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15 Elements and Principles of Art That Take an Artist from Beginner to Master

15 Essentials for Every Art Form

What if you had the keys to the artistic kingdom? With each of these essential for making art, that is exactly what you have. Understanding and applying the building blocks of art (or the elements and principles of art as they are often called) is what takes an artist from beginner to master.

In order to understand, deftly critique, and practice your chosen art form, you need to know the key concepts that it is built upon. Familiarity with elements of art like color and line and principles of art (proportion, rhythm, and contrast among others) is what gives artists that fluency. With your knowledge of these, you will always be able to find the joy and excitement that can surround art…and for art lovers there is nothing more appealing than that.

elements and principles of art: gallery

Elements of Art

Think of the elements of art as the arrows in your quiver or tools in a toolbox. You use them individually and in combination for any art making endeavor. For the visual arts, these are visual elements: color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.

Color

A three-pronged element of art: hue, value and intensity.

Hue is the color itself.

Value is the hue’s lightness or darkness and changes when white or black is added to it.

Intensity is the aspect of brightness and purity of a color. High intensity colors are bold and bright. Low intensity colors are faint and duller.

elements and principles of art: grant wood

Fall Plowing by Grand Wood

Form

For painters and draftsmen, form is the element of art that renders a three-dimensional  form in two dimensions. In a lot of ways it is the heart of an art object — the form itself. It can enclose a volume and includes height, width and depth. A cube, a sphere, a cylinder and a pyramid are all different forms. Forms can also be formless — abstracted and free-flowing.

Line

Marks made on a surface are known as line. They start at a point and move along, creating space as they go. Lines can be two- or three-dimensional, describing form or the form itself, implied, or abstract. Creating a series of parallel lines to indicate form is a technique known as hatchingCrosshatching indicates more than one set of these lines laid overtop of each other at angles to model and indicate tone.

Shape

The element of art that is two-dimensional, flat, or limited to height and width. Usually a shape is enclosed.

Space

Space is the element of art through which both positive and negative areas are defined or a sense of depth is achieved in a work of art.

Texture

This aspect of art defines the way an art object or an element in a composition feels or looks as if it would feel if touched.

elements and principles of art: rhythm

Grand Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Principles of Art

If the elements of art are your tools, the principles of art are how you put them to work. It is where the style of art manipulates its substance. Rhythm, harmony, balance, contrast, movement, proportion, and variety are the principles of art.

Rhythm

This principle of art describes the movement in or of an artwork. Rhythm is created by the variety and repetition of elements in a work of art that come together to create a visual tempo or beat.

Harmony

This is achieved when the elements of an artwork come together in a unified way. Certain element are repeated yet still look and feel similar. Not monotony and not chaos, harmony is that perfectly honed combination of both.

Balance

Artists combine elements to add a feeling of equilibrium or stability to a work of art. Symmetry and asymmetry are manifestations of balance.

elements and principles of art: Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Contrast

Areas of contrast are where a viewer’s eye are usually first drawn. Artists will combine elements to stress the differences between those elements.

Movement

Movement is used to create the look and feeling of action in an artwork. It guides the viewer’s eye throughout a piece. A sense of movement can be varied lines, repetition of elements, and gestural mark-making among many more.

elements and principles of art Untitled_acrylic_and_mixed_media_on_canvas_by_--Jean-Michel_Basquiat--,_1984
Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Pattern

This is the uniform repetition of an element of art or combination of elements. Anything can be turned into a pattern through repetition.

Proportion

Within the realm of the elements and principles of art, proportion is the relationship of elements in an artwork to the whole and to one another.

Variety

The principle of art concerned with diversity or contrast is that of variety. Variety is brought about by using different colors, sizes and shapes in a work of art. It is the partner of unity. Artists seek the balance between the two.

More Elements and Principles of Art

If this guide has been a refresher in the very best of ways, then you know you are ready for the next step of your art journey. Put the elements and principles of art into practice in your next artwork. Make it your best–and something you are proud of.


If you want to draw lifelike portraiture, knowing how to draw facial features is essential. Below, artist and instructor Lee Hammond shares tips and techniques for drawing realistic faces with graphite pencil, excerpted from her book, Lee Hammond’s All New Big Book of Drawing.

In this step-by-step guide, Lee will teach you how to recreate every aspect of your model’s face: the eyes, nose, cheeks, and mouth. So you understand where we’re heading in this tutorial, here’s our finished product first.

Drawing a Portrait Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Learning to Draw Facial Features

Now, before you can draw an entire face, you must first learn to draw each of the facial features individually. Only by taking one feature at a time can you learn the anatomy well and understand what to look for and what to capture in your drawing.

Drawing facial features: Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose in this easy tutorial.

Drawing Noses Two Ways

The nose is the least complicated feature and most closely resembles the sphere, as noted. The five elements of shading are easy to see. It is important to learn to draw facial features in different poses.

These straight-on and profile views of the nose will give you ample practice. Follow the steps to draw a nose in both views.

Straight-on View

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of a nose in a straight-on view.

Straight-On View, Nose Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Develop the Lights and Darks

First and foremost, when you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Then, develop the patterns of light and dark with a pencil. Be sure to refer to the sphere.

Second, add reflected light along the edges of the nose and the rim of the nostril. Add a shadow edge under the tip of the nose to make it look rounded. Place cast shadows under the bottom edge of the nose.

Straight-On View, Nose Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend

After you add your light and dark tones, blend them smooth with a stump or tortillion. Very little of the drawing should be left white. Many artists will leave skin tones too light, but only the highlights should be as white as the paper.

Be sure to blend out from the dark areas into the lighter face area, just like you did in the sphere exercise. This makes it appear real.

Straight-On View, Nose Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Profile View

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of a nose from a side view.

Profile View, Nose Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Develop the Lights and Darks

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser then develop the patterns of light and dark with a pencil. Be sure to refer to the sphere.

Profile View, Nose Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend

Blend the tones smooth with a stump or tortillion. Use the dark tones behind the nose to make the edges stand out.

Lighting is crucial. The dark background makes this example look very different from the previous one.

Profile View, Nose Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Drawing Male and Female Mouths / Lips

Drawing a mouth can be a challenge, but you can draw realistic lips when you break the process into simple steps. Follow along to create a full, realistic mouth and avoid making simple mistakes, like defining hard edges, that beginning artists tend to make.

When studying the mouth, you will notice the upper lip is usually smaller and will appear darker than the bottom lip. It creates an M shape.

There are differences between male and female lips. Female mouths are much more defined and seem fuller and shinier. The edges of male lips are more subtle and are described by the shadows around them more than the edges themselves.

Drawing Lips | Female

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of female lips.

Drawing Lips, Female, Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply the Dark Patterns

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the dark patterns of the lips with a pencil.

Make the upper lip darker than the bottom one. This is because the upper lip angles in, and the bottom lip angles out.

