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This post is aimed at anyone who knows they have solid basic sketching skills but feels they want to up their game and actually be an artist.
I started drawing seriously about 16 years ago when I was a teenager, I didn't go to a college of art (I ended up being an investment banker, as it happens) and taught myself with a HB pencil, a ton of paper, and every moment of my spare time. One day I'll get round to posting more of my stuff on my sketchbook...
So you're now at the point where you copy a lot of stuff off the internet and from books and you're posting it at conceptart.org and being told how great you are. Good. Then when you try to draw from life it looks like the kind of thing a nine year old would do. So what's going wrong?!
Well the first thing I can say, after 16 years which have given me some pretty strong abilities is that copying is both the best and worst friend of any potential artist; it teaches your brain how to spot form and and yet constant copying also prevents the dendrites in your brain attaching themselves to those areas needed for interpretation.
Let's look at this. Let's say you spend several hours a week copying sketches by Da Vinci or Bouguereau. Now you can rush up a lovely impersonation of a figure drawing by those artists. That's ok, it'll impress your friends. But do you actually know how to summon up a human form from imagination? Because that's what Da Vinci and Bouguereau were doing!
Take this sketch by Bouguereau (easily the greatest painter of the human form who ever lived - greater than Michelangelo and Da Vinci):
That sketch was done from imagination, without a model, and probably in under an hour. But what went into it was a lifetime.
Well, the basics.
Everyone who posts on this and other art forums considers himself to be a good artist. Few admit to being fakes. So if secretly you know you're not as great as you wish you were then you simply have to have the humility to start at square one, knowing you WILL be one of the best if you learn what every Da Vinci and Michelangelo and Bouguereau had to learn. And to do that I'd start with something like this:
It's rare that someone bothers to put that kind of effort into making something for free.
So what are the rich kids at the ateliers being taught that makes them so brilliant? Often, nothing. At a cost of many thousands per term.
At a lot of ateliers you get 20 year olds endlessly pumping out copies of Bargue plates (more on that later) who then can't draw a simple self portrait to save their lives. Yet again my motto - copy all you want, but it don't make you an artist! There is a user on conceptart.org (who shall remain unnamed) who attends a very expensive academy of art. Every so often this person posts his latest piece. It is always brilliant. It will contain feeling, depth, technique and beauty. It is always a copy of something. When this person then posts his own material, drawn from life etc, it is always so bad I literally cringe. The latter works are 2-D at best, whispy, messes. How is this?! Simple - he cannot draw, he can only copy.
The skills needed to become a superb sketch artist are
1) an understanding of dimension and form
2) a genius-like appreciation of value (light and dark),
4) endless practice.
I mention genes because at the end of the day, drawing or painting is no different from any other skill - you're hard-wired to be good at it or not. Edward O. Wilson got into terrible trouble some years back by suggesting we're no less governed by our genes than ants. He is now being proved correct and the liberal fascists who called him a nazi are now eating their felt hats. I can't perform long division, but I can draw...it's all genes.
But back to the basics...
So why bother drawing spheres and cubes when those won't impress the neighbours when you say "Oh yes, after football practice I'm an artist. Here, look at my still lifes of an egg and some lettuce". Ten years down the line when you don't know whether a human cheek should be sketched with deeper shade above or below the jawline you'll suddenly know "why". The basics are not beneath you!
Go through the sketchbooks on here. Look through the seemingly endless quantities of manga, spanga, cranga and other stuff all copied endlessly from comics. What purpose does it serve? Or more importantly, why do these people want to draw? Why bother drawing at all??? Is the purpose of art simply to be considered clever?!
Having thought about the replication side of these forums, the only conclusion I can draw (pun intended) is that far too many users want to simply be considered good artists. If that's all you want, then stick to that and you'll be fine. But you'll never be the guy/girl who whips out a pocketbook and captures a moment in graphite, who in a few flicks and swirls puts a moment in time on paper, who can squiggle something that everyone instantly recognising as Bob from down the street. You'll draw Akira til you're blue in the face but never your own dog.
My tips are these:
1) Buy any book by Giovanni Civardi
2) Learn Sight-size method and ignore its critics (nearly always "modern artists" who can neither draw nor paint)
3) Go through all of the document in the link above.
4) Buy a pocket sized, plain white smooth paper pad, a basic pencil range from about 5H to 5B, a bunch of erasers (kneaded putty and standard rubber types).
5) Draw everywhere you go.
6) Learn to distinguish between what needs rushing and what takes time - many a brilliant sketch is ruined by the desire to see the finished piece. Some sketches ought to take days, not hours.
7) Draw. Draw. Draw.
