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Advice - Instantly improve your art

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

Although I began drawing around 10 years ago, it was infrequent and I stuck to the same old pencils and the same old paper. It's only in the last year that I've pushed myself to draw much more often, try new materials and ultimately become more confident. In this sense, I'd definitely consider myself a new artist, and want to share a few tips I've learnt on this short journey so far!

1) Don't be afraid of dark colours

If you're looking to create a realistic picture, contrast is key. I used to be scared to go too dark - there is a fear that you'll ruin your picture. Actually, you'll achieve the opposite. Get those gorgeous deep browns and greys out and be brave - push yourself to go a shade darker.

2) Black isn't actually black

Following on from the 1st point, dark colours are excellent but I rarely ever reach for the black pencils during my work. Study your reference photos carefully and you'll notice that 9 times out of 10, that "black" shadow or fold is actually a dark brown, orange or indigo. I use Faber-Castell Dark Sepia a lot; this is an incredibly dark brown which adds a little more depth than black does. Derwent Lightfast Nightshade is a beautiful deep, rich purple-blue, which is excellent for bringing some life back into shadows.

3) Use your eyes, not your head

By this I mean - don't let your brain trick you into telling you what should be there. Instead, trust your eyes. Take a look at this black labrador below (from Pixabay). Your brain is already telling you that this is a black dog. You're automatically going to reach for your blacks and greys - because, well, it's a black dog...? Take a moment to actually look at the picture. Start to spot the other colours lurking in the fur.

You should start to see the blue undertones on the ear, the brown on the cheek and the orange highlights on this profile. I've increased the saturation on the same image below, which shows the colour more clearly ( a good tip if you're struggling to see the hidden colours).

4) Draw upside down

Flip your paper and reference picture upside down and suddenly you're not looking at a dog, you're looking at lines and space. This is invaluable when you're struggling with proportions or feature placement. This tip links with number 3 - your brain is going to tell you things like "that's an eye, so it's round", whereas actually, when you look at it from a different perspective, it's a completely different shape. You'll find you get a more accurate drawing when you're looking at the shapes and lines themselves, rather than thinking "that ear should probably go about here on the head".

5) Try different materials

As I mentioned in the intro, I used to use the same paper and pencils all the time. It wasn't until I took the plunge and bought some different paper types and pencils that I realised how much it can affect your work. Not only is it refreshing to try something new, you might discover a whole new technique that you weren't able to use previously.

If you're sitting there, wondering why you're not really improving (even though you most definitely are!) then try something new. My personal example would be switching to Clairefontaine PastelMat paper. I thought it seemed expensive (I used to use cheaper, spiral-bound, lightweight paper for pastels), but finally bit the bullet and bought a pad.

I discovered that I work so much better on a solid paper that will take multiple layers without complaining. This means I enjoy creating art even more now I'm comfortable with my materials - which is pretty invaluable.

Hopefully you've enjoyed reading this, and maybe picked up a couple of tips - I'd love to hear some of the things you've learnt during your art journey so far!

Thanks for reading!

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