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Learning visual arts?
thinking, perplexed
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I just Asked Metafilter about this, so I'll ask you guys too, because I know there's a bunch of creative types out there:

I have no visual arts skills and want to change that this year but I have no idea where to start.
I'm starting from the basics. I didn't even take art in high school. I'm the guy who "can't draw". I do think I have an eye for graphic design, at least, but that's about it.

I bought a set of Sharpies tonight to decorate recipe cards and even then I don't really know what to do with them. I look through Flickr results for sharpie drawing and I don't know how I'd start being able to do ANY of that. Even short sketches, I don't know what to put in and leave out.

I remember reading the introduction of a "how to draw" thingy somewhere on the web that talked about the difference between grade-school drawing, where you draw a symbol for a house, a symbol for a window, a symbol for a hand, and so on, and "fine art" drawing, where you see the lines and draw what you see. I get that idea, but I have no idea how to accomplish it.

If I want to give myself the equivalent of a high-school education in visual arts -- learning to draw, learning to paint, sort of learning the techniques and the visual vocabulary and so on, without taking a course -- where should I start?

ETA: "What kind of visual art?" Not sculpture, not photography. Drawing, painting, sketching, stuff on flat things like that. Drawing and sketching would probably be the starting point I think.

ETA again: O hai I drew a bird.

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imagine monocle cat saying "this thread is relevant to my interests" :P

... which is to say I'll be watching the MeFi thread and responses here with interest.

I can't draw either. I want to be able to.

fuck it, the macro was too huge

Edited at 2009-01-05 01:03 am (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
OK, your bird is pretty damn good. I'd say go sign up for a beginner drawing class and run with it.

can't draw my ass. that bird is a thousand times better than anything I have ever drawn.

I took an intro-level drawing class at the community college a few years ago and it helped me learn techniques and whatnot. It was a big time commitment since it met every week for an entire semester, so if you didn't want to invest so much time, perhaps there is an art gallery or community center that would offer a similar thing on a shorter-term basis?

Excellent job on the bird, by the way!

I have a copy of "The Artist's Way" sitting on my shelf. It's meant to be good, but I haven't even cracked it open, let alone started to work on it, yet. I believe syringavulgaris did it a while ago; she might have some opinions.

I've heard The War of Art is also a good book to read to get the creative juices going, or breaking the wall of uninspiration.

You look like you have a good start with your bird. :) You clearly have the ability to look at something and render what you see (which is what I always failed at). I wouldn't call you a guy who can't draw; I'd call you a guy with native talent who's just never worked at it.

I'd start out with picking up a few "learn to draw" type books (go to the bookstore and flip through things until you find things that look interesting/useful/relevant), and then pick up a sketchpad and a set of good pencils (not colored pencils -- artist's pencils, the kind that have different softnesses). Then spend half an hour a day sketching what you see. Even if it's just sitting in front of your computer desk and sketching your environment. The thing when you're first starting out is learning how to faithfully reproduce what is in front of you -- translating what you see into a sketch. Doing that will teach you your materials, and let you start branching out from there. (It's what my design teacher had us doing.)

Do you have a community-college type thing available to you? A lot of them have introductory art classes.

Meanwhile, another thought: I have a great visual eye, but I totally lack the hand/eye coordination to draw anything -- at all. I can't get the proportions right, etc. If you get incredibly frustrated by the process of trying to reproduce what you see, you might want to try doing what I do: when I want to do art, I turn to Photoshop and pick up stuff that's already been done (ie, stock photography, etc), working with that. You can see the kind of things that turns out here: the first seven photos are the things that went into the end result, which is #8 (and the cover for a story by a friend of mine). I had horrible issues about not being able to draw induced by very, very many bad teachers (it's a long story), and for me, finding Photoshop allowed me to be visually artistic in a completely different way that I'd never thought about.

(Likewise with the knitting; when I started knitting, I was really startled to find that my 3D perception skills were so good that I could produce awesome knitted garments without a pattern or anything. Goes to show; the only art sections in school that didn't send me into freakouts were the sculpture/ceramics/pottery/jewelrymaking segments...)

(butting in ^^;;)
I have a great visual eye, but I totally lack the hand/eye coordination to draw anything -- at all. I can't get the proportions right, etc.


You could turn this around by making it a style of misproportion. Exaggerate, emphasize or de-emphasize. Think of caricatures! :)

No, trust me, it's far, far worse than that. When I try to draw something, it looks like a four-year-old did it. Like I said, it's a long story, but it has to do with an undiagnosed learning disability.

First, your bird totally contradicts the "can't draw" statement. You CAN draw, but maybe your current skill isn't where you want it to be. Starting with a sharpie is ambitious. What happened to the pencil?

