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 hope that you found this post useful! I'd love it if you could answer the quick survey below!
Have a wonderful rest of the week and I hope to see you around later!
In what ways do you think your society's traditions and beliefs have impacted your work as an artist? How different do you think your artwork would be if you had grown up in a different place in the world? Is there any particular celebration or tradition that you find particularly inspiring?
As human beings, we will always carry with us a certain degree of influence from the countries we have lived in and the people we have lived with, especially during our formative years. I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived most of my life in a country that, not only has produced amazing artists of all kinds, but has a rich and unique culture full of color, symbolism and joy. Mexican Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead has always been one of my favorite yearly celebrations and, this year, I decided to use it as inspiration for a few watercolor illustrations.
In this post, I will explain a bit about this wonderful celebration and the story behind the well-known Catrina character. Also, I will show you step by step how I go about drawing a human skull and why it is so important to have, at least, a general understanding of the underlying bone structure when drawing a face. I've included a free downloadable PDF at the end for you to print if you wish to practice with it! : )
A Day to Honor the Dead and Celebrate Life
The Day of the Dead is celebrated each year on the second of November, coinciding with Christianity's All Soul's Day. This important celebration is a mixture of both indigenous rituals and Christian beliefs. Way before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico, the native indigenous people living in the area already had ceremonies that revolved around death and the natural cycle of living things. Since prehistoric times, the Aztecs and other indigenous groups used human skulls in rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. When the Spanish arrived during the XV century, they were horrified by the pagan rituals they witnessed and later on sought to spread Catholicism amongst these people. Eventually, customs of the Spanish started mixing together with those of the different indigenous groups.
On and around the second of November each year, Mexicans remember their deceased family members in a variety of ways. Graves are visited and decorated with flowers. Elaborate altares (shrines) are created in homes to invite the souls of the dead back into the world of the living. Also, beautiful parades are organized in which entire communities are invited to celebrate together. On this day, death, which is usually something that is feared and associated with negative emotions, turns into something joyful. Mexicans pay homage to death with both respect and humor, celebrating both the past and the present simultaneously. Even though the whole idea of inviting the dead to visit us, and celebrating death in general may seem like a pretty morbid idea, the point of this day is to understand that death is an eventual part of life and to use this as a reason to enjoy ourselves while we are still here. El Día de Muertos reminds us to not only be more appreciative of life moments but to take advantage of the time we have.
The Day of the Dead and Halloween are often compared, but there is a fundamental difference between the two celebrations. Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve was a festival created to mark the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “dark half" of the year. It was thought that, on this day, the walls between our world and the spirit world became thin enough to allow ghosts to pass through and damage crops. Halloween focuses more on our fear of mortality and the spookiness of the unknown. On the other hand, the Day of the Dead is more about remembering loved ones who have passed away, celebrating their memories instead of mourning their loss. Instead of treating death as something dark and frightening, it is about seeing the positive aspects of the living cycle and laughing in the face of death.
Shrine for the Dead and Symbolism of Objects
When a family sets up an Altar de Muerto for a deceased loved one, there are certain things that have to be taken into account. Each object included symbolizes a particular element and the location of the objects within the shrine also has a meaning. Usually, an altar is made up of objects that call to the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). Because the objective of an altar de muerto is to lure the deceased back home, it usually includes objects specific to that person, so that he/she feels the desire to make the long and hard travel back from the underworld.
Here is a general list of the things that are usually included in an Altar de Muerto:
1. Levels (steps): Altars usually are made up of two to seven levels. The lowest levels represent the underworld and the Earth, while the higher levels represent celestial dimensions.
2. Arch: An arch symbolizes the entry to the underworld and is adorned with flowers and fruits.
3. Symbols for natural elements: Papel picado, which consists of cutting intricate designs out of delicate and colorful paper, represents wind. A glass of water is placed to represent this element and also to calm the spirit's thirst after the long travel back home. Candles are placed throughout to represent fire and to help light the way back home. Finally, seeds and fruit are included to represent earth.
