An Artist's Guide to Using References (Pt.3): Why Drawing from Direct Observation is Essential and 10 Tips to Improve
How often do you draw or paint from life? Do you find drawing or painting from direct observation a bit intimidating and/or a hassle to do? Are you aware of the artistic growth that can come when using direct observation compared to using only photographic references when creating art?
Drawing from direct observation is also referred to as drawing from life. In this type of practice, the artist uses his/her medium of preference to draw a subject by observing it in real life as opposed to using a photograph as reference. It's important to note that the subject can be anything the artist chooses, whether it's an arrangement of objects, the human figure, a landscape, animals or anything else that can be observed first-handedly.
Drawing from life can have many uses depending on your art style. In the traditional sense, artists did their best to recreate their subject matter as realistically as possible. However, a lot of us today use this method to create practice sketches in order to improve our gestural drawing. Others start projects by drawing or painting from direct observation and finish their pieces later in their studios.
Though not every artist uses direct observation as means to create perfectly realistic representations of what it is he/she is seeing, this method is able to bring a level of energy and originality to art that simply cannot be achieved when using a photograph as reference. There's no question that this method challenges the artist in a way that using a photograph doesn't and it can greatly improve our skill.
This blog post is going to shed some light on why making time to draw/paint from life is so important and how it's different from using a photographic reference to create art. I will also share ten tips that are going to help you create more effective artwork using this method.
This blog post is the third in a four-part series about the use of different types of references when creating artwork:
1. Using Other People's Photographs to Create Art (when it's okay to use other people's photos and how to do it in a way that will ensure your artistic progress)
2. Creating Artwork Based on Your Own Photography (click here to learn fast and easy ways to produce your own reference pictures)
3. Why Drawing from Direct Observation is Essential and 10 Tips to Improve (click here to learn why this drawing/painting method is so important in order to progress artistically)
4. Using Collage as an Effective Method to Create Unique and Expressive Art (click here to find out why collage is so powerful and how you can use it to your advantage)
Why Making Time to Draw from Life is Important
Drawing or painting from life is a completely different experience to drawing or painting using a photographic reference that is printed out or displayed on a computer screen. In my opinion, an artist must continuously seek ways to challenge his/herself, and this is one of the best ways to improve.
When an artist draws or paints from life, he/she is able to actually interact with the subject first-handedly. As opposed to a photograph (which basically provides the artist with only visual information displayed on a flat surface), being able to actually interact with the subject brings us a wealth of information that will enhance our work in a variety of ways.
If you are drawing a portrait, you are able to talk with the person and have a feel for his/her personality. If you are drawing an object, you are able to touch, smell and see its colors directly. If you are drawing an animal, you are able to feel what it's like to have it in front of you. If you are painting a landscape or scenery and you are actually IN the place, you're able to feel the energy around you. Your personal feelings and thoughts whilst experiencing the subject will translate into your work to make it richer and more expressive.
You are able to have complete creative control when you draw from life, which means that you'll have to apply your thinking skills throughout brainstorming and preparation. You're not only going to exercise your observational and rendering skills throughout the process, but you're going to have to visually interpret what you're seeing and innovate using your personal style.
Furthermore, when taking a photo there is always a chance of perspective being slightly distorted and colors being off. In a way, photographs are a processed rendition of what you can actually take in with your eyes. Photographs, at times, present us with views of scenes, objects or even people that are different from what we would normally expect to see. Our brains play a big part in why we see things in life the way we do, and cameras don't have brains (last time I checked).
When drawing from life, there is no way to cheat. You can't trace or use grids. The artist is met with the challenge of translating real-life forms and perspectives onto flat substrates in order to create aesthetically pleasing compositions.
It quite simply puts the artist's skills to the test in a way that using a photograph doesn't.
10 Tips to Help you Improve Your Life Drawing Skills
1. Make sure you have a good amount of knowledge of Art Fundamentals
If you don't have basic drawing skills down and/or lack understanding of the Elements and Principles of Art, it's going to be incredibly difficult to create an effective piece using direct observation. I recommend studying Art Fundamentals and putting them to use by creating simple compositions using shapes and then moving on to objects. Things like proportion, depth, form, value and compositional arrangement are vital.
Check out my blog post titled Perspective for Beginners: How to Use 1 and 2 Point Perspectives to Create Great Artwork if you haven't already. It includes free downloadable PDFs that you can use to practice three-dimensional shapes and applying them within 1 and 2 point perspective grids to create believable depth/volume effects.
2. Frame it
When we are standing or sitting somewhere our eyes can be drawn to many places at once, which can be very overwhelming when we have to focus on only one area. I like using some kind of frame when coming up with a composition because it helps me decide how my different items will be placed within the space I will be recreating. It also helps me mentally separate what is going to be INSIDE my composition and what is going to be left out.
3. Start with grayscale/pencil
My recommendation to beginners is usually to start working in grayscale. Working with pencils/graphite is incredibly useful in this case because they are easy to control and correct. Focus on creating a good variety in values and placing them in appropriate places. Focus first on learning to discern which areas are darker and which are lighter. Attempting to recreate color can come later.
4. Once you have set up move as little as possible
Slight changes in angle or distance from your subject can change the perspective in your drawing. Make sure before you start that you are in a comfortable position and chair so that you can work for as long as you need to!
5. Get used to looking at your subject CONSTANTLY
A lot of people spend more time looking at their paper than at their subject when drawing. You should be aiming to observe your subject at least 50% of your working time. Forget about drawing things the way you THINK they look. Use only the information that you are taking in through your eyes and do your best to replicate what it is your seeing. Force yourself to constantly look at your source of information until this becomes natural to you.
6. Always start by creating effective shape, proportion and arrangement in space
Focus on drawing only large shapes first (lightly). Concentrate on achieving correct proportions and placement of elements within space. Compare items in your composition to each other in terms of size, location and shape. Study how lines intersect and how angles are created between them. Practice visually measuring things and use your pencil/fingers as measuring devices as you're seeing your subject(s) at a distance. Make sure you give it a final look before moving on to the next step.
7. Keep outlines light
When drawing your initial shapes and all the smaller shapes/lines within them, remind yourself to draw lightly. In real life there are no outlines. Shapes are actually separated from each other by changes in color, texture, value, etc. Artists who are skilled at producing realism are masters at capturing subtle changes.
8. Develop a good tonal/value range throughout your drawing
Take your time developing a full range of tone/value throughout your drawing, starting lightly and adding darks as you go along. It's normal to think you have darkened an area enough and then have to go back to darken it as you progress. You should end up with a multitude of mid-tones and gradual changes in value. Make sure that you are really observing your subject and placing values appropriately. Don't guess!
Use a blending stump if smooth gradients are your thing, or create different values using mark making techniques like hatching or crosshatching. I usually like using a mix of both. Check out my Guide to Shading Techniques: Hatching, Cross-Hatching, Scribbling and Others to learn and practice different ways of creating values. Free practice PDFs included!
9. Add details and texture
Think about what techniques you'll be using to transmit any needed textures (hatching, crosshatching, stippling, etc.) and add details carefully wherever necessary. Try to be subtle about it (remember in realism we rarely see lines). Unless you're going for hyperrealism, you should choose what is going to be included in your piece and what is going to be left out.
10. Apply your artistic license
As the artist, it's your decision whether specific things are going to be included or omitted. It is not necessary to add every singe detail of what you're seeing. You can also consider rendering some parts in full and leaving others less detailed in order to pull the attention of the viewer to your focal point.
