How do they do that? Learning about drawing and illustration...
November 10, 2012 6:01 PM   Subscribe

How do they do that? Artist edition... Please recommend how-to's and how I do this blogs/videos etc...

I have a BFA in Photography, but am increasingly interested in drawing and illustration. I took some drawing classes years ago, and was pretty ok at it, especially since I was starting from scratch (almost no experience) and it wasn't my major.

I would LOVE recommendations of blogs, posts, articles, interviews, videos (magazines/books ok too) etc... that demonstrate different techniques or materials, that show the progression of a piece from start to finish, etc... in short, that demystify a bit "how they do that"! Not about copying - this is part educational (so online classes/tutorials might be ok), and almost entirely about making myself feel like this is something humans (ie me) can do (with lots of practice). Right now a lot of it seems like magic...

Not really interested in tours of artists' studios, but descriptions of how they work are welcome too... methods, ruts and how they get out, finding inspiration, etc. (example: I like going on long drives or walks to collect ideas. I take the pictures, make hard copies, and lay them out all over the floor like tiles - usually until the wee hours of the morning while drinking coffee and listening to Trip-Hop. I will re-work things over and over, over months; sometimes years.... etc.)

PS: No Bob Ross! ;)
posted by jrobin276 to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a professional artist.

Art21 is a great resource for interviews.

Practice, research both into your subject matter as well as into other artists, and critique are how most good artists make the magic happen.

Practice: fairly self-explanatory, but with the caveat that sometimes you have to throw yourself up against the wall X times before you'll break through. It took me a couple weeks of daily attempts to paint grass before I figured out how to do it the way I wanted. But oh, the joy when I got it. Practice also involves trying new surfaces, mediums, sizes, etc.

Research: My work involves a lot of research into local fauna and flora and relevant biology, botany, and horticulture, as well as into ecological ethics. Yours might require entirely different research, but the time investment still needs to be there. You also want to stay abreast of contemporary art as well as be versed in art history so that you understand how your work is connected to the broader field. Art in America is a great resource for contemporary artwork (it does review internationally), and there are hundreds of general art history textbooks out there.

Critique: Getting outside eyes on your work is imperative. You may know that what you painted is an innocuous pile of lizards, but everyone else sees an orgy. Whether this pleases you or not, it is information you need to have. Also, critiques are one way to make sure you don't get into a rut, or if you do they can help you get out. Outside eyes that are skilled in art can also give you good formal critique (composition, value, etc.) and offer artists for you to look at as well as provide great suggestions for different mediums or ways to hang your work, etc. Entering shows and getting your work out there is a great way to get more eyes on your work and gives you external deadlines which are great sources of motivation. Also, networking with other artists in your region (for critiques, but also just to stay connected and learn what's going on) will help.

I'm happy to follow up again or email if you have any specific questions for me.
posted by vegartanipla at 8:34 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: James Gurney's "Gurney Journey" blog is excellent. He shares his process and approaches very liberally. See He seems to have a very balanced approach (he's open-minded, aware that his methods aren't necessarily the best or the only way to do it). Naturally, there are links to his books. I've only read "Color and Light", but I found it to be a good mix of general techniques and solutions to specific problems ("how to paint snow" etc.).

I also like the Lines and Colors blog. It's not thick on instructional or behind-the-scenes material, but it is a great survey of different artist's work and links to their sites or sites discussing their work. By browsing, you're likely to discover some great resources. At the very least, you'll learn a lot about artists whose work you like.

EDIT: Ooh, just remembered: Kali Ciesmier has been doing a few behind-the-scenes posts over at her blog. Check it out! Good stuff.
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:47 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Just to be more specific... I'm really very specifically interested in demystifying drawing and illustration techniques and workflows.

I have a BFA from an art school, so I'm very familiar with how good art/successful artists (in general) are made... ie. work, practice, research, context, conducting good critiques, etc.. (I only got to see one episode of PBS' Art21 - the first one, with Sally Mann!, before moving to Australia - but it's awesome!). I promise not to threadsit - just wanna make sure things stay on topic! Only one question per week, ya know? Thanks! =)
posted by jrobin276 at 10:37 PM on November 10, 2012

Honestly, I think that to become a successful illustrator you just need to practice practice practice. There isn't this one magical workflow/technique that all illustrators use, they just make their work the best way they know how. One of my friends from art school is a working illustrator and I remember many times hanging out with her on the couch for hours, both of us making our work. Her, sketching and drawing in notebooks, and me, working on my photography.

As posted above, Art21 is a fantastic resource for seeing how artists work. In some of them the artists just talk about their work, but in others they go through their studio and talk about the process of making their work.

I am interested in your BFA in Photography experience. Back when I was a wee baby photographer, I took black and white photo classes and spent many many hours in the darkroom. The art of creating those photos became a process for me, which made me feel like photography was closer to drawing and painting than usually thought. As an artist you need to figure out what you want. Do you have a vision for what you want to do, or are you just following the process to see where you end up? The same ideas you use in photography can easily be transferred to drawing/illustration.

That said, I rather like Craig Thompson's blog (He wrote Blankets and Habibi). He often shows his first draft sketches and final products, so you can see how the final piece morphed and changed. I would also suggest going to your local bookstore and looking through drawing books. There are a lot of books out there with techniques that professionals use when drawing that can be very useful. Also, spending time in life drawing classes also will be incredibly helpful. Perhaps you can start small, like participating an a drawing-a-day challenge to get your feet wet.
posted by ruhroh at 11:01 PM on November 10, 2012

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posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2012

The web site has a very active community, which includes Q&A threads, tutorials, works in progress and individual sketchbooks.

Here's my brief theory-of-everything on this subject:

In order to be a good illustrator, you need at minimum three skills in draftsmanship, composition, and color. (In fact, you can even get away with only two of the three sometimes...)

Draftmanship aka drawing, can be roughly divided into observational drawing and constructional drawing.

Observational drawing is the skill of "drawing what you see, not what you know" -- learning to turn off your mental filters and let your eyes guide your hand to capture the squishy imperfections of the real world. The best introduction to that skill is the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which should be used as a textbook and not just read through. (Ignore the brain science stuff, though, it's all wrong.)

Constructional drawing is the skill of analytically breaking down what you see into mathematical solids which are governed by rules of perspective. The books of Andrew Loomis are good resources for this approach. When you learn to do this, you are freed up to draw from your imagination, because you'll know how to create a believable form even without having it in front of you.

You need both skills. Many people get very good at observational drawing but become dependent on the model and can't draw out of their imaginations. They call that being a "meat camera." Many people get good at only constructional drawing and make generic Marvel-comic human figures who lack any real-life specificity or interest.

Composition is the art/science of where to put stuff in the picture. Composition pretty much got worked out during the Renaissance and hasn't been improved upon since. The Painter's Secret Geometry is a good (but dense and out-of-print) intro to classical composition. Loomis' Successful Illustration also has a good section on composition. Frank Santoro's Layout Workbook shows how these principles are universal, even for comic books.

Color gets pretty tricky. As mentioned, James Gurney's Color and Light is great because it's both theoretically well-grounded and practically useful. But the best way to learn about color is to get three tubes of artist-quality watercolor (cyan, magenta and lemon yellow -- NOT red, blue and school-bus yellow!) and start playing. Color is one of those mystical things which defies abstract learning. You just have to do it.

That's where I'd suggest you start. You can MeMail me if you want more 'cause I got tons of crap.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:44 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

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