For any beginner artists, tutorials are an incredibly helpful tool.  When I started getting into drawing, I relied on the one how-to-draw book I had.  It didn’t really have any words, just step-by-step images on drawing various animals.  And while it was fun, I wanted to learn about drawing other things.

Soon after, I started looking around online for tutorials.  As you would probably assume, there were countless numbers of them— some more helpful than others.

So I’ve put together a list of the websites I’ve found most useful and may help you as well.  (They’re in no particular order, by the way.)  And the best part?  They’re all available for free.

1. DragoArt

I used this website nearly daily when learning to draw.  Featuring step-by-step tutorials, you can find guides on everything from pop culture icons and characters to backgrounds and shading techniques.

(The website has changed a bit since I used it, and some of the tutorials now link to drawinghub.com. However, the tutorials still look the same.)

Many of the tutorials are user-submitted, so they can be a bit stylized.  However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  As your skills improve, you could even submit your own lessons.  There’s also a small community if you’re interested in sharing your finished drawings and seeing those of others.

I want to give a shout-out to FinalProdigy, whose DragoArt tutorials taught me a lot of what I know about working with graphite.  I highly recommend you check out their guides.  They’re easy to follow and teach a lot about shading and developing a drawing.

2. Drawing Now

Also featuring user-submitted tutorials, DrawingNow is unique in that you can use a slider to scub through a speed drawing.  The video automatically pauses at set steps, or you can fast-forward and rewind in slow-motion to see each line as it’s drawn.

As for the subjects, most of the videos are for cartoony designs.  But you can also find anime and semi-realistic ones, too.  There is also a small community for sharing your art.

While DragoArt’s user tutorials are mostly beneficial, Drawing Now does show one of the downsides of such tutorial generation more prevalently.  A few of them are not, well, good, but there are quite a few useful videos.  And being videos, they may be easier to learn from than step-by-steps, depending on your learning style.

3. Toad Hollow Studio

Also known as “Carol’s Drawing Blog”, there are so many helpful guides for learning both essential techniques and advanced methods of drawing.

This website teaches everything from the basics of using pencils and shading to creating realistic graphite illustrations.  There are also lessons on drawing what you see, which is an essential skill for growing artists to start learning and improving upon.

4. Pinterest

Now this one may seem a little strange, but hear me out.  Pinterest functions as an aggregator, or collector, of things on the internet.  For artists, that means it gathers tutorials and reference pictures from across the interwebs into one viewable platform.

You can search for whatever it is you are interested in. If you want hand tutorials, horse reference pictures, or clothing designs, Pinterest brings together images from other websites that match your search terms.

Thanks to Pinterest’s format, you can then ‘pin’(or save) whatever and as many of those images as you want onto your pin boards (a filing system, like folders on your computer).  For example, I have ‘clothing folds’, ‘animal references’, and ‘figure and pose references’ boards.  Whenever I find a useful image, I’ll pin it to the corresponding board I’ve created.

Then, say, if I want some help drawing clothing wrinkles, I can go to my ‘clothing folds‘ board. There I can see all of the ‘pins’ I’ve saved for reference.

Each user can personalize the boards however you want, so you can organize the tutorials and references you’ve found in a way that works for you.

And trust me, you’ll definitely find a lot of helpful resources you may not have otherwise. When I want to practice or learn how to draw something, Pinterest is my go-to.

You do need to create an account to make your own customized boards, but it’s totally free—it just takes an email address.

 

5. Easy Drawing Tutorials

Perfect for young artists, this website’s title is pretty accurate.  It has step-by-steps for popular characters from Disney movies, Nickelodeon cartoons, Nintendo games, and more.

Each tutorial includes an image for each step, and a video for the whole tutorial.  Which is nice, I think, because different learning styles benefit from different methods of teaching.

6. How 2 Draw Animals

A companion site for Easy Drawing Tutorials, this one aptly focuses on animals.  Most are realistic pencil drawings, but a small number are cartoons.  There’s a great variety of species to choose from.  Like the other website, each tutorial consists of a video and a written/pictorial guide.

7. YouTube

Okay, this one isn’t a tutorial website per se.  BUT, it is home to many-a tutorial video, including those for drawing.  MarkCrilley is one of the most popular YouTube artists, and with good reason.  He posts weekly how-to-draw videos that are both clear and easy to follow, and tend to be quite humorous.