Although artwork created through direct observation is usually expected to be realistic, it doesn't HAVE to be (unless that is what you are going for)! Try to apply your own style and ideas to whatever it is you're doing! Remember slight smudges and imperfections are perfectly fine and sometimes even give a piece character!
Advantages and Disadvantages of
Using a Photographic Reference Vs. Drawing From Direct Observation
To finish up, there is a time and a place for drawing/painting from direct observation AND for drawing/painting using photographic references. Neither method is wrong or right. What is important is that the artist makes time to explore both on a continuous basis. Remember to continue challenging yourself and exploring as much as possible!
Do you enjoy drawing or painting from direct observation? Approximately how much of your art is created by using photographic references and how much is created through life drawing/painting? Do you wish you could do it more frequently? I'd LOVE to hear from you! Let's discuss in the comments section below!
Thanks SO much for visiting and reading! I hope that you found this helpful! The last part of the series will be up next Friday. :) Cheers, friends!
Are you constantly using photographs you find online as references for your artwork? Do you feel you lack the ability and/or resources to produce quality photographs to use when drawing or painting? More importantly, are you aware that not scheduling in time to produce your own reference images could actually be hindering your artistic progress?
It is vital for an artist to work on forming an original collection of reference images to have at hand. By taking time to produce our own original photographs we not only ensure that our artwork is truly unique, but we also start pinpointing subjects, colors, and general moods we are drawn to. This will all help us move toward finding our artistic voice and style.
In last week's blog post (click here to read) I mentioned the specific situations in which using other people's photographs as references is acceptable. I also explain ways in which an artist can make sure he/she is progressing when using photos found online and ensuring that the finished piece is as true to the artist as possible. However, most of the time, we should be striving to work from our own photographic references.
Today, I will give you ideas and the essential information you need in order to produce effective original photographs quickly and easily. It can actually be quite fun to do! This post includes a YouTube video in which you can see me create a still life arrangement in my studio and I also share a time-lapse of a watercolor painting created with the selected picture as reference. So make sure to check that out!
This blog post is the second in a four-part series about the use of different types of references when creating artwork:
1. Using Other People's Photographs to Create Art (when it's okay to use other people's photos and how to do it in a way that will ensure your artistic progress)
2. Creating Artwork Based on Your Own Photography (click here to learn fast and easy ways to produce your own reference pictures)
3. Why Drawing from Direct Observation is Essential and 10 Tips to Improve (click here to learn why this drawing/painting method is so important in order to progress artistically)
4. Using Collage as an Effective Method to Create Unique and Expressive Art (click here to find out why collage is so powerful and how you can use it to your advantage)
Why Making Time for Your Own Photos is Important (and Not That Difficult to Do)
Making time to take your own photos may sound tedious, especially when you want to get to the drawing/painting phase! However, it's important to remember that there is always at least a certain amount of planning and exploration behind an effective artwork.
By producing your own reference photos, you have complete control of your artwork and are not limiting yourself to an image that already exists. Not to mention, most often than not, we end up loosing a lot of time looking for an image that inspires us to draw or paint, just to arrive at a photo that doesn't satisfy us completely. Producing your own reference photos will ensure that your artwork is 100% unique and personal to YOU.
Creating your own library of reference images doesn't have to be complicated, time-consuming and you certainly DON'T need any fancy equipment. You just have to be creative with what you have and remember to take advantage of situations that you may be in on a day-to-day basis. Most cell phones these days have great cameras and you just have to remind yourself to take photos when you're out and about of subjects that call your attention. So no excuses!
Tips to Produce Photos That Will Lead to Great Artwork
There is always some amount of planning and preparation behind an effective artwork. Aside from deciding on a subject, you should think about what you want your final piece to transmit. Have this idea/emotion in mind when selecting a color scheme and creating the general mood of your photograph so that it can later be translated into a drawing or painting.
Do you like to draw/paint portraits? Animals? Landscapes? Indoor scenery? Still lifes? The way you prepare for your photoshoots will obviously vary depending on your subject of preference, but I will give you a few ideas that will help you produce photos quickly and easily.
There are a few key things that you have to keep in mind when producing photos that you are intending to use as references when drawing or painting. There is nothing worse than thinking you have a great photo just to find out that it's not going to work when opening the file in your computer or printing it out. A good reference photo should facilitate your drawing/painting process, not make it more difficult.
Make sure that you are taking high resolution pictures from the get-go. Blurry, grainy or pixelated pictures simply will not work. If you're using your cel phone, make sure the resolution is set at the highest possible and that you are focusing appropriately when taking your pictures.
A good photograph should have a good play between lights and darks/shadows. Decide what your light source is going to be (natural or artificial) and whether it is going to be to the left or to the right of your subject(s). Use only one light source. You can experiment with different heights and angles, but avoid placing the light source directly in front of your subject(s). Also avoid using flash because it flattens out and washes out subjects. When using natural light, experiment with taking photos during different times of the day and see how shadows change.
Chances are you have already started developing a good eye for what makes a composition interesting and visually pleasing. If you feel you still need practice in this area, I recommend studying paintings created by your favorite artists and pinpointing how Elements and Principles of Art were used throughout the piece.
Make no mistake, experienced artists KNOW what they are doing when using Elements and Principles of Art and this is what makes their art so effective. Learn from them and take notes so you can apply these things in your own art!
When taking a picture that you will be basing a composition off of, consider the separate objects as part of a whole. The famous Rule of Thirds is something that you should research if you don't know about it already. You can read about it in an old blog post of mine. Essentially, you should think about creating balance, harmony and interest within a piece.
Ideally, there should be only one focal point in an image and you should consider how you will draw the viewer's eye to that specific place (you can use color, size, etc.). The rest of the subjects within the picture should be secondary, but should still work to lead the viewer's eyes towards different parts of the picture.
Play around with angles, distances and arrangements throughout your photoshoots until you come up with a composition that YOU like.
Lastly, don't rush! Try to enjoy this part of the process. Take A LOT of photos and make sure that you keep them organized in the best way you see fit.
Once I have selected the photograph I will be working from, I like opening it in Photoshop and adding a bit of contrast to it. At this point I also do any cropping or cleaning if the photograph requires it, but I keep it to a minimum because I can also change things throughout the painting process!
3. Using Your Photograph as Reference for a Drawing or Painting
A lot of artists like to print their photographs and place them beside the substrate they will be working on prior to starting an artwork.
I personally rarely do this because I find it time consuming and expensive to go and have my prints made every time I want to create a painting. I like displaying the image for myself on my computer screen as large as possible and zoom in/out/around as needed.
I do make sure to create my initial pencil sketch using my easel (either desk or standing), so that my laptop screen and my paper are in as similar angles as possible (this will ensure that perspective isn't distorted). If I am standing and working on canvas, I arrange my laptop at a height that is comfortable for me to work from.
Finally, ALWAYS remember that you have artistic license to modify things!
Here are some photos from Monday's shoot that you can use for your own art if you wish. :)
How often do you use other people's photographs as art references? How often do you take your own? I'd LOVE to hear from you! Let's discuss in the comments section below!
Thank you for visiting my site and reading this post! I hope that it was helpful and that it inspired you to get out there to take some photos! Make sure to come back next Friday for the third part of this series that will be about drawing/painting from life.
``It's easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It's a lot more difficult to perform one.´´
Have other people's comments ever made you want to stop creating art? Have you ever wished you were more like those magical individuals who seem to exude self-confidence 24/7 and never let anyone rain on their parade? Ever wondered how much more productive and successful you'd be if you didn't allow other people's opinions to interfere with what you want to achieve in life?
