How to Brainstorm

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There is always a wide range of skills in the students who enter my Freshman Drawing course at RISD. Some students have never worked with charcoal before, others have a strong grasp of composition, while others struggle with gesture drawing, and so forth. For most of us, it’s easier and much more satisfying to just keep indulging in the skills we’re already good at. After all, who doesn’t enjoy success? As a contrast against that natural impulse, I encourage my students to directly confront their weaknesses in order to exercise the muscles they’ve been ignoring, or didn’t even know existed.

While every student has their weaknesses they’re working on, the one skill that none of my students seem to have across the board is brainstorming. Even strong students who have exceptional drawing skills struggle tremendously with brainstorming.   In fact, many of these students have an even tougher time because they’ve been using their drawing skills as a crutch to compensate for their lack of thinking.

Below is a video tutorial on how to brainstorm, sketch, and create a drawing from beginning to end based on our October Art Dare.


In the past, when I’ve asked individual students about what actions they are taking when brainstorming, I have to admit that I am frequently appalled by their work habits. One student told me that when he’s brainstorming he looks at Tumblr, while another student said that they listen to music and eat. I’ve watched students in my classes during work sessions literally sit in a chair, tap their fingers on the table, and quietly grumble to themselves.

Without fail, the three top brainstorming problems that I see in my students every semester are:

1) Choosing your first idea. 
I am always surprised when students tell me that they are certain that their first idea is the best one. When there is literally no means of comparison, how can you be so sure? This is the equivalent of going to a buffet, tasting one dish, and then deciding to eat only that one dish for the rest of the meal. I honestly can’t remember ever going with my first idea; most of the time the first idea is cliche, obvious, and literal.

2) Staying stuck in your head.
Students frequently judge an idea in their mind, and then they eliminate that idea in their head before that idea even hits the paper. You have to literally see an idea down on paper to be able to clearly judge whether an idea has any potential. There have been so many instances where I thought that an idea was stupid, and then realized after seeing it on paper that it actually did have merit.  On the other hand, there have been many occasions where I was so convinced that an idea was great, only to discover later that the idea was no good when I saw it on paper. There’s no way to predict the outcome of an idea, and you’re just choking yourself if you never give the idea a chance to come to fruition.

3) Ending the brainstorming process prematurely.
In the second half of the semester, I shift gears with my homework assignments and give my students two weeks to work on one drawing. (prior assignments are only one week long) For many students, their first impulse is to assume that with double the time for the assignment, everything will be so much easier.  Consequently, they blow off the first week, which is supposed to be dedicated entirely on brainstorming and sketching.  Most learn the hard way that there are major consequences to doing minimal work in the first week; these students essentially double their work load in the second week of the assignment because they severely underestimated the kind of investment the brainstorming process demands.  Ideas take time to evolve, they require persistence and tenacity to fully mature.

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There is a common misconception that to get a good idea, it’s just a matter of waiting around to be struck by a moment of inspiration. I strongly disagree, innovative ideas don’t just magically pop out of nowhere, you have to be tenacious and push for those ideas. Brainstorming is not a passive action, you have to be aggressive to get results.

I once had a student who was having an extremely hard time coming up with an idea for an assignment where I ask students to create a drawing based on one of their routines. I exchanged several emails with her over the course of the week. In her first email, she kept insisting that she had no ideas at all.  I asked her to list routines she had, but the ones she listed were generic and vague, such as going for a walk, and sleeping. I kept telling her that the ideas were thin and boring, but she continued to reply with more routines that were again, too general. Then, after about the sixth email, she flooded her email with eight dense paragraphs, describing several routines associated with serious issues she had during adolescence. The ideas were there all along, but she had to dig deep over a period of time to unearth them. The final drawing she created for this assignment was one of her most poignant, compelling pieces of the semester.

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So what are the actions you need to take to effectively brainstorm?

1) Put everything on paper.
Resist the temptation to judge your ideas as you write.  Let yourself throw up on paper, and then edit your ideas later.

2) Divide your brainstorming over several days.
This allows you to return to your ideas with a fresh eye. Avoid marathon sessions.

3) Play word association

4) Look up related words in the dictionary.
I am frequently surprised by dictionary definitions, especially of common words that I assume I understand. Dictionary definitions can stimulate other thinking strategies.