8 ) Get any book about 'drawing on the right side of the brain'. This technique is sheer perfection and it will set you apart. It is basically (and I don't have time to go into it here) a technique for teaching the brain how to see shape and not just detail. It is fascinating AND useful.
9) UNDER ABSOLUTELY NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER USE A GRAPHICS TABLET UNTIL YOU ARE A FANTASTIC GRAPHITE PENCIL ARTIST!!
10) Avoid all gradient paper, it simply makes everything you draw look 2D. Smooth white is all you need. And it shouldn't be expensive - you're not drawing for Donald Trump.
11) Draw those things you love most and you will draw best.
12) There are simple geometric shapes in the human hand and foot that once learnt will make your feet and hands look human, as opposed to the stumps you're currently drawing. Google "how to draw human feet" and check out YouTube too - it has hundreds of brilliant guides on it for free.
13) You WILL need to figure out which pencils you work best with. There is a lot of BS abou this but the simple truth is that because you and I use different pressures to draw we need different pencils. I use a 2H to sketch and then a combo of 5H to 2B to draw the finished product. Find your range by drawing one of those 'light and dark' sphere drawings you see in drawing books.
And for my final tip, I want to let you in on a little secret.
Earlier today I looked at a rake of very good sketches by a user here and saw a very familiar problem. So common that it seems to me the one characteristic separating a brilliant piece of art from a so-so sketch.
Take a look at this sketch of Jude Law I randomly selected from the internet:
It's great isn't it?
No, it's not. If you ever saw a person who looked like that you'd call the hosptal and tell them a man with cardboard lips and scratches on their face was in need of attention. The person has not paid attention to how many levels of value to use, nor is there any depth. In fact it looks like a tracing.
Now look at this by conceptart.org user wjlacey:
It goes like this - when you look at a human face your brain sees an infinite number of shades and colour variations of which you're only actively conscious of a dozen, if that. So when you look at a sketch which has 4 levels (and nearly always less, in the case of terrible copy art) of shade your brain says "Nice try, but that ain't real". And so when a sketch contains 7 or 8 or more levels of shade variation your brain says, "Gosh, if everything weren't in HB I'd think this was a photograph!"
If you think I'm wrong, take a long look through the thousands of sketchbooks and keep a mental note of the absolute best sketches compared to the absolute worst. In every case the deciding factor is the subtle variation in shade; the pupil of a human eye is blacker than black, the skin at the top of mounds in the facial shape are often completely white.
I know, you want to just draw the picture of Jude Law, be considered brilliant and move on to the next celebrity. Don't. Read Civardi's books, spend hours and hours reading sbout foreshortening, perspective, anatomy, etc and keep everything you draw.
And in whatever you draw, VALUE is king - if it has 1 level of shade (ridiculously common) it will look like a jaundiced 1D copy. If it has 7 levels of value it will be so lifelike it will look like it is walking out of the paper.
Google "Bargue plate" and start copying them until what you see is so perfect they cannot be told apart. THIS is what the atelier kids are learning at several thousand a term. Bargue plates are obsessions for good artists and they speak fondly of them ....once they're done with them! A good Bargue plate reproduction should take you a week at least of several hours a day. The point is to be subconsciously taught value and form without knowing it. If you're too good to reproduce a Bargue plate then you're either a renowned portrait artist of the classical realist school or you're not too good to reproduce a Bargue plate! It's standard artist work.
So I wish you well and hope this was helpful.
Divide a thing into shapes, sizes and depths. Then draw it.
Value. Value. Value.
You do not need to spend thousands on fees, pencils, paper and other regalia - being a brilliant artist in any media from graphite to oils is not expensive and anyone who endless harps on about how good materials cost money is full of it. At the top end, commissioned works then of course you want the best material but for the purpose of an excellent hobby artist do not kid yourself into thinking a $100 set of 10 pencils is better than your Kwikimart 10 pencil set. It just isn't.
If you aren't drawing every day...well....draw every day!
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I agree with pretty much everything you've said in your post.
I do think copying is an essential tool (as you stated yourself, in reference to the Charles Bargue plates)... It's part of how we learn. It's a matter of what you're copying that makes the difference. The same is true of what we are putting into our sketchbooks. If we are doing essential studies, with the occasional (or a little more than occasional) drawing from imagination thrown in, along with examples of perspective, value study, compositional, etc., that's the stuff that will eventually propel us forward.
I'm not sure I agree with you about the use of toned paper though.
I think gray-scale studies, done on gray toned paper are a useful exercise. Likewise, I think if the tone is used for its intended purpose (middle value in gray, lightest light, in lighter colors, darkest dark in black, or as the local color of the subject in colored drawings) you should be able to do the exact same thing as using a white ground.