``Haters don't really hate you! They hate themselves!´´ they say. ``Just ignore them and keep at it!´´ they say. These suggestions are all well and good, but do they help, really? Are you able to simply forget about what that rude person just said to you or do you let it sour the rest of your day, maybe even allowing the negativity to carry over until tomorrow? Most of us creative beings are sensitive by nature and, at times, it may take only one negative remark to make us forget about all we have done right. Over time I have realized that life is too short and I cannot waste precious time and energy on negative people that will bring me no growth whatsoever.
Criticism, constructive or not, will be a recurring element in any artist's career. No matter how talented or well-intentioned someone is, there will ALWAYS be people that do not agree with him/her. We need to practice effectively reacting to criticism until it becomes second nature to us. Whether we are sharing our work online or in person, we need to be prepared to react in a way that transmits professionalism. Remember, in order to receive respect, we need to give respect. You never want to do or say something that you'll regret later!
Accept the fact that ALL people who put themselves out there and/or dedicate their lives to activities that may be perceived as uncommon will be judged and that these things are beyond your control. What you CAN control, however, is how you react in these situations. And what you CAN be sure of, is that with time, it will become easier and easier to react favorably. In the first few years it's going to be challenging. However, in time you will gain more experience both in terms of artistic skill and verbal communication. You will get to know yourself as an artist and your self-confidence will grow without you even realizing it.
Next, I will explain why art criticism is an important part of any artist's career. I will also share some tips to apply when receiving criticism that will allow you to gain respect from others. To finish up, I will clarify how to properly critique a work of art.
What is Art Criticism and Why is it Important in an Artist's Life?
The term art criticism refers to the analysis, evaluation and discussion of an artwork. It requires the participant to reflect about a particular work of art and make a personal, substantiated interpretation of the piece. The term was first used in 1719 by English painter Jonathan Richardson in his publication An Essay on the Whole Art of Criticism. In his book, Richardson attempted to create a system to rank works of art based on drawing, composition, invention and use of color. Aside from analyzing the piece itself, professional art critics also question whether an artwork has importance within its historical context and how it relates to works before it.
Criticism (the constructive kind) is necessary in an artist's life because it is quite simply one of the best ways to improve our work. We should actively seek ways to better our skills, not only in terms of technique, but in how well we are able to engage and connect with the public. Even though most of us create in solitude, we do it with the purpose of eventually sharing our art with the world. Not everyone will react favorably, of course, but we should keep creating for those people that do find themselves in our work.
How to Take Criticism Like a Champ
Taking criticism is hard for anybody. However, as artists, we most frequently create in solitude and do not share responsibilities with anyone other but ourselves. This can make the experience a lot more personal and harder to deal with. Here are 10 tips that will help you receive and digest other people's comments in an effective way.
Read my blog post titled Self-Doubt as an Artist: How to Stay Confident and Keep Going.
How to Critique Artwork Intelligently
In his essay The Psychology of the Critic and Psychological Criticism (1962), author Philip Weissman argues that an art critic needs to have knowledge in the field in order to make a judgement. I'm including this final section because I want to encourage people to share their opinions about art in an intelligent, substantiated way that shows appreciation and leads to positive growth. Constructive criticism is based on facts, and only after proper analysis can judgement be made. Negative opinions void of any objective reasoning should be ignored.
I will be using Edmund Feldman's method of critiquing for the purpose of this explanation. His proposed system involves four steps: description, analysis, interpretation and judgement. You will notice how the first two steps of the process are the study of objective facts found within an artwork and the second half is more subjective in the sense that they require the participant to make connections, reflect and finally share a personal opinion.
As an example, I will apply Feldman's method of critiquing to the following masterpiece by the great Edward Hopper:
-This piece is titled Nighthawks and it was created by American painter Edward Hopper in 1942, amidst the socio-political turmoil caused by the ongoing World War 2. It is also important to note that Hopper lived through the Great Depression, which was an extremely hard economic time for many countries.
-The scene is very American and set within Hopper's time judging by architectural design and the dressing style of the subjects. It portrays a sense of everyday life in an American city.
-Hopper has mentioned that he was inspired by a particular diner in Greenwich Village, where he lived and worked from the time he was 31 until his death. However, it is not meant to be a direct representation and, by the lack of detail, one gets the sense that it could be any diner in any city.
-The medium used was oil paint and the style is quite realistic but not heavily detailed.
-In terms of Elements of Art, what strike out most are use of color, shape, space, form and line.
-One could say that the subject of the piece is the diner itself. However, inside it we can see four different characters. Our eyes gravitate towards the only woman included in the piece, due to the bright color of her clothes and hair. Hers is the only face we can see almost completely.
-The composition in itself is quite simple but is visually very engaging.
-The composition is divided into thirds and the diner takes up approximately two thirds of the entire area.
-The use of color in this piece is quite striking. The bright yellow hue used inside the diner, which creates the effect of fluorescent lighting, contrasts with the colors outside of it and provides emphasis on this area of the painting, where the subjects are located.
-There is a sense of illumination created by the diner's unnatural light. It spills onto the concrete outside and creates a few stark shadows. We can easily tell that it is nighttime, but we understand this from the moment we read the title of the piece.
-Muted, dark colors are used on the facades of the buildings and street elements outside of the diner. Very few details are included in this area, which further draws the viewer's focus to the inside of the diner.
-There is almost no sense of movement perceived, even within the diner.
-There is an asymmetrical balance achieved in the arrangement of forms within the composition. There is just the right amount of form and detail within the small area outside the diner to balance it with the enclosed area of interest.
-There are various lines included within the composition. The vertical lines used to create the windows of the diner and the buildings behind it ground the piece. At the same time, strong diagonals create the form of the diner and lead to a vanishing point somewhere outside the piece, to the left (linear perspective).
-These lines also create a triangular shape containing the subjects, making it look like the front part of a ship.
-Windows, architectural elements, and bar stools, create patterns and repetition in certain areas of the piece, transmitting a certain sense of order.
-Hopper creates very smooth paintings, leaving out texture (probably deliberately). We are only able to tell that there is glass separating us from the people inside the diner because of the edge painted at the end of the building. There is no door to be seen.
-Even though a lot of people consider Nighthawks an expression of Americans' feelings during the WW2 period, Hopper's wife once said that he deliberately chose to ignore the chaos going on around him, immersing himself in his work. The Pearl Harbor bombing occurred only a few days after this painting was completed.
-It is important to note that Hopper also lived through the Great Depression and did struggle economically for quite some time. Isolation and disconnect are present in many of Hopper's paintings even before WW2 started.
-This great artist was once quoted saying: "I don't think I ever tried to paint the American scene. I'm trying to paint myself." This tells us that Hopper used his work as a means of self-discovery and personal reflection.
-The emptiness in the piece, combined with lack of movement/expression, as well as the fact that these people seem close and yet apart (both amongst themselves and from the viewer), transmits feelings of loneliness and isolation. Even the couple sitting together seems detached. They could be married or they could be total strangers that just met.
-The stillness and silence make me feel like something is about to happen.
-I believe this piece is extremely effective in both technique and narrative. For me, both are essential in an artwork and Hopper's painting definitely shows both.
-I really admire Hopper's painting style as he creates a specific level of realism but retains visible brushstrokes, leaving out high amounts of detail.
-He was also immensely talented in terms of being able to transmit specific feelings and ideas to the viewer. His work is simple, displays common scenes, and yet is extremely psychological, making the viewer think whether there is another layer to everyday life.