5) Talk out your ideas with a friend.
Having to verbalize your ideas out loud to someone else will motivate you to distill your ideas in a coherent manner.

6) Turn off the Internet.
Music is fine, but otherwise, brainstorming should be: you, a piece of paper, a pencil, and your thoughts.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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Ask the Art Prof: How Would I Go About Studying the Human Figure to Improve My Drawing Skills?


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“How would I go about studying the human body in order to improve my figure drawings? I am attempting to get a better idea of how to draw poses and I think I need to learn the body from the inside out. I’m just not sure how to go about doing this.”

The human figure is likely the most complex form studied by visual artists. One of the reasons why it’s so challenging to study is because the human figure is essentially a single form that can be continually subdivided into many smaller forms, making for an extraordinarily complex system.  Depending on the person, the variations in form are infinite even though the basic structure is the same from person to person. Studying the human figure is one of the ultimate challenges of being an artist, and is an undertaking that lasts for many years.

Be sure that when you decide to study the human figure that you don’t mistake anatomical information for artistic application.  I know artists who studied anatomy down to the absolute tiniest detail, but whose figure drawings were awful because they didn’t know how to apply their knowledge to their drawings.  You could possess all of the information in the world about anatomy and still not know a thing about how to apply that knowledge in an artistic context.  Understand that it’s the combination of knowledge and application together that will lead to an artistic comprehension of the human figure.

Since the skeleton is the most deeply embedded structure of the human figure, it makes sense to start there. The most ideal situation is to have a life size, plastic skeleton model that you can directly observe.  However, if that is not an option, I recommend buying Dr. Paul Richer’s “Artistic Anatomy” book, which has good, simple drawings of the skeleton that you can draw from. There are many anatomy books out there for artists, but I have found that most of them make things more complicated than necessary and therefore make many artists overwhelmed with unnecessary information.

Artistic Anatomy, by Dr. Paul Richer

Start out by doing very simple, basic drawings that approximate the major forms of the skeleton.  Don’t let yourself fuss over every single rib or vertebrae, the larger concern is that you develop a thorough understanding of how all of the forms in the skeleton relate to each other. By doing many drawing studies of the skeleton, you’ll start to understand how all of the forms work together.

Once you have a grasp of the skeleton, it’s time to move onto other key concepts, working from a live model the whole time.  I break this up into three steps:


1) Major Masses
Major masses are essentially the largest forms on the human figure.  I recommend beginning a figure drawing by first addressing the torso, by far the largest form. The torso is where all of the limbs and the head intersect, so it’s critical to knock in the torso immediately when starting a figure drawing. The torso can then be subdivided into a rib cage and pelvis, which provides a sense of structure within the torso itself. From there, the head and thighs can be quickly added to provide more mass to the form. The limbs and the hands and feet should come in last.

2) Center line
There is an imaginary center line down the front of the torso and down the back of the torso.  On the back of the torso, the center line is easy to spot because it is basically the spine.  On the front of the torso, the center line starts at the pit of the neck, (the point in between the collarbones, aka clavicles) moves down the center of the rib cage, through the belly button down to the pubic bone on the pelvis. A center line is highly descriptive of the type of pose that is being struck by a figure.  Look at the center line when a model is posing and ask yourself what the center line is doing:  is the center line perfectly straight?  Is it twisted, is it leaning to the right or left?  If you quickly establish how the center line is behaving in your figure drawing, you’ve won half the battle.

3) Bony Landmarks
Bony landmarks are areas on the human figure where the bone is directly under the surface of the skin. These landmarks are significant because they are consistent with every single person, regardless of how large or thin they may be. When you’re looking at a model, search for these bony landmarks and indicate them in your drawing. Some bony landmarks include:  collar bones, elbows, kneecaps, ankle bones, shoulder blades, etc. Bony landmarks are considered to be details, so they should not be drawn in until the major masses and center line are well established.

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Drawing by Michelangelo depicting muscles in the shoulder area


The final stage is to seek out key muscles on the human figure that are visible on the surface.  Many muscles are hidden under other muscles, so it’s not necessary to learn every single muscle that there is on the human figure. Some examples of muscles that are visible on the surface would be the deltoids, the trapezius, the pectoralis major, the sartorius, and more. These muscles can all be seen in Dr. Paul Richer’s “Artistic Anatomy” book.  Like the skeletons, do drawings of these major muscle groups from Richer’s book to get a sense for the forms.