There’re too many other tutorial artists worth checking out to mention, but a few notable ones are Alphonso Dunn, Art ala Carte, and Fine Art-TipsArt for Kids Hub is great for kids, as each video features the channel’s family in an art lesson.

8. ArtGraphica

ArtGraphica is somewhat special in that they also offer instructions on how to use an assortment of mediums, such as watercolors, pastels, and ink.  In addition, they do have standard drawing lessons.  They’re pretty much all free, but there is a shop where you can buy more guides.

I should point out, too, that this website is for fairly intermediate to advanced artists.  I’m hesitant to call the tutorials step-by-steps, because while there are steps, there are also giant leaps between them.

That said, if you are a more experienced artist you may find new and interesting techniques here for further refinement or experimentation in your art.

9. How to Draw Cartoons Online

Going back to sites great for kids, this website is exactly what it sounds.  Both original and pop culture characters can be found in these step-by-step tutorials.  To make things a little easier, they are organized in general terms of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced difficulty.

The website is legitimate and safe to use, but it does use clickable ads.  Most of these have unclear intentions with big “Start Download” buttons, though, so be sure to avoid clicking them (or tell your little artist to do the same).

10. Drawing How to Draw

Despite the website’s name, especially with the subtitle of “How to Draw Step-by-Step Drawing Tutorials” (which grammatically should make you think it teaches you to make drawing tutorials), Drawing How to Draw actually teaches you how to draw.

Most of those tutorials focus on cartoony styles, like kawaii chibis and silly cartoons, but there are dabbles into realism and perspectives.  A lot more than dabbles, really, but they do take up the minority of lessons.  The clothing fold section would likely be very useful, if you’re like me and are still learning the fold-y language that is cloth wrinkles.

So there you have them.  While there are many drawing websites out there, a lot of them require a paid subscription or another purchase to see their lessons.  I hope you find these free websites fun and educational!

Are there any other free tutorial websites you visit? Or were these helpful? Let me know below!

Color Theory Made Easy

Colors have the power to bring immense emotion and life to artworks.  They’re also one of the more slippery and intimidating techniques to understand, let alone utilize.

I found a video a while back that explains color theory in a clear and understandable way.  From the more basic concepts of saturation and value to color schemes and their effects, Blender Guru makes color theory fairly easily understood.

There are many examples provided and explained for each topic.  Effectively, Blender Guru pulls from many artistic styles and mediums to convey the various ideas.

The video is 23 minutes long, but it’s easily digestible in small bits.  It’s organized from basics to more advanced concepts.  I do recommend watching the whole thing, either in parts or entirety.

Of course, one video can’t teach everything about color theory.  The best teacher will be your own experience as you illustrate over the next weeks, months, and years.  But…

…if you are new to using colors consciously, this video is a great introduction.  If you already have a grasp on color theory, it’s a useful refresher and source of inspiration.  I felt I had a decent understanding, but I learned new things and thought of a lot of new ideas on how to play around with color in future drawings.

I hope the video is helpful to you!

Alas, the long awaited art book for Zelda fans has arrived! The gilded details on the deep red cover are glorious, and hint at the waiting beauties inside.  Like Hyrule Historia before it, Art and Artifacts is published by Dark Horse.  Consisting of over 400 oversized pages, it’s the newest (and largest) Legend of Zelda book so far.

Art and Artifacts Cover Close-up

♫Dah-na-na-na-naaaaaa!♪

For clarity’s sake, I will be writing this review in sections.  These are the same sections the book itself is divided into.  Also, this is not a sponsored review—I purchased this art book with my own money.

Art & Artifacts Table of Contents

The Table of Contents

Masterpiece Gallery

To start, this was my favorite section- despite a few tiny flaws.  There’s some marvelous art in the beginning.  It’s fun to see iconic game art compared to preparatory sketches.  However, there are no credited artists.  Not just for these designs, but any artwork in the book.  As an artist, I wanted to know who the artists were behind these powerful images.

The double page spreads (exampled in the slider above) are stunning.  It makes it a shame, then, that there is deep crease in the middle of the image.  There’s no way to avoid it, but the size of the book makes the interruption of some pictures tragically obvious.  Still, there was a certain evocation of nostalgia and excitement through this section.  It served as a wonderful overview to the games featured in the other sections.

Character Illustrations

While not every character is included, they might as well be.  Main characters understandably are given more space, but bosses and minor characters alike are featured extensively from each game.  I appreciated learning the names of recognizable characters, like the iconic owl Kaepora Gaebora, who weren’t necessarily identified in-game.

