Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints


August 17, 2015
Steve Campbell

Still busy writing, which is a good thing. But in between writing are all those other things in life that must be dealt with. One of those important things is creating covers for my books. I’m a self-published author who has no budget to pay others to do what I need done, so having some skill at drawing has been helpful.

Designing book covers from start to finish can take as long as writing stories. Because I write fantasy, time spent writing a novel and making a cover can take years. I know few authors who can crank out fantasy novels in less than a year. Fantasy hinges on building new worlds and other-than-typical-persons-on-the-street characters. To tell it all—or to show it by today’s standard of “show don’t tell”—requires a huge amount of detail to bring it all to life. This takes a lot of time to do. Often, by the time I have written the story’s final draft, I’m anxious to get it into the readers’ hands before I’ve finished the cover. But good packaging is as important as having a good product, which means long hours at the drawing board

Recently, I began designing the covers during breaks in my writing schedule. Artists love shortcuts that will save time and give excellent results. I have been shortcutting my illustration time by concentrating on one or two important story elements to depict on the covers. Lots of white space—or dark space, in my case—with bold contrasts has made for some pleasing work. (To read more about the process for the featured cover art, read my August 11, 2015 post at Facebook.)

I hope I don’t sound like a hack or a lazy writer when I admit this, but I have shortcut big fantasy elements in my stories to save time in that department. Fantasy books can end up mega-huge. But fantasy stories set in an essentially real world takes less pages to tell and less time to write about. Trust me, it takes fewer words to describe something familiar to readers than to describe something they have never seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. This is probably why there is a lot of urban fantasy on the market. Things we recognize lessen the time authors spend writing. And good authors—epic book authors included—shortcut as well as any good artist. We call it editing, killing our babies, getting to the point.

So, ’nuff said ’bout the mechanics for now. Back to writing fantasy.

New Cover for Hellhounds Novel

June 2, 2015
Steve Campbell

I took a break from writing today to redo the cover of my Night of the Hellhounds fantasy novel, which features Vree Erickson, my youngest protagonist who has preoccupied my writing time off and on since 2012.

I felt especially artistic when I awoke this morning, and having the day to spend as I please, I thought it would be nice to give the star of the story a place on the book’s cover. The original cover was rather generic and featured the black hellhound baring its fangs at the viewer, so I set about locating all the drawings I have done of Vree over the years.

I like to work at a large scale, which gives me lots of room to put in visual elements. The problem with having a huge canvas is I tend to get caught up in the act of creating art and forget that a lot of those elements are lost when the final product is scaled down, as happens when book covers appear as thumbnails at websites. KISS, or Keep It Simple Steve, has always been my motto, so I found myself removing elements that lost its detail and cluttered the overall product when reduced in size.

Another KISS for book covers is text. Text is as important as good art and should be easy to read, especially when the book is a thumbnail. I made the text large and bright so the thumbnail image stands out. After all, thumbnails are what most people see at the bookstore websites that feature books, whether the books are e-books or the printed ones.

I like this cover with Vree’s face inside a fireball, though it’s actually her face through the fireball, like a window to another dimension.

Now, while I watch the sun set on a day well spent, I hear the call of my notebook wanting me to work on Vree’s future story. But not until I watch the clear sky overhead fill with the extraterrestrial beauty we call night. After all, the poet in me needs some play time, too.

My New Heroine Sketch

March 12, 2015
Steve Campbell

Yesterday I wrote about creating characters, putting them on the story stage, and watching them act. In that post, I included a watercolor sketch of my current main character, Vree Erickson. Today, I drew a different sketch of her with a pair of HB and 2B pencils. While I drew, I studied her facial features and concentrated on her eyes. I zoomed in on her face in the attachment so you can see detail better. There’s a bit of uncertainty and fear there. But there is also dauntlessness on that face, which makes me know that despite the odds against her, she was the right choice to battle Margga in my Night of the Hellhounds e-novel (available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble).


Sketching Critters

January 6, 2015
Steve Campbell

I enjoy watching small animals skittering and dashing about with their daily activities. I have my favorites, like chipmunks and squirrels, that I try to capture with pencil and paper. But lately I have been studying birds more than usual. Although I’m not a bird painter, per se, I have done a few paintings with birds in them based on life sketches from my wildlife sketchbooks. And I did a finch painting based entirely from reference sketches.

Sketches in the Sun

Sketches in the Sun, Oil Painting, circa 2002

With so many species of animals, each with its own particular charm and beauty, the wildlife artist never lacks a subject. No matter where you live, there are always animals to sketch—in cities, gardens, parks, forests and farmland. Sketching them in their natural habitat gives you an opportunity to study their fascinating behavior. Whether sitting in a park, at a roadside, at the edge of a river or lake, sketching critters is a wonderful way to spend a day. And your sketches give a rich source of reference for your paintings.