The most I actually remember from art class is all the art history we had to memorize; the different periods, artists and famous pieces. If you have a fave artist, there may be some value to study how that artist produced art. The other half of art class was trying different kinds of art: sculpting, stamping, carving, mask making, silk screening, etc. The rudimentary part is learning the language of art - things like the colour wheel, primary and complimentary colours, lines, shading, shadow, fore shortening, perspective, positive/negative space etc. Then there's technique like cross hatching, stippling, gessoing (in painting)... and those can be more specific to the medium you're working in.

I suggest taking it in steps. Carry a sketchbook with you and allow yourself to doodle whenever the inclination hits - and it can be embellished words (remember word bubbles?) to just concentric lines; don't limit yourself by thinking you have to draw shapes etc. Take a picture of something, and see if you can draw it. Draw from real life: a bowl of fruit, people at the coffee shop. Experiment and allow yourself some freedom to get going, and then refine your skill by using techniques, like skeletons or guide lines, to help make your drawing balanced.

One trick is to use a col erase (erasable coloured pencil) to do your sketch, and then tighten up the image with pencil or marker on top. There is a non-photo blue col erase pencil/marker that you can use to sketch, tighten with pencil - and if you photocopy it, the photocopy won't pick up the blue only the pencil. Or you can scan and it won't pick up; or block out the blue channel and refine digitally. If you're working on a piece, it helps to sketch thumbnails of the composition of it to rough out what the best way to portray it will be. Then work on sketching and refining smaller portions/parts/elements of your piece before putting the big thing together. It's much like writing an essay or a book; first there must be a brainstorm, outline, rough drafts and edits before the finished piece is done.

I'm just randomly babbling at this point. I think what matters is where you'd like your art ability to go - what type of style and/or level you aspire to reach? You already have skill; you just are want of practice and possible formal classes, though not necessary.

Life drawing classes would be good too.

Some quick links:
http://drawsketch.about.com/od/learntodraw/Beginner_Drawing_Lessons_Learn_To_Draw.htm
http://www.geocities.com/~jlhagan/K9-14/introduction.htm
http://www.google.ca/url?sa=U&start=1&q=http://www.learn-to-draw.com/drawing-basics/&ei=fZdhScrPLozAMezcoBc&usg=AFQjCNFjwW4hQcnPQT-FynXHE20e-Zf0QA
http://www.khulsey.com/perspective_basics.html

you can draw. don't think about it too much. you're doing great without too much talk!

have fun with it!

As others have already said, you've got the eye, there's no question about that. Your hand needs training, but that's just learning and repetition.

Before I saw the bird, I was going to say, 'do some photography anyway, if only to learn composition and light, and to give yourself a starting point in photoshop.' Having seen it, I would cast off the final clause and replace it with 'and to have something to draw.'

Does OCA give night or weekend courses? If so, go there. They've got great people.

Whatever else you do, take some design courses, or read some really good texts on design. And if you're adamant about avoiding photography, take something dealing with light, balance, and additive and subtractive colour mixing. Theory matters.

Avoid large group events at all costs. It dumbs down the experience beyond a point where you'd profit. MHO, anyway. YMMV.

Whatever you do, explore. Art is like music: you know the shape of it, but discovering how that shape comes about should be a reward in itself.

It occurs to me that chinese or japanese watercolour might appeal to you a lot. It's very dynamic and yet requires a great deal of centering before the stroke is made. Once you get past the dogma, it can make the act of painting very rewarding. I met a Chinese master trained in the classical style who used to go to the Arctic every year to paint landscapes there. It got him expelled by his patrons, who didn't think the subject worthy, but the results were moving.

the bird is pretty good. :)

the best way to learn is to do it everyday. play around with it. if you're using a pen, try to make different shades, not just black (or dark blue) and white, but use cross-hatching or dots or scribbles of varying densities to get different shades of grey.

one way to trick your brain into not drawing the symbols that you know (square + triangle = house) is to try to draw the air around it. think of the area around the object as some sort of abstract shape that you want to copy down.

try drawing things that don't have a symbol attached to them in your mind. instead of tree (stick + circle), face :-) crumple up a napkin and try to draw that. Follow the lines on the paper. Use your pencil to measure the angle of the line you want to draw, then copy that down on to the paper. the paper needs to be at perpendicular to you and to what you're drawing. when i write, i turn the paper about 85% to the left and write bottom to top, completely sideways, and my handwriting is much better for it, but you can't do that when you're drawing, because you'll mess up the angles. notice where things are darker and where they're lighter.

look around you. do you see a black outline around objects? no, you don't. you see where the green of the lamp becomes the pale yellow of the wall. if you're drawing in colour, outline the lamp in green, and don't outline it very hard, because there's no real outline, the lamp just stops at some point. :)

when you're not drawing, try to think of how you would draw something. look at shapes. don't look at them and dismiss them as "that's a tree", but really look at them and notice how things are different and notice the shapes and the colours and the shadows and the light. it's good practice for when you are drawing.

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