An assortment of monsters from the first game, The Legend of Zelda

Some of the more remote games have an image or two.  Even Link’s Crossbow Training is mentioned, which is nice.  No CDi games, though (understandable, given their reputation as potentially the worst video games ever made).

For some of the more popular games, there’s a page for each that shows all of the interactive objects Link finds on his adventures.  Although initially simple for the first games, it gains fascination as an evolution from the early days of a few pieces of equipment and items to all of the masks and more in Majora’s Mask. (See the slider below.)

Perhaps my favorite page of the Character Illustrations was of Tri-Force Heroes.  I’ve yet to play the game, but seeing all of Link’s costumes was hilarious.

Art & Artifacts LInk's Costumes

Fun cosplay and goofy outfits

Temple of Time

If you love box art and vast amounts pixel art, these are the pages for you.

In a book covering the “art and artifacts” of the series, it would be lacking without this content.  Box art is a part of the real life artifacts we bring into our homes, symbolizing the start of the next adventure.  Flipping back and forth, it’s simultaneously insightful and a bit repetitive at times to see the promotional art and the game packaging.

Art & Artifacts Box Art

North America had more basic cover art at first

Art & Artifacts Pixel Art

The first of the pixel pages

As a series whose beginnings lie on the 8-bit NES, the inclusion of pixel art is also essential.  What surprised me was just how many pages of it there were.

Bonus Gallery

This mish-mashed section contains the most welcome but unexpected art.  It includes Link’s popular crossover into Mario Kart 8, as well as promotional content for social media.  The section is brief, but has some fun images.  I wish Hyrule Warriors was included.  Like Mario Kart 8 it’s not canon, and deserved a mention at least, in my opinion.

Art and Artifacts Pages 398-399

A Link Between Worlds and Mario Kart 8 art

Breath of the Wild

Sadly, there are only a few pages dedicated to the newest installation in the series.  As someone who has been following Breath of the Wild prior to its release, I was already familiar with all of the images.  A tiny disappointment, but what pictures are here are gorgeously printed.

Art & Artifacts BOTW Foldout

A breathtaking foldout of a Breath of the Wild vista

For more, it seems like you’ll have to look at the game’s official game guide.  Personally, I’m hoping for an exclusive Breath of the Wild art book, however small.  It’s such a massive world it could make for a terrific book.

Interview

Featuring a few artists from the Zelda creative team, the ending interview provides an appreciated look into the series.  It’s a stark contrast from the previous 300 pages of pictures.  But as an epilogue of sorts to the illustrations, though, it concludes the book nicely.

Overall Impressions

Art and Artifacts is a fantastic book for long-time, dedicated fans of the Legend of Zelda.  Like never before, characters, promotional materials, and more are brought together into an incredibly extensive collection.  For that’s what this art book is: a collection of previously released images.

Importantly, it never claims to be something different.  What this massive book is is a volume of beautifully printed images that gives a closer look at different elements of the series.  While some books include comments from creators throughout, Art and Artifacts refrains from such insight besides the concluding interview.

Art and Artifacts’ greatest strength and theme is evolution.  In the second volume of the series-wide collector books, we see the growth from simple yet creative pixels to sweeping landscapes, and classic characters emerge and develop through the ages.

The only things missing in this book are the various figures, statues, and amiibo.  I, and likely many collectors, would consider them to be as much ‘artifacts’ in the series as the box art, especially the amiibo.  It seems strange to include a near encyclopedia of characters and not mention the tangible artifacts produced alongside the games. For this reason, it seems like the ‘artifact’ portion is lacking.

Nevertheless, Art and Artifacts is a wonderful tribute to the art of the Legend of Zelda.  From beloved characters to iconic images, fans will have plenty to admire in this follow-up to Hyrule Historia.

If you are looking for concept art and more behind-the-scenes info, I highly recommend Hyrule Historia.

This week’s art actually arose out of some confusion.  I heard about a drawing contest from Crunchyroll, who was celebrating having one million premium members.  As a premium member myself, I wanted to participate.  Not to mention the GIGANTIC prize pack of anime movies, game systems, merchandise, and more.

The contest said to draw ‘Hime’ in a creative way.  Easy enough.  I know drawing a chibi isn’t especially creative (at all), but it would be fun and is what I was inspired to do.  So, naturally, I started drawing Hatsune Miku.