4. Variety of aromas: Prehispanic cultures used to burn a type of incense created from the resin of Copal trees in their rituals. The smoke and aroma produced from burning Copal was thought to purify environments and keep away evil spirits. People now-a-days use either Copal or other kinds of incense in their shrines. Other aromas are produced by herbal infusions and flowers like the Cempasúchil (Marigold). The Cempasúchil is a bright yellow flower commonly used to help guide the spirits back home through both sight and smell.
5. Food: It is common practice for the family of the deceased to prepare his/her favorite dishes to place on the altar. Typically, it is a Mexican dish like mole or tamales. Candies are also placed throughout the altar, which can vary from sugar skulls, chocolate and/or amaranth. Pan de Muerto , which is a special seasonal bread, is also included. This bread is made differently depending on what area of Mexico you are in, but the shapes created within it usually represent skulls and bones.
6. Salt: Salt is thought to purify the body and to strengthen the spirit when traveling to and from the underworld.
7. Personal belongings: Photographs and personal belongings of the deceased are usually placed somewhere within the central levels of the altar. Usually, family members choose to include specific favorite objects that will lure the deceased back home.
8. Religious symbols: Crosses and/or other religious symbols are usually placed on the higher levels of the shrine. It is common practice to include saint figures, virgins, and angels.
Who is Catrina?
The original Catrina character was created by José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator, printmaker and engraver, and was called “La Calavera Catrina" or “Elegant Skull". However, it was made popular later on by artist Diego Rivera in his mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon Along Central Alameda), completed in the historic center of Mexico City in 1947.
Even though Posada and Rivera created these artworks at different moments in history, they both used this character as a symbol to transmit social and political messages to the public during times of transition in the country. In Posada's time, it was common to see skeleton characters in newspaper illustrations humorously criticising both the actions of politicians as well as the hypocrisy found within Mexican people as the blood and social ranks of the Europeans and indigenous mixed. Posada stated once: “La muerte es democrática, ya que a fin de cuentas, güera, morena, rica o pobre, toda la gente acaba siendo calavera.” / "Death shows a sense of democracy because, at the end, blonde, dark-skinned, rich or poor, everyone ends up being a skull.”
Over time, Catrina stopped being as political and became an important Mexican symbol representing death. Today, she is known all over the world and is widely used during Day of the Dead celebrations at parades. All sorts of artworks are created by Mexican artisans that specialize in this subject year-long.
Many tie Catrina to the the Aztec's Goddess of Death Mictecacihuatl, who was considered the keeper of the bones in the underworld. This goddess was a vital part of the Aztec's month-long festivals honoring the dead. However, Catrina differs greatly from the serious Mictecacihuatl and the bloody rituals of the prehistoric peoples. This character is always smiling, dressed in colorful clothes and is unmistakably humorous.
How to Draw a Human Skull
Practicing drawing the human skull is very useful for beginner artists that are starting to draw faces. By understanding the underlying bone structure of a face, we are able to better understand proportions and locations for facial elements within the head, as well as forms and planes that will give a drawing a sense of three-dimensionality. I really recommend finding a good picture of a skull and studying its form. This will help you discern where shadow and light naturally falls within the face and your drawings will be much more effective and realistic.
Use the steps below to create an outline drawing of a skull. Once you have this down, step up the challenge by searching for a good picture of a real skull online and try placing shadows, lights and midtones in the areas you see fit. Remember I have the downloadable PDF at the bottom for you to print out and use!
Thanks SO much for visiting my site and reading this post! I appreciate it very, very much! Whether you celebrate Day of the Dead or not, I wish you a wonderful day and a fulfilling and joyful life!
Hope to see you around soon!
Are you obsessed with those cool sketches made by artists that go outside and are able to capture cityscapes or landscapes so realistically AND so fast? Would you like to try plein air drawing or painting but feel like you'll never be able to capture your surroundings realistically? Does the word perspective scare you away or bore you to the point that you abstain entirely from creating artwork that involves different viewpoints from those you are used to?
