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Learning visual arts?
thinking, perplexed
mendel
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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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

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