For those of you who know these characters, feel free to laugh at my mistake.  I audibly laughed myself when I realized.  Maybe my over-tired brain translated Hime to the ‘H-’ in Hatsune and ‘Mi-’ from Miku.  I wasn’t super familiar with the latter character, but Hime?  Ironically, I read her 4-panel manga every couple weeks.  I just never paid much attention to her name.

After registering that I confused Crunchyroll’s mascot character for a Vocaloid video game one, I decided to finish Miku-san and start Hime the next day.  I came up with an actually creative idea for Hime, but I felt sick with a cold before I could get started.  It was also the last day of the contest.

I don’t claim to be able to draw in an authentic Japanese style, but I like this chibi.  She has a little bit of my style to her, and is cute and simple.  I thought of doing some kind of background, but figured she was better left with a little drop shadow under her back foot.

Having never played a Vocaloid game, I don’t know if she succeeds totally as her character.  From reference pictures she seemed to dance and be joyful on stage.  That’s what I tried to capture.  Also her hair.  I see why it’s iconic- it’s also fun to draw and color.  Parts of her outfit were surprisingly intricate, so I simplified or omitted some to keep with the typical simplicity of chibis.

As a side note, I looked up her music during my research.  A lot of it is a little too ‘electronic’ for my tastes (she is an artificial vocal synthesizer, after all), but it was still nice to listen to.

If you’d like to see more chibis from me, stay tuned; I’ll be teaching a class to local homeschoolers next month.  In that blog I’ll share with you what I taught them, including tips and resources for future chibi drawings.

Some of you may remember I taught a painting class to a local group of homeschoolers earlier this year.  It was an initially nervous experience, but ended up being rewarding and fun.  So I signed up to teach two more during their group’s ‘school year’.

This next one was inspired by Baylee Jae’s video on the subject.  She followed tutorials from another website and then made her own (tutorial).  You can watch below if you’d like to see her step-by-step instructions for making two types of books: hardcover and softcover.

My mom and I found a forgotten hoard of scrapbooking paper amongst our old craft storage, and decided they would be great for the covers.  Ideally, I thought doing the hardcover books would be a better class idea.  They seem more durable and certainly look fancier.

However, as we quickly learned through following the tutorials, it wouldn’t work.  We would need to get chip board (or at least enough cardboard), and the class was only an hour long.  So the simple staple-bound softcover version won out.

When I say simple, it’s in theory.  Choose the paper, cut the paper, poke holes, put staples, and BAM you’re done.  But it took time to size the paper out, since the cover papers were square and the inside papers were too long.  A simple thing to do, but cutting exact straight lines on multiple papers with little exact-o knives and scissors ended up being somewhat difficult.

If you want to do this project, or need to cut paper often, I recommend looking into a guillotine cutter.  Often used in schools, they are great and effective for chopping paper in bulk with clean cuts.  Because of that, they can often cost over a hundred dollars.

Surprisingly, the $26 one we purchased from Walmart for the class works great.  It can easily slice 10 papers of ‘average’ thickness (i.e. printer paper).  It made everything go much smoother and faster than expected, which was a relief when my class size doubled overnight.

Only a few kids had signed up to attend, but on the day of every other class at the time was canceled.  As the only option, I suddenly had no idea how many kids would come.  In the end, there were about nine total, ranging from the ages of roughly six to fifteen.

Sadly, I forgot to take any pictures.  I was so concerned with the paper and the cutting and making sure none of the kids poked themselves with the tacks or staples that it slipped my mind.  To paint the picture, there were three tables: one with the scrapbook paper spread out, another with different colored papers for the inside, and the last was the table where they worked.

In the painting class, the kids had been boisterous with their ideas, but here they were so quiet.  At first I thought they were bored with the project.  But it became clear partway through that they were silenced by intense focus.  Most of them were incredibly intent on having perfectly lined up pages with perfectly placed staples.  I had to remind them that the only essential measurement was the 1.2 centimeters apart holes so the staples would fit.

Once their books were folded and stapled, I used the guillotine cutter to trim the far edge.  Many said ‘thank you’ and proudly left to show their parents.  A few kids came in after class and apologized for missing it.  They had been playing Yu-gi-oh in another room and lost track of time.  I told them not to worry, that if they wanted they could take some paper home with them to make a book there.  One person was very excited at the prospect of a DIY hardcover book, as I explained that I’d post a link to Baylee’s video on their group’s Facebook page.