One problem is with colored grounds (especially grays) is they don't seem to scan, or photograph as well, flattening out subtle transitions, making them look monotone.
Although I essentially agree with you about artists supplies (cheap stuff being good enough for sketching), I will say through my experiences, if you really want to do an in-depth value study, you may want use an artist paper with some "tooth", so it will hold all those tones. A piece of A4 paper (which I use a lot of) just will not accept all of those wonderfully crafted tones after a while, leaving you with a big graphite, or charcoal mess, as the paper's surface is slowly destroyed!
As a side note, I would like to see more of your sketches!
You can view some of mine here.
That's enough of my rambling...
Thanks for the information. I agree with almost everything you said. I was watching a documentary called "Lord of the Ants" about Edward O. Wilson last night actually and I think many people confuse what he really means. I don't think he means you are born with the genes that make you draw, or write or program, but we are possibly born with the genes to be curious, ambitious, etc enough to want to learn/do something, so much that we'll dedicate ourselves to doing it every waking hour. How can we be born with something that must be learned? If that was the case I wouldn't need to study anatomy, I should just be able to draw a perfect human body, wouldn't you agree?...
Anyways enough of that. I really wanted to thank you for your post, that link you provided is a wealth of information and your advice is a god-sent. I am currently reading "Drawing on the right side of the brain" and have made a checklist of books to purchase next, so I will be adding your recommendations to that list shortly. I'll also be reading the information on that website you posted after I'm done with this book. I am not that great of an artist at all...yet , but I am hoping that I will be able to someday draw from my mind.
I do have some problems with contour drawing that I don't know how to fix, but hopefully I'll be able to overcome that soon. Once again, thanks so much for the info I really appreciate it.
PSG Art Tutorial
And thanks btw!.
Post your work so we can judge you
genes.. that's funny
Lots of very useful information and resources here in this post. I do disagree with a few things though, I don't think getting good with graphite is necessary to do well with a tablet, I think if you practice on either medium you are going to improve the same way, you'll just get accustomed to one medium over the other, the only real practical reason to get good with graphite first is to see if drawing is something you want to spend a lot of money on, so you don't waste your money on a tablet first. Personally I've only just started taking art seriously after I got my tablet as a present, and it really doesn't feel much different than pencil to me with the right brush settings.
I think the genes thing is kinda bullcrap too to be honest. I say "kinda" because it definitely could have AN influence, but not a deciding factor in my opinion. Some people are born with better vision, eye hand coordination, spatial recognition ability, and imaginations for example, but those are all things that can be trained, like muscles. So in the end I think genes could possibly give some people advantages, but I think those who are born with qualities that are less useful for art just have to work harder at it than others.
As I have only just begun art as a pursuit, much of this was helpful.
However you seem to have a massive chip on your shoulder.
Regardless thank you for taking the time to post this.
EDIT: Thanks for the link Slug45.
I would disagree with 9, mainly due to the fact that my graphite drawing has improved after using my tablet, albeit doing master studies. Anything that makes you observe will help in this department.
And that's ok because life is short and if you're sure of the ground on which you stand then "Publish and be damned!" as the Duke of Wellington once famously said.
If I couldn't draw I wouldn't tell people what to avoid.
Your 'physical' art improved after using a graphics tablet?!
Gosh, that does surprise me... but I confess you may well be correct in terms of its uses.
Well you are entitled to your opinion but science is pretty clear - the dendrites that your brain will lever into those areas of the brain it needs for a certain skill are limited in their lifespan and strength by your genes.
This is why no amount of training will alter an IQ test score more than 10-15%. In other words, yes you can improve, but no you can't attain what you were never meant to attain.
I am horrendously bad at anything mathematical, but I can pick up a language in no time. This isn't the end of the world and it doesn't make me a dunce, it simply means I can't do what a mathematical genius can do.
The irony is I spent 5 years in investment banking.
Thank God for calculators.
My point is a scientific certainty - either a person can draw (or learn to) or they can't. Just like any other skill, every human is limited by their genes. It's not a value judgement, it's just a fact.
I can't do long division, others have spelling difficulties, yet others are no good at coordinated movement. Regardless of the limitation, every person also has a skill that they excel at...what is tragic is that many never find that skill. Especially not in the poorest parts of this world where drawing is not a passtime a kid in a shanty town will ever enjoy.
You can draw. You'll improve dramatically over the next few years. Keep your dream alive.
Wish you well.
P.S - get onto those Bargue plates via Google.
First of all, in areas like this, the causalities are to complex to deduct simple truths and "yes or no"-answers.