When you have found a subject and settled down, spend a few minutes looking hard at the animal, in the same way as you would carefully consider a still life before starting to paint it. Ask yourself questions such as, “How long is the neck and how much of it disappears when the animal stands up?” This will help you understand the form better. Then, when the animal adopts an interesting pose, begin sketching. You’ll find this is when your patience is tested. The subject moves all the time, so you have to wait until it returns to either the original pose or something close. It might even scurry off or fly away and leave you with an unfinished sketch.

If the animal changes pose quickly and a lot, don’t continue with the sketch—it won’t be precise, and therefore useless for reference. To use your time well, have several sketches of different poses going at once, and dart around the page as the subject shifts position. This is challenging, but you should end up with a page of interesting studies. Don’t worry if the animal you’re sketching doesn’t return to the same pose—just a few lines can be full of information. And get down those shadows too. Their shapes help describe form and make your sketches more convincing.

Spend some time looking at the pattern of fur and feather masses, too—this is essential reference when you come to paint. Try to catch the “personality” of the animal by noticing any characteristic features that make it unique as a species.

You might find it useful to use cubes, oblongs and cylinders to describe the general body shapes. You can also use these to show the relative shapes and sizes of different species. If you are sketching many ducks on a lake, for example, do a whole page of these simple shapes. This is invaluable information when it comes to painting various ducks together. Try to show the size of an individual duck—or any animal, for that matter—by sketching its surroundings.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should take a note of the date, place, and time of day in your sketches—these will help you recall the scene later when working in your studio. Also, note the colors of the animal if you’ve not sketched it in color.

My favorite sketching tool is a box of watercolor pencils, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.

So make a day of drawing critters … and happy sketching.

Buck: A Pastel Drawing

December 5, 2014
Steve Campbell

Still going through old art files and finding old drawings that seem to have been done by another person. I mean, I know I did the artwork and can remember (vaguely at times) doing it, but it seems like I did it in another lifetime. And, I suppose, I did. I am no longer the person I was then.

I drew this pastel version of a whitetail buck in January, 1991 and gave it to a family member for their birthday gift.

I miss doing that. I spend a lot of time writing now. The drawings and paintings I do are always commissions. I think if I had a way to travel back in time like some of the characters in my books, I would go back to when I drew and painted for the simple joy of giving away my work. I suppose it was seeing all those smiles when they unwrapped their gifts that came not from the store but from the heart.

Pastel Buck Portrait

Pastel Buck Portrait, 1991

My Sad Panther Drawing

October 2, 2014
Steve Campbell

While going through some old art files, I came across this pen and ink drawing of a black panther drawn February 14, 1982. I was learning the craft of illustration, clearly seen in the clumsiness you see in my execution. Still, it is a nice drawing, which is why I kept it. Also because it made my seven-month-old son laugh. After all these years, when I see this drawing, I still hear his giggles.



September 24, 2014
Steve Campbell

I like to draw. Figure drawing, cartooning, doodling … you name it. Graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses. Line drawing, shading, hatching, cross-hatching, broken hatching, stippling, entopic graphomania (you make a dot at the location of each imperfection in the drawing paper, then connect the dots using straight or curved lines) — the list could go on if I had more time.

Drawings 01

I have no favorite medium, drawing instrument, or even subject matter. I like to draw … period. As artist Grayson Perry said, “Until we can insert a USB into our ear and download our thoughts, drawing remains the best way of getting visual information on to the page.” But I don’t draw haphazardly unless I’m doodling ideas. And even then I’m aware of what I’m doing, which is usually observing size and viewpoint. The drawings can look childish, but I never toss out any childlike drawing. Most children instinctively draw objects from the viewpoint that gives the most information. So they draw a house from the front, but a truck from the side — because it’s from there that you can see the truck’s cab, trailer and wheels. I still draw that way today; whichever drawing has a viewpoint that gives the viewer the most information is going to be the easiest to understand. That’s what I look for in my artwork (and my writing).

Drawings 02

Everyone has their own ways of expression, and finding ways to say it can be a battle. The power of any kind of art is keeping it simple and understandable. Anyone who can do that can make the uninteresting things in life look complex, advanced, and largely exciting. That’s the true power of art.

#tbt 1983

July 24, 2014
Steve Campbell

Here is a go at this week’s Throwback Thursday at my Facebook page. The 3 drawings below are some of the best of my art from 1983. Enjoy this peek into my past.