-With every piece, the artist incites us to connect the dots and come up with stories. His work is compelling, even today.
-Hopper is known for taking a long time to complete his works, and the effectiveness of his paintings really show a deliberate study and planning on his part.
_Personally, I feel like a lot of Hopper's work (Nighthawks included) is able to resonate with people even today. I think the modern world is so fast-paced and immersed in technology (especially larger cities), that we lack deep communication with one another. We can be surrounded by large amounts of people and yet feel incredibly alone. Also, the lack of expression in Hopper's subjects reminds me of how we are becoming more and more desensitized by violence and, at times, lack the humanity to connect with others. We are together in this world and yet, almost everyday, we ignore there are others beside us that may need help. Everyone is their own island!
Because you will likely by receiving both positive and negative criticism on a regular basis, it is vital for you to start training yourself to respond in a professional manner and, more importantly, to not let it stop you from moving forward in your artistic journey. It is extremely unfortunate when artists never show their work out of fear of failure or criticism. Please remember that being brave enough to share work you have worked hard on is an accomplishment in and of itself!
``To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.´´
Have you ever had any particularly bad experiences receiving criticism? I'd love to know! Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thank you SO much for reading! I hope this helped/encouraged you in some way.
Hello friend! I am SO glad you are here!
I totally failed at uploading this blog post yesterday, so here it is. Last week I worked a lot on products for my online shops (Redbubble mostly). I still have SO much to do and am constantly working on them so please do check them out! Comments, ideas and likes are very much welcome. : )
I also have been working a lot on Christmas gift card and greeting card designs which I will be selling! I still have to properly scan them, clean them a bit and add in the text, but they will be up in my Society6 shop at some point this week.
This Thursday's informational blog post will be about the importance of constructive criticism in an artist's life, how to learn to take it positively and also how to properly GIVE it! Stay tuned for that.
I wish you an amazing week full of inspiration and productivity! Cheers!
I am really enjoying creating collage designs out of individual watercolor flower studies! I've already created two different sets of awesome products for my online stores! Check them out at my Redbubble shop by clicking either of the images below. :)
If you were to asked to choose between an artwork that displayed an amazing quality of realistic rendering or one that captures your attention due to its unique expression of ideas, which would you choose? Are you one of those people that just plain hates all degrees of abstraction in art, praising only those artists who consistently produce work with high levels of realism? On the other hand, do you find photorealism boring and lacking a particular style or unique touch on part of the artist?
``Neither is there figurative and non-figurative art. All things appear to us in the shape of forms. Even in metaphysics ideas are expressed by forms. Well then, think how absurd it would be to think of painting without the imagery of forms. A figure, an object, a circle, are forms; they affect us more or less intensely.´´
In this blog post I will explain the differences and similarities between figurative and abstract art styles, as well as why it is important to make space for both in our artistic journeys. Also, I will be sharing some effective tips and exercises that will help you move towards creating artwork that shows both technical skill AND is also meaningful.
This is not going to be an opinionated post bashing either abstract or figurative artwork or anything in between. This will not be a rant about how much I dislike either style and, much less, a criticism towards artists of any kind. Au contraire, my friend! One of my main philosophies in life is appreciating and learning from all types of things and finding morsels that speak to me so I can create my own unique mishmash of awesome.
I believe that there is something to learn from everything, and that if one remains open, there will ALWAYS be something valuable to take that will enrich us as human beings (and consequently improve our work). I believe exploration and the desire to improve should be an intrinsic part of an artist's life, and feel like constricting oneself to a particular style will not allow as much progress to be made.
This said, today I am not going to get into the contemporary kind of artwork that does not really demonstrate any kind of particular knowledge about Art Fundamentals on part of the artist. You know which kind of works I am talking about! Though I do give some of these artists merit for striving to engage with their audience at a philosophical level and attempting to communicate ideas about difficult topics, in this blog post I am only considering work that shows knowledge of Elements and Principles of Art/Design.
In my personal case, it didn't take long to realize that I am naturally drawn towards creating figurative artwork. What HAS been a struggle, however, has been reaching a conclusion about what degree of realism I want my artwork to convey. You see, though I admire and respect hyper/photorealist artists very much, I would like to be able to arrive at some distinctive style that I can call my own someday.
Though it requires an immense amount of patience and skill to produce hyperrealism, I want my work to be more than an exact replica of what everyone else is able to see by looking at a picture. I'd like to arrive at an artistic style that demonstrates both skill AND is able to communicate an idea or feeling. I know I have a long way to go before arriving at this point, but simply having reached this conclusion tells me I am making progress as an artist.
What do the terms Abstract and Figurative mean in Art?
Figurative and Abstract are simply two (very broad) categories in which artwork, be it painting or sculpture, can be divided into. It is important to understand that there are numerous degrees of figuration and abstraction, and this can even occur within one same piece. Though some art can be easy to categorize into either pool, others are a bit harder to decipher. There are a few art terms that are often confusing when learning about figurative and abstract art that I want to touch upon.
The word representational is often used interchangeably with figurative but these two terms are not synonyms. Both abstract AND figurative artworks are usually representational. Why? Because, most of the time, even when creating work that is completely abstract, there IS something from the real world that artists are trying to represent.
Two artists, one figurative and one abstract, can be creating a painting using the same flower arrangement as reference, and each of their works at the end (though completely different from each other) are going to be a representation of those same objects. Abstract artists simply choose to express what their eyes are taking in in a more expressive and unconventional manner.
Also, it is important to note that the term figurative does not solely refer to artworks containing the human figure as subject, though many times they do. This term describes any work that is clearly derived from object (or living) sources, be it a portrait, landscape, still life, etc. In other words, if you are able to instantly recognize what it is your looking at, whether its a house, a flower, or a horse, it can be classified as figurative.
Finally, just because an artwork is figurative/representational, doesn't mean that it has to be realistic! Realism in art is created by the ability to render pictures using perspective, value, proportion, form, texture, etc. to depict subjects as closely as they appear in real life. This type of artwork is created with the intention of representing the subject as truthfully as possible.
Realism is also an art movement, but we are talking specifically about styles today. It takes an immense amount of knowledge about Art Fundamentals (form, perspective, shading, proportion, human anatomy, color theory, etc.) and practical experience in order to create realistic artwork.
This is not to say that abstract artists know nothing about Art Fundamentals or how to create the optical illusion of three dimensionality! There are amazing abstract artists that are able to combine color, line, texture and shape to create three-dimensionality, movement and many other interesting effects in their work. Consider the artwork below by the great Victor Vasarely. There is simply NO WAY that he could have created pieces like this one without having extensive knowledge of the Elements and Principles of Art, as well as years of practical exploration!
``It takes years for representational artists to develop their skills in mimicking the objects before their eyes.´´
This term simply refers to artwork featuring subject(s) that retain a fair amount of real-world characteristics. It is always representational and the audience is easily able to recognize what they are looking at, no matter what degree of realism is involved in the creation of the piece. The term figurative became a common term to use in art conversation after the arrival of abstract art.
Consider the following two artworks. Sargent and Matisse were both figurative artists, but they had VERY different styles!
For a very long time in history, realism was sought after by artists and praised by art appreciators. From the time the Greeks became obsessed with the human body and began studying its proportions to create beautiful marble sculptures representing their perfect Gods and Goddesses, to the Renaissance, when Filippo Brunelleschi discovered how to transmit perspective and depth on a flat, two dimensional surface, creating true-to-life art was what all artists strived to achieve.
