit more form.

Why Make Maquettes?

I didn't want to fly by the seat of my pants for creating the animals. They all needed to be hit by the same light source so I sculpted little animals and set them up on my makeshift mountain. Then I took some photos and incorporated the information (lighting, form, perspective) into my drawing. Doing this made life so much easier, and it was fun working 3D for a bit.

Materials Used

  • A bit of aluminum foil for the core
  • Some wire for the antler and horn to shape the foil and/or Sculpey around
  • Super Sculpey

I enjoy using the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen but I wanted to have an ink brush that I could sketch with in a color other than black. I wanted to put ink in a Niji Waterbrush to make my own. What I wasn't sure about was how much I cared about the permanence of the sketch or drawing. What if I did something awesome and wanted to sell it?

Enter: Higgins Brown Ink

There are 2 kinds of Higgins Brown: pigment-based, and dye-based. I knew dye-based inks are fugitive or not lightfast. That basically means the color doesn't last when in normal light conditions so isn't the best choice for art meant to be displayed (that is, if you want the color and values to stay the way you made them). I just didn't know how much it would fade.

To satisfy my curiosity, I made a test. The idea is to create two test strips of each color: one to keep away from light; one to be subjected to light. I used my Canson Mix Media sketchbook which has acid free paper. Across one of the pages I scribbled some graphite (because was also curious about how transparent the inks were). Then I painted a strip of ink only (no water) over the graphite. Next I used a clean brush and painted clean water, touching the lower edge of the ink, to create a gradated wash of ink and water. I did this for both the dye-based and the pigment-based brown ink.

I cut the page in half. Half remained in the sketchbook, away from light. The other half was hung in one of our south facing windows. I used south light because it's the harshest and most direct and constant of my lighting options. According to The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen, pg. 127, for a pigment to be considered lightfast it should be able to withstand "normal" light conditions for a long period of time and not have any noticeable changes in hue (color), chroma (saturation or intensity), or value. Artist pigments are tested with the equivalent of "100-year real-time" exposure to light. If there aren't any changes to the pigment after such a test, it is considered "lightfast". My test isn't a perfect scientific setup, but for my needs, it's does the job.

Like I said earlier, I knew dye-based inks were fugitive (or not lightfast) but didn't know to what degree it would fade. I was very surprised. After only a day in the window, the dye-based ink showed very noticeable change. The value had lightened and the color had shifted a bit orange.

christine mitzuk lightfast test done with higgins brown pigment-based ink and dye-bsed ink
My lightfast test page. The left side remained in my Canson Mix Media, acid free sketchbook hidden from light. The left side was hung in a south facing window for about 8 weeks. The top strip is the pigment-based brown ink. The bottom strip is the dye-based brown ink.

I kept the strip in the window for about 8 weeks. This image shows those results. The left half of the page stayed in the dark of the sketchbook. The right half was in the window. The pigment-based ink, the top strip, has only a slight shift in chroma and value. It's hardly noticeable. The dye-based ink, the lower strip, shows a HUGE difference. I expected it to just fade in value but it changed in hue, chroma, and value.

So now I have filled one of my Niji Waterbrushes made by Yasutomo with Higgins Pigment-Based Brown Drawing Ink and I'm ready to sketch.

Ideas for how to do this came from The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen, and

You can find a much more thorough and scientific version of this test in The Painter's Handbook.

As for the other Higgins colors, who knows. I haven't tested those and I probably won't because I'm only interested in sketching with the lovely, warm brown at this point. But if I do branch out to other colors, you can bet I'll be using the pigment-based inks!

steampunk themed digital painting with gears and bees and a metal man created by Christine Mitzuk
Digital illustration for a steampunk short story titled "The Case of the Passionless Bees" by Rhonda Eikamp.

This Spring I was delighted to participate in an extra special issue of Lightspeed Magazine. The release was funded with KickStarter and is titled Women Destroy Science Fiction! It is an amazing collection of fiction and non-fiction. My assignment was to create an illustration for an intriguing steampunk mystery written by Rhonda Eikamp titled "The Case of the Passionless Bees."

You can read and listen online for free, as the tales come available. Or you can purchase a version to download to your favorite e-book reader in which you can have all the stories, essays, and interviews to read at your leisure. A trade paperback is also available. You can find the June 2014 (Issue 49) here.

To learn about the "why" of this project, go here:

If you get the e-book, there's art at your fingertips! I was delighted to be one of the artists Galen Dara rounded up to illustrate the short stories: Galen; myself; Li Grabenstetter; Elizabeth Leggett; Hillary Pearlman. Enjoy!