Drawing Lips, Female, Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend Tones and Light Highlights

Blend the tones smooth with a tortillion. Be sure to create the tones of the skin around the lips so that they look realistic. Use a kneaded eraser to lift the bright highlights of the lower lip to make them look moist and shiny.

Drawing Lips, Female, Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Drawing Lips | Male

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of male lips.

Drawing Lips, Male, Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Add Dark Tones

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Add the darkest tones first with a pencil.

Drawing Lips, Male, Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend and Lift

Blend the drawing with a stump or tortillion to remove the white of the paper. Deepen the dark areas with your pencil and then lift light areas out with a kneaded eraser.

Drawing Lips, Male, Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Drawing Smiles

Mouths become much more difficult to draw when the teeth are showing. When drawing teeth, never draw a hard line between each tooth. Because the teeth touch, a hard line would make them look too separate by representing a dark space.

They should also have some shading applied. Teeth are dimensional, so leaving them white would make them look flat. As the teeth recede into the mouth, the shadows get darker. The bottom teeth are always a bit darker too since they do not protrude as much.

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of a mouth and teeth. Each tooth must be perfect to create a good likeness.

Do not draw hard lines between each tooth. For accuracy, draw the shapes of the gum line and the edges of the teeth.

Drawing Smiles Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply Dark Tones

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the darkest tones with a pencil. It is darkest inside the mouth. The upper lip is darker than the bottom lip and does not have bright highlights.

Drawing Smiles Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend, Add Shading and Lift

Blend the tones smooth with a tortillion. Apply some shading to each tooth to make sure they look dimensional. Lift the highlights of the bottom lip so that they look full and shiny.

Keep the lines between the teeth subtle. Use a kneaded eraser to soften where they touch.

Drawing Smiles Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

 

Drawing Eyes

There are many components to the eye and all of them are important. Here are a few hints to help you:

  • The iris and the pupil are perfect circles when the eye is looking straight at you. If turning away or looking up and down, they become ellipses.
  • The pupil is always perfectly centered within the iris.
  • The pupil is the darkest part of the eye. Fill it in as dark and smooth as possible. Leave an area for a catch light.
  • The catch light should be half in the pupil and half in the iris. If the photo shows it blocking the pupil, move it over.
  • The lower lid thickness below the iris is very important. Never just draw a line under the eye. This small detail gives the eye dimension.
  • Patterns within the iris will vary depending on the color of the eye and resemble a starburst.
  • The white of the eye needs to be blended to resemble a sphere shape. Never just leave this area (the sclera) white.
  • The lashes on the upper lid come together to make a dark edge called the lash line.
  • The upper eyelid recesses, making the eyeball take on a sphere shape.

Now let’s move on to drawing an eye.

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to crate a line drawing of an eye.

Drawing Eyes Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Lay in the Patterns and Blend

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Then, lay in the patterns of the iris with a pencil. Use pencil lines that resemble a starburst pattern or wagon wheel spokes.

Leave an area open for the catch light (half in the pupil and half in the iris). Blend things smooth with a tortillion. Use a kneaded eraser to lift the catch light and increase the patterns in the iris.

Drawing Eyes Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Continue Blending and Shading, Add Eyelashes

Blend the skin areas of the drawing to create the form and contours. Shade the white of the eye to make it look rounded like a sphere.

Add the eyelashes with very quick strokes that taper at the ends. They grow in layers and clumps, so do not make them go all along in a row.

Notice how the lashes on the bottom grow from the lower edge of the lower lid thickness. You can see how much dimension the lower lid thickness gives to the look of the eye.

Drawing Eyes Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Drawing Noses and Eyes Together

Once you learn the anatomy of the eye and how to draw it realistically, it is important to understand how to put two of them together along with other facial features like the nose. Here are some guidelines to remember:

  • The space between the eyes is one eye width.
  • Both eyes should be directly across from each other.
  • If you draw a vertical line down from the corner of the eye, it will line up with the edge of the nose. (This can change according to different ethnicities.)
  • Both eyes must be looking in the same direction. The pupil and iris must be the same in both.
  • Place the catch light in the same place on both eyes (half in the pupil, half in the iris).

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of a nose and eyes together. Notice how the vertical line drawn down from the corner of the eyes lines up with the edge of the nose. Place the eyes directly across from one another.

Drawing Noses and Eyes Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply Dark Tones, Fill in the Shadow Areas and Eyebrows

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the darkest tones with a pencil.

The pupils of the eyes are the darkest areas. Fill in the tones of the shadow areas and the eyebrows. The eyebrows should be shaded in as a shape first, before the hairs are applied.

Drawing Noses and Eyes Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend and Apply Highlights

Blend with a stump or tortillion. Very little of the paper should be left white, even in the whites of the eyes. Use a kneaded eraser for the small highlights seen in the brows and patterns within the pupils.

Drawing Noses and Eyes Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Eyes from an Angle

This project will help you see things from a different vantage point. When you draw facial features of a person who is at an angle, the rules change.

The features look distorted due to the perspective. In this view, the profile of the nose is blocking one of the eyes and only a small portion of the face is showing on that side.

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of eyes in a slightly angled pose. Notice how this angle blocks the view of part of the face.

The irises and pupils now are vertical ellipses, since the eye is not looking straight at you. The perfect circle is now changed due to the perspective.

Drawing Eyes at Angle Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply Darks, Add Shadows and Blend the Eyebrows

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the darkest tones with your pencil to create the shadows. The pupils of the eyes are the darkest areas. Blend the shapes of the eyebrows to a gray tone.

Drawing Eyes at Angle Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend and Lift

Blend the skin areas with a stump or tortillion. Use a kneaded eraser for the small highlights seen in the brows. Create the patterns within the pupils and lift the catch lights.

Drawing Eyes at Angle Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Ears

Ears are one of the most difficult features to draw because hey are made up of strange shapes. We don’t particularly pay much attention to ears unless they have earrings or are larger than normal. Either way, they are not shapes that we often think about.

To draw a good portrait, you must learn the anatomy of the model to make them look convincing. It is a good idea to practice drawing ears in a variety of angles and poses, too. Practicing all views is important if you want to be proficient in portrait drawing.

Ear, Front View

This is a typical front view of an ear seen on a portrait. Much of the anatomy is blocked by the hair. Only the protruding part of the earlobe is visible.

Drawing of Ear, Front View | How to Draw Facial Features with Lee Hammond, Beginner’s Guide | Artists Network

Ear, Side-Angle View

This side-angle view shows the complexities of the ear. It is certainly not a typical pose, but you never know when you may have to draw a person in an unusual pose.

Drawing of Ear, Side-Angle View | How to Draw Facial Features with Lee Hammond, Beginner’s Guide | Artists Network

Drawing Ears

This exercise will help you learn the anatomy of ears. They are made up of many intricate shapes that all nestle together. The grid method helps to make them appear more like a puzzle.