Throughout history, mathematical and scientific advances allowed for both greater knowledge on part of the artist, as well as more effective artistic tools and supplies. It wasn't until the second half of the 19th century, with the surge of Impressionism, that realism started to be challenged by artists who wanted to explore further.
``Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes...Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.´´
Contrary to figurative art, abstract art does not attempt to represent subjects in an accurate or natural way. It is not the objective of this kind of artist to achieve realism, but to communicate emotions or ideas. These artists make use of Elements of Art such as shape, color, line and texture to create visually appealing compositions that are meant to express what is in their mind.
As mentioned before, this kind of artwork is usually also representational, as the artist has at least some sort of reference to work from. However, there are artists that do not use any particular reference, but apply their knowledge of Elements of Art and Color Psychology in order to very effectively transmit emotion. Abstract art can range from easily comprehensible to entirely geometrical/organic with no recognizable figures. One of the main characteristics of this type of artwork is that it interacts with the viewer in the sense that it calls out for interpretation.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of camera, artists started seeking new ways to create artwork that went beyond a realistic representation of what they could see. The Impressionists were the first to start exploring use color and paint in new ways that would permit not only the rendering of a beautiful picture, but expression on part of the artist. They wanted to create work that the camera couldn't. It was in this time that the manipulation of color and shape started to occur. Later on, the Cubist movement brought forth an even greater degree of abstraction.
Though the stylized drawings on cave walls and symbolic stone sculptures created by prehistoric people are disregarded by some as simple decoration, they demonstrate that abstraction has been part of human life since its beginnings. Groups of people all over the world used shape, color and line to communicate ideas and created decorative designs on pottery and other tools. This means humans have been creating abstract art since we first had the need to express ourselves. Abstraction is not a completely ``contemporary´´ or ``modern´´ thing, but a style that has been with us all along.
Tips to Explore/Improve Both Art Styles:
1. Practice drawing both from life AND from quality photography. First focus on shape and proportion to create an effective outline drawing. Worry about detail and shading only after you have been successful in this. Once your ready, explore shading in whatever technique yo prefer (you can learn about hatching/crosshatching shading techniques and download free practice worksheets in my "Guide to Shading Techniques: Hatching, Cross-Hatching, Scribbling and Others" blog post).
2. Keep a sketchbook and use it CONTINUOUSLY as a means of exploration. Read about why it is important to keep a sketchbook and how to use it in order to improve in my blog post titled "Why Sketchbooks are Essential Tools for Artists and a Few Usage Tips". Your sketchbooks will be your best friends!
3. Whatever your subject or choice may be (portraits, landscapes, still life, etc.), study the elements involved INDEPENDENTLY. For example, if you wish to be a portrait artist, make time to study only eyes, then focus on noses, then lips, and so on BEFORE attempting to draw or paint a complete realistic face. If you want to do landscapes, make time to study different types of trees, how to paint clouds, water, and so on BEFORE attempting to create a complete realistic landscape. Explore your medium of choice and practice creating different colors and textures with it.
4. Always keep learning and practicing Art Fundamentals. No matter what your artistic style is or even what subject you wish to specialize in in the future, ALWAYS make time to practice things like form, perspective, anatomy and effective compositional arrangement. I created a blog post for beginners about perspective and drawing three dimensional shapes which includes free worksheets to practice with that you can read here. I will be expanding on different Art Fundamentals in the future, so stay tuned!
1. Practice the deliberate manipulation of Art Elements (be it color, shape, texture, etc.) in order to more efficiently transmit ideas or emotions. Maybe for you this will mean simply starting to use colors that are slightly more unnatural, bright or contrasted in order to make your drawings or paintings more impactful. Maybe it means arriving at your own, stylized version of a human figure.
Maybe you wish to bring out only a certain part of your drawing or painting by adding more detail to that area. Whatever this may be for you, think about the message behind your work and how you can modify reality in order to impact the viewer. Don't be afraid to break the rules!
2. Try using art supplies that FORCE you to pay less attention to small details. This goes especially if you are naturally prone to want to create high levels of realism. If you paint, try using larger brushes and/or creating a picture using less brush strokes! If you draw, try using a medium like charcoal or oil pastels that don't really allow for high level of detail.
Try to discern between what a picture has to NECESSARILY include in order to portray what you want to portray, and what can be left out. Also, try using techniques that will allow you to work faster and looser.
The following pieces have been explorations I have done in the past in order to gain practice at working faster and more loosely. This has been hard for me because I am prone to want to add detail, but I am seeing much progress with time!
3. Experiment and explore with unconventional supplies! Use ready-made things you have laying around in your studio or home like fabric, paper, pieces of plastic, etc. and think of them in terms of shapes, color and texture. How could they complement each other to create one same composition? Make your collection and think, are you drawn to these particular objects for a specific reason?
One of the best (and most fun) ways for me to explore shape, texture and color is by creating collages! They are something I start with no particular idea in mind, but new ideas always pop into my head throughout this process!
4. Look inwards and use internal stimulation instead of external stimulation to create your work. Give importance to getting to know yourself and think about what ideas and themes are important to YOU as a human being. Continuously write and brainstorm what comes into your mind. Start works based on these ideas instead of working from images or objects that exist beyond you. How can you use color, shape, texture, etc., to transmit your idea?
Making Time to Explore Both Styles
``What interests me is all the stuff that goes into abstract and abstract-figurative art. Not the styles, but the stuff that, in various combinations, make the styles: mixing and matching painting methods and ideas.´´
As artists, we should make time to explore both figurative and abstract art throughout our journeys because it will enhance the outcome of our work. I believe we should always seek improvement and be willing to step out of our comfort zones. On one hand, it's incredibly important to learn the rules before attempting to break them and to always make time to go back to the basics, no matter what level of expertise we have achieved. This will help us maintain our observational and rendering skills fresh.
On the other hand, we should explore new techniques that will enable more effective communication with our audience because, well, isn't that the point? Great art is engaging at a visceral level and makes people feel and/or think!
Personally, some of the artwork that has called out to me the most combines both figurative AND abstract techniques within them. This is what I seek to achieve some day with my work!
I'd love it if you could answer the quick survey below!
Thanks SO much for reading and visiting my site! I hope that you found this post useful. Have a wonderful rest of the week and I hope to see you around later!
How to Effectively Use Other Artists' Work as Inspiration and a Great Method to Start Developing Your Own Artistic Style
Are you constantly trying to find inspiration by admiring other artists' work and find yourself copying more than you'd like? Do you feel like you are making no progress towards finding your own artistic style? Are you simply unable to produce as much original artwork as you'd like?
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."
In this post I will explain one of the methods I use to make sure I produce original artwork while getting inspired by other artists. This strategy is an amazing way to work towards finding and developing one's own artistic style. Plus, it's very fun!
The act of copying is a very delicate subject in the artistic field and just the word seems to put many of us on edge. I say, let's try to relax and admit that each one of us has been constantly inspired throughout his/her life by people, experiences, artwork (and by “artwork" I mean movies, music, theater, books, etc.), the environments we have lived in, advertising, and pretty much everything around us. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, has a conscious or unconscious effect on us and, therefore, on the work we produce as artists.
We have all been influenced by a combination of different things and have different likes and dislikes. This is not to say that two different artists are never going to produce similar work. There are bound to be similarities amongst us in terms of technique and/or subject matter because there are only a certain amount of techniques and subjects to work with.
