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Monthly Archives: August 2018

7 Tips to Create an Excellent Observational Drawing

Tip 1: Look at what you are drawing

Failing to look at what you are drawing is one of the most fundamental errors an Art student can make

This sounds obvious, but it is the most common error made by art students. Many students attempt to draw things the way that they thinkthey should look, rather than the way they actually do look.

The only way to record shape, proportion and detail accurately is to look at the source of information. Human memory does not suffice. Forms, shadows and details are hard enough to replicate when they are right there in front of you; if you have to make them up, they appear even less convincing. In order to produce an outstanding observational drawing, you must observe: your eyes must continually dance from the piece of paper to the object and back again. Not just once or twice, but constantly.

Note: even if you pursue a theme about mythical creatures, fairy tales or some other imaginary form, you should work as much as possible from observation. Piece your creatures together from fragments of life. Dress people up and then draw them or merge different parts of insects or creatures together (using artistic license as appropriate) rather than creating an entire form or scene from your head.

Tip 2: Draw from real objects whenever possible

The phrase ‘observational drawing’ typically implies drawing from life (see the superb observational drawing exercise set by artist and teacher Julie Douglas). Ask any art teacher and they will list the benefits of drawing from objects that are sitting directly in front of you. You are provided with a wealth of visual information…changing light conditions; rich textures; views of the subject from alternate angles; as well as information from other sense…smells and noise from the surroundings etc. Transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing from a photograph, but it often results in drawings that are ‘richer’ and more authentic.

Tip 3: Don’t trace

Throughout history, great realist painters have traced from photographs or worked from projections blown up onto walls. But these painters are not high school art students; nor are they assessed on their ability to replicate form.

There is a place for tracing in IGCSE or A Level Art (such as when tracing over something you have already drawn or creating a repeat pattern), but tracing from photographs and then simply applying colour or tone is not acceptable. Such methods of ‘drawing’ involve minimal skill, teach you little and run the risk of producing clunky, soul-less outlines. Don’t do it.

Tip 4: Understand perspective

As objects get further away they appear smaller. The replication of this change of scale on paper (through the use of vanishing points) is called ‘perspective’. The fundamentals of perspective are usually taught in junior high school; by Year 10 at the latest. If you are a senior art student and have somehow missed this lesson, remedy this situation urgently. There are not many theoretical aspects of art that are essential to learn, but this is one of them. Please view the perspective handouts in the Student Art Guide free teacher resources to get you started.

Tip 5. Use grids, guidelines or rough forms to get the proportions right before you add details

Many students start with a tiny detail (the eye on a face, for example) and then gradually add in the rest of the image…ending up with a drawing that is badly proportioned or doesn’t fit on the page (or floats aimlessly in the middle of it). This can be avoided by approximating the basic forms before adding details or by using guidelines to ensure that proportions are correct.

If working from a photograph, using a grid can result in highly accurate work. It allows students to focus on one small segment of the image at a time and gives arbitrary lines from which distances can be gauged. This can be a helpful strategy when precise, detailed images are required and can itself become a celebrated component in an artwork. As gridding is methodical and involves meticulous plotting of lines, however, it is important to acknowledge that this approach runs the risk of producing tight and regimented drawings that lack in ‘spirit’ and should thus be approached with care.

If working from life, roughly sketching outlines of the major forms will allow you to get the proportions right, before you add the details. While you do this, you should constantly check which points line up (i.e. edge of nostrils lining up with edge of eye) and the size of every object should be estimated in relation to the things that are beside it. You must get used to seeing things not in terms of absolute scale, but in terms of how one thing compares to another.

Tip 6: Be wary of ellipses

This diagram by Rachel Shirley illustrates some of the common errors when drawing an ellipse.

