Posts in Art & Illustration
Everything I use to create my Artwork
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Never ever let me near an art shop. I have a problem.

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I covet art materials. I adore and cherish art materials. I cry and dance over colour pencils, paper, paint, brushes, little pencil sharpeners. Ah! I love it all. Don't get me started on rhinestones. Really. But as I have become more settled in the work I create, the things I actually use day-to-day has begun to refine and I now have my favourite tools that I use regularly and always replace.

Today I’d like to share my updated list of materials so you can have a go with them yourselves.


PAPER

For dry work such as colour pencil and graphite I use Daler Rowney or A4 Winsor and Newton Bristol Board in sizes a3 and a4. It is a thick, smooth, white paper that takes colour pencil and graphite brilliantly.

For wet work like ink and wash, watercolour or mixed media work I use blocks from Daler Rowney which are great because they don't cockle as they're already stretched, but they only come in a few sizes (no big sizes). I got a really good pack of practice watercolour paper from Ken Bromley and that's lasted me for ages and the quality is really good. I've also started experimenting with HP 640gsm Arches watercolour paper, which is super expensive, but you can buy it in large sheets and then cut it down to size. It's amazingly smooth, doesn't cockle and takes watercolour and pencil beautifully. I tend to use Hot Pressed and a little Rough, but hardly ever Not Pressed. I like the texture in Rough but details can be lost in it. I like HP for detailed work when I'm using pencils too.

I also have my sketchbooks. I've used all kinds and I've made my own from loose sheets. ATM I'm enjoying Seawhite, Moleskine and a Damien Hirst one (which you can't find anymore). I prefer them ring bound and hard back but i'll use anything really.

DRAWING

I use Faber-Castell Polychromos, Prismacolor Premier Pencils and Prismacolor Verithin Pencils depending on what I'm working on. I mix them a lot of the time.

For graphite work i use a standard range of sketching pencils, usually grade 4H to 8B, specifically 4H, HB, 3B, 6B and 8B. I particularly like my woodless graphite pencils. They're solid graphite so you can get some lovely big marks by using them on the side. I think Koh-i-noor sell a variety but I get mine from WHSmith. I like Lyra Rembrandt pencils at the moment I also useDerwent Graphitone Pencils in 8B because it's super dark and matte compared to a standard 8B and helps keep my drawings looking deep, dark and clean.

To sharpen I use a variety of sharpeners. I'm really fussy so I'm always changing what I use. And top tip- ALWAYS replace the blades! To erase I just use a standard eraser. I hate putty erasers. They either erase badly or leave a streak- I can't understand why they're so popular! I also LOVE Faber Castell Eraser Pencils. Another essential tool are my blending stumps and of course fixative- which I don't have a particular brand I'm loyal to.

PAINTING

I recently refined my watercolour palette which contains all my favourite colours, but basically I use a mix of Winsor and Newton Artist tubes, pans and Daniel Smith watercolours. I also like the Prima Watercolorswhich come in a variety of combinations but you can’t buy colours separately. I use masking fluid every now and then and replace it regularly as it can go off. Other handy tools to have are sponges, salt/gin for other cool effects. My brushes tend to be large synthetic ones for getting big washes down and then natural smaller brushes for adding detail. I swear by busted up, glued up, dried out, nasty old paint brushes for getting texture down. I also use a dropper for adding splats of paint, water, watercolour iridescent medium etc...

PENS

I use Uni-ball Signo pens for white details in drawings and I’m currently experimenting with some new brush pens and markers so i’ll let you know how I get on. For linework it has to be a Staedtler Pigment Liner.

Standard office highlighters are great fun and you can also get some washes out of them.

Other miscellaneous items include my drawing board, vintage paper ephemera like sheet music and postcards, and paper doilies…

TECH

I’m currently using my iPhone XS for most of my filming and photography, although my iPad Pro lends a hand. I do a lot of my digital work with Adobe Photoshop on a desktop however I like Procreate and Adobe Sketch for the iPad. I have a desk lamp and a gooseneck phone clamp that helps me do over head filming. That’s taken me a while to get set up the way I like but it means I can film during the dark weather here in the UK.
my art tools and materials
 
How to become really good at drawing
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What do you need to do to become REALLY good at drawing?

So you’ve read my previous blog post on how to learn how to draw quickly and you’re amazed at how much your work has improved but you’re still thinking... this is great and everything but I’m still not good. What can I do to become GREAT at drawing? 