Perspective is considered to be one of the fundamental components of drawing. A beginner artist may think that it only has to be mastered by landscape or cityscape artists, but this is not the case at all. Understanding perspective and how to create the illusion of depth is essential in order to render believable scenes in all kinds of art, whether it's still-life, interiors, and even animal and portraiture-based artwork. In this post I will explain a few key terms and ideas to grasp before moving on to the One and Two Point Perspective drawing techniques. I will also suggest specific exercises and provide you with downloadable grids that you can use to improve your drawing and visualization skills. With a bit of practice you'll gain the confidence to get out there and start sketching in plein air, which is so important and gratifying as an artist!
I remember first learning very basic perspective in Art class at some point in Elementary school. Our teacher taught us about simple One Point Perspective and we were asked to create a landscape drawing including a path going off into the distance. I remember how my mind was blown back then as I started realizing that creating realistic artwork is quite simply knowing how to apply a series of optical illusions in order to make the viewer believe that a picture has real-life qualities (be it texture, volume, depth, etc.). Later on in life, I learned about more complex perspective in one of my first semesters at university, where I took a SUPER hard course that architecture students took. I was super scared because this class involved numbers, Geometry and being extremely clean/precise. As a child, I had always been terrible at Math and, to the day, I have a tendency to tune out when calculations and numbers come up in conversations! The professor was incredibly strict and took off points for ANY little extra pencil or eraser mark on our assignments, but I passed the course and I honestly learned a ton. That class fast-forwarded my ability to visualize objects in space and gave me the abilities I needed later in order to begin creating realistic art. I promise it is not too hard! If I can do it, you can do it!
Understanding Perspective in Real Life and in Art
Perspective is what gives a picture a sense of three-dimensionality and depth. Take a moment to look out your closest window. Observe how the trees/buildings/houses closest to you appear larger, while the trees/buildings/houses farther from you appear much smaller. Even though the tree closest to you may, in reality, be the same size as a tree farther away from you, they appear to be different sizes to you due to the fact that you are standing at the specific point you are in. Artists must master the ability to create this effect on a flat, two-dimensional surface, be it paper, canvas, or whatever substrate is used. The more complex a picture is, the more important it is for the artist to approach the piece in a methodical and careful fashion.
Take a minute to analyze the following famous masterpiece by the great artist Raphael.
In this fresco we are able to see how the arches in the ceilings get smaller and smaller as they get farther away from us in the distance. Likewise, the human figures that are closest to us in the foreground appear larger that the people located in the middleground (more about these terms later). The combination of all of these things creates a very effective sensation of three-dimensionality, perspective and depth. Isn't it just astounding?
This famous masterpiece is an excellent example of One Point Perspective, which we will get into in a bit. If we place the One Point Perspective grid on top of the artwork, we are able to see how the artist was able to visualize where to effectively place the elements within the painting. Starting our work with a grid made up of straight lines, allows us to better visualize the three-dimensional space which we will place our shapes upon.
Before moving on, here's how the grid applies in a modern picture. Notice how the point at which the lines meet is off center in this image.
Important Art Terms Related to Perspective
Before explaining how to use the One and Two Point Perspective drawing techniques, I would like to just mention a few key art terms we need to be able to understand.
1. Horizon Line
This is the line that separates sky from land (in landscapes) or sky from water (in seascapes). It is also referred to as the "eye-level" of the viewer. The Horizon Line doesn't necessarily have to be right in the middle of your picture. In fact, it is a lot better, compositionally speaking, if it is somewhere below or even above the halfway point of your drawing area.
2. Vanishing Point
The Vanishing Point is placed somewhere on the Horizon Line and it represents the farthest point in your picture. There can be a number Vanishing Points (One Point Perspective has one, Two Point Perspective has two and Three Point Perspective has three). When creating a grid, this point is were the Orthogonal Lines all meet.
3. Orthogonal Lines
Orthogonal Lines (also known as Convergence or Vanishing Lines) are key when drawing perspective. They are diagonal and recede back into the vanishing point(s). A perspective grid can have many Orthogonal Lines or very few of them, depending on the complexity of the picture. The more elements in the picture, the more lines you will probably have to include in your grid.
4. Transversal Lines
These are completely horizontal or vertical lines that are either parallel or perpendicular to the horizon line. They form rectangles or right angles along the grid and are especially useful when drawing interiors (I will provide you with an example in a bit).