Graphite on paper. The cat’s name was Mittens and the Spaniel’s name was Rags. I was studying fur when I drew this. I even wrote a short story about them, but I haven’t been able to find it. I probably threw it out after college when I went on a major cleaning spree.

India ink illustration for an ad. I used Chinese brushes to apply fill and washes. This exercise strengthened my watercolor painting techniques, which strengthened my acrylic painting techniques. As for the illustration (which seems awkward because it wasn’t photographed with all sides in correct proportion), it isn’t bad for a first attempt at drawing with ink.

India ink illustration. My first portrait ever attempted with ink. I was very pleased with the results then, though it would take me a few years of practicing to illustrate realistic looking hair in ink.

Throwback Thursday at Facebook

July 17, 2014
Steve Campbell

While I have been busy working on my latest book project, I come up for air every few days to post here and at Facebook. Today I posted two events from my past. The first is from 1974; the second is from 1984.

It is fun, interesting, and painful to look at works from the past. But it also reminds me of the hard work I have done to get this far.

Always Busy

February 4, 2014
Steve Campbell

Anyone following my blog would assume that I’m rarely busy writing or making art, simply because of the lengthy gaps between my posts. But that’s far from the truth. I’m busy every day working on my stories and art, from creating new chapters and editing old material, to sketching in my sketchbooks or actually composing and finishing a drawing or painting. All this takes time, leaving barely a few minutes to blog about it.

Blogging is often the last thing I do when I visit the Internet. Reading my email is top priority, followed by answering it, and then checking on family and friends at Facebook. I usually spend an hour a day at Facebook (sometimes two hours or more), and I often add my latest achievements there, leaving me little time to post anything here at WordPress other than a blurb before I turn in for the night.

That is a good description of my posts: BLURBS. They may never be anything poetic, but they’ll certainly keep you, my fans, abreast of my latest news.

For anyone wishing to read more of what I have done lately, visit my official Facebook page here. Or copy this address:

Deer Sketch, circa 1988 Acrylic paint, white gesso, and graphite

Deer Sketch, circa 1988, Acrylic paint, white gesso, and graphite

Above is my latest post at Facebook: a deer sketch from 1988 or so. Old news, but it was a treat for me to find this photo among my old art photographs.

In the meantime, I promise to blurb more often here at WordPress. I just have to learn to schedule my time better.

Before Cell Phones

August 9, 2012
Steve Campbell

1982 was a time before cell phones as we know them now. Most of us were unable to afford the monstrosities at our local electronics store, so we settled for talking to friends on our CB radio in the car or waiting until we got home to use the house phone for the long distance calls. It was fairly common to see someone rushing home for an expectant important call, and it was this behavior I based the following Louie & Bruce cartoon.

"Phone Calls"

Basketball Blues

August 9, 2012
Steve Campbell

Based on a true event, this is a been-there-done-that comic strip from my high school days and drawn later (1983), and features Bruce from my Louie and Bruce comic. Here I’ve exaggerated Bruce’s short height with the tall basketball players. There were always those taller, faster, more athletic kids at school who hogged the ball while kids less fortunate waited their chance to “shoot some hoops.” When Bruce gets his chance, the ball has no life left in it. Lifeless is a good description of the basketballs at my school from 1969 to 1975.

From the Sawmill

August 9, 2012
Steve Campbell

Retro Louie & Bruce from May 1982. Here, Frank and Bruce are inside the sawmill. We see them with Bruce’s old radio. Notice the cassette player. Mine was older; it had 8-track.

3 Silly Louie and Bruce Panels

July 16, 2012
Steve Campbell

I recently discovered the following Louie and Bruce strips in storage. They were drawn in June 1982 and published five years later in a local newspaper, then put away as I went on to do other things. Each strip was drawn in blue pencil on a drawing panel, then inked with quills and brushes and India ink. I can still smell the distinctive eye-watering odor of that ink when I hold a panel close to my nose.

Panel 1

I can’t take full credit for this joke. It was a running gag at the sawmill where my Louie and Bruce comic strip was born.

Panel 2

Leroy and his talking dog Ernie were occasional characters in my Louie and Bruce comics. Here, they tell a gag every farm kid knows by heart.

Panel 3

Old, but still able to make me chuckle; this is one of my favorite baseball gags.

Cartooning, Years Ago

July 8, 2012
Steve Campbell

The first Louie and Bruce comic I drew in 1981. I found it inside a box and among drawings and papers from years ago, back when all I wanted to do was be a professional cartoonist. But then I discovered the power of painting soon afterwards and I zoomed off in another direction.

