Improve Your Art Before You Start :: ArtCast #55

Detail from Norman Rockwell’s “The Soda Jerk” side-by-side comparison with Rockwell’s photo reference.
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In This ArtCast:

I share THREE practices that all artists can apply to their own process that will instantly improve the quality of their finished works of art.

Also, I talk about my NEW podcast and web-community: Paper Wings.

AND… I explain how YOU could WIN a WACOM Intuos 4 Tablet by entering the FIRST Paper Wings Challenge!

Links Mentioned ::

UPDATE: The Norman Rockwell Studies seem to have been erased from existence. But you can check out the Norman Rockwell Museum to see some of his work.

Paper Wings Podcast Episode #5 (with WACOM Contest Information & Official Rules/ Submission Guidelines)

My recommended Sketchbooks [BUY with this link and support ChrisOatley.com!]

Subscribe & Get My FREE Digital Painting Kit!

[ I will never spam you or share your information ]

{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim G

Hi Chris,

I really enjoyed the podcast! I was wondering if you had any examples of the “contour mesh” drawing you had mentioned; I’m familiar with other types of studies, but I’ve never quite done anything like that before, and I’d like to understand it. Thanks!

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oats

Jim, I’ll see what I can do in the future. Basically, just try to draw the object like it would look if you modeled it in CG and could see the wire-frame. Just put a grid around the forms. You don’t need to worry about whether the grid would actually work in CG – the point is just to get you to think about the form dimensionally. Does that make sense?

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Tim

I took a figure drawing class and one of the techniques the instructor had us practice to learn contours was similar to this I think, but he referred to it as imagining the model had lines on her body sort of like she was wearing a Spider man suit with the web design, and how those lines wrap around her legs ,torso, etc. Very helpful.

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Daniel

Hey Jim, try looking on Michael Hampton book regarding “wrapping lines”. It’s just like Chris said, you have to imagine the volumes and make a line that goes all the way around it, wrapping it. And about the Spider suit it is very helpful to understand the idea.

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Meredith Randazzo

Great advice, Chris!! One of my mentors similarly emphasizes understanding the whole object and spending time visualizing the drawing before ever placing pencil to paper. It really makes a difference in the way my drawings come out.

You mentioned aircraft reference- a great place to see airplanes up close is an airshow or fly-in…granted, they are mostly private, historical, and performance aircraft but there’s nothing like walking into the back of a C-17 to really get a sense of scale!!! The fly-ins are great too, very informal and friendly and lots of times they give rides. Here are some sites that list the schedules. I don’t know what stage of production you’re in, but I hope this is helpful!!

http://www.aero-pix.com/schedule/schedule.htm
http://www.flyincalendar.com/

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oats

Thanks, Meredith!

Yeah – there is nothing like getting “up close and personal” with the subject you’re trying to draw/ paint…

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Craig

Very sound advice. I used to hate drawing hair and I started to really observe and fight through the form and movement of how layers and strands move and now I actually enjoy drawing it a lot =D

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oats

Definitely! Drawing/ painting hair is an amazing problem to solve. One of my favorites too! And you’ve also hit on a really important point – that is that if you just press on and observe, attempting to deconstruct/ understand the form, you can paint or draw it!

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Lee Wiley

Chris,
thanks for such needed words. I feel like I have a basic understanding on the form of things, but man it’s always important to maintain that understanding. And this was a great ArtCast to remind me to drill those basics, and improve because I have a long way to go. Great to have another ArtCast, it’s been a while!

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Scott Wiser

Tried just using a pen today…great suggestion! I saw a difference instantly!

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oats

Care to share those drawings, Scott?

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Scott Wiser

I would love to share them…but my scanner is back in utah…hopefully the results of these sketces will shine through my paper wings entry, which is coming along!

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Scott F.

Great episode! It always serves me to get revisit the basics.

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oats

Me too, Scott. Glad you liked the episode!

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david w.c.

tried drawing birds. they stunk. Then I did research on my subject (couldn’t get outside so the internet helped). Broke down the form and tried to really understand how they (birds) worked. drawings came out way better.

