Cancer Narratives

This is an illustration I did for BITCH, Media about how cancer narratives are presented to and responded by society. A lot of which isn't represented because it doesn't fit into a specific category of survivor or martyr. This piece was black and white full page with a spot illustration, which I was commissioned for by the amazing awesome AD Kristin Rogers Brown. Included in the TOUGH issue.

Here's a little breakdown of my process. 

Here was my preliminary sketch which was chosen for the final. Sometimes I like to do tonal studies on my sketches if I have the time so that I can see ahead of time if there are any issues in clarity.
You can also see my pitch for the sketch's concept, which was to illuminate the fact that something is missing from cancer narratives.

These were some of the textures that I used for layering my piece. On the bottom were my little "cells" that I created using Yupo paper. At the top was graphite and water on paper, which I was experimenting with but I didn't end up using. 

Above are all the butterflies that I painted and drew using ink and some black watercolor (for variations in tonal values). These would then be put in one by one into the finished product, the main illustration (seen below).

Here are versions one (above) and two (below). I played with the idea of creating a not so noticeable silhouette and throw in a little more biological things happening in version one.

My spot illustration for the article, a butterfly with wing patterns of different little cells.

You can buy your copy of the TOUGH ISSUE here.


In honor of hashtag throw back thursday here are some really really really old projects of mine from school. It's amazing to look back on these pieces and see how much I've changed since then. 


This is a piece I did in my 2nd year watercolor class with the amazing wonderful Ruth Marten. It was an Arcimboldo inspired portrait made up of hay, and flowers with a lit match in her mouth which I titled (rather cleverly I thought) Lady Masochism. (Oh and hey, a mushroom for a nose!)

Another project from Ruth's class so that we could work on our control with watercolor was so do a bunch of type. So I chose song lyrics from The National, 'Mistaken for Strangers' which I think I had to listen to over 100x. I had so much fun with this, it was awesome. 

 This was a project from my sophomore year class with the superstar Yuko Shimizu. I don't remember the prompt of this project, but I remember what I was trying to achieve was the feeling of isolation and loneliness in a crowd. I used pen and ink and watercolor for this project. One of the funnest things about this project was that I used all of my friends for reference. (Danielle DeBiasio, Laura Ng who are both awesome Graphic Designers. Jensine Eckwall, Naomi Butterfield who are talented illustrators. As well as Audrey Nicolaides, and Ogun Afariogun. )

Skeleton. Moose Man.

Muscle. Moose Man.

Moose Man.
This was a project from my sophomore year from my class with the incredible Jillian Tamaki where we had to make a half man - half animal, and I chose a Moose Man. I used pen and ink, which used to be one of my favorite ways of rendering before I handled watercolor. I loved the research aspect of this project as I got to go to the Natural History Museum.
This was a personal experimentation from my senior year based on the fairy tale Tiger's Bride. It's a mixture of oil paint, acrylic, pen on watercolor paper. I don't use oil paint much anymore so I enjoy playing with it, practicing painting in a style that I admire. 

I hope you enjoyed this blast from the past! 



P L A Y !
 I love experimenting when I'm working on projects, especially when I want to introduce a new texture or paint layer. By creating your own textures your work has a unique feel to it that many digital illustrations are lacking.  I often use layers of ink, paint or watercolor and other mixed medias all in a single illustration to add to the depth of the painting.

Lately I've been obsessed with using graphite and playing with graphite and water on top of Yupo paper (my favorite). Here are some examples of my own experimentations. Some of these work for my illustrations and some of them end up just being fun play time for me to loosen up and let my mind wander. Either way by creating and discovering new possibilities you gain and so does your work.

Above is a sheet of Yupo paper that I had wet with water and then sprinkled with graphite powder, letting the water carry the graphite thus creating interesting water patterns within the powder as it moves, shifts, and dries. When it dried I poured a self leveling gel on top of it so that the I wouldn't disturb any of the loose powder that had dried.