Here are some things to keep in mind when drawing ears:

  • The outer ear overlaps the inner ear.
  • The inner ear has an area that resembles a Y. Look for it in every ear you draw.
  • The skin of the ear is different. It is more oily, so highlights can appear very bright.
  • There is a protruding area of the inner ear that acts like a cup.
  • The earlobe often resembles a sphere.

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of an ear. Look at it like a puzzle of interlocking shapes.

Drawing Ears Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply the Darks

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the darkest areas with a pencil.

Create shadows underneath where the outer ear overlaps the inner ears. Resist the urge to outline too much. Let shading create your edges.

Drawing Ears Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend and Lift

Blend the drawing with a stump or tortillion. To make it look realistic, lift out highlights with a kneaded eraser.

The ear is a bit shinier than other skin, so the highlights should be bright. Remember the five elements of shading and the sphere when focusing on the earlobe.

Drawing Ears Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Putting it All Together | Drawing a Portrait

Now that you’ve learned how to draw facial features from the eyes to the mouth, it’s time to put everything together into a portrait. Do not do this project before you have done the proper practice work. Go back and practice all of the facial features first.

And, before moving on to this demo, be sure to practice drawing hair. I covered this topic in another post, which you can find here.

Here are some tips for drawing portraits:

  • When you want to draw facial features, start with the eyes. This helps create a connection with the viewer and starts to capture the personality of your subject.
  • When you finish the eyes, move down and finish the nose, then the mouth. This is called the triangle of features.
  • Allow the darkness of the hair to help create the lighter edge of the face. Placing tone behind the face reduces the chance of things looking outlined.
  • When drawing hair, apply your pencil strokes going in the same direction as the hair growth.
  • Always remember the five elements of shading with everything you draw.

1. Create a Line Drawing

Use the grid method and a mechanical pencil to create a line drawing of a female face. Go one box at a time and be very careful with the shapes.

Drawing a Portrait Demo, Step 1 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

2. Apply the Darks and Start Building up the Hair

When you are sure of your accuracy, carefully remove the grid lines with a kneaded eraser. Apply the darkest tones.

Start with the eyes and then move down to the nose and mouth to create the triangle of features. Apply some dark tone next to the face to help create the light edge of the face. Start to build the hair using long pencil strokes.

Drawing a Portrait Demo, Step 2 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

3. Blend and Lift

Take your time finishing. The face must be blended very smooth with a stump or tortillion. Little of the drawing should be left pure white; only the highlights in the eyes and on the nose appear white. As you complete the face, refer to the previous exercises on individual facial features and keep the five elements of shading in mind.

The hair in this portrait takes a lot of time. Use very long pencil strokes to create the length. Blend everything out smooth and then lift bands of light out of the hair with a kneaded eraser.

Drawing a Portrait Demo, Step 3 | Lee Hammond | How to Draw Facial Features for Beginners | Artists Network

Keep Practicing

Now that you have learned how to draw facial features, keep practicing! Lee Hammond’s All New Big Book of Drawing includes tons of quick step-by-step drawing demos geared toward beginners in both graphite and colored pencil (including how to draw facial features in colored pencil). Find more inspiration and techniques from Lee Hammond herself by visiting her website, here. From drawing realistic faces to creating lifelike animals, this resource has it all. Enjoy!


More Resources on Drawing Faces and People

Drawing the Curve of Cheeks, Chins and Noses          Drawing Hair

Drawing Facial Hair            Avoid These 5 Mistakes When Drawing Portraits


A Simple Formula for Pricing Artwork

how to price your artwork, lori woodward, artist daily
Easy art-pricing formula: (square inches x your price per inch) + (cost of materials / gallery’s commission percentage)

Pricing artwork is one of the most complex tasks that emerging artists face, especially when they first begin to work with galleries and start to establish their art business. It’s easy to see by reading art business articles and books on art marketing that the opinions of the experts on how to price your artwork vary.

To make it even more complicated, we artists sometimes price with our emotions. Some artists overprice their work in order to impress viewers, hoping to make the artwork look more valuable. Sometimes this works, but usually only when the collector is naive or when the artwork is spectacular and gets the attention of serious collectors.

When I price with my emotion, I tend to lower my prices because I feel sorry that the collector has to spend so much. Now, don’t get on me for this … it’s the truth. I’m an empathetic type, but I need to be careful to not price my work based on how I feel about it or collectors. In other words, I need to look at how to sell and price my artwork  objectively.

Learn how to sell your art with our guide to art business success! Get your FREE guide, here. 

Otter Point, Acadia by Lori Woodward, acrylic on paper, 7 x 13.5.
Otter Point, Acadia by Lori Woodward, acrylic on paper, 7 x 13.5.

Putting emotions aside, let me share a simple formula that many of my professional artist friends have used when first starting to sell their work. I still use this formula. Remember that the price of your artwork reflects your position and reputation in the art-selling world more than what your art looks like. If you’re relatively unknown to collectors and don’t have many credentials you really can’t get the same prices as artists who do have won competitions or shown in galleries.

When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to make your work as affordable as you can while being able to make a small profit. Don’t charge so little that you don’t break even. Remember that galleries often take a 50 percent commission from sales, so you’ll have to take that into consideration.

Price Your Artwork with this Formula

1. Multiply the painting’s width by its length to arrive at the total size, in square inches. Then multiply that number by a set dollar amount that’s appropriate for your reputation. I currently use $6 per square inch for oil paintings. Then calculate your cost of canvas and framing, and then double that number. For example: A 16”-x-20” oil-on-linen landscape painting: 16” x 20” = 320 square inches. I price my oil paintings at $6 per square inch. 320 x 6 = $1,920.00, and I round this down to $1,900.

2. My frame, canvas and materials cost me $150.00 (I buy framing wholesale). I double this cost so that I’ll get it all back when the painting sells at the gallery. Otherwise, I’m subsidizing the collector by giving him or her the frame for free. $150 x 2 = $300.

3. Then I put it all together: $1,900 + $300 = $2,200 (the retail price). When the painting sells from a gallery, my cut after the 50 percent commission is paid comes to $950 for the painting and $150 for the framing, for a total of $1,100.

For much larger pieces, I’ll bring the price per square inch down a notch … maybe a dollar or two lower so that I don’t price my work beyond what my reputation can sustain. Alternately, for smaller works, I’ll increase the dollar per square inch because small works take almost as much effort as larger works, and I need to be compensated for my expertise, even when the work is miniature.

How to price your art, artist daily, garden shed, oil painting, lori woodward
The Garden shed, Oil on Linen, 12″ x 16″, by Lori Woodward

This is not the only way to price your artwork, but it’s one that keeps my prices consistent. Keep in mind that my prices were much lower 10 years ago when my artwork was relatively unknown to collectors. It’s important to note here that when I have a great selling year, I raise my prices by 10 percent. When the economy is poor or my sales are slow, I don’t raise prices at all.