Between the major masses, the center line, the bony landmarks, the skeleton, and the muscles, you should be able to develop a comprehensive understanding of the human figure and it’s various forms and structures. You should be able to discern between muscle, bones, and skin in any area of the figure.

Remember, drawing the human figure is not a skill that will happen overnight. It takes years and years of disciplined practice, tons of bad drawings, and rigorous focus.  In this way, you will be able to accomplish a masterful understanding of the human figure.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Draw a Portrait?

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Lithograph by Kathe Kollwitz


“I would like to ask if you have any tips for drawing the human face? I tend to have a hard time with proportions (I often draw the eyes way too large) and placement of different features in relation to each other.”

The human face is hands down the most intimidating subject matter for most artists.  There is so much psychological baggage that comes with a human face that just is not there with other types of subject matter. We see and interact with human faces every day, and for many of us, it’s our primary form of visual communication when we talk in person. All of us are capable of knowing when something is “off” in a portrait drawing, although many of us wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate exactly what it is that needs to be changed in the drawing. For this reason, we generally hold portraits to a much higher level of scrutiny, and are far more critical when it comes to getting results.

This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation (see below) I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.

 

The major mistake that I see when approaching the human face is simply calling it a “face.” In actuality, you are drawing a human head. Artists spend so much time isolating their attention to the face only, that they miss out on establishing the bulk of the head, which is the supporting mass for the face.  The face is actually a very small percentage of the head.  Tell yourself that you are drawing a head, and that mentality will set the stage to have a more comprehensive understanding of what you’re doing.

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Etching by Lucien Freud


The key to drawing the human face is to think about the underlying structure first,  not what’s on the surface. This means really understanding the essential structure of the skull.   I recommend starting out by drawing skulls before even beginning to draw the human face. Buy a plastic skull (you can get a decent one for about $40) and draw it from every point of view that you can come up with: three quarters view, straight on, profile, back, from below, etc. This process of careful observation of the skull will greatly improve your understanding of the human head.

The next step is to develop an understanding of where the subcutaneous areas are. Subcutaneous means “directly under the skin”, so you’re searching for areas of the head where the bone is directly under the surface of the skin. This would include the brow, the forehead, the cheek bones, the jawbone, and the chin. These subcutaneous areas are the sections of the head that you want to focus on and highlight in your drawing, as they will provide the structure for everything else to lie within.

The most common mistake that I see is when artists start out a portrait is by drawing the eyes, nose, and mouth first.  Actually, the eyes, nose, and mouth should be the last forms that you draw. This is because there is technically nothing structural about the eyes, nose, and mouth.  The eyes are soft squishy spheres, the nose is just cartilage, and the mouth is simply soft tissue.

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Portrait drawing by Pontormo


Start out by blocking in the bulk of the entire head first, and then the basic masses of the subcutaneous areas. (the brow, the forehead, the cheek bones, the jawbone, and the chin) Once these sections are established, very briefly block in loose shapes for the eyes, nose, and mouth.  Then quickly move onto developing the supporting structures and muscle forms around the eyes, nose, and mouth. When these structures are well established, drawing in the eyes, nose, and mouth, should as easy as dropping sprinkles on a cupcake.

Proportions of the human head are another issue that many artists struggle with.  The best advice I can give is to never spend too much time fussing over a single area.  Instead, keep your arm moving from section to section, making adjustments along the way and constantly evaluating how one section relates to another. Allow all of the various parts of the draw to grow and develop at the same rate. Look at the nose in relation to the eyes, the eyes in relation to the ear, and so forth. If you work with a loose, gestural manner, and initially draw with very light, fluid lines, you’ll have a greater chance of knocking in the proportions properly.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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Ask the Art Prof: What Does it Take to Get a Job at an Animation Studio?

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I’m a beginning art student studying graphic design, and I’ve always wanted to work in a cartoon studio setting. Places like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network that are not your normal work places per say. All my life, my family has always said that it was impossible to get a job like that, and to not even try.

Well, here I am going into graphic design, but I want to know: What exactly does it take to land that kind of job, what should my art portfolio have, and is it even worth trying???”