This was an interesting technique for me to attempt. In this one I wet a brush before dipping it into the graphite powder and coated the Yupo paper in this manner and let it dry. Then simply using water to lift up the graphite that I had laid down earlier I created different strokes on the left side. On the right side I wet my fingertips with water and lifted the graphite by tapping on the paper. 

This is an example of using graphite powder and a dry brush on bristol paper that is a great easy way to create smoke like textures. I love love this technique and its wonderful for achieving a grainy background texture. (As you can see this scan was a fail, as a big clump of cat hair got stuck to the paper during drying after I sprayed the paper with clear spray). 


While this isn't graphite its another fun use of the Yupo paper with ink. This was an experiment using a watercolor technique called "wet on wet"and dropping ink pigment and water into pools of already saturated paper. Very Rorschach test. 

Dura-lar is a clear acetate usually sold in sheets that you can use wet mediums on that will dry (eventually) much like Yupo paper. I've used Dura-lar for many projects, its great for experimenting with layers using watercolor and acrylic paint. It's much like painting on glass or plastic which makes it very interesting and very unpredictable.  


 Odd materials are also fun to play with, for example you wouldn't think to paint ink or watercolor on linen canvas (at least I wouldn't). But I recently tried it and was pleasantly surprised by the results. It was much like ancient paintings on raw silk. You could also try other materials like glass, metal, or wood. I would use something flat that is you're able to scan and lay flat. Try unusual pairings: watercolor with metal or wood, ink with glass, glue on glass, ect. The possibilities are endless. 

This is a simple example of mindless play at work. I do pages and pages of these in my sketchbooks just to see what happens. This was with rubber cement and different inks, which is why there are different pigments happing on the page. I don't know if its all that useful for my work but it is interesting tonally.            

I hope that you enjoyed my simple post about the productiveness of play and the fun of experimenting with different applications of mediums. By trying mediums in unusual ways you can surprise yourself with the effects that you can achieve.         
                        Don't be afraid, play with abandon!                                                                                                                                                                                x o x o

I've updated my website! Check it out here.

All images are ©Melody T. Newcomb 2014
    I shouldn't have to tell you that you shouldn't use my images for your own work, not only because its not ethical or moral but because you should try this for yourself! Why rob yourself of the fun of making these textures by robbing me, when its so easy for you to do it yourself. So don't steal. 


Watercolor is the easiest painting medium in terms of the demand of the medium being water, brush, paper and watercolor. However watercolor is also incapable of control, sure there is some element of control but total control is impossible. The more you try to control it, the more unforgiving it becomes. Many times the easiest way to master watercolor is to let it do what it wants and be pleasantly surprised by the results. Repeat and try again.

Surprising may not be the word most people like, especially if you need consistency in your work. What I mean by surprising is that its easy to have fun with watercolor. You can endlessly experiment and get different results every time. Thats something that I value in my work and need in order to keep me interested. Discovery is an important part of my inspiration. Most if not all of my work is created with watercolor, it's a medium that can be tricky but with the right tips and techniques you can be well on your way to mastering this fickle medium.

The materials you use for watercolor are a lot fewer than say oil painting however that doesn't make knowledge of the different types or qualities any less important. Some would say it matters even more to know in order to achieve consistency. 


When it comes to watercolor the paper can be just as important as the watercolor itself. Depending on your need the type of watercolor paper you choose to use can determine the success of your painting.
There are two types of watercolor paper, (three if you really want to get finicky but these two are the most important to know).  These watercolor papers are separated by their 'press' type which determines the tooth of their paper. By press I mean the way in which the paper is made, from that pulpy pile of paper materials how it is gradually flattened and dried into the sheets of paper you know and love. When talking about tooth I'm speaking about the texture of the paper, how rough or smooth the surface of it is. The more tooth a paper has, the rougher it is and vice versa. Different brands offer different amounts of tooth within their paper selections, so it doesn't hurt to try a great deal many brans before you settle on the paper you like.