I hope this will give you a place to start. If you’re just selling at local outdoor shows and are entering the art market, I would suggest that you keep your dollar amount much lower than mine. I’ve been selling my work for 14 years. There are ways that I could increase the worth and therefore the price of my art, but I’ll talk about that in a later blog post.

Lori Woodward is a talented artist who not only sells paintings, but creates informational blogs for the art community. To learn more from Lori and read more about working as an artist, visit her website, here. 

Drawing Anatomy for Beginners, Learning the Ins and Outs

When it comes to learning how to draw people successfully, knowing human anatomy is key. Jeff Mellem, artist and author of How to Draw People, shares the top dos and don’ts of drawing anatomy for beginners so you can start drawing more realistic figures in no time. Enjoy!

How to Draw People | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

Figure Drawings excerpted from “How to Draw People” by Jeff Mellem

1. Don’t think like an anatomy book

Drawing anatomy for beginners can feel overwhelming at first because there are so many muscles on the body. When you’re looking at a model and you see a lot on bumps, you might be tempted to pull out an anatomy book to decipher what’s going on under the skin.

An anatomy book is great at telling you what you’re looking at but it’s not very helpful at telling you the three-dimensional shape of the muscles.

Do think in simple volumes

When you first approach figure drawing, you need to start out with establishing the basic volumes of the figure using spheres, boxes and cylinders. By simply beginning with these basic shapes and then building up the complexity as you go along, you will be able to make your drawing maintain it’s sense of dimension.

If you copy contours before you build in the structure, I guarantee you’ll end up with a flat-looking drawing.

Muscles | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

The drawing on the left overemphasizes the model’s muscles and it looks more like an anatomy book than a figure. An artist needs to think about the 3D shape of the muscles to give the figure an illusion of volume.

The Takeaway:

Use an anatomy book to understand what’s below the surface but think about each muscle in 3D. Don’t draw the muscles as a series of lines. Draw them as sculpted spheres, boxes and cylinders.

With that being said, you don’t always have to actually draw spheres and boxes on the page. If you look at an artist like Harry Carmean you can see that while he sometimes is only drawing counters of the body, he is clearly thinking about the 3D qualities of what he’s drawing.

2. Don’t make muscles the focus

When artists first start paying closer attention to adding anatomy to their drawings they often have a tendency to overemphasize the anatomy. The figures often end up looking like they have no skin. The muscles are there to add more realism to the figure, but they shouldn’t be the focal point of the drawing.

Do use muscles to reinforce the action

The focus of a drawing should convey an action, an emotion or the subject’s personality. You don’t want a viewer to stop and look at the parts of your drawing; you want the viewer to see the whole figure and be interested in what that figure is doing and who he or she is.

In order to maintain focus on the action it’s always a great practice to start all your drawings with a gesture drawing. A gesture drawing serves as a blueprint for the action. Everything that comes after is to help clarify and enhance that action.

The muscles should be drawn to amplify the movement of the figure and shouldn’t draw attention to themselves. A good example of this is comic book characters that have exaggerated anatomy to convey their strength.

A successful comic book page isn’t about the character’s muscles but about how that character’s power is being expressed in the story. The volumes of the muscles are designed to lead the eye through the body toward a point of action. The reader isn’t stopping to look at the character’s well-developed musculature.

Gesture Drawing | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

Notice how the muscles in the figure on the right reflect the gesture drawing on the left. The muscles are used to reinforce the figure’s action, they aren’t the focus of the drawing.

The Takeaway:

Anatomy is there to add realism but it’s less important then conveying the action and attitude of the whole figure.

3. DON’T draw every figure with the same shapes

When artists start using basic shapes to develop figures they often start to fall into a pattern of using the same shapes to build every figure.

DO observe and adapt to your figures unique build

When you’re building your figure you have to look and adapt your shapes to the specific subject you’re drawing. You’re not going to use the same shapes for a bodybuilder that you would a sumo wrestler or a long distance runner.

You have to look at your subject and figure out what simple shapes are the best tools to develop your figure. For example, some people have very squarish heads which needs to be constructed from box shapes while others have a more roundish appearance that should be built from spheres.

Shapes in Figure Drawing | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

These two figures are in the same pose but are built from different shapes. The figure on the right is built from more block shapes and it gives the figure a sturdier feeling.

The Takeaway:

Don’t approach every figure with a formula. Instead, observe and adapt your shapes to fit your subject.

4. DON’T copy what you see

If you only copy what you see you will never create what you imagine. I never saw the point of replicating a photo in a drawing beyond being an exercise to build observational skills. Why duplicate what already exists when you can interpret and adapt as you see fit?

DO recreate what you see on the page

Observational skills are important but not just for copying what you see. Use your observational skills to analyze your subject’s unique shapes so you can reinterpret it on the page. That means you aren’t copying counters of the body. Instead you’re recreating a figure on the page from the ground up.

You start by capturing its movement in a gesture, rebuild the figure three-dimensionally using basic spheres, boxes and cylinders, and then sculpt those simple shapes into anatomical forms. This is a very different process than just replicating what you see.

You’re combining what you see with your 3D knowledge of anatomy to recreate the figure on the page. This will not only help you to develop drawing that have a sense of mass but also will allow you to adapt and modify the figure to create something new.

3D Shapes | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

This is just a fun drawing to help illustrate that you need to understand the 3D shapes of a figure and then you can reassemble them on the page. This is a different way of thinking than just copying the contours you see.

The Takeaway:

The job of an artist isn’t to replicate what he or she sees. It is to interpret what he or she understands. When drawing a figure, you bring in your knowledge of anatomy and volume to draw a figure rather than just copying contours and values.

5. DO pay attention to proportions and anatomy

To draw a realistic figure, you need to pay attention to accurately capture the figure’s proportions and anatomy. This comes from both studying anatomy and having good observational skills.

DON’T be overly rigid.

Anatomy and proportion are important. But alone, they don’t make for an interesting drawing. A figure drawing that feels like it has personality or appears dynamic is going to be more interesting than one that it technically correct.

Let the anatomy and proportion take a supporting role to the underlying gesture drawing. Every step of your drawing should be to create a unified figure that has energy and attitude even if that means altering the figure’s proportions or anatomy to better emphasize that action.

Proportions | Drawing Anatomy for Beginners: Top 5 Dos and Don’ts by Jeff Mellem | Artists Network

This figure has exaggerated proportions – similar to those used in fashion drawing. It doesn’t matter that it’s not correctly proportioned if the decision to exaggerate is purposeful. You can find many examples of artists who distort and exaggerate proportions for stylistic reasons.

The Takeaway:

Drawing great anatomy helps artists create realistic-looking figures that appear to have actual mass and volume. However, the anatomy needs to add to the sense of movement of the figure and not distract from it. You must have the skill to be able to draw the muscles in 3D in order to modify and adapt the shapes and emphasize the movement and personality of your subjects.