Ellipses – the oval shapes that are visible at the top of cylindrical objects such as bottles or jars – frequently ‘trip up’ a weak drawer. They can send an immediate signal that a student isnot looking at what they are drawing. All ellipses, no matter what angle they are viewed from, should be rounded (not pointed) at the ends, as illustrated in the image to the left (by Rachel Shirley) and below (sourced from IDsketching).

Tip 7: Keep the outlines light

This observational study was part of an IGCSE ‘A’ grade Coursework submission by Georgia Shattky, from ACG Parnell College. It shows folded fabric hanging over the corner of a wooden dresser. Note that there is not a single black outline within the work: edges are defined solely through variation in tone.

As your drawing is fleshed out in more detail, with attention given to the subtle variations in shape and form, the natural inclination – especially of the novice drawer – is to want to darken in the outlines, to help ensure they are visible. Do not do this.

Real objects do not have dark lines running around every edge. Edges should instead be defined by a change in tone and/or colour, as in the beautiful graphite drawing by an IGCSE Art student shown to the left.

If you are producing a line drawing, a cartoon or some other graphic image, outlines may be darkened, but in an observational drawing – especially one which you wish to be realistic – dark outlines are never advised.

Tips to Choosing The Right Painting Medium

Here are lists of pros and cons for most common painting mediums. In addition to those listed here, paintings can be made with many other mediums such as gouache, oil pastel, ink, pencil, markers, spray paint and silkscreen among others. Experimenting with new painting mediums, even for a short period of time, can be fun and inspiring, and expand how you use your current medium once you return to it.

Painting with Oil

Pros: Oil paint is slow drying, allowing for more time to make changes and to blend colors. Oil refracts the color pigment in the paint for a beautiful, rich glowing color. Great for realism, blending and detail, oil can also be used for experimental and playful methods of abstraction

Cons: Working transparently (such as glazing) requires the use of oil mediums that often contain toxic solvents. Oil paint alone is not toxic, but some mediums used to extend oil paint are toxic. Reduce toxicity by using non-toxic mediums in the paint and baby oil to clean brushes.

Oil paint never fully cures even when dry to the touch, so correct care must be taken for handling and storage. The painting must not be shipped or varnished too soon. Layering requires correct chemistry so that a more flexible layer is always applied over a less flexible one.

Oil has the potential to crack, especially if used thickly. Most oils turn yellow over time, dramatically reducing luminosity in white and light value colors.

Painting with Acrylic

Pros: Acrylic paints, mediums and products are almost all nontoxic. Acrylic is known for its fast drying qualities but is also available in slow-drying forms. A wide variety of acrylic products are available to customize paint and to personalize preferences in surface absorbency, texture and sheen. Fast-drying acrylic paints are great for layering while slow-drying acrylics imitate the look and feel of oil.

Paints are available in varying consistencies (viscosity), so acrylics can imitate both watercolor and oil in look and feel. Acrylics can be as thin as ink or thick and heavy bodied for textural effects. Acrylic offers the widest range of possibilities and is now considered more archival than all other mediums. When used correctly it will not crack or yellow, and fully cures in about two weeks. Acrylic can be used in conjunction with many other mediums such as creating a fast-drying underpainting for use under oil paint.

Cons: Acrylic binders usually contain ammonia, and though considered nontoxic, can cause sensitivity with some people, especially when used without proper ventilation.

Painting with Watercolor

Pros: Watercolor naturally creates transparency, and its water-soluble nature allows for some changes even after it has dried.

Cons: Because watercolor is usually applied to paper, the paint will sink into and stain the surface, making the paint difficult to remove fully once dry.

When finished, watercolor paintings need protection, such as being framed behind glass, due to paper being not as archival as panel or canvas as well as the non-permanent nature of the watercolor paint.

Painting with Chalk Pastel

Pros: Pastel is actually a drawing medium, but finished works in pastel are often referred to as paintings. Drying times are not an issue when working with pastel, making it portable and an excellent choice for working outdoors. Good quality pastels can produce a unique and luscious sheen in the final surface. Colors come in a wide range and can be blended and mixed directly onto the surface.