Animation studio jobs are insanely competitive, as there are thousands and thousands of people out there who desperately want to be working in that field. You would be competing with people who have completed professional degrees in animation and illustration, and many others who not only have degrees, but who have been working professionally in the field for some time.

Getting a job would require an enormous commitment on your part, and would require years of hard work and rigorous training. I have a number of acquaintances from RISD who went on to work at studios like Pixar, Disney, and Nickelodeon.  My memories of them during my undergraduate years at RISD is that they obsessively did gesture drawings around the clock like there was no tomorrow, and were both highly disciplined and incredibly industrious workers. You have to be prepared to devote every part of your life to this initiative, it’s that competitive.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture drawing from a life model


If all of the above sounds intimidating to you, then I would say that it’s not worth trying.  If hearing that makes you feel enthusiastic, motivated, and revved up to go, then I think it’s totally worth trying.  Do your research in advance and make sure that you know what you would be getting yourself into. This is not a job that you can work towards occasionally, it practically has to be in your blood.

One basic requirement of an animation studio position is a solid grounding in traditional art. That means having really strong drawing skills, especially in gesture drawings of the human figure and of animals. The expectation is that all of the drawings are executed from direct observation, which means multiple trips to the zoo to draw animals in person, and countless hours drawing from a live nude model. Most animation degree programs require that students take courses in all areas of animation, to build a basic grounding of the overall process of making animation.

Inside Out by Pixar

Inside Out by Pixar

Jobs in animation studios are often times very specialized, so you would apply for a position in a specific area, like storyboards, character design, backgrounds, animation, etc. Technically speaking a portfolio would generally consist of artwork that highlights that area of specialization, as well as a reel of a number of your animated works. I’m not in the field, so I’m not able to provide accurate specifics, but that’s a fairly good approximation of what would be expected in an application.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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Ask the Art Prof: What are Common Mistakes in Art School and College Art Portfolio Submissions?

Final Crit

“This year, I’ll be a junior in high school. It feels like this is my last year to improve my techniques before working on an art portfolio for college admission…sometimes it’s too much pressure to think about how I’ll be stacked up against many talented art students who are my age during the college and art school submission process. Everyone is so wonderful and talented!  

What are common mistakes in college art portfolio submissions? What shows the difference between a weak art student and a strong art student? I have one year left to prepare – what should I specifically focus on to improve my chances?”‘

A strong art student will command not only technical mastery over their material, but also be innovative and passionate in terms of their subject matter and approach.  On the flip side, you can have a weak student who may have good technique, but perhaps is working with subject matter that is obvious and cliche. A strong student’s work will stand on it’s own, and not look like it’s lifted from some other artist or style. A weaker student might copy something from somewhere else.  Strong students are prolific and experimental with their art materials; they are willing to try out unusual methods for handling their art materials.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, a weaker student might use the same art materials all the time, and use them in a predictable, common manner.

Gesture Drawings in Ink

There are a number of “classic” mistakes that I see over and over again when evaluating portfolios for college. I can guarantee if that if you avoid these mistakes like the plague, that you will automatically have a major advantage over a significant portion of the other applicants. Remember, admissions officers have looked at literally thousands of portfolios, and most of these mistakes are nothing new to them.  Making any of these mistakes will get you eliminated from the acceptance pile very quickly.

In conjunction to this list below, also be sure to read this article I wrote, which goes into great depth about specific actions and approaches you can focus on to improve your chances in the competitive college admissions process.

1) Copying from photographs.
To a trained eye, it’s generally glaringly obvious when something has been copied from a photograph. Drawing from a photograph is a cheap shortcut. Not only are the results always lousy, but copying from photographs will only develop bad habits that will be difficult to “undo” later. This article I wrote which states many reasons for why it’s critical to draw from direct observation.

2) No anime, manga, fan art, or drawings of celebrities.
Period. Don’t even think about it.

3) Poor quality photographs of the art itself.
Invest the time and money into photographing your artwork properly. Too often I see terrible photographs of good artwork, which makes me nuts. With digital photography, this is affordable and easy to accomplish, it just takes time and labor. This means properly cropped images, even lighting throughout the image, images that are in focus, etc. In the photograph of this oil painting below, there is a lot of glare on the left hand side of the photo, which makes it very difficult to see what the actual painting really looks like.