The Beginning Artist’s Guide to Perspective Drawing

Learn to Draw by Putting Things into Perspective

We’ve probably all heard (or even uttered) the phrase, “That really puts things into perspective.” Perspective is all about relativity; when you pull back and look at the larger picture and take a different view, maybe things aren’t so bad, or maybe there’s a solution where it seemed like there wasn’t before. Drawing with perspective will help you understand the big picture of your work and perspective drawing for beginners is much easier than you think. 

Learn to Draw Perspective

In the art world, perspective is about your point of view,  only this time, it’s more spatial. When you learn to draw perspective as a beginner, you learn it’s importance. It’s all about how you look at the world, and that’s exactly what Patrick Connors teaches in his video, The Artist’s Guide to Perspective.

In Guide to Perspective Part 1, Connors shares lessons on perspective drawing for beginners and shows you how to see objects in a different way. In Part 2, Connors demonstrates how to draw one- and two-point perspective; then, he applies those drawing techniques to complete a still life, step-by-step.

Learn perspective drawing for beginners from the guided video below. Follow along to learn techniques from Thomas Schaller with guidance from Patrick Connors. 



 

Why Perspective and Perception Go Hand-in-Hand

Although the fundamentals of perspective drawing seem to be rather straight to the point, the possibilities of how you can apply perspective in your art are vast. In fact, perspective is nearly synonymous with perception.

What I mean by this is you can use the principles of perspective drawing for beginners to create your own perception of the world through your art. You have the power of illusion literally at your fingertips. You can alter how your art is perceived—all by just conquering the basics of perspective drawing. How empowering is that?

If you are thinking, “OK, that all sounds great, but how can I learn how to draw in perspective?” Well, to start, let’s go over a few key terms you should know before delving into perspective drawing for beginners pulled from the book, Perspective for The Absolute Beginner, by Mark and Mary Willenbrink.

Linear Perspective Terms

Visual depth is expressed through linear and atmospheric perspective, as well as color use. With linear perspective, depth is achieved through lines and the size and placement of forms. And though compositions can vary in complexity, the basic terms and definitions covered in this section are inherent to linear perspective drawings.

The horizon is the line for which the sky meets the land or water below. The height of the horizon will affect the placement of the vanishing point(s) as well as the scene’s eye level.

The vanishing point is the place where parallel lines appear to come together in the distance. In the picture, below, you can see how the parallel lines of the road recede and visually merge to create a single vanishing point on the horizon. A scene can have a limitless number of vanishing points.

The ground plane is the horizontal surface below the horizon. It could be land or water. In the image below, the ground plane is level. If it were sloped or hilly, the vanishing point–created by the path’s parallel lines–may not rest on the horizon and may appear as if it’s on an inclined plane.

The orthogonal lines are lines which are directed to a vanishing point; the parallel lines of railroad tracks, for example. The word “orthogonal” actually means right angle. It refers to right angles formed by lines such as the corner of a cube shown in perspective.

The vantage point, not to be confused with the vanishing point, is the place from which a scene is viewed. The vantage point is affected by the placement of the horizon and the vanishing points.

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network

 

One-Point Perspective. Linear perspective with just one vanishing point is one-point perspective. The vanishing point will typically appear in the center part of the scene.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
From this vantage point, you are looking across the ground plane to the horizon in the distance. The parallel lines of the railroad tracks converge at a vanishing point on the horizon. If the lines of the box were drawn to go back to the horizon, they would converge at the same vanishing point as the railroad tracks because the lines of the box are parallel to the railroad tracks. Notice that all of the lines in this scene either converge at the vanishing point or are vertical (perpendicular to the ground plane) or horizontal (parallel to the horizon).

 

Two-Point Perspective. Linear perspective that uses two vanishing points is called two-point perspective. Scenes in two-point perspective typically have the vanishing points placed at the far left and far right.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Here is a two-point perspective scene looking across the ground plane to the horizon in the distance. The parallel lines of the railroad tracks and box converge at a vanishing point at the far right on the horizon. The other lines of the box that are parallel with the railroad ties share the same vanishing point on the far left. All of the lines of this scene converge at either the left or right vanishing point, or are vertical lines (perpendicular to the ground plane).

 

Multi-Point Perspective. Linear perspective doesn’t have to be limited to one or two vanishing points. A scene could have multiple vanishing points depending on the complexity of the subject. For example, three-point perspective is similar to two-point perspective; it has left and right vanishing points on the horizon. Additionally, there is a third vanishing point either below or above the horizon.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Besides having vanishing points on the left and right, this scene has an additional vanishing point below the subject. With this drawing, the horizon is above the subject, giving a bird’s-eye vantage point to the scene. Every line of the subject is an orthogonal line and goes to one of the three vanishing points.

 

With two-point perspective, these vertical lines remain straight up and down perpendicular to the ground plane. With three-point perspective, the vantage point either looks down or up at the subject. Instead of vertical lines, it has a third set of orthogonal lines that converge at a third vanishing point.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Peters Cartridge Factory, watercolor on watercolor paper, 8″ by 11″. The vanishing points of this three-point perspective scene can be located by continuing the lines of the buildings and windows beyond the perimeter of the scene to three places of convergence.

 

Atmospheric Perspective

Atmospheric perspective, also called aerial perspective, conveys depth through variations of values (lights and darks), colors and clarity of elements. Foreground elements in a composition have greater value contrasts, more intense colors and greater definition of details. With distance, the values and colors become neutral, the details are less defined and the elements take on a dull blue-gray appearance.

Atmospheric perspective occurs when particles in the air, such as water vapor and smog, affect what is seen. Forms viewed from a distance are not as defined and have less contrast because there are more particles in the atmosphere between the forms and the viewer. Likewise, the wavelengths of color are affected by distance. Blues bounce around, whereas the longer color wavelengths are not affected by particles in the same way. The result is that the blues remain more visible than the other colors in the spectrum.

The values are the lights and darks of a composition. Intrinsic to atmospheric perspective, values can influence the impression of depth in a scene. Highly contrasting values tend to appear forward of values with little contrast.

The lighting of a scene affects shadows and values of forms. It can also affect how those forms are perceived.

When drawing, depth can be expressed through both linear and atmospheric perspective as well as through the use of color. Combining all three will produce optimal results.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Dulling with Distance: By putting atmospheric perspective to use, forms in the foreground will have
greater clarity than background forms. The hazy blue-gray appearance of the tree on the right, with its dull colors and values, suggests that it is the most distant of the three trees.

 

Practice Perspective Drawing 

Now that the basics have been covered, here’s a fun step-by-step demonstration on perspective drawing, which plays into the power of illusion. This tutorial involves sketching squares with lines that recede to a single vanishing point. The depth in the finished drawing is implied through linear perspective and the use of values.

