Basic art direction, skills and narrative ideas for a semi-beginner
September 17, 2017 7:41 PM   Subscribe

I posted this question three years ago and I still haven't figured out to actually become a better artist. Although now I've kind of articulated what I need help with. I've mostly been doing illustration since 2007 in middle school and have been working on and off without much improvement.

I feel like I can't improve unless I get feedback from people. I could go to life drawing sessions (I have) and read books and watch videos but probably not improve. I think I learn best from some kind of instruction, which I can then apply to actually pieces. This worked for me when I took classes in high school and one art class in college. I want to find an art mentor but don't know where to look. I'm going to a four year community college that has an art department, although I'm doing pre nursing. I'm taking a basic drawing class (100) and I feel like we're mostly going to practice drawing very broadly without much instruction. My professor seems kind of hands off and all "You're all special snowflakes!".

I thought about asking another professor about a possible mentorship but I feel like it's kind of weird to ask them to spend time doing unpaid work. I just transferred so I don't know anyone in the department except for a ceramics teacher I met once. I have some drawing and painting books (Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain, Color and Light, Steal Like An Artist, Your Sketchbook Yourself, Picture This, etc) which could be good for learning technical stuff. Anyone have any recommendations for artists on Youtube that have instructional viseos or books that walk you through basics? I've been watching a lot of Holly Brown and Sycra videos, which have been pretty informative and instructional. I'm in NYC so I'm also thinking about taking a class at SVA in the winter, either illustration or something like color theory.

I know some drawing things although my foundational knowledge is very spotty. My biggest hurdles are learning how to do stylised illustration( developing a style and not just fine artsy stuff) and how to actually form ideas and make them into a finished piece. When I actually get ideas, usually from hearing music or going through some emotional experience I mostly get cliche and simple ideas. I want the exact opposite: original and complex, aesthetically interesting ideas that lead to refined pieces. How do I find, develop and execute good narrative ideas?
posted by starlybri to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Art Prof - has excellent demos and critiques

Wet Canvas - online art community which includes forums. Artists share their work and offer advice. You can definitely get feedback there.

The Art Students League - has workshops, classes and I believe weekly life drawing sessions, or at least they used to. You can google the instructors and see where else they teach.

The Society of Illustrators has regular sketch nights with live models

You can ask your drawing instructor to give you frank advice and be clear about your goals. Even if they're all "oh it's good the way it is" you can say "I would like the hand to be more X and I don't know how to get it there" and if they have any instructional ability they should be able to help you.

The best advice I've seen on becoming a better artist is to draw (or paint) every day.
posted by bunderful at 7:56 PM on September 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Take your drawing professor aside and tell them basically what you've said here: "I've been drawing for ten years, I want to ramp up my technical skills and narrative skills, and would you please give me constructive feedback?" Art professors typically do give constructive feedback; it is part of their job. But it could be that your professor is holding back on giving critiques for long periods of time, and will eventually sit everyone down for "quarterly reports" as it were. I had a few professors who would do that.

Truthfully I have found the part of my mind that critiques is completely separate from the part of my mind that creates. I believe (and many of my art instructors have as well) that you can't learn how to create if you are always critiquing/judging yourself. I think this is the reason why some art instructors hold off on the critiques for long periods of time.

If the professor does, indeed, have no intention of performing critiques, ever, and won't compromise on that point, they may be the wrong instructor for you. I don't think that is necessarily the case. It would be highly unusual. But you won't know unless you ask.

What have you already tried from the suggestions in the previous Ask? It would help to know what hasn't worked for you.
posted by shalom at 8:10 PM on September 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: shalom, I've gone to a few figure drawing session and have been carrying around a sketchbook for a few months. I've also been more realistic about being a professional artist and decided not to try to apply to art school.
posted by starlybri at 8:19 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

You should definitely keep doing that!

What you need is lots and lots of practice. There are all sorts of tips and tricks but none of them are a replacement for practice.

Hopefully your drawing instructor will be able to give you guidance on your particular strengths and weaknesses.

I have found the people at Wet Canvas (bunderful linked to it above) are really helpful if you want to post your stuff on there and ask for feedback.

If you want to work on narrative, you could try the challenges over on Illustration Friday. Reading lots of books will help with narrative.

Look at other people's art and copy elements that you like. Obviously you won't always be "stealing" stuff and you can't sell what you've copied, but it will help you practice. Trust that eventually you will figure out your style. It will come with practice. Maybe collect pictures of illustrations you admire on a Pinterest board. Or pin them up in your studio space. Look at inspiration often.
posted by shalom at 8:34 PM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

My biggest hurdles are learning how to do stylised illustration( developing a style and not just fine artsy stuff) and how to actually form ideas and make them into a finished piece.

Developing a style is something that happens organically. You can't decide on a style and then have that be your "style." I would start by carefully looking at the work of illustrators that you like. Note the visual elements that make up the image. Think of the work in visual terms: how do the shapes and colors work together, how does the execution come through in the final image (you can sometimes see the process, if it's loosely drawn, for instance, or less so if it's very tight and finished with hard edges). You can start to create an archive of images that you want to learn from and draw inspiration from.

One exercise that I had to do when I was in art school was to go to the museum and describe a piece in the museum in detail. No interpretation, just description. This forces you to look at something very closely and note things that you might otherwise miss.

A lot of an illustrator's inspiration comes from copying and reinterpreting, not necessarily other illustrations but photographs and any other image. What we can conjure up alone with a piece of paper is limited. It's probably obsolete now, but at my art school they had a library of clippings organized by subject matter that illustration students could borrow to draw from. You could borrow images of horses, or desserts, or politicians, etc. Creating images doesn't just come from your head, it comes from everything you see, and you often need something concrete to look at so you don't have to remember or imagine what something looks like.

How do I find, develop and execute good narrative ideas?

With illustration, those should come from the text that you are illustrating.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Maybe what I mean by narrative ideas is that I want my pieces to tell a story or have meaning, not just "oh this looks pretty". I don't ever illustrate from texts. I might be referring more to drawing as what I want to do than illustration, but stylized.
posted by starlybri at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2017

How can I make my art meaningful is a much bigger question. I don't think I can answer that. I will say that art is a visual medium and doesn't have to have a narrative or an explanation. It has to work as a visual idea. There are great works of art that are just blocks of color, for instance. What makes them great is the impact that blocks of color can have when they are put together in a thoughtful way, one that can be intuitive and doesn't have to come with an explanation. This is harder to learn than it sounds. Our culture generally discourages thinking in a way that doesn't use words to explain our meaning, so people usually discount their intuition about visual images. I think it can be cultivated by doing a lot of looking and paying attention to what grabs us.

But if you want your work to have a narrative that's fine too. I would choose a theme or topic that is important to you and start from there.
posted by Vispa Teresa at 9:28 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can also look for other universities in your area that offer extended education art classes and take those, if the professor at your school isn't giving you the sort of instruction you work best with.
posted by telophase at 11:24 AM on September 20, 2017

I'd say don't overthink it. Draw things you find personally meaningful. Stuff that affects you. Consider a series. A story will emerge. As a nursing student you could have some great material with medical equipment, patients, etc. An insider's take on medicine could be fascinating.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:16 PM on September 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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