5. Vantage Point
The Vantage Point refers to the specific place from which a scene is viewed. This point can actually be very high (referred to as bird's-eye) or very low (referred to as worm's-eye). It is crucial to decide where the Vantage Point is going to be in the very beginning because this will affect the placement and size of all elements within the composition.
Foreground, Middleground and Background are also helpful terms to understand because including a variety of layers within a drawing or painting really helps transmit a sensation of depth. The layer closest to the viewer is referred to as the Foreground, behind it is the Middleground and the layer furthest from the viewer (which in many cases is simply the sky) is the Background. It varies from image to image, but the important thing is that you are able to discern which layers are closest to the viewer and which layers are farther away. This will affect the color placement within the artwork, as well as the sharpness of the elements included in each layer. The image below is an excellent example that illustrates how the elements in the foreground are much more sharp and saturated than the layers behind it.
Finally, foreshortening is a drawing technique that helps us create the illusion of an object/person/animal receding into the distance. The object, person or animal is drawn shorter, in a way that makes it seem as if one part of it is closest to the viewer and the other end is far from the viewer. It is a great way to transmit a sense of depth, even when the only subject included in an artwork is an object or a person. When used in extremes, it creates very interesting artwork. Andrea Mantegna's famous Lamentation of Christ (1480) is an excellent example of foreshortening.
The picture below also shows foreshortening. If you notice, the man's forearm appears wider than the width of his open hand. This is because his forearm is so much closer to us than his hand!
Drawing 3-Dimensional Geometric Shapes
Knowing how to draw three-dimensional geometric shapes is absolutely necessary before moving on to using the One or Two Point Perspective drawing techniques. Why? Because, here in reality, EVERYTHING around us has volume (length, width and height). First, practice drawing simple three- dimensional shapes (use the PDFs at the end of the post titled Geometric_Shapes1 and Geometric_Shapes2 for step-by-step instructions). Once you feel more confident, try placing them within the One and Two Point Perspective grids (I have also included both grids at the end for you to use). If you are already great at this, ignore this step.
When attempting to draw any geometric shape, straight lines are important. This is even more important when creating three-dimensional shapes because they involve parallel lines and angles. Due to this, I recommend using a ruler in the beginning. If you want to get even more technical, bring out your protractor! Keep in mind that, once you have enough practice, you will be able to create 3D shapes without using any straight-edged tools. Unless you are going for a super clean and precise drawing, slight imperfections will not affect the picture if the perspective is successful overall.
How to Apply the One and Two Point Perspective Techniques
One, Two and Three Point Perspectives are referred to as ¨Lineal Perspectives¨, which means that they rely on the use of straight lines to depict a three-dimensional space and the forms within it. In other words, to apply these techniques we will need to prepare for our drawings by creating grids using a ruler. It is important to note that this grid should be created LIGHTLY. Though it will be heavily used throughout the drawing phase, they will be erased later on.
The One-Point Perspective grid is made up of straight lines that converge at the Vanishing Point. Firstly, decide where your Horizon Line will be placed within your drawing area. Secondly, place your Vanishing Point somewhere on your Horizon Line (remember it does not have to be placed right in the center). Then, carefully draw straight lines from one edge of your paper to the other using a ruler, making sure that they all cross at your Vanishing Point. This kind of perspective is excellent to draw simple cityscapes, landscapes and interiors.
My suggestion would be to begin using this technique to draw simple landscapes and focus on adding in different organic elements with believable proportions. Then, master placing three-dimensional geometric shapes within the One-Point Perspective grid to effectively transmit a sensation of depth (see picture below). Afterwards, one can move on to buildings and interiors.
How to do this exercise:
1. Prepare your One-Point Perspective grid (you can download the PDF at the end or draw it for yourself).
2. Draw a few flat (two dimensional) rectangles or squares anywhere on your grid.
3. Pinpoint the corners/angles of your shapes that are closest to the Vanishing Point (see red highlights in the image).
4. Using your ruler, draw straight lines from the corners of your shapes down to the Vanishing Point. Take into account here that there may be two to three lines, depending on where you placed your shape.
5. Finally, close your shapes with vertical or horizontal lines. Remember to make these lines parallel to the lines you used in your initial two dimensional shape.