We DO have certain aptitudes and tendencies, but from both experience and articles I've read, they affect more HOW we learn than WHAT we can learn. I've, for instance, been involved in a scientific project where we showed that even kids with dyscalcia could be taught mathematics through alternate methods. In the same way, most (not all) people could learn to draw to a decent level with the right training. Not everyone could become masters, but that's another issue. Unfortunately, some people confuse hard work for talent, or use "talent" as an excuse not to practice. If you look at succesful people in ANY field, they have one thing in common: They do what they do every day.
Compare with so called "memory masters", that seem to be able to remember long sequences of random numbers etc. That's not some eidetic super-power they've got, but rather they have learned to use the tools they are given (their mental tools, that is), to memorize stuff. The same goes for drawing. I'm a fairly bad artist myself, but I have decided to get better, so my first step is to find out what my tools are.. how do I think and work... which are my strengths and weaknesses. After finding that, I can focus on improving these.
I really like the post. I read the whole thing and links attached.
The only problem I do have is stating that genes can actually designate whether or not someone is more inclined to be an artist or not. Genetic expression differs greatly according to environmental pressure. Art is a function of the brain. Environmental pressure could increase ones connections in the brain helping them become a better artist, however genes alone should not be held responsible for creativity and ability.
Sight size discussions usually end up in pissing matches, so I won't post to debate after this.
But if you're looking for a way to draw, pick one that concentrates on assessing volume in a size different than the one you have before you.
Like envelope drawing, constructional drawing and so forth.
The only thing that the masters used which was similar was "Life-size". Which is vastly different from sight size as it was a number of visual and mental processes which made up life size characters, not a visual copy of what you saw before you.
Also, the genes part is bullshit. Hard and smart work is where it's at.
Also, I've seen your work and the copying of the photograph is a visual copy, but not enough knowledge of actual form went into it. The white streak on the old man's head on the left side is one of many indicators of this.
So your enthusiasm to teach others is great, but wait until you've learned quite a bit more before you try and pass it on. As teaching people without understanding the full picture will lead to mysticism and incorrect understanding of principles. Which in turn, leads to people being stuck in the technique and subject manner you explained with a lack of basic understanding to continue their education on their own. Most of the sight based ateliers around the world have this problem as they know how to teach in very restrictive circumstances and are oblivious to everything else.
Also barques are pointless unless you have absolutely no other alternative. Take a bust/cast/still life and draw those instead. You'll actually learn about form, which dictates arabesque, which dictates tone in conjunction with light.
Barques were good when they were created because they gave a nice transition towards formbased drawing, but now the barques are so vague, it takes more time to define what forms were lost than if you'd just work from life.
Good luck and maybe look into vilppu to get some more rythem based form construction in your work. It will help quite a lot.
Last edited by Hyskoa; July 17th, 2010 at 01:44 PM.
To be honest I pretty much disagree completely with the main poster.
You are judging artistic merit by how realistically someone draws and in the most blunt way possible that is total bullshit. For one you have no idea how much time was put into either pieces, or the goals of either one. The whole point of art is to be able to go beyond reality and express yourself, so why the hell are you telling people to be confined by the rules of reality. Now do not get me wrong, a solid understanding in how light, form, value and all other aspects of life work is a needed ability, but to be a great artist you do not have to follow them.
Post this in your signature if you believe people should not band wagon.
I was with you up till the genes part. This is a problematic point:
Then, you said this:drawing or painting is no different from any other skill - you're hard-wired to be good at it or not.
This is a direct contradiction. If a person could learn to draw, then why would it be affected by genes whether or not they can? It doesn't make sense.either a person can draw (or learn to) or they can't.
Whether or not a person is 'artistically wired'- which could mean anything- they can learn to draw no matter what. And they can draw to a good degree. Yes, ANYBODY can. It is all about perseverance and acquired know-how, at the end of the day. One might even say that they could 'wire themselves' to do something like that. They should even be able to learn means of expression through colour, and learn it well. I don't see why not, just because of this word called 'talent' which said 'gifted' people love shoving in everyones' faces. It just doesn't seem right.
You can't really pass something like 'genes' off as fact in this case- it's too flimsy. Sure, it might affect the rate of learning, so to speak, but rate of learning =/= strength of skill.
Remember, genes aren't the only things that affect us or- as you put it- limit us. Our temperaments are also nurtured and shaped by our experiences, despite the whole 'a leopard cannot change their spots' cliché, which is what your genes theory (not fact) implies. Someone who is really impatient for example, can be 'nurtured' into being a patient person, or at least in the areas where it's most important to be patient. For example- art.
Last edited by MightyApplejacks; August 4th, 2010 at 01:28 PM. Reason: Clarifying something.