All in all, it was a good time.  I’m glad the kids enjoyed making the books, and overcame the challenges of it.  At a few points they looked a little overwhelmed with the measuring and sticking staples through, but there were enough parents around to make sure everyone had a helping hand.

My next class is in April, and will be a bit unlike these first two.  Instead of a craft or painting, it will be a drawing lesson on some cute and funny chibis.  You can read all about it in a month, and I’ll make sure to take lots of pictures of their adorable drawings.

Are you interested in following Baylee’s tutorial?  I found it a lot of fun, and am tempted to make my own sketchbooks from here on out.

Words cannot express my excitement.  I’ve got so many things in the works right now it’s hard for me to find any words.  But I’ll try.

If you just want to read about the drawing, you can skip down a few paragraphs.  But to mark the occasion, I just wanted to explain a little more about myself and why the Legend of Zelda series is so special to me.

I won’t go into it too much, but the series has always been a bright spot for me.  When things weren’t happy at home and I was feeling lonely, video games were a place I could go to feel…different.  Better.  Not that escapism is always the best thing, but besides reading my books it was healing to go and be a hero.

The Legend of Zelda, with its brilliant scores and captivating stories, characters, and gameplay was an uncontested favorite of mine.

Before I really became interested in drawing, I used to novelize the games.  Specifically, I did this as a pre-teen when I started playing Twilight Princess.  I’d write about Link and Epona racing across Hyrule Field, or strategically taking down Moblin archers in a hidden village of cats.  Maybe I’ll post them sometime.

So, you can understand why I’m looking forward to Breath of the Wild.  It looks like it will tell a new story with new features, while retaining the unique feel of a Zelda game.  The trailer released during the Switch presentation for BotW was incredibly inspiring to me.  I genuinely teared up.  Right after, ideas for fan art sketches kept popping up in my head.

The Zelda from today’s video, though, was rather spontaneous.  I was looking at a Princess Ruto drawing I had done back when I first bought Copic markers a few years ago.  Without really knowing what I was doing, I chose a 9×12 sheet of paper- fairly big for a test run.  It made blending more difficult as a beginner, but having a larger image in the end was nice.

Though not intended as a series, I wanted to make another drawing like that one.  Especially now that I am more familiar with Copics as a medium.  Princess Zelda was an obvious choice, as her personality and character design are so prevalent in the trailer.

So a loose sketch became a more structured one.  It was all going pretty smoothly until I started looking at the details of her ‘adventure’ outfit.  On one hand, it was cool to see just how much thought went into an otherwise simple design.  Like Kotaku wrote in their article on it, the simple touches make it look like a princess’ elegant but functional outfit.

On the other hand, it was an unexpected challenge to get all of those details correct.  Because there are still limited images available, I ended up using those and painstakingly scrubbed (minutely fast-forwarded and rewinded) stills from the trailer.

As you can see in the video, I used a yellow color, Y08, on her gold accents, then went over it with another color to make it more golden, with Y28 as the shadows.  I didn’t have exact colors to match her gold, but I think what I did comes close.  To tie it all together, I used Y08 as the base for her hair as well, though this time leaving it to be a main color.

Once she was done, I turned my sights on the background.  There wasn’t much room left around her, but I wanted some notion of BotW’s vast landscape.  You can see my test picture on my Instagram; I took the rough mountain shape from reference pictures, and went with a traditional purple to green transition to show the distance.  Plus little trees.

The little bushes at the bottom in the foreground didn’t quite turn out how I wanted them too.  They still work to separate the midground, though. I don’t have much experience with backgrounds, but that’s something I’d like to change.  For this work I think it turned out nicely.

After everything, I thought the sky would be an easy light blue gradation.  Nope.  I found the perfect blue color, B00, as the lightest.  But after I started going along the mountains, I noticed that it was, indeed, dead.  Thankfully I scraped out enough color to cover the areas I needed, but the result was streaky.  I tried to save it with the other blues, but none of my other colors were close enough to blend with it effectively without ruining the effect.

The focus on slight symmetry gives it a portrait-like quality, I think.  Given Zelda’s royalty, it suits her.  I don’t know much of the story yet, but I hope my art was successful in portraying her out in Hyrule, concerned about saving her people but still strong.  That quality of vulnerable strength is something I’d like to play with in other works, especially with some characters in this series.