Take a moment to analyze this important artwork by Van Gogh. Judging by the lines you can see in the image, where would you say the Vanishing Point is located?
The Two-Point Perspective grid is also made up of straight lines that converge at the Vanishing Point, only this time there are two! This grid is going to help us create the effect of viewing objects (think boxes or buildings) as if we are standing on a corner. It is slightly more complex and is often used when drawing buildings in a cityscape or objects at more extreme angles. Let's start practicing! You can decide if you'd like to use the Two-Point Perspective grid I have included at the end of the post, or if you'd like to create it for yourself. Here are the steps you need to follow to make it yourself!
To prepare a Two-Point Perspective grid, I usually start by folding my paper in half both lengthwise and widthwise. The horizontal fold will be my Horizon Line in this case.
Then, decide where your two Vanishing Points will be on this Horizon Line (I recommend placing them at a good distance from each other). You can see in the image below how I placed my two Vanishing Points close to the edges of my paper. I often like to place them at equal distances from the edges and use a ruler to help me do this.
The vertical lines you can see here will be erased and are not really a necessary part of the grid. You can also see that I have folded my paper two more times. Sometimes I like to do this because the folds help me visualize straight lines as I am creating my grids, but they are not necessary either.
Next, create small marks using a ruler right on the central vertical fold on your paper. You can decide how close or far apart you want these marks to be (I recommend somewhere between 1.5 to 2 centimeters to start out).
To finish the grid, carefully draw lines starting at your Vanishing Points and ending at the marks you previously created on the central vertical line. The lines you draw coming from your left and right Vanishing Points should meet, creating a symmetrical/mirrored effect.
By this point your Two-Point Perspective grid should be finished. If you have never used this technique before, I recommend starting out by drawing simple three-dimensional geometric shapes on it. This will help you understand how it works and will set you up for success in your later drawings.
Next, use the grid to create a cityscape! Remember, these buildings are nothing more than rectangular prisms with a few details added in. Nothing to be scared about!
After enough practice, you will be able to easily conclude what kind of drawing technique you need to apply in each project. The sketch below is something I created a while back. Where would you say that the Vanishing Point is located in this case? Remember that even though certain elements are not always visible within a final piece, the artist must always have them in mind when working so that the sense of perspective is achieved at the end.
If you still feel a bit unsure about taking it outside, I recommend searching for pictures of buildings or houses online and apply what you have learned. Draw one single house or building three-dimensionally and move on to groups of houses, then street views, etc. I assure you, you WILL get more and more comfortable. Thanks so much for reading! I hope this helped shed some light on this important topic.
To conclude this post, I leave you with this great da Vinci quote about Perspective:
"Perspective is to painting what the bridle is to the horse, the rudder to a ship… There are three aspects to perspective. The first has to do with how the size of objects seems to diminish according to distance: the second, the manner in which colors change the farther away they are from the eye; the third defines how objects ought to be finished less carefully the farther away they are."
-Leonardo da Vinci
In today's post I will be explaining a few techniques that are very useful to know when you are ready to start giving drawings a sense of realistic volume and depth. Once you can create basic outline drawings, the next step is to start practicing further observational skills which will allow you to pinpoint light and shadow areas as well as other details in subjects. This is an essential skill to develop as you work your way towards creating more realistic artwork.
I will be including seven different shading techniques commonly used by pen and ink artists. However, I use many of these myself when drawing with pencil and they can be used when drawing with charcoal, chalk, and many other kinds of drawing media. I will not be going into the graphite blending technique that is commonly used to create hyperrealistic drawings because what I want to get across with this lesson is the importance of value placement, more than creating realistic texture.
Value placement is an essential idea to understand and great artworks can be created monochromatically as long as value is placed effectively (see an example of a portrait created in grayscale here). Many artists argue that value is even more important than color. It is common for artists to create sketches prior to starting paintings and, in these sketches one of the most important things to decipher (besides proportion and placement of elements within the composition) is where the darkest and lightest areas will be.
