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Drawing and Painting Advice

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Hi, I'm back with another trying-to-look-busy blog.  The following is a collection of both epiphanies I've had about creating art and some of the best advice I've received on the subject.

 

There are No Lines in Real Life - The first time my Drawing I professor said this to me, I was like "WTF are you talking about?"  He pointed at the long crack, where the cork board wall met the cement floor.

 

"Is that a line?" He asked.

 

"No." I answered, after thinking about it a second or two. 

 

There are no lines, only points where light and shadow meet.  We use lines to draft and separate objects when we transfer it to paper, but those lines don't actually exist beyond our imaginations.  In a formal still life drawing, you should not be able to see them once the piece is complete.  Practicing your technique under this idea will help you develop your understanding of color and gray scale.  You'll also learn the more shades you omit, the more stark your composition will be, if you want to make something really glow, like a candle in a dark room for example, or an illuminated window at night.

 

You should note that the key phrase here is "real life".  Lines obviously aren't always taboo in 2-dimensional art, but they are when you're trying to draw or paint like the classical masters.  Why would you want to do this?  It's not a bad idea to learn the rules before you break them.  Who knows, it may also help you develop your style.

 

 

Study Your Subject - If you put an apple in front of a person and a pad and pencil in their hands, and tell them "Draw the apple," 9 times out of 10, they will produce a sketch of a heart-like shape with a stem and a perfect leaf.  Some more creative types may even draw a worm with a smiley face poking out of the side.  That's great, they drew an apple.  The problem is, they didn't draw that apple.  The one that I put in front of them that is more of an oblong oval with a dent in one side of it and a dark bruise on the other.

Have you ever seen an artist at an easel holding up their thumb or a pencil while painting a still life?  What they're doing is called "angling and measuring".  They're using the lines in their thumb, or markings of their pencil, to measure objects, how they rest in relation to everything else in the composition, and the angle they sit at.  It's really a just means of studying the object.  Understanding the subject is important if you want to be really successful in capturing it.

 

Dynamics; Learn to Use Them - Small and large, dark and light, sharp and blurry, bright and dull;  I cannot stress how much learning to pay attention to these things helped my drawings and paintings come to life.  Being mindful of the fact that as things become more distant, they typically become smaller, darker and blurrier is something that will make even an abstract piece pop, and become more appealing to the eye.

 

If You Want to be Great at Anything, You Have to Become Obsessed - Half-assing it may keep you from getting fired at your menial job, but when it comes to art, it's harder to fool people than you think.  For every person that can only play the main riff from "Come As You Are" and claims to be a musician, there is a person that has seen a Jackson Pollock painting, who thinks they can sell their paint spatters for thousands.  There's always a hack that thinks they can sell a rotting recliner they found on the corner as-is, and call it art.   A real artist is obsessed. 

 

You can see it in the bloggers here, and how obsessive they are about grammar, and how quickly scorn is descended on those who type in 1337, or who would dare try to serve up the copy/pasta special.  It's the same with artists, and any real buyer of art.  You can't fake it.  Anyone that has before was just a fluke, and you'd have a better chance at winning the lottery.  You have to come original and really care.  If you don't, it's going to show.  It doesn't matter if you're working with realism or abstract.  I didn't get this pale complexion by not sitting inside, drawing every leaf on the tree, and fussing about how the negative space interacts with the positive.

 

Organic Flow - "In a Successful Composition, Everything Should Look Like it Fell Out of the Sky and Landed in the Perfect Spot" My 'Intro To Graphic Design' professor told me this, as I was trying to squeeze some text in a background picture that was too confined.  It's also a concept I'd learned from my 2-dimensional design class.  All through high school, my drawings were very central, meaning I tended to put the subject right smack-dab in the middle of the paper, with little to no consideration for the rest of the composition.  Only later did I realize how important it was to consider how everything worked together, and how it made the viewer's eye travel around the picture, in a way that makes it appeal to them and they don't know why.  If you understand how to make an interesting composition, you should be able to make a picture of a dried-up dog turd beautiful...Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea.

 

Abstract Art Actually Isn't a Total Crock - I was very cynical about abstract art when I entered art school.  I thought it was the work of grifters and those annoying hipster and trustafarian kids.  Okay, often times it is, but there's so much more to it than I originally thought.  When I'd see a crowd of admirers around an abstract painting at the MFA, I'd think "The Emperor has no clothes".  

 

With the invention of the photograph, realism and classical painting was quickly on the way out.  With new tools to capture scenes with perfect accuracy, the need and market for the classical painter sharply began to wane.  This gave birth to movements such as pointillism and impressionism, a break from total realism.  The art world quickly began evolving and brought in new genres like surrealism, cubism and dadaism.  Pure abstract wasn't far behind, and paintings named "Untitled" and "Blue #5" soon flooded the art world.  

 

The thing about abstract art that entices the audience is use of color, dynamics, composition, and depth, without using a recognizable object to hook the viewer.  It's harder to create a worthwhile abstract painting than you think, and being able to do so only makes you a better creator of realism, like lightsaber training with the blast shield down.      

 

 

Reference: Use It - Reference is always useful.  If you're drawing a city scape, find pictures of a city and search for elements to inspire you.  It will always improve your composition, as opposed to drawing exclusively from your head.  It's important when drawing people as well.  Pictures of real individuals will help you give distinct features to your characters.  If you work without reference consistently, all of your subjects, especially people, start to look the same.  This is true for everyone. 


Use Black VERY Sparingly - I'm referring to color paintings here, not black and white compositions, obviously.  I can't tell you how many pieces I've seen ruined by artists that don't know any better not to use black, whether it's mixing it with other paint to create a darker shade or just using straight black.  The one exception to the mixing with black rule is some blues.  Otherwise, avoid mixing with black all together.  

 

One thing that black does is stick out like a sore thumb in a composition of color.  If there's a large area of pure black, it looks tacked on and just takes away any subtlety you were trying to add.  It deadens the image.  If you want to paint a dark area, learn how to mix a nice black using other colors on your palette.  I'm not sure why this works, but it just  makes the painting a cohesive composition, which is what you typically want.    

 

 

Work the Visual Magic - As opposed to still life painting, where you try to be as true to reality as possible, as an illustrator, you should try to be as interesting as possible when you lay down your message on a canvas.  The thing about being an 2-dimensional artist that isn't a photographer is that you have to power to show things in a fantastic way.  You should always try to construct a scene in a fashion that you wouldn't be able to capture in a photograph.  This could be achieved stylistically or through POV.  Think about what you are going to draw or paint, and then think about the most innovative way to show it.  Work the subject.   

 

If you want to see some really great examples of what I'm talking about here, visit bradholland.net .  He's the man.    

 

Formal Education is the Silent Killer of Creativity - With all this being said, heed the warning that once you learn the rules, you may forget how to break them if you're not careful.  So many of the illustrators I graduated with seemed to forget how to just draw from their imagination.  They were completely reliant on reference instead of using it as a tool.   There were so many that just stopped painting, because it ceased to be fun for them.  Something about working for deadlines all the time and being constantly critiqued made their obsessive drawing habits wane to a few times a year; Just enough to get their parents to quit bitching at them for paying for an education they seldom used.  The things they'd loved about creating art were just trained right out of them.  

 

Pablo Picasso said "It took me twelve years to learn to paint like a master.  It took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like a child."    For every classical landscape, for every formal still-life, for every tedious deadline exercise, do two of your own, no matter how quick.  Never lose your joy or your own voice.

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