Ever thought about having a go at a portrait in watercolour? Good thinking… and these 10 tips for beginners are sure to get you off to a flying start.
I know we understand each other. It means I can talk freely about my online class addiction. Phew. So this month, I took another class with Miriam from the Inspiration Place. It was called 'Farm Animal Spirits'. I'm not sure I really got what Miriam meant by this initially. I was more than happy to just start painting cute little farm animal babies... like these adorable little balls of fluff
Being able to add perspective to your drawings instantly adds a touch of realism and invites the viewer into your picture. But when you are starting out, learning about perspective can seem terribly daunting. Here are 7 things you need to know about drawing in perspective that might help. Keep it simple by trying to incorporate one or two of these points into your current artwork. Next time try one or two more. Before you know it you will have a whole raft of tools in your perspective skills arsenal.
An easy way to give the illusion of depth is to use colour. Objects in the distance are perceived in cooler hues and those in the foreground in warmer hues. Have a look at the mountains below. This one is easy to remember when we are drawing or painting landscapes since we we probably instinctively make the mountains blue or purple. The same principle can be applied effectively to other subjects too using cool blues, purples and greens to push the distant objects back and warm reds, yellows and oranges to pull the objects in the foreground towards the viewer.
When objects partially obscure one another we know that the one we see completely is in front of the object that is partially obscured. Making sure that you have objects that overlap in your image will add depth and interest to your composition.
In the still life below see how the lime pushes the flowers behind it. The milk jug is obviously the most distant object since most of it is hidden behind the mug in front of it.
Objects that are in reality, identical in size appear smaller if they are further away from the viewer. For example, look at the vertical fence posts in the photograph below. We know they are the same size but as they get further away from the viewer they seem to be smaller. In addition the spaces between the posts, which we know to also be the same in reality, appear to diminish. The posts appear to be getting closer together but in fact they are still equally spaced.
Focus and level of detail
Objects that are close to the viewer can be seen more clearly than those in the distance. Therefore an object in the foreground should be portrayed with a higher level of detail than one in the background of the image in order to portray that sense of depth. In the image of the fence posts above, notice how the foreground is in focus and the the trees and fence posts that are further away are hazy. Doesn't it feel like that fence goes on for miles?
Similarly the poppy fields below illustrate the effectiveness of high detail in the foreground and more abstract, suggestive shapes for the same flower in the distance.
Parallel lines such as the edges of a road or a railway track appear to converge as they approach eye level. The point at which they meet is described as the vanishing point. Eye level is the imaginary horizontal line level with the eyes of the viewer - indicating their vantage point. The vanishing point always sits at eye level but it may be within the image or outside of the image, ie off the edge of the page/painting.
One point perspective
The railway tracks above are a good example of one point perspective. This is the term used to describe a situation where all the receding parallel lines meet at a single point. When drawing a 3D object such as a cube or a building, you will need to use one point perspective if you can see the front of the object and not the sides. This is the straight front view of the object. If you can see the top of the object as well as the front, that vanishing point will be useful to get the angles right on the lid or top of the object. Have a look at the chest below to see what I mean.
Two point perspective
If you are able to see more than one side of the 3D object you are drawing then you will have to use two point perspective. This means that you now have two vanishing points. Both the vanishing points will be on the eye level and any of the lines of the edges of the 3D object would converge to their respective vanishing points if extended. The example below uses a gift box as the 3D object. You can imagine that if this box were to be included in part of an image these vanishing points may well be beyond the edge of the drawing as discussed in the Vanishing Point section above.
A few years ago, when the creative itch first started to trouble me I decided I needed to equip myself with a sketchbook. I was on holiday and with only one small bookshop nearby the closest thing I could find was something labelled 'visual diary'. Later, a bit of research turned up yet another possibility... an art journal.
So. sketchbook, visual diary or art journal?
What's the difference?
Which one should a beginner take up?
Was I doing this right?
I set about to do yet more research. Of course. That is my left brained way. My default setting. It turns out that there is no International Federation of Creative Taxonomy handing out clear definitions or a set of instructions. I ended up forming my own meanings for each of these things and I would like to share them with you. Hopefully this will leave you one less avenue for procrastination and free you up sooner to get creating!
