Moira Zahra


Deconstructing my past work

After the good response I got in my last blog post, I decided to post more 'educational' entries rather than updates of my work. I suppose you can always see my work in the 'Work' section. What I will do in this post is take apart work that I did in 2009/2010. I have older, worse work but I lost all of it, or it's in some weird folder in one of my external drives.

For each drawing I post today I will try to remember why I did the work, what was 'wrong' with it, how I tackled those difficulties to move onto what I hope is better work, and finally what I could do to keep improving.

This is a pencil portrait of Beat-writer William Burroughs. I was intrigued by his works back then, so why not draw him, right? 

Why did I draw this?

When I drew this, the digital art craze was in its early-ish stage, in Malta at least, and digital artists were not typically regarded as highly as traditional ones. I would say things have gotten much better now. With this drawing I wanted to prove that I could still draw using a pencil, even though I considered myself to be a digital artist. So I basically copied William Burroughs from an image I found online (how original, right? :)). I took the time to draw every crease in his blazer and every wrinkle on his forehead. 

This drawing was actually a step forward for me. It was the first time I spent more than a day on a drawing. I was so impatient then, now I find it's completely normal for me to spend a few days on an artwork.

So what's wrong with it?

Well, it's a 'celebrity' portrait copied from an image, which is OK if you're still learning how to  shade. The background is a bit kitschy as well. I was in my psychedelic phase here and I thought it would look cool and trippy. Let's just say it hasn't aged that well. The pencil shading is nothing special and it does seem like I didn't feel like finishing the bottom part of the drawing.

How have I tackled these difficulties?

I have largely stopped drawing celebrity portraits (I did draw Yoko Ono and Angelica Houston a couple of months ago, but only to experiment with a new style). These kind of portraits get a lot of attention but I feel they add nothing to my portfolio, and unless I'm experimenting with a new style, there's no artistic growth involved when making them. 

I don't think about foreground first and background second. I try to visualise a composition first; sketch a few thumbnails, then move onto the main.

I have also abandoned detailed drawing for the moment. I don't particularly enjoy it and I'm not that great at it either. I think my style has evolved into something simpler, flatter, textured but not shaded.

What's next?

I want to revisit portraits eventually and experiment with portraiture and unusual colours. This time I would like to draw from life though.


This is a digital scribble that I did when I didn't know what to draw. I gave my self a topic, 'time' and worked around that.

Why did I draw this?

I think I was feeling a little lost here and wanted to reassure myself that I could still draw using a tablet. I don't have too many drawings in this style so I think it's one of those drawings one does when trying to find an artistic identity.

What's Wrong with it?

What I don't like here is the lack of texture. When I started digital drawing it took me a while to go beyond the default Photoshop Brushes. Brush choice can make a huge improvement when drawing Digital. I also don't like the many unnecessary details and decorations in certain areas of the drawing.

How have I tackled these difficulties?

While this style might be fine for comics and some kinds of illustrations, I've come to realise that I need really decent dry brushes in my work. I also dislike using plain solid blocks of colour when possible, usually I go for subtle watercolour effects to create the illusion of depth.

What's next?

I want to start creating my own textures and scan my own brushes. I think this would give me more freedom in my work and further room for experimentation.

Why did I draw this?

I spent a long time drawing figures and avoiding backgrounds (sound familiar?). I then spent a a few years just drawing backgrounds. This was one of my attempts to combine both.

What's wrong with it?

I can see that I tried to work with a colour scheme here although I seemed to have forgotten that the pencil texture itself would be part of that colour scheme. The sofa is badly drawn, so is the character and her cat. There are too many things going on at once. I was trying to come up with my own character design style here and these square-faced characters were my first attempt. 

How have I tackled these difficulties?

I found my own way of drawing people through practice and simplifying. I realised I'm not great at drawing big people and fashion illustration was one of my main influences. Things started matching up and coming together when I started combining what I drew with what I loved. I've started to be careful when using texture especially in traditional media.

What's next?

I want to go back to experimenting with pencil colours but in a new way. Haven't found the right project to try this on yet, but I'm on the lookout.

That will be the end of my deconstruction. Now to reflect on how to take the next steps!