However, if we put in the effort to discover ourselves as artists (what techniques/supplies we enjoy working with most, what our own distinctive abilities as well as areas of improvement are, what ideas we want to put out into the world, etc.), we will eventually get to a point at which our work will be a direct representation of ourselves.
This is, in my opinion, what matters most and what I am personally working towards. At this point in my artistic journey I allow myself to admire and analyze other peoples' work, but make sure that the bulk of my time goes towards looking inwards and doing my best to apply what I have learned in my own way.
Having said all this, let's begin!
The Artist Mishmash Exercise
The purpose of this exercise is to start pinpointing specific characteristics of other artists' work that you are drawn to, whether it's related to subject type, technique used, general mood of the piece, etc. Afterwards, you will explore how to use characteristics found in different artists' work in one same piece!
To begin you will need a phone, computer, or any other device on which to search for existing artwork, a few pieces of blank paper and a pencil. Make a list of three artists that create work you greatly admire. If you have already created a Pinterest inspiration board like I have, go ahead an use it! If not, now is the time to investigate.
I really recommend keeping it at only three and trying to select artists that produce very different types of artwork. Once you have finalized your list, and perhaps read a bit about each artist if you don't know about them already, analyze several of pieces of each, and write down four to five specific characteristics that you have found in each artist's work.
a) Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
French artist Toulouse-Lautrec was both a painter and an illustrator. He is known for his provocative paintings and drawings depicting the decadent Parisian nightlife, that he was a part of himself. He created many posters and advertisements for nightclubs including the Moulin Rouge, and elevated advertising to a fine art status. He was a skilled Post-Impressionist painter that experimented with a variety of techniques and supplies. In his posters, he made use of bold, flat shapes of color.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Roughness/raw quality of his work in both subject and technique
-Bold use of color, perhaps unnatural at times
-Variety of mediums and substrates used in his sketches and paintings (charcoal, pastels, oils, lithographs, graphite, crayons, canvas, paper, cardboard, etc. )
-Hand-lettering in posters
b) Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
Höch was a German visual artist that is considered the pioneer of the photomontage technique. Her work transmitted deeply rooted social and political messages regarding issues that were occurring at the time (sexism, war, etc.). Though she also worked with oil paints, she is primarily known for her bold collages created with images taken from fashion magazines as well as illustrated journals. Her work conveyed strong, important messages, but were humorous at the same time.
Characteristics of her work I really like:
-Collage/photomontage technique (I think it's quite interesting how we can take bits and bobs of already existing images and create a whole new meaning for them by combining and rearranging them)
-Charged with deep meaning about political/social issues but humorous at the same time
-Incorporation of popular elements into artwork
c) Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Hopper was an American artist that started his artistic career as an illustrator and turned into a fine artist later on. He is considered to be one of the most important realist painters of the twentieth century. His enigmatic artwork depicts the loneliness of modern urban life in America. The arrangement of elements within his compositions, as well as his amazing use of light/shadow and detail, create very visually striking pieces that very effectively create tension and emotion in the viewer.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Realist style but not literal copy (certain degree of interpretive rendering that makes artwork more expressive)
-Artwork tells a story or makes the audience think
-Use of color and contrast creates very striking imagery
-Feeling of mystery and solitude
Alright! Once you have your three artists, and you have listed a few characteristics of each person's work, start brainstorming ideas in which you could incorporate most of these into one same piece. Create several different sketches! You don't have to use ALL of the points you've written down, but make sure to at least use one characteristic of each artist.
Having trouble? Consider these tips.
-Start with the artist that uses subjects or styles that you have a bit of practice in already and then see how you can incorporate characteristics of the other two.
-Instead of wasting too much time thinking of the overall idea you want your drawing/painting to transmit, start drawing ONE object/person/animal/shape and add to it as you go. You'll start making connections between the elements you start adding.
-After you have learned a bit about your favorite artists, think of an idea that is personal to YOU and YOUR LIFE, and then think about how one particular artist might go about representing that particular idea.
Once you have selected an idea to work with, go ahead and start with your final piece! Remember, this is an exercise and is not meant to produce a finalized artwork. As with all types of explorations, try to have fun with it and not pressure yourself to create something perfect. If a great idea for a final piece, awesome! If not, at least you learned something new!
My final exploration piece:
After having sketched out a few different ideas, I selected one and created a composition in Photoshop using five different pictures. I used this (digital) collage as reference as I drew and painted. In this piece, I used a variety of supplies and techniques including watercolor pencils, Prismacolor Soft-Core pencils, Gamsol, watercolor paints, black gouache and even a bit of charcoal. Some areas in the painting are purposely made to look more realistic and polished than others. Finally, I did my best to create an image that propelled the viewer to think about and interpret what he/she is seeing.
Which are YOUR three favorite artists and what is it about their artwork you love so much? Do you think any of these characteristics can be found in your own work? I'd ABSOLUTELY LOVE it if you took a minute to comment below! Let me know if you use the Artist Mishmash technique! I'd love to see what you come up with! Cheers, friends!
Thank you so much for visiting and reading! Have an amazing and inspiring week!
Does fear of failure and criticism constantly stop you from producing or sharing your art? Have you ever tried to create a specific art piece only to become increasingly frustrated with yourself after failing multiple times? Have you ever just wanted to give up creating art at all?
I am going to start out by saying that I am by no means the most confident person in the world. I struggle with bouts of insecurity as much as the next person. However, I vehemently believe that consistent hard work and dedication produces results. Thus, ANYBODY can be or achieve ANYTHING they set their hearts and minds to, whether it's becoming an artist, building a house or losing thirty pounds.
While I agree that it is necessary to be realistic in life and that a particular person's life situation might lead him or her to faster recognition or results, I 100% believe that consistent steps in the right direction, no matter how small, will eventually get you to where you want to be. Nothing truly rewarding in life comes easy, but keep in mind that the more difficult the climb, the more one grows along the way, and the greater the victory.
Even if you aren't beaming with confidence 24/7 (which is completely normal), if you know what you want, are willing to prioritize your goals over everything else you have going on in life, and put in the consistent hard work, you'll get there. Period. You have to believe this in your bones.
This post is mostly for those who have found that art is their one true calling, wish it to ultimately be their way of making a living, and have been working at improving their skill for a considerable amount of time. If this is you, and you are seeking to pursue art professionally, you do have to acknowledge that it's not only going to be hard work to get there, but to keep creating consistently once you do.
Artists need to have a natural curiosity and desire to challenge themselves, to be willing to make mistakes, and to constantly analyze their work in order to set new goals. We are also, many times, completely in charge of getting our names out there effectively in order to get clients and/or sell our work. All of this means believing in ourselves and what we have to offer. On top of everything else, we need to be able to take criticism constructively and not let it demotivate us.
For me, being an artist means to be inherently courageous. We need to be courageous to choose the artistic path in life while everyone around us tells us this isn't the “safe" route. We need to have the courage to believe in ourselves and our work in a sea of amazing and talented artists. We need to be brave enough to share our work and thought processes with the world which, in most cases, was created by us and us alone. We need to be brave enough to price on our work and take criticism.
The list goes on and on. If you have already decided that you are going to be an artist and have been working at improving your skills for a while, it already means you are brave enough to have taken a challenging path.
Keep in mind that we are all human and it's normal to struggle with phases of insecurity and frustration every now and then. If you have come to know yourself well through whatever experiences life has put you through, and you have 100% concluded that NOTHING in the world brings you as much happiness as creating art (high five!), you need to find a way to manage the negative thoughts and feelings that may arise and find a way to keep going.