So what do you think?  Will you be playing Breath of the Wild soon?  I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Navi: Helpful or Annoying?

In celebration of Breath of the Wild’s release, I’ve decided to do a mini “Zelda-thon”.  I’ll have Zelda book reviews and fan art over the next few days, so be sure to stay tuned!

Of course it wouldn’t be a celebration of the Legend of Zelda without Navi, so I thought she’d be good fit to kick off this little Zelda-thon.  Love her or hate her, she is a very integral part of one of the best Zelda games (in my opinion and many others).  She’s also the first partner Link has had in a game.

Zelda Universe has a long article about her that fully analyzes the character and opinions about her from fans.  It’s interesting to read, and goes surprisingly deep into her personality and contributions to the player.  Essentially, from a poll run with their fans it rated Navi as an okay figure who is both helpful and annoying.

I know my opinion of Navi has changed over the years.  As a kid, when I just wanted to do what I wanted to (as in, fish for hours trying to catch the elusive beast-fish), her constant reminders that Saria is in trouble or I need to hurry to somewhere else were bothersome.

Colored Pencil Navi on Toned Tan Paper

But I’ve come to really appreciate her.  Her design is beautifully simple, and is now filled with happy nostalgia for me.  Playing through Ocarina of Time 3D, she’s actually quite helpful.  If you want to know the names and weaknesses of your enemies, she’s your girl, er, fairy.

About the artwork itself, I’ve been wanting to use my toned tan paper from Strathmore for a while now.  And after completing this Friday’s artwork (coming soon!), I really wanted to make something fairly simple.  It was made with my Prismacolor Premier colored pencils.  They have a soft lead, which is great for building up gradients and lightly applying tone.

It only took about an hour to complete.  I could easily have kept going with the gentle shading of her aura and body, but I was reaching a point of potentially overdoing it.

A little personal story for you:

My first Zelda game was given to me by my mom.  It was along with a special silver GameCube, and quickly became my most played with, most loved gift.  The game itself was actually a compilation of the Legend of Zelda, The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and a special demo for the upcoming Wind Waker.

While we lost the GameCube later to an electrical surge, I still have the game today.  It started a lifelong passion for me, and is a major source of inspiration.  While I’m thrilled to see how great Breath of the Wild will be, those last three will always hold a special place in my heart. *sniff*

So, what are your thoughts on Navi?  If you’ve played the game, did you like her or not?  If you haven’t played, any thoughts on her character design?

You may not know, but I’ve been keeping a specific sketchbook for doing studies and following tutorials.  My thinking is that when I use that sketchbook, I already am approaching that drawing from a perspective of ‘time to improve’.  Alternatively, I’m also using a different sketchbook with the intention of pushing my imagination and trying out ideas.  But more on that another time.

I’ve really enjoyed it so far.  As an artist, it can be hard to find the motivation to create when you put pressure on yourself.  That normally, for me anyway, is the feeling of wanting to be creative or good enough.  More specifically, the fear of not being creative or good enough.

By following tutorials and doing studies of both pictures and other people’s drawings, it’s like erasing two metaphorical birds with one pencil.  If you focus on the intentional recreation of something, you can immediately disregard the pressure of creativity, if you want, which can help with motivation.  (Some people use references as studies for developing their own style, but I’m talking about faithful, look-a-like studies here.)  At the same time, you will be fueling the growth of your drawing skills.

[As an interjection real quick, I plan on writing a “Five Ways to Improve your Art” blog, or something along those lines.  Basically a blog with links to resources and different tips I’ve found that can help you continue to build your skills and artistry.  Stay tuned!]

I like to jump around between things I know I need to get better at, like dynamic poses and clothing folds, and things that are fun and still good to learn, like miscellaneous objects and animals.

Reference Horse Study

For example, I felt really inspired to draw some horses.  It was tempting to go and sketch what I think horses look like, but instead I chose to practice how they actually look.  Both options would be fun, but I’m really trying to make an effort to get better.  I find that there are a lot of great resources created by other artists when it comes to anatomy.  You do have to be careful, sometimes, to make sure they’re a reliable resource.

I used a tutorial sheet by Smirtouille on DeviantArt for my horses above, and I definitely want to revisit it in the future.  Learning how to draw doesn’t happen overnight, but doing studies definitely helps me feel like I’m moving forward.

Do you often do studies?  Or do you keep specific notebooks for different types of drawings?  Let me know below!