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oats

I’d love to see those drawings, David! That’s great to hear!!!

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Eddy

Thanks Chris,
This is an excellent show- i have listened to it a few times. I really like what you said about understanding the form. I think artists that draw fantasy subjects can sometimes can caught up in a look and style of a piece without paying attention to the believability of the form.
All great fantasy and concept art (however outlandish) is based on recognizables forms that exist in the real world.

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Niki Jackson

I really loved this episode, so much great advice and I love the sound effects as you talk. I think it makes your art cast much more personable and enjoyable. I laughed a lot too, especially when the alarm kept going off. Things like that always seems to happen when you don’t want them to lol.

I recently tried drawing with ball point pen and it was amazing, especially since it’s so different from my usual materials (acrylics). Will definitely do some more. I loved the idea about getting to know your subject more, this is something I feel will really help me to struggle less. My style is whimsical but definitely need to get out and spend more time looking at the things I paint, which will also be fun!

I checked out Paper Wings yesterday and loved it! Such great advice and really enjoyable to listen to.
Thank you for all the work you put into your art casts, you are inspiring and helping me for sure.
Niki

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oats

Niki – Thanks so much. I’m so glad you liked the episode.

You really nailed it when you said “it will really help me to struggle less.” That’s something a lot of artists miss. They focus on becoming better at their craft but – often – they don’t think about how to just remove some of the immediate struggle. In other words, not all of our current struggles are necessary ones. So why not just focus on the necessary struggles and use processes/ practices to get rid of or reduce the unnecessary ones.

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A. Nicole Dolas

This episode was inspirational for me. I’ve been avoiding my personal art because I didn’t feel like I had a clear direction for it. It felt like my dreams were just fantasies but this podcast along with PaperWings has helped to realize my goals. Thank you, thank you, Chris.

I love doing studies. I can’t wait to start working on them again. Chris made some truly excellent points in this episode. I can now see the value in studies (something that was never explained to me in art school). When Chris was explaining the importance of understanding the form he asked “does that make sense” I was saying “yes, completely!”. So in case you’re worried Chris, you are getting through and your message is understood.

Favorite quote from the podcast: “It’s just an old dude.” Hehe.
I’m really excited to share my progress soon.

-Nikki

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Nikki! That’s great to hear.

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RobinofLeyLines

Chris:

Thanks for the link to this from PaperWings. I definitely was missing the link between the tactile and visual information. I’ve gone to a lot of places with either sketch-book or camera, but never both, and I haven’t ever approached reference as a detailed study.

Now that I think about it, it’s an obvious connection. The times that my photo reference has been the most effective was when I was taking part in creating it as an “actor”. I’m fortunate to have several black-belt martial artists as friends, and over the years have been the happy recipient of various arm locks, throws, and pulled punches. Due to the tactile memory, those drawings are almost always better than ones where I was just the photographer, because I had an instinctive and personal understanding of how it FELT as well as APPEARED. As an unintended bonus, I discovered an innate arm lock talent. :)

Me thinks I need to visit my local train museum again, and this time actually study the specifics, instead of just whirling through it with a camera in hand.

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ChrisOatley

That’s exactly it. It’s sort of like our arm/ hand muscles have to “memorize” the forms we draw, just as much as our brains do.

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Bruce

I can show you some drawings.

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Joshua

This podcast changed my life!!! thank you so much for sharing Chris, it just…makes so much sense…I was blind but now I see, haha sorry for rambling..it’s just a really helpful dose of common sense and perspective into art issues!! AWESOME THANKS!!!

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ChrisOatley

Thanks so much, Joshua. This is so unbelievably encouraging. Have you subscribed to my Digital Painting Tips Newsletter? I think you’ll like that a lot.

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Geoff Hassing

Hi Chris! Great podcast, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I’ve been a professional cartoonist for almost 20 years but STILL have problems sometimes with portraying 3D objects in 2D space on the paper. After listening to your posdcast, I think that not taking the time to REALLY understand a form completely and studying it from all angles like you talk about has probably been one of my biggest barriers to getting to that next level.

