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Thread: Visual Art Fundamentals

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    Visual Art Fundamentals

    I haven't really run across a clear discussion of what the fundamentals are and why they are important so I thought I'd start this thread.

    Visual art is about communicating - communicating an idea, a concept, a feeling, an emotion, etc. This is certainly the most important aspect of concept art. To communicate effectively one must be clear. To develop clarity in your work you must have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of visual art. Unfortunately, the vast majority of work I see both here and in the related digital art/illustration magazines lacks an understanding of the fundamentals and thus fails to communicate effectively.

    The fundamental principles of visual art as I understand, study and teach them are (in order of importance):

    1) Composition: if it isn't composed well it doesn't matter how well rendered, drawn or how much detail you put in - it all starts with composition.
    2) Drawing: by this I mean accurate shape, form, scale, perspective and the way separate elements relate.
    3) Value: light and shadow - this carries the rest of the image - this is also where 95% of the problems are - maybe more. Good value structure conveys a sense of light which is critical for environments and avoids that muddy, confused/chaotic light source problem which destroys otherwise good concepts.
    4) Color: color is much more subjective/personal than value - it is not as complicated as people make it - the two important keys to color are temperature and saturation.

    That's it. Give your concepts and ideas the effort they deserve. Study these things from life...understanding them will open doors both professionally and personally. I would be interested in what other professionals feel are the fundamentals...maybe you have an expanded list or some insight I've missed.

    Thanks all! Study hard - play hard!

    Jeff
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    I agree. I just think the devil is in the details with what you are saying and when you are starting out it is hard to weed through all the nonsense to get people on the right path. I would also mention there are no shortcuts, no magic brush set for photoshop, no secret program handed out in the backrooms at Sigraph that will replace good decision making and ability.
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    Visual art includes sculpture or installations also, so unless you clarify it as just 2D you'll have to add other elements such as spacial relationships, form, and scale.

    Clear communication does involve composition but not so much color and drawing. Color may effect people emotionally, but not effect everyone the same way. People who aren't artists can communicate very well. I could describe something without having to show it, or make a rough doodle with stick figures, so that an expert command of color and drawing is not required. If you want to include expert ability or accuracy (such as learn how to draw or paint well) you'll have to include other things like appreciation, elegance, or traditon, which may be hard to qualify.

    Also, value is an element of color, not a separate thing. I would suggest making it the 3rd element by itself and then have value, hue and saturation as part of it.
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    Thanks for the comments - and you're right on the money dpaint - it is extremely difficult to cut through the noise and get started in the right direction - which is really why I wanted to start this thread.
    DB - in my experience "visual art" is generally understood to be 2D. I don't want to get into semantics as it would distract from discussing the fundamentals. Value is in fact a separate thing from color, although colors do have relative value. If this were not true Ansel Adams would not be a household name.
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    DB, even though value is a dimension of color, treating it separately is reasonable because it is the only one that can be expressed independently.

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    You're leaving out the most important thing...creativity
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    Good point Amber - thanks! That was an assumed quality...and an underlying part of this thread - if you are a creative, visual person who wants to effectively communicate their ideas - do what it takes to fully realize your vision.
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    So, I made a post a while back asking for some compositional help, and I got some great responses, but I was wondering how most of you approach it from scratch. A blow by blow of sitting down with that initial piece of paper and pencil, or psd file so to speak. Personally, I get away with a lot more in photoshop because I can just alter the formatting until I get it "right", whereas in my traditional studies I tend to leap before I look.

    All the other elements you listed seem, to me, much more intuitive and easily learned through day to day observation and application.
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    Fundamentals should be ultra basic. Because the ultra basics are much more complicated than they seem. I force myself to think about the bedrock issues.

    So...

    I agree that composition is the most essential thing. But I think unity of expression is the key to composition. Unity of expression is what marries technique, style, detail, composition, drama, character, content, and subtext under one banner of thought.

    And the key to unity of expression is the controlling idea that predicates or determines the technique, style, detail, composition, drama, character, content and subtext.

    The question is then, what do good controlling ideas look like? And how do I come up with them?

    This the million dollar question because this is where talent comes in. And talent, while it can be cultivated, must also be innate.

    One thing to mention here is that the controlling idea must fulfill the requirements of the assignment. In fact, having a goal or assignment is actually very important before starting a work. This guides the process. EDIT: Unless you want to use a different process with more free play in the journey to an endpoint.

    But more generally, my answer for this is read and experience widely, look at lot of other art of all kinds, think, research, know anatomy of not just people, but buildings, animals, landscapes, and clouds.

    And then when the time comes, to have perfect freedom with your thoughts as you imagine your image. To allow your mind to do its work, to pre-visualize as an entity, to the best of your abilities, what will eventually become the work.

    Then, to remember the previz, to jot it down. Then to build it out with the degree of integrity you want or need to see. (Which may require taking photos, looking up ref, or what have you.)

    To recap: Assignment + Educated Mental Freedom --> Thorough Pre-Visualization --> Controlling Idea --> Sketch -->Execution with great Unity of Expression + integrity to the degree desired or required
    Last edited by kev ferrara; June 6th, 2011 at 02:42 PM.
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    Good question CK - and true that the other elements are more about careful observation, study and application. Composition is challenging because it is really a "hidden" or underlying principle. The easiest approach or set up is to use the principle of the "eyes of the canvas". These are four points you can easily find by dividing the picture plane in thirds (think tic-tac-toe). Placing key elements at these intersections (not all four though) will provide for a solid composition. These points of intersection roughly approximate the time honored tradition of the Golden Mean developed by the Greeks. Anyway, that's a good starting point and I hope it helps.
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    Thanks Kev - very insightful - I like the idea of "unity of expression". You've touched on much more philosophical and deeper concepts that aren't technical but more intuitive. All very true and well said. That can actually become a problem when an artist's facility/skill become very fine tuned yet they have nothing to say. You have to have a vision first, then the desire to learn your craft well enough to communicate that vision effectively.
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    On the question a few posts back of where to discuss value, there'd be no harm at all in focusing on it by itself under number three, and then considering it again under number four as one of the three dimensions of colour - which hopefully we would agree are central to any modern understanding of colour for painters.
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    A book by Harold Speed, The Practice and Science of Drawing has some very good information on those four things. Having just read it, I highly recommend it to every person interested in drawing and painting.
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