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4) Blank backgrounds.
Art students will frequently create images focusing so much on their main subject matter that they leave the background blank.  It’s important to balance and distribute your attention to every square inch of the artwork, but very few students do this. Many will intensely labor over tiny details in one area, and then completely neglect other areas of the artwork, leaving them completely untouched.

Backgrounds do not have to be complicated, in fact, you probably want your background to take a back seat to your subject so that it’s not distracting.  However, nothing is more distracting than blank white paper that makes your drawing look unfinished.

Be the exception and work on the background as much as you work on everything else in the image.  Create backgrounds that are just as lively and engaging as the main subject. If you don’t like the background you’re seeing behind your subject, take the time to create a set up with a background that is interesting to you. The nature object in this student drawing below is beautifully drawn, but the background is completely blank, making the drawing appear unresolved and empty in the background.

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5) Placing your subject dead center on the page.
Composition is almost always ignored by students in their pieces for a college portfolio. This is largely because student don’t even think about where they place their subject on the page. For the vast majority of art students, sticking the subject right in the middle of the page is the default reaction, which makes for a really boring and predictable composition. This article I wrote talks about specific strategies for creating a dynamic composition that will lead the viewer’s eye throughout the entire artwork. Composition is critical to an artwork, and no amount of spectacular technique will save you from a lousy composition.

KH1

Be the exception and take the time to consider where you place your subject.  One way to do this is to create thumbnail sketches in advance of creating the final drawing. This article I wrote talks about how to develop a drawing from sketch to finish. Thumbnail sketches are a very quick way to work out the placement of your subject before you invest time on the final drawing. This video tutorial explains how to create effective thumbnail sketches in line, while this video tutorial talks about how to tone your thumbnails to explore in greater depth possibilities for the final drawing.

RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu

RISD Adjunct Professor Clara Lieu reviews portfolios at an Art Prof portfolio event.


6) Don’t rely on only yourself for feedback.
Many students make the mistake of thinking that they can create their portfolios entirely on their own.  Unfortunately, many high school students are forced to teach themselves due to many school art programs being cut back or non-existent. Take the initiative to seek out advice from an art teacher you trust, preferably one who has experience helping students with portfolios, and who can offer you a candid assessment of your work.

If you don’t know anyone you can ask, I offer 30 minute video critiques on students preparing a college art portfolio for a fee. Get more information on video portfolio video critiques here, and watch a sample critique below.


7) Having unfinished pieces. 

In my experience, very few students in high school know how to bring an artwork to full resolution.  Most artwork I see is nowhere near finished, and requires another 2 or 3 hours to be fully resolved.  Other times, its as simple as filling in all the white areas so that no raw paper or canvas is showing. Push your pieces to full resolution, so that no stone is left untouched.  This charcoal drawing below is well done, but the student didn’t bring the charcoal right to the edge of the paper, making the piece look unfinished.

NC1

This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from beginning to end. (see below) I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


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Ask the Art Prof: What is the Mindset an Art Student Needs to Draw Successfully?

Portrait Drawing

“What is the most important mindset an art student needs to have in order to create a successful drawing?”

Mindset is everything when it comes to drawing. People tend to think that drawing is only about what your hands and arms are physically engaged in.  While the physical aspect of drawing certainly is important, how you approach your drawing mentally is much more critical. I’ve seen students in my freshman drawing classes at RISD make incredible leaps and improvements in their drawings in a matter of 15 minutes. This isn’t because their hands magically gained the ability to physically draw something over the course of those 15 minutes, rather it’s because they made some kind of shift or change in their mindset that allowed them to make a major stride in their work.

acb9cc52-88a8-50a5-a326-ae8ac5562d4b.image

“Ready position” in volleyball

When I was in high school, I was a hardcore volleyball player.  I did it all: the varsity team at school, Jr. Olympics, tournaments, even volleyball camp. I remember clearly something my coach described as being “ready position”. “Ready position” is the position you’re in when you’re waiting for the other team’s serve to come across the net. You simply have to be ready for anything to happen, really alert, focused, and yet flexible enough that your body could move in any direction at any given moment. Physically speaking, when you’re in “ready position”, you’re a little hunched over, your arms are out to the side, you’re on the balls of your feet, loose, and slightly moving.