Hot press watercolor paper is smooth, as smooth as watercolor paper can possibly be. The positive attributes of hot press paper is the ability of the paint to spread smoothly across the surface. For example fine lines can be made without breakage or many layers of paint spread evenly. Large amounts of watercolor can be tricky on this paper, especially if the weight of the paper is too thin. If you're going to be using a lot of paint, I would suggest heavier weight (300 LBS and up).


Cold press watercolor paper is rough, and has a beveled surface or a lot of tooth. Not to be confused with rough press watercolor paper, cold press maintains an element of smoothness to ensure your brush doesn't get torn up when painting.
This paper is amazing for large amount of watercolor as the tooth holds a lot of moisture and can retain a lot of abuse as it absorbs the water through the layers. This means that the paper itself takes longer to dry while hot press dries instantly on the surface.
However it is not very good for minute details by brush, and layers of watercolor will not be as noticeable as a hot press paper because oftentimes the previous layer is not fully dried.


Brushes are also very important when painting with watercolor as they determine the flow of the watercolor, the consistency of its application and the fineness of any line work you wish you carry out. My favored brand (and many others) is the Winsor &Newton Series 7 Sable brush, however these have been recently banned because of the animal's near extinction. These brushes last for a long time if you take care of them, and seeing as these may be gone for good I say buy in bulk. Substitutes for this brush may be hard to find, its wonderful at holding liquid and keeping a fine point however those are really the criteria which you need to keep in mind. Look for brushes with real hairs, synthetic ones tend to not be able to hold water like real hairs do and also tend to dry out faster over time thus breaking. Winsor & Newton makes another series called Kolinsky that is close to the Sables. If you're looking for something less pricey and can't afford real hairs for now their Cotman series is also very good, but being synthetic means the hairs will eventually become brittle. 

I've tried many brushes, and subsequently ruined many and I can't stress enough the importance of quality over quantity and caring for your brushes as well! Winsor & Newton has guidelines to take care of their brushes including a warm soapy bath after every use, but if you're like me you'll forget about the soap most times. The most important thing to remember when caring for your brushes is to never scrub them, always rinse with water after every use, shape the brush into a point (by flicking your brush sharply downward), and let dry standing up. An excellent soap for cleaning your brushes is The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. Of course if you do ruin a brush, these can always be repurposed to use for making interesting rough lines which I discuss more below. 


Mediums in watercolor are very tricky, and I've only just started using them. However I can see their usefulness, I just don't trust them. The medium above when added to watercolor makes the paint fluid, but not transparent. Its more opaque like a watery acrylic, or a colored ink. The downside of this is that it doesn't blend well and when added with water it starts to shellack itself onto the paper. (Which you could also use that to your advantage, if you wanted a distressed look). 

Masks are a lot of fun, and a great way to create interesting marks on your paper. For more brushy but less predictable masking try using rubber cement (above, far right). This comes with a brush applicator so no need to ruin one your brushes for this. Another mask to use is masking fluid, (above, center) this stinky foul smelling yellow liquid will most definitely ruin your brush so I would use an old cheap brush and cultivate it as your designated mask applicator. This mask is excellent for fine details and small areas. Neither of these masks are archival so it will yellow your paper over time. 



Wet on wet is a technique in which you saturate an area of your paper with either water or watercolor paint and then work into that already wet area with more water or more paint. This technique is good for blending colors, mixing colors or creating washes. It can also make interesting watercolor textures by use of another technique in which you drop pigment into a wet area of the paper and let it soak into the paper. The difficult thing about this technique is knowing how much water to use before you oversaturate your paper. When you use too much water or pigment the paper tends to warp (or buckle) and will eventually melt into a blob of color. Therefore it's very important to space out your wet on wet sessions in order to avoid this from occurring. You can also use a hair dryer to dry your page, but sometimes this will push the pigment and water around the page. 