Let's begin with the topic! Hatching, crosshatching, stippling, etc. are traditional drawing techniques that have been used by artists for centuries. All of these are nothing but patterns and groups of lines (or dots) placed in well thought-out ways in order to transmit a sense of volume, three dimensionality, depth and texture. Some artists style is more controlled and precise, which lead to cleaner and more organized lines, while others have a more free and expressive style. I greatly recommend looking for drawings by Van Gogh, Durer and Da Vinci to be able to see different results.
First off, I want you to take a moment to observe the following etchings created by Giorgio Morandi.
These etchings were created by using a combination of hatching and crosshatching. I want you to notice the lightest areas in the artworks, as well as the darkest. Notice how the lightest areas have nearly no lines in them, so they look almost entirely (or entirely) white. Now notice how the darkest areas are full of lines to the point at which they look close to (or entirely) black. Try pinpointing the different values in between the lightest and darkest throughout the drawings. How many can you count? How many variations in value do you think you can create using only one pen or pencil? Practice creating value strips showing gradual tonal changes using the downloadable PDF at the end of the post (VALUE_STRIPS.PDF). This will help A LOT!
Now take a moment to observe this piece by Jean-Baptiste Greuze created with only red chalk. Notice how this drawing is more complex due to the nature of the subject. Notice the whitest areas and the darkest areas and the values in between.
In this drawing, the artist used a mixture of shading techniques. I can find both straight lines, contour lines and even some scribbles which create the texture of curly hair. Understand that different shading techniques can be used together in one same piece.
Ok! Moving on!
Different Shading Techniques
Here are seven different shading techniques that you can use in your drawings and sketches. When using all of these techniques, it's important to keep in mind that, even though lines do not have to be super perfect, you do have to take your time and think about what your doing. It is essential that the characteristics of your lines (length, thickness and direction) are consistent throughout your piece. What's even MORE important, is that the lines you create accentuate the form of the object you are drawing. Increase the density of your lines by placing them closer together or creating a second (or even third) layer overlapping the first in areas that you want to appear darker. If you need practice drawing sets of parallel lines, I recommend practicing until your hand becomes steady enough. Practice each of the following techniques using the dowloadable PDF at the end of the post titled SHADING_TECHNIQUES.
1. Hatching/Parallel Hatching
This can be considered the most basic of all of the shading techniques included here. It involves creating groups or patterns of parallel lines. These lines don't have to be completely vertical or horizontal. They can also be slanted or follow any angle you'd like, as long as this direction is uniform throughout the area you are shading.
2. Cross Hatching
Cross Hatching is like taking parallel hatching to the next level. You create a first layer of parallel lines (in any direction) and a second layer of lines is drawn on top in a perpendicular or nearly perpendicular manner. This technique is probably the quickest of all due to the fact that you are able to create darker values faster than with the other techniques. I tend to go for this method most of the time myself.
3. Contour Hatching
This technique involves using lines that follow the curves or lines of the initial contour/outline drawing. When used correctly, contour hatching enhances volume and three-dimensionality in a very striking manner. With this method, it is important to be able to visualize the three-dimensionality and planes of whatever it is your drawing.
When stippling, tone and texture is built up by applying dots in different densities. This technique takes time and you have to make sure that you don't start creating lines instead of dots.
5. Tick Hatching
This method is similar to stippling but instead of making dots, you make short lines. In darker areas, lines are placed in an overlapped manner. I personally don't use this method very much because I find the texture it creates looks like hair! However, it is very useful when using oil pastels or similar media to create Impressionist-style art.
6. Woven Hatching
Woven Hatching leads to a very interesting outcome when done correctly. This technique involves creating sets of short(er) parallel lines in one direction and then placing another group of parallel lines next to it in perpendicular or near-perpendicular directions. Crosshatching can be later added to add density in areas that require darker values.
Scribbling is an excellent technique to use when drawing specific subjects like trees or hair because it not only creates values, but also transmits a sense of texture. In the drawing below I used scribbling to create the leaves of the tree and the effect of grass below it. I love scribbling!
Practice the different shading techniques described using the PDF titled SHADING_TECHNIQUES attached at the end of the post. Then, before starting with more complex figures, practice shading simple geometric shapes (use PDF titled GEOMETRIC_SHAPES).
