I have been illustrating professionally for 25 years and have learned many things along the way. The first and foremost tip I have for aspiring artists is to learn the basics.
There are many styles that veer from traditional drawing and illustration, and there is a certain charm in amateurish art. What you may not know, however, is that even the most whimsical, childlike illustrations are drawn by professionals who have first learned the basics. With a good grounding in the basics, an artist starts with a confident understanding of form, perspective, and lighting, and then adds to that her own particular style.
Let’s take one example: the hands. If the artist has proficiency with faces but little understanding of hand structure, which is complex, she will struggle with the hand portion of the painting, thereby interrupting the creative flow. The end result will be inconsistency. Even if the painting is whimsical or primitive, there will be a marked deficit in the hands—an inconsistency that the observer will perceive.
Although complex, learning basic hand structure is worth the effort. It is a matter of breaking the hand up into a series of cylinders for the fingers and a polyhedron (a flattish cube) for the palm. The artist can easily use this technique to sketch the basic form of the hand in any position. This form technique can be applied to any part of the human or animal body.
Perspective is simple to learn and understand, and once the artist has learned the basics, application becomes easy—even intuitive. While creating a pastoral scene with a barn, for instance, the artist proficient in perspective will sketch out the composition with ease. She will be able to “feel” the long grasses swaying, “smell” the fresh air, and “hear” the cows lowing as she sketches, thereby giving life to her creation. If she does not understand basics, she will have to spend her time figuring them out as she sketches. The end result may be good, but it will lack life and passion.
What about lighting? Light/dark contrast in a painting or a drawing can make all the difference. A good understanding of light source and how it plays on a three-dimensional surface will make the vase “jump off” the canvas. In cartooning, particularly in Manga, lighting is important because it creates visual interest and sophistication.
Having a command of the basics ensures that creativity flows freely with no interruptions or snags, a finished piece looks polished, and your art has that extra special something: life, passion, communication. If you desire professional results, free-flowing creativity, and getting “in the groove”—and then remaining there while you paint or draw—don’t shortchange yourself. Learn, or brush up on, the basics.
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