You have two options:

1.) You can take common advice which recommends you ‘draw everything’ or ‘draw every day, forever more’ and somewhere along the line you might figure it all out and make stupendous art which will be great…

OR, (and it’s only a suggestion for those of us with lives or jobs or children or other hobbies or aren’t so young anymore and need a quicker way…)

2.) You could plan and tailor your drawing education so you’re learning only what matters to you, in a direct, focused way, setting goals and having some kind of plan to work to. 

And that’s what I do.

I’m in my mid 30s now. I am impatient and spread thinly. I just don’t have the time or even the energy in me to be able to draw everything, every day, in the vague hope something might fall into place. I just want to draw better. NOW. Not win some kind of weird, virtuous, who can draw the most contest. Who even cares??

Don’t forget, nothing is permanent. If I suddenly fancy drawing a completely different style 20 years down the line, fabulous. What I’ve learnt prior to that is still going to be useful. The point is, this method of drawing what we enjoy, in a calculated manner, will keep you enthusiastic and moving forward. Unless you’re particularly dedicated there is a very real risk that by drawing every day or drawing every thing, will eventually bore you, exhaust you, frustrate you or disappoint you when your work doesn’t turn out the way you want it to.

No you really don’t need to keep a travel sketchbook.

No you really don’t have to attend life drawing classes if you don’t want to.

Despite what Angela at your watercolour class INSISTED you had to try to ‘truly understand how to paint landscapes’. Of course Angela isn’t all wrong: experience, and actually making art of any kind is always of value, but if we can hone our focus and skip all the bits we have no interest in, let’s save ourselves the time for art we really want to make, right?

So if you’re in that mode of thinking too, let’s begin to try and distinguish what kind of drawings you want to make so we can figure out what you need to do to become awesome at those things.

What do you want to be drawing?

Grab a pen and notebook and start writing a shopping list of dream skills you have. How do you draw?

It is realistic? Cartoons? Abstract? Do you want to draw from imagination? What subjects are you drawing? Is your artwork the drawing or is it the foundation of a painting or design? Are you doing portraits and will accuracy be vital so your audience can recognise who you’ve drawn? Do you care if they recognise someone or not? Are you currently curious and want to try a little bit of everything? Do you have an art journal with drawings? Is this therapy? Doodles and mandalas? Are you an art teacher and need to demonstrate skills to others?

Put everything down.

Then write a second list of things you have absolutely no interest in drawing. Caricatures? Miniatures? Story boards? Pet portraits? It doesn’t need to be comprehensive, but it’ll give you a really good idea of what is either irrelevant to you, or styles/techniques that needs to be approached in a different way if it’s something that’ll be logically useful to you.

All these different techniques require slightly different paths to achieve and that makes an answer to ‘how do I learn to draw better’ very complicated and personal. One which YOU are the best at answering. Sorry. No book, course or art hero is going to be able to teach you how to draw better. Only YOU can decide what that means and how to get there.

I guess that’s why the standard advice is to ‘draw everything’… it’s not wrong, but it’s just a really simple answer to a very complicated question, and no ones been brave enough to sit down and suggest another method... a curriculum.

How I learnt how to draw better

When I first came to art I was an abstract artist. I loved painting that way, but I also felt like I needed a further education in other styles of art too, something was missing, so I wrote myself a little art course. I taught myself landscapes, knitting, crochet, craft, animal portraits and photorealism. All these things that looked like fun.

During that time I discovered a passion and talent for drawing portraits very realistically so I actually put down my paint brushes and turned to colour pencil and graphite portraits. That became my business. But I didn’t stop teaching myself.

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Knowing that portrait drawing was my new passion I began honing in on other things I could learn within that topic. I studied colour pencil, graphite, human anatomy. I studied what papers and desk setups would help me the most. I was drawing from a photo reference and from life. I tried even digital portraits.

The most important thing I learnt was that I knew what I didn’t need to draw. All the landscapes, still life, fashion illustration and abstract art got put to one side. It wasn’t relevant to me at that time.

To learn how to draw better, that’s what needs to become your way of art. You need to stop being distracted by things that don’t improve he art you want to be making, and do more of the things that make YOUR art better.

Here are some other essential tips that have helped me along the way: 

  • Dissect how other artists do their work until you’re no longer impressed by what they do. By dissect I mean watch and analyse everything, from how they set things up, how their process differs to yours, the initial marks they make, whether they blend, shade and how they do those things. What paper they use. What pencils. What subjects. Do they use a reference or take their own? What are they good at? What flaws can you see? How do they keep accurate? Who are their influences? What do they do when they’re not drawing? Watch their videos, buy their prints or buy/view originals if you can. Copy their work mark for mark and see what you learn. This is the very best way to learn. Steal like an artist, all the masters did it. In fact, it was how they were taught.