This is a helpfully descriptive name in itself. A record of one's life (diary) in the form of pictures (visual) as opposed to words. The emphasis here seems to be on documenting one's life, capturing moments or details of the every day. I love that idea. I appreciate any sort of tool that helps me surrender to the present and notice the small delights of the day. Or perhaps even the not so delightful bits... the important bit is the noticing, being present. It also solves one of the dilemmas that a beginner faces - what to draw.
Unfortunately this also raises another issue for the beginner - how to capture these moments when you have perhaps not yet gathered the necessary drawing skill. One approach is to make peace with being a beginner and give yourself permission to produce drawings that you will probably never want to show to anyone. Doing something badly is the first step towards doing that thing better. If you can let go of the attachment to an attractive outcome and surrender instead to the process of keeping a visual diary, you can only get better at it.
A'sketch' is a rough or unfinished drawing, according to the dictionary. Therefore a sketchbook comes with an in-built licence to be imperfect. It is a place to try things out, to think aloud... but on paper, if you see what I mean. Sketch things from your imagination. Or from photos, or from your life. Here you can practice and prepare for more polished things in the future. Or not. For some, sketchbooks are enough in and of themselves.
I always used to associate sketchbooks with dry media, pens and pencils. But the sketchbook gods are more forgiving than that. Depending on which dictionary you look in you may even find that the definition of sketch is a rough drawing or painting. Many sketchbook artists will add watercolour to their pen or pencil sketches. If you want to see some marvellous sketchbooks, take a look at Urban Sketchers. Typically urban sketching is of things you find in towns and cities. Browsing through the Urban Sketchers sites is like travelling vicariously on other people's holidays or peeping into their lives. You get to see their world through their eyes. Sounds like a visual diary... doesn't it?
Now the name art journal scared me a bit at first. Art? As in fine art? High brow sort of stuff?
Actually, no. Well, not unless you want it to be. Those with a lot of skill from years of practice inevitably seem to transform any page into a work of art. But the term art journalling is often associated with a process that requires no prior drawing or artistic ability. If you let it, an art journal can be the most forgiving of the three. Splash paint in it like a five year old. Scribble furiously with a marker. Stamp, collage or stencil. Or draw a finely detailed portrait. Maybe just some words.
Now we get down to the essence.
What I have learned from my investigation, is that if there is a rule, this is it: anything goes.
The benefit of exploring these different options and labels is seeing just how broad the scope really is. The label offers some sort of direction. For me, visual diary emphasises documenting your life. I associate sketchbooks with freedom to be loose and unfinished. Art journals are about healing - therapy in paper form. One of those angles probably resonates with you more than others. Go with that one. It is the right choice.
Choose whatever media you want. Draw or paint things you love or things you hate. From memory, imagination or reference. Part of your daily life or the one you wish you had. You can paste things in, you can rip bits out.
You can call it an art journal, or a sketchbook or a visual diary. Heck, you can call it Gertrude.
It really doesn't matter.
Just make sure you take it out and make some marks in it.
Want some help with your sketchbook practice? I have a class full of tips on that…
Drawing plants in pots has made for a really enjoyable little series. I think 'little' is part of the reason it was so enjoyable. Scaling down your task into something manageable makes it far more approachable. Also, as we all know, it is one of the rules of the universe that small things are cute. Like this funky pot for instance...
Within the parameters I set for myself this month (small watercolour illustrations of plants in pots) I did have some room to experiment. Most of the time I started with a complete pencil sketch. Often I added an outline in pen - this gerbera for example.
The cartoonist in me likes the pen. But sometimes it doesn't feel right, in which case sticking to pencil seems better. These geraniums feel so loose and abundant - I couldn't possibly trap them in a harsh ink outline.
By the middle of the month, obviously on a day when I was feeling bold, I painted rather than drew most of the plant. It can feel a bit scary sometimes to go straight onto the page with a charged paintbrush. But the golden cane palm has fronds which are far more easily achieved by a brush than a sketch. I put in light pencil lines to indicate where the central rib of the palm frond would be. Then I let my lovely springy Chinese brush do the rest of the work.