Sponges are great for creating different marks or applications of paint onto your page. You can also use them like an oversized brush to wet or paint large areas of your paper. The type of sponge that you get is important, you should always get a sea sponge or natural sponge. They hold moisture better than their synthetic counterparts and also won't tear and wear as easily. Their natural growth and formation makes for beautiful organic marks. Pre-wet them by soaking them in water. Always make sure to rinse them out after use, and let air dry. 


Using salt in watercolor paintings may seem unusual to you, but actually its a very simple trick many artists use to create interesting marks or formations on their paintings. I've used big chunks of salt to create star formations in my paintings and finer salt grains for minute more subtle details. The salt acts like a sponge, leaching the water from where it touches the painting.

On the right you can see that I sprinkled some common table salt onto a painting and right away the salt soaks up the pigment and the water.

When it dries there will be little white spots where the salt was, and the salt can be easily brushed away.

There is no real technique to this, so try it out first. Practice with it to see how it reacts in different scenarios, such as with ink or with different grains of salt.


Dry brushing is a lot of fun, and it can be a really easy way to create interesting lines or add textures in your work. Dry brushing works best on Cold Press paper because the roughness of the paper captures the ink quicker. That being said you can keep a small sliver of cold press paper by your desk and use it to wipe off excess ink before using the brush at your preferred dryness. Dry brushing has been used in ancient Chinese paintings and can have a beautiful smokey effect when used correctly. The brush is important to this process, and I favor using really old brittle brushes that have loose hairs or broken split ends. This allows for an optimal amount of variation in the line. It also creates really interesting marks that you wouldn't normally be able to achieve on purpose. 
The only way to really master dry brushing is to practice again and again this technique of mark making. 


I talk a lot about practice makes perfect in this post, and thats because you'll never be able to fully understand a medium until you've work with it a lot. There's a famous saying from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell in which he repeatedly mentions the 10,000 hours Rule which simply states that the key to success in any field or any task is to practice it for 10,000 hours. This may seem like an impossible achievement in any lifetime but when you break it down its really not. All of these techniques are within the spectrum of mastering watercolor, and in order to master watercolor you have to practice it for 10,000 hours.
Practicing what you know isn't always the way to discovering the tools to success though. Another key to mastering an art is by experimenting. Once you've learned the foundations of painting thats the time when you should throw it all away and open your mind to the possibilities of these practical uses in unpractical applications. That's what I'll be discussing in my next post, the importance of experimenting.

Yupo Paper and Ink

I hope you enjoyed this post. 


Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year!

January 31st 2014 Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Lunar New Year, is the year of the Horse.  Chinese months are determined by the lunar calendar and cycles every 12 years, each year a different animal according to the Chinese Zodiac.Chinese myth divines people born in each animal’s year encompass some of that animal’s personality. Those born in the year of the horse are energetic, warm hearted, and creative.

People celebrate the New Year by wearing red clothing, gathering with family over traditional foods, giving hung bao or “lucky money” in red envelopes, and setting off firecrackers in order to drive away evil spirits.  During the Lantern Festival colorful dragons made of silk, paper, and bamboo dance through lantern lit streets as people offer them hung bao for good luck.

My mother emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. for her studies before marrying my father, an Okie to the bone, and together they had three daughters.  Far from her home and family my mother took care to teach my sisters and I the values of our Chinese heritage, a fact that I hold dear to my heart. Chinese New Years is by far one of the most important events in Chinese households as important as Christmas and is celebrated with gifts and food surrounded by family.
Being born in the year of the Horse I wanted to share with you my Chinese New Year including ways you can celebrate the New Year and the origin of the Chinese Zodiac.

Illustration I created celebrating the Year of the Horse. Made with Ink & Digital.
Above is a special illustration I made featuring the different personalities of the Horse. Horses are creative, energetic, stubborn, and independent. They are easy going, hard working, quick witted, and enigmatic but they can also be impatient, prone to moodiness, and lack confidence in themselves.  Famous people born in the year of Horse include Rembrandt, Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand, Jackie Chan, and Jerry Seinfeld. 
To see how I made this piece continue to the end of this post.