Conroy’s Corner – Water Skiing

April 3, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy Waterskiing

Conroy’s Corner – Baseball

March 26, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy Baseball

Conroy’s Corner – English

March 18, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy English

Conroy’s Corner – Football

March 10, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy Football

Conroy’s Corner – Hot

March 2, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy Hot

Conroy’s Corner

February 23, 2012
Steve Campbell

Conroy’s Corner, a Comic Strip:

I was 29 when I began majoring in art at college, and I was eleven years older than my classmates. The college’s administration labeled me an adult student because … well, because my 18-year-old nonequivalent classmates’ physical growth hadn’t stopped and they were intellectually shy—very shy—attaining maturity needed to be responsible. Thus, shuttled to classes at a satellite campus for older degree-seeking students, I wasn’t part of the mainstream campus life. From that exclusion the genesis of Conroy’s Corner occurred.

I drew Conroy’s Corner from 1987 to 1989 while I observed college life from the outside looking in. I founded a newspaper at the satellite campus and published my cartoons there. We who had attained maturity became an audience for the plights of Bruce Conroy who was part of the mainstream college life and fell shy understanding the dilemma of someone encaged by the unimaginative and conformist academia establishment.

Conroy Protest

Louie and Bruce – Snowman Critic

February 15, 2012
Steve Campbell

Frank - Critic

Louie and Bruce – Snowball Decked

February 7, 2012
Steve Campbell

Frank - Snowball

Louie and Bruce – Safe Driving

January 30, 2012
Steve Campbell

Frank and Leroy - Driving

Louie and Bruce – Talking Dog

January 22, 2012
Steve Campbell

Leroy and Ernie - Talk

Louie and Bruce

January 14, 2012
Steve Campbell

The Love of Drawing Cartoons:

Louie and Bruce Cast

Beginning in the 1970s, I fell in love with drawing cartoons. Drawing toons allowed me to put on plays between the characters I created. Those shows were silly or serious, sublime or nonsensical, whatever I felt when I sat down and drew. No other form of storytelling allowed me as much fun and freedom within the realm of a made-up world.

Louie and Bruce was the result of that fun and freedom—an escape I never grew tired of taking during my plight down the masculine road of life where men are expected to do well if they want to be real men, provide for their loved ones, and protect them in the fullest burden of responsibility.

Thus, the boys and I faced the same challenges, the same obstacles, and together we transformed—although their transformations were much sillier than mine … God bless them for that.

Whenever I finished a toon, I envied Louie and Bruce and their buddy Frank. They did the things I wished I could have done. And most of all, they capered without worry of serious repercussions. Well, almost. I couldn’t let them be too two-dimensional.

Louie, my main character, was a goofball, the fool in life, though I kept him in check with his friends so he never became irresponsible to the point of being a derelict.

Bruce was the artist peering out at the world from behind dark bangs of hair. He was a dreamer, and he shunned fame, fortune and power for freedom to pursue his dreams. He had a good heart like the rest.

Frank wore the cap modeled after a naval officer’s hat, which gave him an air of authority. He was business all the way, with a strong will to get things done—and done right. He thrived on order, and that made him a great foil for Louie’s mishaps.

Other characters in the cast included Louie’s brother Leroy, Leroy’s talking dog Ernie, Bruce’s girlfriend Gloria, and Louie and Leroy’s Uncle John who was Frank’s boss at the sawmill where he worked. These supporting cast members were mentors and best friends, as well as jokers and adversaries.

I created the Louie and Bruce characters during an employment stint at a hometown sawmill from 1981 to 1983. The characters were loosely based on real people. Except for Frank, all other names were changed to protect the instigators of zaniness. You wouldn’t think a hazardous sawmill would be so much fun to work at, but I never had to go far to come up with a silly idea for a cartoon.

I drew many story sketches while on breaks and even used some suggestions tossed at me by fans and critics. My boss suggested I contact a friend of his, a cartoonist named Ferd Johnson from nearby Spring Creek, Pennsylvania and living in California. Ferd drew Moon Mullins for the newspapers. I asked for the address but my boss kept forgetting to bring it to work. Weeks later, he died suddenly—a victim to cancer. The boys played taps at Uncle John’s funeral.

I continued drawing Louie and Bruce long after I left the mill. The zaniness and good times at the mill stayed fresh in my memory and the boys never strayed far from my mind.

Long live cartoons … and Louie and Bruce.

Buck Portrait

November 3, 2011
Steve Campbell

Buck Portrait
Watercolor/Gouache on canvas board
Circa 1985

1980 Glam Girl

April 25, 2011
Steve Campbell

1980 Glam Girl
Charcoal and Oil Pastel on canvas board

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