Lately I’ve been doing video game artwork which I really enjoy, and I’ve been doing a lot of digital painting which has been a real learning process since color has always been a weakness, so running across your website is awesome!

Right now I’m reading James Gurney’s Color and Light book that you have on your sidebar, which has already been very enlightening!

Anyhow, thanks again!
Geoff

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ChrisOatley

Thanks, Geoff! So glad you like the show! Yes. That is the challenge with drawing – representing 3d space on a 2d plane. It’s a never-ending challenge, in fact.

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J.M. Hunter

I’m working my way through this episode now as I try to knock out this first commission of mine. It’s helpful advice and leads me to wanting to ask more questions! Thank you for making yourself and your insight available to the rest of us. There’s plenty of negative people telling me how much my art sucks or what I can’t do. It’s nice to listen to someone encouraging who’s a proven professional and gets what I’ve finally realized about college art classes. It only took me 30grand in debt to come to that conclusion recently. -Hunter, https://twitter.com/#!/JMIndyHunter

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Chris Oatley

Yeah. Negative criticism is such a waste of time and energy.

I think people trash the work of artists because they’re too lazy to actually craft thoughtful, constructive criticism.

I’m all about honesty, but most of the time, that trashy kind of criticism is just laziness disguised as honesty.

Don’t waste your time and emotions on people who don’t invest any of their own in you, Hunter. Focus on building trust with people and the truth will begin to emerge.

As long as we’re really hungry, we can accept hard truths – even be excited to hear them. Good for you for ignoring the bullies. Many artists just internalize that stuff and it paralyzes them.

Keep us posted on your progress.

Stay strong.

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Nicolas

Oh boy, thats exactly how I think, my friends used to laugh at me when I did those studies, I always want to know how something works, how it sustain itself, I draw skeleton, I create skeletons for things that doesn’t have one, I always do a “study” on how they should move. I even, when creating creatures, can’t help to figure all the enviroment an some habits.
this usually slow my projects a lot.

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Chris Oatley

Yes! “If you can understand the form you can draw the form.”

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Peter Dawes

Chris

This point is pointed evident in comic art. The artists who worked in the early 60′s came out of the commercial art industry (as well as having a love for the comic masters of the 30′s, ie Hal Foster). They could draw everything and knew form intimately. This came out clearly in panel design and camera angles. When they had a firm grasp of the human figure the camera angle wasn’t stuck facing forward front on as it is in so many modern artists but it was up, down, high, low, angled and any which way they could imagine the figure and draw it. That meant that the dynamic movement of panel design gave the reader a greater sense of movement from panel to panel because the artist changed the angles all the time and things moved in panels. There wasn’t the stiffness that comes today from too much reliance on photo reference, they knew their subjects well and it propelled their story telling to places the artists of today struggle to match.

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Chris Oatley

Ain’t that the truth! We really need a three-dimensional understanding of the form we intend to draw.

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Cheong Yi Wen

A really great podcast for my morning and my breakfast!! XD Perfect with the surrounding sounds as well~! haha!

But I seriously never thought that crappy drawings could be helpful as well ^^;;;; And really thank you for reminding me how important an object or living things works!! I kinda missed that all the time and my animal character design assignment failed because i only concentrate on the characteristic on the outside rather than understanding how each part move …hehe ^^;;;

And I’m so lucky that I’ve heard this before I start my next character assignment! Great advice and I now know what to do better!! Thank you so much!!

p.s while listening to your podcast, I’ve made some crappy drawings as well with a flat tip marker XD It’s really fun!

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Chris Oatley

I LOVE making crappy drawings! :)

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Isabella

In fact real life is stranger and more fantastical than fiction. After all, all fiction is derived from reality, and by definition is only a subset of how bizarre and amazing real life is.

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Oscar Baldwin

Truesay about the all encompassing sayings. Lol. Been annoying me for a while actually. My mum says them a lot.

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Michael Dambold

Great stuff Chris! Thanks!