  • If you see someone’s better then you at something don’t just get jealous or flatter them with praise. Use the opportunity to ask questions. Ask about materials, technique, whether they do something you do or not. Successful artists are more likely to answer questions posed towards their own work rather then give feedback on your work. It’s actually considered very bad manners to approach an artist after they’ve shared their work and asking them to ‘check out’ yours. To be blunt, they’ll have better things to do and often their time is PAID FOR. So if you really want the feedback from an artist, be prepared to offer payment for their time or ask for it with greatest respect and tact. They’re not a charity. Instead try and get tips from the way they discuss their own work. Most artists love to share their wisdom and experiences.

  • Look out for fakes and people who keep mysteriously vague about their processes. Ugh. I see this all the time. A million comments on a print out that’s been sketched over the top to look like a drawing, or a photo that’s got a filter on it pretending to be sketch. Don’t be fooled. Why? Because they’re setting impossible standards. They’re lying, saying they’ve drawn something when actually all the detail and accuracy of their ‘drawing’ comes from a photograph. I spent way too long trying to emulate some artists work before realising it wasn’t even a drawing. Note; their work is still valid. Whether they use digital techniques or mixed media, the point is, it should be labelled as such. Misleading people into thinking a print out is actually a hand drawn piece is just a stunt. And sadly, it works. Click bait. Know your materials- pencil can only do so much. If you’re suspicious, move on. Have no time for fraudsters.

  • Decide when to stop. What is good enough for you? I recall the moment I decided I didn’t want to do photorealism anymore. I didn’t want to get better at it. I was happy at the level I had attained and then I wanted to try something different. This is listening to your instincts. Pushing yourself to do something you no longer really want to do may be okay for a while, but soon enough it starts to scream in your ear. Learn when to move on.

  • Likewise, know what you dislike. I don’t use charcoal. I HATE putty erasers. All of this is important and valid to my creative journey. Learn what makes yours unique.

  • Break all the rules and experiment. Get the art out- it doesn’t matter if you do it the right way or not. Learn things the classical way or design your own methods. Trace. Draw from life. Draw upside down. There will always, always, ALWAYS be someone saying you’re wrong or ‘not really an artist’ or ‘missing out’. Only you can really decide that. You think Andy Warhol or Picasso gave a damn about Angela and her ‘advice’. Hell no!

  • Learn from other industries that use drawing. Some of the most insightful tips I’ve found have been from other industries that use drawing: design, architecture, lettering… they all have their little nuggets of wisdom which may not be commonly discussed in your niche but make complete sense. So broaden your horizons.

  • Create a subject alphabet and draw your way through that. You don’t need to draw everything but draw a LOT, and a great way to draw a lot of things you care about is to write an alphabet of things that interest you and draw those: Apples, Acid, Abstract, Birds, Buttons, Bulbs, Books, Chains, Cars, Churches… it’s broad but still far more honed and personal then drawing randomly for the rest of your life. Leaving you with far more time for making art you really care about.

Above all, keep it FUN. Nothing kills creativity quicker then boredom or disappointment. If you struggle at something make sure you do something next that’s easy and enjoyable and THEN go back to what challenges you. It’s not meant to be painful. If it is, you’re doing it wrong.

 
The fastest way to learn how to draw
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If you take my advice, learning how to draw could take you days, even hours. Not years. 

(This post may contain affiliate links. Please see the disclosure policy for further info.)

I remember the exact moment I learnt how to draw.

It wasn’t a gradual, extended process that took years to master, like some people will try to convince you it will take, and I most definitely wasn’t born with this innate talent to just pick up a pencil and draw (spoiler- NO ONE is). And there wasn’t a complicated exhaustive training process involved that required several degrees or daily, obsessive practice until I’d ostracised myself from real life (don’t do that okay- check out my previous posts on Happy Artists).

All it took was a piece of paper, a pencil and some good advice. And today I am here to pass on that lesson. If you can draw a line and ignore everything you’ve ever assumed about drawing, you can draw. I promise.

Cue time warp music and let’s go back to the mid 90’s

I was about 9 when I learnt how to draw and it was the exact same moment I was taught how to see. That’s VERY important. Write it down.

You will not be able to draw if you don’t know how to see. As soon as you can see like an artist, you will be able to draw like an artist.

With me?