Next, I will share a few strategies that help me stay happy and productive.
Key Ideas to Stay Happy & Productive as an Artist
Don't rush your process
Creating an amazing artwork takes time! The creative process can (and should) involve a phase of study and preparation before even starting a final piece. Do whatever practice you feel you need before starting with the final artwork! Resist going straight to the canvas, paper or whatever it may be. Enjoy the process of studying subjects and exploring supplies (sketchbooks are AMAZING for this!). Remember it's about the road and not the destination.
For example, when I am preparing to paint a portrait, I first practice drawing (or even painting) individual facial elements that I know are difficult for me. I also make sure to sketch faces in the angle I am going for several times before actually starting my final painting. Something else that you can do is plan and prepare your color palette. Many things can be done to ensure an overall better outcome.
I have found, at times, I tend to get a bit anxious to finish my work after already having spent a considerable amount of time on it. This anxiety makes me do things too fast without actually thinking of what I am doing and many times I end up ruining a piece or simply not doing as best as I could because I tried to rush it. I need to remind myself that great work requires concentration and patience.
Work on Art Fundamentals and take classes
Being a professional artist requires becoming an expert on the Fundamentals of Art (Form, Color, Perspective, Composition, Value/Lighting, and even Anatomy). The more knowledgable and experienced you become in these basic topics, the more confident you will become overall. No matter what your subject or technique of choice is, keep making time to study and practice Art Fundamentals throughout your artistic journey. By doing this, you will feel more capable of taking on different subjects and compositions.
Look up resources online, buy books, invest in classes or workshops in your city! Being able to talk with professors and getting feedback from others is very useful. I also highly recommend continuing to develop your observational skills by using references and drawing from life. This will REALLY improve your work! I personally believe that, no matter how skilled an artist has become, he/she should always make time to study the basics.
Know when and who to share your work with
To be perfectly honest, I think beginner artists should wait a bit to start sharing work online. I think if someone is just starting out, he/she should first try getting feedback from people he/she knows at a personal level, perhaps family and friends. Afterwards, seek feedback from art or design professors or people more knowledgable in art that can actually critique your work.
Start getting a feel for people's reactions to your art and how to deal with other peoples' criticism in positive ways so that you can actually grow from it. Following this natural process will ensure that your abilities are already at a specific level by the time you start putting yourself out there for the world to see, and you'll have developed a bit of confidence in yourself. I feel like the online world can be quite harsh and can be potentially discouraging to someone just starting out.
Once you feel more confident and have gained some knowledge about Art basics, by all means, start sharing! All kinds of art, whether its visual arts, music, literature, acting, etc., is meant to be appreciated by others. We create so that ultimately, our work can be seen. We create for an audience. Due to this, if we ever want to pursue an artistic career, the sooner we are able to put ourselves out there and open ourselves up to constructive criticism, the faster we will grow.
Learn how to take criticism constructively
As artists, we simply have learn to take criticism. This can be very hard because art is so personal and it takes a lot of energy to create. Harsh criticism can be hurtful and/or discouraging, no matter what point an artist is at. It is, therefore, imperative to develop a somewhat thick skin and/or positive coping mechanisms in order to move forward.
Accept that anyone who is willing to put him/herself out there is going to get criticized at one point or another. Not everyone will like you or what you do, nor is it your job to make everyone like you. The sooner you realize that it isn't your job to please everyone, the better. It is important to keep in mind who the comments are coming from. If you are being harshly criticized by someone who has absolutely no experience in what you are doing, take those comments with a grain of salt. Sometimes people are mean just to be mean and their actions/words say more about them than they do about your work. All this said, PLEASE learn to accept peoples' praise. Be proud of how far you've come and thank them for admiring your work!
Use other artists' work as inspiration but never compare yourself
As I mentioned before, every one of us is different. We all have different levels of expertise depending on the amount of time we've been at it, different likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and have lived/are living totally different life situations. No matter how much you try, your artwork will never look 100% like somebody else's. And you SHOULDN'T WANT it to look like somebody else's! The only thing you should be focusing on is on developing your own skill and style.
Don't get me wrong, admiring and getting inspiration from viewing other artists' work is perfectly fine as long as we are in a good headspace, but thinking you'll never be able to get to that level is damaging and unnecessary. Study other artists' work to start realizing what kind of styles you are drawn to and get specific ideas from them to apply in your own work. Don't try to copy unless it's for specific studies you will be keeping to yourself.
Never compare apples to oranges!
Kill the perfectionist inside you and turn into a curious explorer
In my blog post titled How I Killed My Perfectionist Demon and Why Perfectionism is the Worst I talk about the dangers of perfectionism. As with any other aspect of life, we should be striving for progress and not perfection in our work. Perfectionism and fear of failure are two of the greatest enemies of any creative being and can attack at any moment in the creative process, even when one is a skilled artist.
Sometimes fear of failure attacks before even starting a piece, as we stand in front of an empty canvas or paper, totally intimidated by the blankness. Or maybe we begin an artwork happy and confident only to grow more and more frustrated with ourselves after making a few mistakes. Or it can even happen after we're done! Sometimes we finish our work and are perfectly happy with its outcome, only to come back to it a few days later to find that you don't like it very much anymore. All of these experiences are very normal. The point is not to let any of this stop you from keeping at it!
Realize nothing is EVER going to be perfect and there is ALWAYS going to be more progress to do. And even if you succeed at creating what you think is perfect NOW, I assure you, in a year from now you'll look back at it and notice all the ways that you could have done better. Your standards are going to keep moving higher and higher, which is great and means that you are holding yourself accountable and are moving forward.
Keep exploring and producing large amounts of work. Never, EVER let fear paralyze you!
Prioritize your mental and physical health
As artists, we are generally passionate people and we love what we do, so it's common to be a bit obsessive when it comes to our work. At times, it's easy to forget about taking care of our minds and bodies. Some of us may even suffer from anxiety disorders or high levels of sensitivity, which make it even MORE important to check in with ourselves and be mindful of our well-being. Our creativity and work WILL suffer if we don't.
It is imperative for us to assess whether our work rhythm is allowing us the time we need to rest and recalibrate. If it isn't, put serious consideration into how long you'll be able to keep this up. Going through super busy phases that have you working long hours is normal at times, but if you find this is always the case for you, you need to make necessary adjustments.
It is a priority of mine to make time for my own mental and physical health EVERY SINGLE DAY. The daily actions I take make me a happier and more productive person which, in turn, leads me to create better work. I want to continue making art until I am very, very old, and I hope this is a goal for you as well! Let's take care of ourselves!
Set feasible goals for yourself
It is important to constantly set goals for yourself. SMALL, SPECIFIC, and FEASIBLE goals. I personally have a tendency to want to to it all and get overwhelmed because my focus is completely scattered and end up doing only a portion of everything I wanted to do. I am working on being more realistic when setting my goals and on choosing specific subjects or techniques to practice in a particular amount of time. Be honest about your life situation and be kind to yourself when you are setting your goals.
Make your plans and focus on achieving one thing at a time once they are set. With every success you'll become more experienced and confident in your skills and you'll be able to progress much faster. Don't forget to praise yourself for your achievements! Read about my methods for setting goals and planning my days in this post.
Remember that there will ALWAYS be to more learn, no matter how skilled you become as an artist. In a year from now you'll look back at your work and be able to tell how much you have improved. Then you'll set new standards for yourself and these will continue shifting throughout time.
