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Art Foundation and Design Techniques

Welcome!  Sometimes a few pictures are worth a thousand words, so I thought I would share with you my round-up of the internet's best examples of some of my favorite art techniques.  I come back to these all the time as a way to get out of a rut or refresh my memory.  The more you can commit to memory, the easier your art practice will get.  Keyword: practice!  



All drawings and paintings start with a dot.  They're the point when the brush or pencil meets the surface.  Several dots together can work in wonderful ways.  If you cluster many dots together it's called stippling.  If you fill a whole artwork with dots it's called pointillism.  See examples.


If a dot moves, it becomes a line.  How much linework we use determines how much of the medium will be applied to our piece.  Lines have a simplicity and beauty that can be used on their own or can be built upon for more complex techniques.  See examples.


If you want to make a certain kind of line or dot, it's helpful to know which kind of brush to select to achieve the look you're going for.  Fat, thin, tapered, whispy, feathered, etc... See examples.


When you use many lines next to each other, they're called hatch marks, or hatching.  They can convey a darker or more saturated area of light or color in your work.  They're very effective for when you want a diffused application of medium, instead of a solid area.  See Examples.


If you take a line and follow it through until it meets with itself again, you now have a shape. Shapes can be geometric, like squares and triangles, and shapes can be organic, like your hand or a leaf.  Playing with shapes can be a work of art in itself.  See examples.


Now that you have a shape, you might want to fill it in to make it look like a three-dimensional object.  Once you show the fullness of that shape with light, shadow, and/or contour, it becomes a form. See examples


If you pretend you're an ant crawling on the surface of a form, you're going to come across curves, bends, angles, and slopes.  You're pencil or brush will do the same thing.  The direction you use to fill in a form will help it seem more three-dimensional.  See examples.

Blind Contour

Remember the ant crawling across an object?  In this exercise, we follow the contour of an object with our eyes and draw it without looking at the page.  Why?  It's an excellent way to practice hand-eye coordination and being able to see like an artist.  It's never perfect, but that's not the point.  Try it out!   See examples.


Gradation is the gradual transition of one thing changing into another.  You can have a gradation from light to dark, rough to smooth texture, one color to another, etc.  See examples.


Now that we've covered form, I should note how all forms have texture.  A tree trunk has the rough texture of bark.  A car has a smooth, reflective texture.  A bunny has a fuzzy texture.  Creating textures takes practice to train your eye.  Look very closely and observe what's really going on, not what you think is going on.  It's all about how the light hits the surface of an object.  Look for the small shapes of highlights and shadows.  See examples.

Negative Space

Being able to draw objects with line, shape, form, and texture is a lot of fun, but what about the space in between?  In the art world, we call that negative space and it's just as important as the focal point.  Making sure you have enough negative space and that it's designed well will give your art breathing room and balance.  Negative space can also be used to make the focal point pop in interesting ways.  See examples.


Understanding where to put the elements in your art on the page or canvas can get easier when you know more about composition.  There are many types of composition that have been studied, however, I return to three types the most often.  1. Symmetrical composition: When everything is balanced evenly from one side to another.  This is very pleasing to the eye.  2. Asymmetrical composition: When things are balanced, yet not straight down the middle of the composition.  This is more dynamic.  3. Radial Composition: When the elements of an artwork seem to radiate from one point in the composition, like sun rays, or an explosion of energy.  


Depth is the art of making the space in your art seem believable.  What is closer to us will be larger within our perspective and what's far away will be smaller.  When in doubt, it helps to create a foreground, middle ground, and background in a work of art to best convey this depth.  See examples.


Atmosphere is another way to convey depth.  Particles in the air, as well as changes in the light can make colors different in the distance than they would be up close.  Think of a blue mountain range or a smokey room.  What color distant objects become all depends on the light, so you have to look closely.   See examples.


Perspective is another important tool when it comes to creating the illusion of depth and space in art.  It's the way elements relate to each other in size and position as they recede into the distance.  You could study this for a very long time depending on how technical you want to get.  One and two-point perspectives are the most commonly used.  Foreshortening and the rule of halves are also concepts that I discuss a lot in my classes.  See examples.