What happens in drawing is very similar to the ball coming across the net; you never know what’s going to happen, and yet you have to deal with it as it’s happening. Drawing is a series of reactions, to the marks that you’ve already made and the marks that you anticipate. The process is unpredictable and wild, which is exactly what makes drawing so amazing and infuriating at the same time.

Composition Project

It sounds very cheesy, but when I sit down to work on a drawing I have to pump myself up mentally to get going. Regardless of how I actually feel in real life, I tell myself in my head that I KICK ASS and that I am capable of anything I want. I have to build up a very strong foundation of confidence and belief in myself and that I’m doing. If I don’t, self-doubt will completely take over and prevent me from working altogether. Any shred of doubt always manifests itself into a huge distraction that makes it impossible for me to function. For me, the time for questioning is after I’m out of the trenches of working.  When I’m drawing, I don’t judge myself or the work.  I reserve that part of the process for after I’m done working for the day.

This is why the moment before my hand physically touches the blank paper is so scary.  In those moments, I’m mentally preparing myself to get started. I’m always nervous just before I get started drawing.  I think it’s very similar to jumping into a pool. Just yesterday I was at the pool, feeling a slight tinge of fear before I jumped in.  Will the water be cold?  Will I be freezing the whole time that I’m in the pool? Yes, all silly concerns, but that’s what goes through my head.  Jumping into a pool is a major commitment, you either do it or you don’t. When I take the plunge, I’m drenched in water, and there’s no going back to being dry. The process of drawing is very similar, once your hand starts moving across the surface of the page, there is simply no going back to that blank page. You have to be ready to make bold commitments when you draw, being fussy and flaky about your marks only results in timid, boring results. Those commitments can only happen if you back them up with confidence and a strong mindset.

This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation. (see below) In the tutorial, I speak about the mindset you need in order to make a drawing. I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.


Related Videos
Ask the Art Prof Live: Personal Themes, Never Too Late to Start Drawing
Ask the Art Prof Live: Aches While Drawing, Professional Artwork vs. Student Artwork
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist:  How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist:  Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks


Related articles
“What is a gesture drawing?”
“Is drawing considered an innate talent or a craft, which can be learned by anyone?”
“How can I learn to shade objects in my drawings?”
“How can I draw what I see in my head?”
“What is the best way to practice my drawing skills?”
“How do you get yourself to practice drawing?”

Ask the Art Prof: How Do Visual Artists Come Up with Ideas for their Art?

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“How do visual artists come up with ideas for their artwork? Where should artists look for inspiration?”

The answer to this question will be different for every single artist. Everyone finds inspiration in a completely different way, in contrasting places. Since I can’t provide an answer for every single person out there, I can give advice about how to alert yourself to seeing possible ideas.  Essentially everything in the world has the potential to turn into an idea for art. What seems dull and boring to one person could be infinitely fascinating for another, and vice versa.

If that’s the case then, where do you start? Start with yourself and your own personal experiences. Many artists think that they have to search extremely far and wide and come up with an immensely complicated subject for their work to be interesting. I’m frequently surprised that the best subject matter is simply what’s sitting there right in front of us, something that we commonly experience but don’t generally recognize as being special. Don’t take any experience in your life for granted.  In my opinion, the most effective ideas are the ones that are personally driven, as they will have an authentic quality to them that cannot be achieved in any other way.


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Some of the best projects in my RISD freshman drawing class are ones that come from personally driven ideas. I have an assignment I give every semester called “Six Levels of Pain”, in which students are asked to create a project that provides a new visual interpretation of the Wong-Baker pain chart. (see above) The range of projects is astounding: some are heartbreaking, others are beautiful, and some are even humorous.


This project below was by a student who lost her brother when he was 13 years old. To represent the six levels of pain, the student measured her childhood house and reconstructed the house to scale using bristol board. She used india ink to create stains to depict six places where her brother used to inhabit the house. With a solid concept and phenomenally immaculate, pristine execution, this student was able to create a piece that was incredibly moving and powerful.

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This student below had kidney surgery. He used a format reminiscent of graphic novels to put together a narrative of images based on his experience with the surgery. The final charcoal drawing was haunting and mysterious, yet provided enough details for the viewer to understand what the drawing was fundamentally about.

SR12

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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