Remember to always, ALWAYS stay positive
This is very important in all aspects of life. It is absolutely ESSENTIAL to face any type of challenge with an “I can do this" attitude. When you start something believing you will fail, you're probably going to fail. If you try to do something and don't succeed, try again tomorrow! If you ever feel a sense of frustration bubbling up inside of you, take a break and remember that every action causes a reaction, which means that if you are trying you are getting a little bit better each time, even if it doesn't seem like it.
You have to know, deep within yourself, that you can do anything if you keep trying. Embrace failure and shift your mindset so that you start viewing mistakes as discoveries and milestones that you are moving past in order to become a talented artist.
I want to end this post by reminding you that everyone around you is scared and nervous to a certain degree. We're human and life is unpredictable and challenging. What matters is that we don't allow these feelings to paralyze us. Remember that how you deal with life situations is what defines you, so never stop working towards what you know in your heart you want to achieve.
The fact that you have already put in the work of self-discovery to realize that art is this important to you sets you apart in a very positive way as is. Most people keep moving forward without ever giving thought to what it is they truly want in life and settle for what is easier and more practical. You didn't! This, to me, means you are already very courageous!
Whatever fear or anxiety comes your way, channel it into positive actions that will help move you forward and don't ever give up.
“Creativity takes courage."
“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”
“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt.
Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented
as a consolation prize."
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing,
doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Which of these ten things cause you most trouble? Do you have any personal strategies that help you deal with negative feelings that pop up when your trying to produce art? Have you ever given up on creating art for a long period of time? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below and let's help each keep going!
Thank you SO much for visiting my site and reading this blog post. I wish you the best in your artistic journey and hope to see you around!
Do you often use other people's photographs as references to create artwork? Have you ever tried using a specific photograph to create a drawing or painting just to find out that it's actually working against you throughout the process?
I usually like having reference photos or real life objects in front of me to get inspired by when creating an artwork. Even though I am not particularly interested in taking the hyperrealist route, I use photographs because they remind me of details that I may or may not choose to include in my painting (or drawing), and might otherwise forget. I have found that, at times, it is these little details in photographs that my painting was lacking in order to become great.
Many artists recommend printing out the picture before starting a painting and working from it in order to ensure colors, values and proportions are true to the image. If you are going for something very realistic or simply believe it will be more comfortable for you, go ahead and print the image. I personally don’t because my style doesn't involve recreating images 100%.
I personally don't believe in tracing because I don't feel that this practice helps exercise observational and drawing skills as much. I really recommend not doing it after you have surpassed that initial level of drawing, no matter how hard it may be at first. I view imperfections and deliberate modifications by the artist as good things.
Getting back to photography, making time to take photos of the subjects you are most drawn to is incredibly important for an artist. In a previous post I talked about how sometimes it’s difficult to make time for this. I've shared links to sites that offer free quality photos that you can use to create artwork from and even sell.
Read this post here:
My Favorite Free Image Sites & Two Examples of References with Finished Illustrations
These sites are lifesavers for us who have a full or part time job aside from being artists and don't always have the time necessary to do an actual photo session. I don't think there is anything wrong in using photos that aren't ours in these cases, as long as we have permission to do so. I believe that using them to get daily practice in is SO much better than doing nothing at all.
However, there is nothing as rewarding as creating an artwork completely from scratch. Going though the process of brainstorming and visualization, finding the actual object(s) you want to shoot, sketching out composition ideas and arriving at the photo that you will later be using to create your artwork, may be a lot of work, but it is totally worth it at the end.
Tips to Produce Great Reference Photos
It is important to know that simply taking a photo doesn't ensure that it will be able to be used for a drawing or painting. Things like resolution and lighting can make a photo extremely difficult to work with and even result in bad art.
1. Sketch ideas and visualize your final composition.
The more objects you are including in your photo, the more essential this step is. All great photos have a focal point and you must consider what this is going to be in your picture. Essentially, objects have to be placed in such a way that the viewer’s eyes naturally move towards the object of most importance.
2. Have balance and harmony in mind, always.
Keep in mind that compositions don't have to be symmetrical in order to be balanced. If you are shooting a variety of objects together, I suggest making it interesting and placing them in a way that results visually pleasing instead of in an obvious centered, symmetrical manner.
If you lack a trained eye, the ever-so-popular Rule of Thirds is something that you can research. This "rule" states that, to achieve an effective visual composition, a 3x3 grid has to be visualized within it. Imagine there are two horizontal and two vertical lines dividing the picture into 9 equal rectangles (or squares). Whatever we want the focal points to be in our compositions should be placed along the intersections of these lines. The basis for this "rule" is that the human eye will naturally move toward focal areas when images are divided into thirds. Finally, do different visual elements included in your photograph (color, texture, shape, etc.) combine well to create an interesting, visually aesthetic composition?
3. Make sure you are taking high resolution photos.
Blurry and pixelated pictures will not lead to good art. We want to be able to zoom in whenever necessary in order to view details.
4. Try to always use natural lighting (if you don't have special photography lights set up).
Using flash makes people and objects look flat and washed out. Of course, if you have photography equipment like lighting and reflectors and you know what you are doing, go for it! I personally don't, so I try to take my photos in the morning before noon or in the afternoon when sunlight is not at its harshest so that shadows and highlights are soft and not too distracting.
5. What angle will suit this object best?
Even if you already have initial ideas sketched out on paper, move around during the shoot! Do some calf raises, squats and lunges (ha!). Take a lot of photos in a variety of angles. Play with perspective. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity!
6. Consider background colors.
Personally, I create a lot of artwork with white or very simple backgrounds, so I like preparing white backgrounds for my subjects (usually cardboard or fabric) when taking photos. This makes it easier for me to clean up the image in Photoshop so that I can concentrate on the object I am painting.
However, if you are setting up an entire composition to work from, I suggest using a neutral color background that will not distract the viewer from the focal point. Or, if you are going for something colorful, think if the background color plays well with/enhances the object(s) placed upon it? Think about color combination and contrast when selecting objects. Perhaps it's time to bring out our Color Wheels?
7. Take a lot of photos and keep them organized.
Once you start doing your own photo shoots it's in your best interest to keep your references organized. In the past I have photographed some objects that I have yet to paint and if I hadn't made the point to organize them in folders, I probably wouldn't be able to find the images when I finally want to use them! I like to name my folders according to the subject type: Portraits, Food, Buildings/City, Animals, etc. Naming each folder with the date of the shoot could also be useful.
8. Remember, your photographs are REFERENCES!
Don’t be afraid to remove things that you think don't add to the final composition. I have also used two or three different references in the past to create one same artwork by cutting separate elements and combining them into one image using Photoshop. You can also change colors! Play around with your photos in photo editing software and see what happens. I think visualizing and modifying references gets easier the more experienced you become.
9. Decide whether you will print your photograph or work from your computer screen.
Experiment and see what works best for your particular process and artwork style. Neither of these is correct or incorrect. Just make sure you set yourself up for an efficient painting by placing the photograph or computer screen at a comfortable angle and eye level.
10. You don't necessarily need a fancy camera. You CAN use your phone.
Most phones have excellent cameras now-a-days. Just make sure you have your brightness and resolution to the max. Also, clean your lens before you start. And, remember, always avoid using flash. Flash is the worst.
Here are a couple of good pictures I ended up with that I will definitely be using to create some paintings. Try not to get too hungry!
Do you consider the production of original reference images an important part of an artist's journey? I'd love to know your thoughts! Let's discuss in the comments section below.
Thanks so much for coming by! I hope this post was helpful and that it encouraged you to keep experimenting with photography!
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