Steps to Achieve a Successful Shaded Drawing
1. Select a good, contrasted photograph as reference
What makes an effective photograph? Firstly, make sure it is large enough to allow you to view details. Do not select blurry photos. Secondly, make sure the photo is not over or underexposed and has a good balance of light and dark areas. I recommend selecting a photo that has only one visible light source hitting the subject so that you can easily distinguish where the lightest parts and darkest parts will be. Try going for a simple object first. Perhaps a simple still life photograph with only one or two objects in it?
Start out with something like this. You can download this image for free use here or find other great pictures to practice from at www.pexels.com.
Photograph by Lisa Fotios. Find her photos at www.pexels.com or visit her website here.
2. Create a light pencil sketch including only outlines of shapes
Practice your observational/drawing skills to create a simple, outline drawing of your subject. Focus only on the general shapes, proportions and locations of the subject(s) in relation with one another and within the composition.
I strongly encourage you to keep practicing your drawing skills and not resort to tracing, but I have included my outline drawing in PDF form for you to download if you wish to only focus on shading techniques today (CHERRY_OUTLINES.PDF).
3. Take a moment to observe the reference picture and answer the following questions:
-Where is the light source located in relation to my object(s)? Is the light in front, behind, below, above or to the side of the subject?
-Where are lightest/whitest parts of the subject?
-Where are the darkest/blackest parts of the subject?
-If there are different colors included in the photograph (in this case we have red and green), how do they relate to one another in terms of their value? Is the red included here LIGHTER or DARKER than the green? This is very important! It may be easy to notice different values within one same color, but once more colors are added in, it is important to notice how they compare to one another in terms of lightness or darkness. For example, in this picture, the values of reds in the cherries are darker (for the most part) than the green in the stems. The green in the stems is pretty light when compared to the reds of the cherries and this is something that has to be translated within a one-color drawing.
*If you still feel unsure, I recommend you take your time when preparing your initial sketch. Create a map for yourself using LIGHT pencil strokes within your outline drawing. I do something similar when painting with watercolors in order to remind myself what areas will be left completely white and which areas are darkest.
I recommend starting your drawings with pencil if you haven't practiced these techniques much and move on to pen and ink once you feel more confident. Pen and ink drawings are wonderful and super fun but each and every line you create is permanent and it is easy to get discouraged if your drawing doesn't turn out the way you want it to. Experiment with different techniques and go for the one you feel comes most natural to you. You can move on to exploring combinations of techniques and more complex subjects as time goes by. The way I usually start this type of drawing is by placing my hatching in darkest areas and go back and forth adjusting values as I see fit.
5. Consistency is key
It is essential to keep in mind that the lines you are creating are meant to ENHANCE and not DISTRACT the viewer when the piece is finished. So, again, remember that line length, thickness, and direction should show some kind of consistency. Take your time! These kinds of drawings are very much a mental exercise as much as they are a drawing exercise.
I hope this helped you in some way and I wish you have fun practicing and developing your art skills. Do not hesitate to get in touch with me for any questions or if you are interested in my work. I'd love to hear from you! Talk to you later art friends!
Hello and thank you for coming by!
In this post I will be explaining how I go about drawing my simple, faster faces. It is essential for the beginner artist to learn about facial proportions and effective placement of facial elements before moving on to a more realistic drawing style. Only after anatomical proportion and proper location of features is understood, should one move on to things like value, shading and texture.
I have included a section briefly explaining how I draw each individual facial element (eyes, nose, lips, ears and hair) and have also included some notes about how features can be modified when drawing either male or female characters. Before we start, it is important to keep in mind that facial elements come in ALL shapes and sizes. So as long as you stay within these general ¨rules¨, you CAN and I actually ENCOURAGE you to experiment by making face shapes, noses, lips, and all the rest in slightly different shapes and sizes.
For this tutorial, you will need:
-A pencil (I recommend an HB)
-Sketchbook or paper of any kind
-Eraser (preferably a gum eraser)
1. Drawing the Head Shape
The way I draw the initial head shape is by starting with a large circle (1). I then make a vertical line dividing the face in half (2) and add a centered, small horizontal line a bit below the circle, which will be the chin (3). The shorter you make this horizontal line, the narrower/pointer your chin will be. The wider you draw this horizontal line, the wider your chin will be. The further down from the circle you draw it, the longer the face will be. The closer to the circle, the rounder the face. It all depends on the facial characteristics you are going for.