This brush took a bit of getting used to, but I must admit it is one I keep coming back to. Apparently it is made of weasel hair. Hmm. Not sure what I think of that. But it is a lovely brush. It's the smallest in this set, if you were wondering.
Drawing a cactus was great fun. I am pondering an entire cactus series. When it came to the spikes for that I decided to get out one of my coloured Sakura Micron Pens. They are available in quite a few colours - not just black. For the cactus I used the sepia cone.
There is a surprising array of foliage that you can draw in potted plants. It is a chance to practice adding textures on a tiny scale. Take this bonsai. They are very textured things, bonsais, so do them justice I used pen scumbling (that's scribbles to you and me) for the gnarly trunk and a stiff spiky brush to dab in leaves. Of course it sits in a porcelain dish, so that offers a chance to suggest the smooth shiny surface by paying attention to the light and shading.
I also abandoned my paint set entirely for a couple of the illustrations and drew directly onto the page with my beloved tombow markers. I love their bold colour. I could have activated them with water to give the variation that we associate with regular watercolour. I didn't do that, probably because they were so small.
I was drawing fuschias which are quite complex blooms and that is what made me think of using markers in the first place. While trying to draw these complicated little beauties I was wondering how in the world I would manage to add the colour with a paintbrush. The brush tip tombows seemed the perfect solution since you can effectively do the drawing and the painting simultaneously. Hurrah!
I did miss the effect that the water brings so I only did two paintings like this and then returned to my lovely Schmincke watercolours. How wonderful to be spoilt for choice.
The final potted plant in my series was this little topiary. Spheres are fun to shade. So are square pots. And the long shadow cast by a setting sun seemed an apt conclusion to the full series.
Which one is your favourite?
This month I have been drawing yoga poses. A great way to practice figure drawing. And since I recently took a lovely class on Scribble Art with Julie Johnson, I have also been practicing putting in my values with scribbles.
It has been a fun series to do. Quite challenging, given that it is figure drawing in fairly complicated poses, but that is why I wanted to do it in the first place. That and the chance to do some scribbly values. Because those are just fun.
Values are... well very valuable in your arty arsenal. It is the values that can bring mood to what you draw. More importantly they also indicate form, changing a flat image into something more dimensional.
One ends up doing a lot of squinting while trying to put in the values. When you squeeze your eyelids together you reduce the amount of information that your eye can take in. You are left with what is important - the values.
Value is the darkness or lightness of a colour. In a monochromatic image you rely mostly on value to identify what the image represents.
I am finding that it takes quite a lot of practice to be able to see all the values and replicate them in your own drawing. The advice is often to use a value scale. Something like this:
Want to try it?
Take out your smart phone and take a quick photo.
Now use your phone camera or something like the Snapseed app to change the photo into a black and white image.
See if you can pick out each of the values from the value scale in your photo. It can be deceptive. Sometimes an area looks like it is darker or lighter than it actually is because of the value that is beside it. It's one of those tricks our eyes play on us.
I put in the value using scribble, but it can be done with all sorts of techniques like shading, linework and cross-hatching. The paper is white so one of the tricks is to avoid scribbling in the areas that are going to be closest to the first value in the scale (white).
Then the finest pen you have will make a lighter value scribble, while a thicker nib pen will make a darker value scribble. The more dense the scribble is, the darker the value and the more open and lacy the scribble, the lighter the value will appear.
If you go too far you might have to get out a white pen and do a bit of white scribble to lighten up a value.
It’s all rather fun. And by the way, if you are really serious, you can use a wider value scale - 10 instead of 5.
I kept my yoga values series close to being monochromatic to keep things simple. Actually I had planned to make sure it was just black pen in various nib thicknesses.
However, I don't seem to have managed to muster up sufficient restraint to keep it at that. I couldn’t help adding in a bit of coloured pencil here and there. But in the end I stuck to just the chocolate brown colerase pencil - one of my favourite things to draw with - and the pen.
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