Lately I’ve been really interested in watercolors (I even made using them one of my New Year’s resolutions).  In researching how to use them, I became curious about where they come from and thought you might be too.  So with happy flashbacks to AP Art History, I set about learning what they are and where they come from, and here are the highlights (but it’s more fun than it sounds, promise).

What are watercolors?

Watercolor paint is, as it sounds, a water-soluble paint.  In modern times, it is made with gum arabic and a pigment, which can be man-made or natural (berries, anyone?).  Watercolors are usually semi-translucent.  Gouache is a type of paint that is almost the same as watercolors, except it is made with more opaque pigments (and is therefore less see-through on paper).

Watercolor set-ups often include paper, brushes, a palette, and of course watercolor paint (tube or pan form).

Typically, watercolor is used with brushes on paper.  Many artists use paper designed to handle the amount of water used with these paints.  These papers come in two choices: hot press and cold press.

Hot press paper is smooth and therefore does not absorb water as fast.  That allows the artist to blend colors more easily.  Supposedly, colors will also appear more vivid on hot press paper.  Cold press paper is rougher, giving the finished painting texture.  It absorbs water faster, though, giving the artist less time to ‘play’ with and blend the paint before it soaks in.  Choosing between hot and cold pressed watercolor paper really comes down to personal preference.

History

Historically, watercolor is one of the oldest paints.  Around 15,000 to 10,000 BC, prehistoric artists focused on images of the natural world around them.  Original cave paintings were made by mixing pigments with animal fat or spit.  Eventually regular water was used to replace those, well, slightly gross substances.

Buffalo Cave Painting

Prehistoric art often depicted basic people and animals, in this case a bull.

Watercolor paints were used throughout ancient Egypt, for both the walls of tombs and papyrus scrolls.  The Egyptians are credited with creating the first man-made pigment around the year 4,500 BC.  Famously, and aptly, named ‘Egyptian Blue’, this bright paint was made “by heating a mixture of a calcium compound (typically calcium carbonate), a copper-containing compound (metal filings or malachite), silica sand and soda or potash as a flux” (Ancient Origins, 2014).

Essentially, they intentionally used chemistry to make the beautiful blue, rather than simply use a pigment as it naturally was.  5,000 years after its first creation, the knowledge of this pigment was lost.  So how do we know the technical (and kind of complicated) definition above?  In the 19th century, Egyptian Blue was rediscovered in Pompeii.  Scientists felt fascinated by the artificial color, and figured out how to reproduce it.

Egyptian Blue on Painted Wall

The bright blue seen here is iconic in much of ancient Egyptian art.

Northward, in ancient Italy, watercolor was largely used on non-paper surfaces.  In Pompeii and Herculaneum, the frescoes were made by using water to apply pigment to wet plaster.

I had the great opportunity to visit Pompeii a couple years ago, and it was amazing.  It’s really surreal to be standing in a 2,000 year old home that has spent most of its life buried in volcanic ash.  In AP Art History, I studied these frescoes, making it extra special to finally see some, including the one below, in person.

Pompeii Fresco

Because they were buried in ash, the frescoes were miraculously well preserved, when you consider they were subjected to a volcanic eruption.

Watercolor techniques in the east, both near and far, had a slightly different form.  In fact, Chinese watercolorists have used the medium since as early as 4,000BC.  In a culture where calligraphy traditionally holds the same weight as poetry, they used the paint as a refined method to enhance their graceful writing.   Watercolor became the standard paint for all of their artworks for millennia.  Japan adopted it as well, and both countries’ artists painted primarily on silk and paper surfaces.

Chinese Watercolor Flower

Many Chinese and Japanese watercolorists painted elegant natural subjects, like this flower.

Through the Middle Ages, illuminated manuscripts were highly respected, and typically Christian, works of art.  These were books where the words were important, but like the Chinese and Japanese, the visual style in which they were written is a major focus.  Their ornate, gilded pages of gospels and various symbols were painted with watercolors, whose pigments came from across Europe.

 

The Book of Kells is perhaps the most famous of these manuscripts.  (I couldn’t figure out which manuscript the image below is from, but it’s not the Book of Kells.)  Interestingly, paper was still mostly restricted to the Middle East and Asia.  The painters of European books used vellum, which was made from calfskin.  Thankfully, modern day vellum is simply another type of paper- no animals involved!

Illuminated Manuscript Page

Illuminated manuscripts were created for a variety of reasons, from royal commissions to church decorations.