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Rajiv Narayanan

Love the podcast, This really helped me in getting my planning stage started to what it needs to be for my concept work. Thanks, Chris!

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Christen

Just wanted to say, as a current college student, you helped me put things into perspective when it comes to the practicality of prestigious art schools (I’m applying to SJSU right now).

Thanks for the podcast, can’t wait to listen to the rest! It’s really cool of you to make these for us :D

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sara

Great advice! I’m participating is Picture Book Idea Month this November (you can see all my ideas for the month, good and bad, here: https://www.facebook.com/SaraLynnCreativeWorks) and it’s great because it’s forcing me to draw every single day. And on days when I get get stuck and can’t think of something to draw I do studies of objects, animals, trees, whatever. I just try to draw and understand something I’ve been meaning to draw better, or something I draw all the time that I want to keep my practice up on. There really is no substitute for observational drawing!

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Britny Lewis

Wholly. Cow. This is great. I’ve been drawing horses for awhile now and I haven’t been able to get the eyelids right. While listening to the podcast, I took a crappy sharpie and drew some fantastic equine eyelids. Crazy how that works!

Thank you for the words of wisdom!

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Mel Martinez

Hey there Chris! Really enjoyed this podcast. Especially the sounds effects. Beautiful ^_^
I am always preaching about reference. It’s so important to understand the form, from all angles, and how it works. Now, drawing with a sharpie…GAH! ok… I’ll try… I will… thanks for the inspiration :)

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taylynne

Thank you for this; it makes me feel a lot better about what I do! I spend a lot of time looking through photos for references, and I read up on the animal/subject as well… However, I do need to start with the life studies! I used to do them, not in depth, but I remember drawing banyan trees when I lived in Okinawa cause they were all over the place and I always liked them.

I listened to this the other morning at the gym, along with the podcast “Artistic Growth is NOT a Goal.” Both are very good podcasts, and I took something from both! I’ll be working on projects as opposed to drawing xxx every day for so long, and I’ll try to use life studies when I can! Thank you for all your great podcasts. :)

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Nick the slick Rick masta

The Word i would use is every artist is trying to “translate” the real world into the one in there heard and all the advice you offered was a great step to achieving that. Im glad to here how passionate you are about that.

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Zaid Mohammed Jawad

hi Sir

I am Zaid Mohammed Jawad, (trying to be a freelance artist) / animator, I have got into the world of drawing in the year 2007 and started up from ground zero! i had no skill just ideas, i got my self into an animation course back in 2009 and finished this year but that course didnt teach me what i wanted to do and had to pick up what i wanted to learn all by my own, am still trying to get that pro looking art work but am not reaching to a point where am happy about it, am carrying my sketchbook with me all the time for the past 6 years and i think you will noticed this on my blog ( check it out if you have time http://zaidmjraven.blogspot.com/ ) but now i shifted to my galaxy note 2 to get more economical, anyway, i need an advice to improve more i drew life drawing am spending more time paying more attention to details but am not sure if am putting enough effort or not…i even started having doubts….i need help please

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Jeff

Great post – so much good information. Thank you

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Chris R.

To take these classes I take it that I need a digital tablet? From the youtube video I saw of you and your buddy i can tell your a great teacher, I just wish I had a digital tablet to take your class :n(

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Chris Oatley

Hi, Chris. Yes. The Magic Box is about digital painting. Painting Drama and Films On Paper are much more traditional but certain parts of those courses still require a tablet.

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enu padilla

thank you for that great advice sir oats ..it help me a lot for my self to be a better illustrator and artist someday. i’ve learned that if i work hard and persistently, dream becomes a reality.. and inspiration is preparation.:)

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Ben Yockel

I’ve recently found these podcasts and I’ve been listening to them nearly non-stop while working in my sketchbook. I just had to applaud you on the suggestion to use a pen to sketch. I’ve been using pen almost exclusively in my sketchbook for years, and I’m glad to hear someone advocated it. Thanks Chris, these podcasts have really inspired me to keep pushing my work further!

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