My young mother in traditional Chinese dress.

Traditions of Chinese New Year 

Red symbolizes many things for Chinese people; it’s the color of happiness, and celebration of good luck and fire. It holds significance especially on Chinese New Year as it drives away bad luck. Chinese people decorate their homes in red paper banners with wishes written on them such as good fortune, and long life. Hung bao literally translates into “red bag”, a red envelope containing lucky money, which is given to unmarried adults and children. 
The lantern festival, held on the night of the full moon,  is celebrated by adorning homes and streets in lanterns as dragons dance in the street. These dragons, made out of silk, paper and bamboo are operated by young men, dance and perform acrobatics for offerings. Offerings given to the dragons symbolize protection and good luck in the New Year.
New Years Eve is also very important as families gather together and feast on traditional dishes. Firecrackers are also lit the loud sounds drive away evil spirits.

Small Dragon performing dance.  Article here.

How you can celebrate your Chinese New Year!

  • Clean your home before the New Year, which is supposed to sweep away bad luck and bring in good fortune.
  • Offer fruits and candy to the kitchen god.
  • Decorate your home with the color red, and fresh flowers.
  • Eat traditional dishes including fish, jai (liquor), sticky rice cake (lin guo), and dumplings.
  • Wear the color red. Avoid wearing white, and black as these represent death and evil.
  • Offer hung bao or red envelopes filled with money, which are given from elders, and married couples to unmarried adults, and children.
My family and I visiting Taiwan.

The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac

The King of Heaven held a competition among the animals that would serve as a way for Chinese people to record time. He created a cycle of 12 years and held a competition among the animals. The first 12 animals to cross the river would have a year named after each one.
The Rat and the Cat, who were friends, devised a plan to use the Ox to carry them across the river, as they were not strong swimmers. The Ox being so kind allowed them to ride on his back, however the Rat betrayed the Cat and pushed him into the river.
Upon reaching the riverbank, the rat quickly jumped onto land and reached the King of Heaven and so was named the first year, with Ox as the second. The third to reach the King of Heaven was the Tiger.
The Hare was fourth having hopped across the other animals to cross the river. The Hare ran so fast, his upper lip was split in half by a tree branch and has remained so ever since.
The Dragon arrived in fifth place, followed by the snake who came in sixth. The snake also ran so fast that all his legs broke and now slithers on its belly. The Horse placed seventh, while the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster crossed the river on a log.  In his even pace the Dog arrived in eleventh place. Slowly the Pig crossed the river and was given the last place, when he arrived before the King of Heaven he asked, “Is there anything to eat?” driven by his appetite.
Thus the 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac in order of succession: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
The Cat, feeling betrayed, has hated the Rat ever since.

Family portrait in 1997. Myself in lower left corner.

Below are some steps of my process in creating my New Year's 'Horses' illustration.

First I painted the silhouettes of the horses on Yupo watercolor paper, which is a fun easy way to play with texture and allows you to achieve numerous different feelings. After it dries you can simply scan in your painting and use it as the basis or as added layers for your final. You can buy Yupo paper in most art supply stores, usually in the watercolor section. 

Then I played with movement in my sketchbook, again using the silhouettes of the horses and rubber cement as a masking fluid. By using the brush that most rubber cement applicators come with you can achieve brush-y and expressive mark making. I recently tried using Dr. Ph Martin's Radiant Concentrated Water Color in Black instead of my usual (and beloved) Ph Martin's Black Star. I loved it, I found that the water color concentrate held a purplish hue and because it acted more as watercolor was able to build up more depth. 

Then I throw all these things together on Photoshop, trying to find a balance between the two layers and the layout of the horses.

I hope you enjoyed my post, and have a Happy New Year!