Once that is ready, draw two vertical lines down the left and right sides of the large circle (4). At the point at which these vertical lines touch the circle, I draw two curved lines downwards, connecting them to each side of the chin line (5). At this point, you can erase the vertical lines running down the sides of the head, as well as the bottom half of the circle. Leave the vertical line dividing the face where it is.
2. Drawing your Guidelines
As I had mentioned before, when drawing faces, it is essential to be aware of placement and size of facial features within the head shape. In order to achieve this, we will add guidelines that will help us along the way. Aside from the vertical line we already have dividing our face width in half (which will help us place the nose in the appropriate place), we will add a horizontal line dividing our face length in half. This will be the line that tells us where to place our eyes. This line will then be divided into five parts. Five eyes should fit along this line. Eyes should be drawn in the ¨2¨ and ¨4¨ sections of this line. The nose line will be placed halfway down the eye line and the chin. Finally, the mouth line will be placed halfway down the nose line and the chin.
I recommend adding these guidelines LIGHTLY, because they are going to be erased after they have served their purpose.
2. Drawing the Different Facial Elements
We are all good so far, but many of us (myself included) have trouble drawing at least one of the facial elements, whether it's the eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, ears or hair. Do not attempt to leave something out simply because you think you're not going to be able to draw it properly. Remember, practice makes perfect and if you want to ever be able to create a realistic drawing, you have to start at some point!
I am going to give you a brief description of how I go about drawing simple versions of all of these necessary facial elements. I hope my handwriting isn't too horrible!
Once you have finished drawing your facial elements, erase all your guidelines.
3. Drawing Hair
There are many different ways to draw hair, depending on the hair style you'd like your character to have. It can be long, short, straight, curly, wavy, etc. I cannot go into all the different hair styles here, but I strongly encourage you to experiment with different types of line (curved, straight, wavy, etc.) in order to transmit the characteristics you'd like.
4. Bringing it All Together
By this point, your face should be completed. Here are two examples I have drawn for you displaying the differences between male and female characteristics.
5. Final Details
Add as many details (textures, shading, etc.) as you'd like. I personally don't add many details to this type of face drawing and prefer the sketchy look.
I hope you enjoyed this post and got something out of it. Feel free to download the PDFs below (already in letter size ready for printing) and to use the image files included in this post for practicing as you wish. In next week's post I will be explaining different quick methods of adding shading and value to sketches! Cheers my art friends!
Hey all! So nice to have you here! If I could offer you some coffee I totally would.
Here are some pictures of yesterday's event. Another very successful student art show! Everyone was so happy. The weeks of hard work definitely paid off! With this, I end my final year as full-time Art Teacher at this wonderful school I've been working at for the last five years. My work here is done and I am off to start with personal art projects full-time as soon as I turn in my classroom keys.
It's all very bittersweet for me, as I grew SO much, at both personal and professional levels with this job. However, I am eager and excited to get started with so many personal projects that I have! Please enjoy the following pictures and if you are an Art Teacher do not hesitate to take ideas and/or get in touch with me to ask any questions about specific projects or Art Show prep. Simply click on the "About Me/Contact¨ page and write me a message! I'd love to hear from you. :)
My students' Art Show just took place last Friday and first semester is quickly coming to an end. I can't believe that this was my ninth time organizing and setting up a student art exhibit! They seem to be getting better and better each time, which is my goal. There were a lot of people and a lot of positive comments.
This year, there is FINALLY another full-time Art Teacher in the school, which means I am no longer alone and have someone else that understands the hard work involved in teaching this wonderful subject in a school environment. Here are some pictures of work created by my students. If you are interested in knowing anything about any of these projects let me know. I am willing to send over keynote presentations, templates and any other information you may need to make these happen!
Most of these projects are ideas of my own or variations of projects found online.
You will notice that project titles include a QR code. During the exhibit, parents are able to use iPads in order to see videos of students explaining each project. These videos can be found at my teaching YouTube channel (just look for Erika Lancaster).
Have a great week!
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