 

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Internal Boxes, graphite pencil on drawing paper, 8″ × 8″

 

Materials needed to complete this demonstration:

  • Paper: 8” x 8” medium texture drawing paper; 8” x 8” medium-texture sketch paper
  • Pencils: 2B and 4B
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Lightbox or transfer paper
  • Ruler
  • Triangle
  • T-square

Step 1: Sketch the Squares

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 1

 

On a piece of sketch paper, use a 2B pencil to form a large square that is 8″× 8″ (20cm × 20cm). Sketch smaller squares inside the large square using a ruler to mark off the lines. The measurements should be the same from both top to bottom and left to right: ½”, 2″, ½”, 2″, ½”, 2″ (1.3cm, 5cm, 1.3cm, 5cm, 1.3cm, 5cm). Draw the lines using a T-square and triangle to ensure they are straight and accurate.

Step 2: Add the Vanishing Point and Orthogonal Lines

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 2

 

Place a dot at the center of the paper for the vanishing point. Begin adding orthogonal lines from the corners of the squares to the vanishing point. Avoid sketching the lines over the forward surface that is to remain white.

Step 3: Add More Orthogonal Lines

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 3

 

Continue adding lines that converge at the vanishing point.

Step 4: Trace or Transfer the Image

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 4

 

Use a 2B pencil to lightly trace or transfer the structural sketch onto a sheet of 8” x 8” (20cm x 20cm) drawing paper. Leave out any unwanted lines.

Step 5: Add the Light Values

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 5

 

Add the lighter values with a 2B pencil. Make the values darker as the internal forms recede.

Step 6: Add the Middle Values

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 6

 

Add the middle values. Continue to darken the tunnel-like forms as they recede into the distance.

Step 7: Add the Dark Values

Perspective for The Absolute Beginner | Perspective Drawing | Drawing for Beginners | Mark and Mary Willenbrink | Artist's Network
Step 7

 

Add more darks and details with 2B and 4B pencils. Lighten any areas with a kneaded eraser, if needed.

Don’t forget to sign your work!

Because your artwork is a unique expression of yourself, sign and date each drawing. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and also help you to track the progression of your artistic skills.

Want to Know More About Perspective Drawing for Beginners?

Adding perspective to the beginning stages of your learning process will help you develop a deep understanding of form and its relationship to space. Take your new perspective drawing knowledge and build your skills with  inspiration from Patrick Connors‘ landscape paintings. Or, check out 11 more tips on how to draw with perspective, here. 

***

Article contributions by Mark Willenbrink and Mary Willenbrink, Vanessa Wieland and Maria Woodie


Want more free drawing lessons? Check this out!

What Is Abstract Art? And Why Should I Care?

“Abstract art has been with us in one form or another for almost a century now and has proved to be not only a long-standing crux of cultural debate but a self-renewing, vital tradition of creativity. We know that it works, even if we’re still not sure why that’s so, or exactly what to make of that fact.” -Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe

what is abstract art  Squares with Concentric Circles by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913
Squares with Concentric Circles by Vassily Kandinsky, 1913

What is Abstract Art?

You may like abstract art outright, hate it or not understand exactly what it is, but since you’ve started reading this, I can at least assume you’re curious about this perplexing art form that evades definition and artistic classification.

what is abstract art? LascauxAbstract art has been around for well over 100 years. Some might even assert that abstraction started with the cave paintings of thousands of years ago—and has held its own against changing art movements, manifestos and testimonials for all these centuries.

Abstract Art

The definition. Abstraction literally means the distancing of an idea from objective referents. That means, in the visual arts, pulling a depiction away from any literal, representational reference points. You can also call abstract art nonrepresentational art.

The Highlights

The first signs. Abstraction can be traced to Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism. All three helped realize the idea that art could be non-representative.

The movement. Modern abstract art was born early in the 20th century. It was completely radical for its day. Artists began to create simplified objections with little or no reference to the “real” world.

The father. The first artist to create abstract art as we know it will always remain a mystery but Wassily Kandinsky is often credited by historians as he created paintings of floating, norepresentational forms as early as 1912. His work brought abstraction to America during the Armory Show in 1913.

The present. Abstract art now lives in the art world in many forms. It is two- and three-dimensional. It can be vast or small. Abstract art can also be made with many materials and on many surfaces. It can be used in concert with representational art or completely abstract. Artists creating it often focus on other visual qualities like color, form, texture, scale and more in their nonobjective work.

what is abstract art? mandalas on stones
Courtesy Sandrine Pelissier

What Is Abstract Art?
— Additional Resources —

4 Abstract Painting Techniques     Abstraction 101      12 Tips for Watercolor Abstraction


Why Should I Care?

The continuing interest in abstract art lies in its ability to inspire our curiosity about the reaches of our imagination and the potential for us to create something completely unique in the world.

A major obstacle to making an abstract artwork is the barrier in your mind that questions whether abstract art is a legitimate art form—legitimate for you at least. This block may be because you still wonder, “Is abstract art really ‘art’ at all?” Possibly you think you have to master realism before you can work abstractly? Or it could be that you worry your friends and family won’t approve?

What is Abstract art | Painting by Timothy Hawkesworth | ArtistsNetwork.com
Mayo Drawing #14 (oil pencil and wax on paper) by Timothy Hawkesworth

The Quick Answers

1. Historically, abstract art is a “legitimate” art form, and that judgment was settled well over a century ago.

2. No, you don’t have to earn a diploma in realism before you make abstract art. And no one checks your “artistic license” credentials at the door.

3. If you routinely did everything your friends and family approved of, you probably wouldn’t even consider making art at all. Put aside the dread of any incoming judgment. You can’t please everybody all the time–but you can please yourself.

Still, there is our frustration with the fact that there’s no universal agreement to the answer of the question: What is abstract art? What’s important here is to look at that artistic dilemma as an opportunity rather than a roadblock. The opportunity is that abstract art can mean anything you want it to in your personal work, giving you boundless territory to create.

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.” ―Arshile Gorky

What is abstract art? Abstract art by Eric Aho | ArtistsNetwork.com
Abstract painting by Eric Aho

What Is Abstract Art To You?

In the last chapter of my book, Creating Abstract Art, I ask 50 artists, “What is abstract art to you?” The results show no two answers are the same, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be!