Now before I go further into that, I need to clarify. This precious day at Junior school wasn’t the day I became ‘good’ at drawing, or even close, but it was the day I went from drawing naïve little 2D creatures with flat cartoon faces that I’d copied from whoever taught me how to draw a ‘smiley face’ with big spider eyelashes or a brocolli ‘tree’, to really understanding how an artist sees and then translates what their eye notices into a fully formed recognisable artwork. It was the day that defined my creative existence and every single one of my skills stems from this exact moment. And despite my complete lack of gift/talent/genius, I figured things out with very little guidance in under 30 min. Probably less.

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My point of this post today is to share the simple fact that EVERYONE is capable of drawing, and possibly even within 30 minutes.

It’s a bit like driving. Or swimming. Or knitting. Or flipping a pancake. It can look impenetrably hard but with guidance and the right encouragement anyone can master it. Some people might take longer. Others will figure it out much sooner and with much less help.

I’ll now cut to the chase. To the ultimate truth.

Your biggest challenge will be boredom.

Drawing can be unfathomably boring. No artist will tell you that because we’re supposed to love what we do without question. But yeah, drawing inch after inch of hair or background or gravel can be boring as hell.

But despite that, for many artists it becomes relaxing, almost zen like. We zone out and enjoy the motion and process and eventually, the result. But for a newbie, drawing is very slow and requires an immense amount of concentration and effort. And each and every person I’ve seen struggling with drawing has not given up because they can’t, they’ve given up because they got bored. Bored they’re not good enough, fast enough.

[ For anyone interested, the second reason people seem to give up is hand cramp. You have baby drawing muscles and drawing too much, too soon, will hurt. This is why the practice hours a day notion is stupid unless you’re already a seasoned pro. ]

So if your prepared to face a little boredom, a little of the unknown, if you’re prepared to give a little patience and show a smidge of curiosity, I’m going to give you my method of learning how to draw the fastest way possible. 

For me, (and here are the magic words that will transform you into an artist… get ready) it was my teacher saying very simply:

‘draw what you see, not what you think you see’. 

Well okay, there’s a bit more to it then that, but that’s the gist.

‘Draw every wonky triangle, curve, line, despite your urge to draw a ‘leaf’. Draw the shapes next to each other, the shapes in between and look at the lights and darks. Squint. You can even draw it upside down and it will look correct when you turn it the right way up.’

And it works. All I needed to do was look for, and then copy onto the page, all the really strange shapes I could see in front of me and then put them together like a bizarre and complex jigsaw puzzle, from which a picture would appear. I wasn’t drawing a vase with flowers in. I was drawing a curve, with a wonky square, and then some lines and all the spaces between the leaves, and this big patch of darkness and then all these little bubbles… from which a vase would appear on the page.

Okay, so I’m not great at explaining it, but thankfully, all the hard work has already been done for me.

Please may I introduce you to a book that will teach you to draw in a week? This book is legendary and despite containing only a few days worth of very simple exercises the results speak for themselves:

 
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Betty Edwards and her book Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain has been around for YEARS and is the only book, or course, that I’ve come across that accurately describes how I see and draw as an artist and explains it in a way that anyone can learn how to draw too. Reading it in my late 20s was a revelation. She puts into words all these concepts and tricks that I’ve been using for years into concise and approachable instruction, which, if you follow exactly as she says, you WILL be drawing very realistically, very soon.

 
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I actually lent my copy to someone a few years ago, but noticed the latest edition now comes with a workbook so I purchased another copy the other day just to make sure it is always in my library. This new ‘starter set’ even comes with the viewfinder screen which is essential for your first drawings and SO helpful.

I have fond memories of taking the course myself. It actually languished on my shelf for years, possibly even a decade before I looked at it. I only glanced at the book one day because I recalled it had a section on improving your handwriting which was of interest to me at the time and once I started reading I became completely engrossed. I was fascinated reading someone explain how I did things in a way that was so accurate, I felt like I had been understood for the first time. I showed the book the whoever I could repeating the same message. If you want to learn how to draw, read THIS book.

Many years have gone by and I've not found one resource that can surpass Drawing on The Right Side, including myself. Yup. There is absolutely no point in me trying to teach anyone how to draw because it’s all here, already, in this one book. So to this day I simply refer people on to it. If you want to learn how to draw like I do, BUY THIS BOOK It's really that simple.

I know it looks unbelievable but thousands have had incredible results with this book and I would recommend something if I didn’t know it to work. Get the book, give yourself one week, two weeks if you want more time (the exercises are short but there’s a lot of reading which explains how the brain works when it comes to drawing and the process, history and science behind it all) and then come back here with you progress photos. You will be amazed, I’m sure of it.

If you’ve learnt how to draw with the book before please say Hi in the comments and let us know your thoughts on Drawing on The Right Side of the Brain.