Cons: Pastel remains delicate on a surface and requires protection with glass and framing. Alternative protection, such as spray fixatives and sealers, will diminish pastel’s color and sheen.

Painting with Mixed Media

Pros: Combining paint and painting mediums with other materials expands possibilities and adds an immediate contemporary appearance.

Cons: Non fine-art materials, such as those made for craft and commercial use, can fade over time with exposure to light and air, requiring UV or other types of protection such as sealing applications or framing with UV glass.

When one type of material is layered over a different one, it may need extra procedures for proper adhesion between them.

A Word About Painting Mediums

The word medium has different meanings depending on its context. It can designate a discipline such as oil or acrylic, or it can refer to an actual binder or extender used in the chemistry of that discipline. For example, linseed oil is a medium and is used with the medium of oil paint.

What Is Mixed Media Art

All stirring and wise and fearless words to live by from artists featured in Seth Apter’s book, The Mixed Media Artist. The guide showcases 40 artists and the tips, tricks, dreams, and points of focus they use to inspire themselves and keep their creativity active and energized.

Just skimming it in preparation to discuss the resource with you, I got distracted because there was so much to ignite my creative side:

  1. Take out a pen and paper and ask yourself what three things you are inspired by. Write them down. Can you think of three? Can you think of 30? What first three come to mind and are they what you would call your “most inspiring” inspirations? The answers might surprise you.
  2. Desk clutter is not clutter at all. These are our touchstones–objects we see every time we sit down to work and that means they have power. Keep items that inspire you nearby as well as the essentials for your art-making. Anything from a camera or iPad to a collection of favorite pencils to a glass of wine or tea (depending on the time of day) can be what you need to have at hand to create the way you want to!
  3. Do you have a routine that you embrace or a routine that feels more like a rut? If you are looking for a trick to get back into the studio, think about how you can vary your routine (if you work solo, maybe ask a friend to join you) or remove the roadblocks that don’t let you keep one (turn the phone off or on silent when it is time to create).
  4. What is your dream art project? To work on a large scale without space constraints? To travel the world and capture the landscapes you see in art? Something public? Or is every piece dreamy to you?

Someone gave me the nicest compliment today when they said,”You made my day.” Mixed media art has that same effect on me as I explore the lush and strange and exciting inner-landscape of my mind and creative spirit. That is what I wish for all of you as well, so if you are interested in answering the question of “what is mixed media art” for yourself

Scientists Decode the Mysterious ‘Mona Lisa’ Smile

The world has long been captivated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the subject’s enigmatic expression. Part of the famous painting’s widespread appeal is said to be its ambiguity, but participants in a new scientific study almost universally agreed that the portrait’s subject is unequivocally happy.

The study, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Freiburg, paired a black-and-white version of the Mona Lisa with eight manipulated versions of the image in which the angle of the mouth had been adjusted so that four looked sadder and the others happier. The nine copies were shown to participants in random order 30 times, and the original painting was judged to be happy no less than 97 percent of the time.

“We really were astonished,” study co-author Juergen Kornmeier toldAgence France Presse. “There may be some ambiguity in another aspect … but not ambiguity in the sense of happy versus sad.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time that scientists have claimed to crack the da Vinci code, so to speak, when it comes to the painting’s subtle expression. In 2015, scientists from the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University claimed that Leonardo had developed a technique for an “uncatchable smile” that is visible only from certain angles, and almost seems to disappear when one looks too closely.

While the general consensus is that the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant, her true identity is still subject to debate. One possibility is that the portrait is based on Salai, a young man who was Leonardo’s apprentice—and maybe even his lover. Even more out there is the notion that the artist was depicting his own mother, and that she was a Chinese slave.

There are other theories swirling around the Renaissance masterpiece as well. Just last month, for instance, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian posited that the model might have has syphilis, and that the greenish tint to her skin reflects her sickness.