A way of seeing…

“The more I attempt to make something real as a painter, the more abstract it becomes. I love this paradox. As each year goes by, I’m increasingly engaged with the way abstraction and depiction, or realism—or whatever you want to call it—are actually intimately joined, and in constant struggle with (one another). It comes down to how the world is perceived. Can I paint a forest without rendering a single tree? Or show the entirety of the forest with just one tree?” —Eric Aho

What is abstract art? Abstract painting by Adria Arch | ArtistsNetwork.com
Constellation 1 (acrylic on canvas) by Adria Arch

“I enjoy playing with and rearranging colors, lines and shapes to create images that I want to look at. I want my work to be surprising, playful and provocative. Some of my paintings are doors, others windows. They are all portals. I continue to use these symbols because they are a joyous and mysterious language that is somehow both deeply personal and universal.” —Aria Arch

“For me ‘abstraction’ is not an art movement, a moment in art history or a style of painting. It is a crucial integral connector to the vitality of painting. What is extraordinary for me is that as I go out past what I know—past where I am controlling what I do—to find coherency and form. Contact with this wordless coherency, the gift of form is a profound homecoming.” —Timothy Hawkesworth

What is abstract art? Abstract art installation by Chris Nelson | ArtistsNetwork.com
Reflecting Back (water, light, plastic, wood and metal) by Chris Nelson

“I want to express a certain feeling and emotion by creating an entire environment for the viewer to walk into or observe from afar. I use materials in a direct and simple way, not transforming or altering them greatly from their natural state. Why? I prefer to keep my pieces as broad and non-objective as possible to allow the viewer to bring in their own interpretations drawn from their own experiences.”  —Chris Nelson

An emotional outpouring…

What is abstract art? Abstract artist Janet Stupak | ArtistsNetwork.com
Abstract artist Janet Stupak

“When I am engaged in art making I am fully caught up in the medium and tools and mission. I’ve learned not to think about the product that I will end up with because the time spent engaged in the creative activity is what is most important to me. I enjoy the detached feeling I get when working in the abstract—it’s like a dance with my hand and my mind and they take turns leading.” — Janet Stupak

What is abstract art? Abstract art by Nicholas Wilton | ArtistsNetwork.com
Stillness (mixed media on panel) by Nicholas Wilton

“Abstraction, like poetry, does not dictate a clear narrative but rather, quietly offers a fragment, a piece of a mysteriously familiar narrative. In my paintings, there has continued to be a paring down of recognizable natural forms, which now have given way to a personal abstract vocabulary of shapes, colors and forms. The prominent use of abstraction has allowed me to distill and better communicate my emotions and ideas about life, nature and our respective place within it.” — Nicholas Wilton

A personal point of view…

What is abstract art? Abstract art installation by Yuriko Yamaguchi | ArtistsNetwork.com
Interior (mixed media installation) by Yuriko Yamaguchi

“I am always interested in a discovery process in art making rather than working for something I am familiar with. I also want to express internal feelings and thoughts in my works. Something more elusive, poetical and imaginative in my work is my goal. As a result, my work tends to be abstract rather than representational.” — Yuriko Yamaguchi

A point of discovery…

What is abstract art? Abstract art by Yuan Zuo | ArtistsNetwork.com
Yellow Mountain (oil on canvas) by Yuan Zuo

“Though my pictures are abstractions that don’t resemble conventional Chinese paintings, I still work from observation and I present my own honest feelings or ideas through colors and brushstrokes that have become my own tradition as an artist.” —Yuan Zuo

What is Abstract Art for Creative People and Artists?

Keep in mind artists of whatever stripe are rebels against the grain of society no matter what they choose to do. You should think of making abstract art as an outsider’s merit badge that sets you apart from the crowd.


WATCH: How to Interpret Sound to Create Abstract Art

What is abstract art? Abstraction in art can be anything you want it to be. It can not only be an interpretation of what you see or what you feel, but also what you hear. In the video demonstration below, watch as I use sound to create abstract art.


If You Love Art History…

What Is Abstract Art: More resources on SargentHow to Paint Like an Impressionist

Monet at Giverny

The Friendship That Changed Art: Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock

2-Minute Art History with Salvador Dali

2-Minute Art History with John Singer Sargent in Venice

13 Award-Winning Pieces of Acrylic Art You Have to See

Meet the Winners of the AcrylicWorks 7 Art Competition

Curiosity Distilled (acrylic on prepared panel, 9 1⁄2×121⁄2) by Joann McLean

Color and light have the power to capture attention, quicken the heart, and transport us to another place and time. The winning artists of the AcrylicWorks 7 Art Competition have successfully used acrylic paint to harness that power to magnificent effect. The 102 paintings showcased in the special publication, AcrylicWorks 7, evoke the very essence of color and light through a variety of subject matter and styles. Each artist employs a unique method for expressing these elements — light and dark, bright and soft, delicate glazes and bold impasto — to make their paintings sing. Accompanying commentary by each of the artists provides insight into the inspiration and artistic process behind their paintings.

There’s nothing that so inspires us as the light and color all around us. We hope that the incredible artworks collected here — just a sampling of the more than 100 winning pieces — will stir you to take note of your own inspirations and the breathtaking possibilities and versatility of this medium.

Floral & Still Life

Into the Blue (acrylic on canvas, 45×37) by Jana Leimane

Into the Blue by Jana Leimane

“Color and light are the most characteristic features in my artworks. I always use bright colors and a contrasting light-and-shadow ratio. I like to create paintings that are dramatic with dark backgrounds emphasizing bright colors — drama on canvas, I like to call it. When painting, I sometimes mix in neon colors to achieve maximum brightness. I usually paint from a photo, as almost all of my subjects are flowers, which can’t stand in a vase for long before they start to wilt.” — Jana Leimane


Ribbed Heirloom Tomato (acrylic on canvas, 231⁄2×203⁄4) by Paul Chapman

Ribbed Heirloom Tomato by Paul Chapman

“I was attracted to this tomato’s sculptural essence, brilliant color and near-perfect surface. I put it on a white plate and took it outside in the brilliant sun. Fifty photos later, I found one that nearly did what I was expecting. That photo went through the photo-editing software until it was even closer to what I had in mind. After that the painting took over, and I kept working until I had what I envisioned in my minds’ eye. The initial thin layers of color melded with the preliminary drawing in vine charcoal, shaping the edges of the object even before any serious painting had taken place. Next I applied many thinner layers of color. Each layer worked with the layers above and below. This way, I got to change the edges and the surface many times before I finally became satisfied with the truthfulness of my painting.” — Paul Chapman


Land & Sea

Montara Morning 2 (acrylic on hardboard panel, 12×18) by Scott Anthony

Montara Morning 2 by Scott Anthony

“I’m very fortunate to live within a couple miles of the headlands along the California coast between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay. It’s spectacularly beautiful virtually all year long, especially early in the morning and late in the afternoon when the sun is low, creating long dark shadows and bright colorful highlights. On this morning, I was struck by the incredibly bright green (with touches of orange) of the sunlit vegetation contrasted against both the warm and cool areas in shadow.” — Scott Anthony


Big Country (acrylic on canvas, 30×40) by Edward DuRose

Big Country by Edward DuRose

“The focus of this painting is the glowing golden light coming through the cottonwoods as the sun was setting. I also wanted to convey a feeling of the big country and the smallness of the person in it. The horse splashing in the water is the only thing disrupting the scenery.” — Edward DuRose


Urban Life & Architecture

This Way and That (acrylic on canvas, 24×48) by Lynette Cook

This Way and That by Lynette Cook

“During a morning visit to Portsmouth Square in the City by the Bay (San Francisco), I spotted the rising sun shining upon this building’s blue fire escape, transforming a typically static architectural scene into a complex pattern of light and shadow. As I scanned the details, I noticed that the angles of the shadows were juxtaposed with the opposite diagonal lines of the stairs, causing my eye to move back and forth — this way and that — across the surface of the building. It was hard to know where to focus since there was so much visual information to take in. Mesmerized by the intense blue color of the metal balconies and fascinated by the adjacent pink tones of the brick and stucco, I was inspired to create a painting that would celebrate the dazzling color and light, while also conveying the movement and energy I experienced.” — Lynette Cook


Another Good-Bye (acrylic on Masonite, 18×24) by Bob Gherardi_WO

Another Good-Bye by Bob Gherardi

“As a kid, I spent many weekends at my grandmother’s house in Ridgefield Park, N.J. I always knew that we were getting close when we turned right at the deli onto Main Street. Forty years later, I would take that same right turn to arrive at my future wife’s house—just a few blocks away from where my grandmother had lived. When I drove past the old house, I discovered that it had been remodeled almost to the point it was unrecognizable, except for the brick pillars my grandfather had laid. When my wife and I moved away a couple of years later, I said goodbye to Ridgefield Park once again as I drove past my grandmother’s house for the last time — the pillars were now covered with a stone façade. I continued down Main Street and turned left at the deli.” — Bob Gherardi


Portrait & Figure

Shades of Love, Shades of Glory (acrylic on paper, 22×30) by DebiLynn Fendley

Shades of Love, Shades of Glory by DebiLynn Fendley

“This painting was quite a departure for me. Although bright color attracts my attention, I seldom use it in my paintings, preferring earth tones instead. I had chosen the subject matter — a father and daughter — when I observed the two having a touching moment together, but the photograph on which I based the composition was deficient in detail. I use Photoshop quite often to alter and manipulate my source photographs, but typically ignore any resulting bright colors. This time, however, I was intrigued by the play of negative space I saw on screen and the colors that worked hand-in-hand with it, so I kept both the color and the negative space in the image when I painted it. The father in this piece is a Vietnam veteran, a subject I paint often.” — DebiLynn Fendley


Deep in Thoughts (acrylic on canvas, 15×20) by TaiMeng Lim

Deep in Thoughts by TaiMeng Lim

“I’ve always loved the imaginative world of children brimming with fun plots and twists, good versus evil, story and magic. Deep in Thoughts is a piece that captures a child in the midst of a play moment, pretending to be a flower princess. I painted a backlit effect to bring focus upon the young girl while using light and dark shadows to represent imagination and mystery. Warm and cool color tones were used to further create contrast and to represent hope and darkness. My process began with an outline drawing. Then I applied an underpainting to establish the initial value and details of the figure. I continued applying multiple layers of acrylic paint to develop the colors and accurate value of the figure and the background. I also used palette knives to create some dynamic touches and further harmonize the color temperature of the painting.” — TaiMeng Lim


Pets & Wildlife

Rudy (acrylic on canvas, 16×20) by Melanie Anderson

Rudy by Melanie Anderson

“I have a special connection with dogs and have been painting them for about 15 years. Dogs enrich the lives of their humans, and I love having the opportunity to capture their spirit on canvas. They have such big, bold personalities — and that’s how I choose to paint them. I worked hard to capture Rudy’s colorful personality in this painting. My own furry muses, Rizzie and Penny, also provide me with endless inspiration.

“Acrylic is my favorite medium. I use fluid, regular and Golden open acrylics to create different textures. I start with a colorful underpainting and then drybrush many thin layers of color until I achieve the desired effect.” — Melanie Anderson


The Last Grayling (acrylic on canvas, 58×38) by John Megahan

The Last Grayling by John Megahan

“The arctic grayling was a popular sport fish, once well established in Michigan. By the early 1900s, however, fishermen and biologists began to observe worrisome signs of declining populations. The last recorded arctic grayling was caught in 1936 on the Otto River in Michigan’s upper peninsula. Despite several attempts at reintroducing the species, no arctic grayling has been seen in Michigan waters since then. They’re not endangered, nor are they considered threatened, but they no longer inhabit Michigan. There’s a variety of reasons for this, but a primary factor is habitat loss due to logging and development.” — John Megahan


Curiosity Distilled (acrylic on prepared panel, 9 1⁄2×121⁄2) by Joann McLean

Curiosity Distilled by Joann McLean

“After a long Canadian winter, the earth reawakens, and everything is about color and light. I observed and then photographed this curious chipmunk exploring in a locust tree in late April. The fresh spring green of new leaf shoots tipped by sunlight, the dappled light on the evergreens behind, the shadows and textures of lichen and bark, plus the mischievous glint in the animal’s eye all make for an irresistible composition.

“I enjoy completing the puzzle that is a successful realism painting using both heavy- and soft-bodied acrylics. Dabbing, sponging, spraying and brushwork techniques are some of the methods I use to recreate the textures and beauty of nature.” Joann McLean


Abstract & Nonobjective

Windows Into Lilies #5 (acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 24×24) by Dominique Vanzini

Windows Into Lilies #5 by Dominique Vanzini

“I love to travel and I always take lots of pictures. I get my creative energy and inspiration from traveling, visiting museums, attending dance classes and adding to my ever-growing collection of art books. I’m fascinated by close-up photos of nature — especially flowers, trees, leaves, water and the sky. When you look closely, there’s so much texture and so many hidden details to be seen. My artwork is about exploring the interaction between photos, acrylic, texture and color harmonies. Each painting consists of about 15 layers of acrylic, photos and gels on a canvas. A lot of planning goes into the composition and choosing the right colors.” — Dominique Vanzini


Sanctuary (acrylic on canvas, 30×30) by Wendy Fee

Sanctuary by Wendy Fee

“By definition, a sanctuary is a physical location that provides refuge and safety. However, a sanctuary may also be a composite of feelings and locations — real or imagined healing places — where each individual soul can find the serenity or escape they seek. Living on a boat for months at a time has been a great inspiration for my subject matter. Sanctuary holds a particular significance for me because I painted it while my husband and I were cruising the turquoise waters of the Bahamas. While there, I discovered that my own imagined sanctuary could actually be found on a map. The texture of the underwater reefs was created with palette knives. I used multiple layers of fluid acrylic washes to achieve the effect of filtered light reflected through the water. Whether I’m traveling or in the studio, I use acrylic paints because of their versatility and eco-friendly characteristics.” — Wendy Fee


To see all 102 of the AcrylicWorks 7 Art Competition Winners, check out the the special publication, AcrylicWorks 7, on newsstands now (or get the digital edition here).

We would like to extend a special thanks to our competition sponsor, BLICK Art Materials for their ongoing support for artists!

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