Albrecht Dürer, a German artist at the turn of the 16th century, is credited with modernizing watercolors towards what we have today.  In his many studies of flora and fauna, he used the medium with gouache to make detailed images.  However, in the larger art culture, a movement of using watercolor for finished fine art never took off.  Instead, it continued through the Renaissance to be mainly used as a preparatory tool for rough sketches and color tests for creating oil paintings or other works.

Albrecht Durer Adam and Eve Engraving

Dürer was also an accomplished engraver. 

His work here of Adam and Eve features accurate and detailed nature elements, likely first studied by painting watercolor images.

Over the next few centuries, watercolor slowly made its way into use for loose images of landscapes.  While oil paintings remained the most accepted art medium (by critical snobs, anyway) through the early 20th century, watercolor works gained respect in the west as fine art.  Rembrandt van Rijn, although famous for his oil portraits, extensively used watercolors.  His dramatic use of light and shadow, also known as chiaroscuro (literal Italian for ‘light dark’), was evident in these loose paintings.

Chinese Watercolor Landscape

This particular painting is Chinese, but many western watercolorists during this time sought a similar aesthetic of nature.

Watercolor paint, refusing to stay in the background, started to become fully embraced in 19th century England.  Enthusiasts started societies, and in 1831 the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours was formed (they actually came to be in competition to those first societies).  Queen Victoria’s granddaughter even became a member of the institute.  Similar societies spread across Ireland and over to America throughout the next century.

Conclusion

Watercolor paints are an age-old medium.  From our Paleolithic ancestors to modern street painters, it has proved itself a popular medium.  It does have some downsides, though.  Compared to oil paints, it has very low lightfastness- basically the rate at which the paint fades from light damage.  Because it is often painted on paper, time can lead to decay and other destructive forces faster than works on canvases.  It also has a reputation as a tricky material to learn how to use.  Despite all that, artists around the world continue to favor this versatile (and enjoyable, in my opinion) art medium.

If you are interested in learning more, check out these resources:

Do you use watercolor paints?  Was there anything you found particular interesting about their history?  I’d love to hear in the comments!

Or want more fun facts? Here’s some things you probably don’t know about Copic markers.

My Art Goals for 2017

As everyone makes their New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to set some goals I would like to achieve when it comes to my art skills (and artist-y things in general).  Being an artist means you are always trying to move forward, improve your skills and creativity.

Creating this list will help keep me going on that forward momentum.  I thought you might be curious to see, too, what I want to accomplish this year in terms of drawing and art.

Draw more, and more often

Like any skill set, the only way to improve is through practice.  Ideally, I’d like to at least sketch every day, but I’m not going to put that kind of pressured expectation on myself.  Instead, I will sketch as often as I can.

As for the subjects, I would like to vary that as well.  So far I am pretty good at deer and moose, and okay at figures.  Increasing my ‘repertoire’, if you will, to include and improve a greater variety of animals, settings, and people is important to me.  I’m going to work to get better at backgrounds in general as well.  Architecture and urban settings have always been daunting to me, and I’d love to be able to draw them much better by the end of this year.

Be more confident in my art, especially online

I want to be comfortable putting myself, and artwork, out there.  Perhaps because I am very aware of my own art shortcomings, I tend to notice those issues in my drawings, without acknowledging my successes.

Overcoming that is essential when it comes to my ambitions for this blog and YouTube Channel.  Besides that, I know it is important for me personally to break out of my comfort zone this way.  Time to say goodbye to that little inner voice of Self-Doubt and hello to Confidence.

Give in to the artistic process

Along a similar vein to the goal above, I can be a perfectionist sometimes when it comes to making art and writing.  My mom would tell you I absolutely am.  It is a bad habit that keeps me rigid when I should just relax and create.

My favorite works, whether drawn, painted, or written, have come from when I got out of my own way and let the inspiration take over.  While I won’t always have inspiration to pull from, I want to allow my ideas to manifest without the interruption of my ‘inner editor’.

This also means not being afraid to experiment and just play with different ideas and mediums.  I’m really excited about this goal, because I look forward to unlocking my somewhat stifled creative self.

Improve at graphite and ink drawings

I’ve always enjoyed just putting pencil to paper and creating an illustration with that tool alone.  It feels traditional yet applicable to any subject matter (dragons, anyone?).  From the bit I’ve dabbled in inked illustrations, there is a similar feeling.  It’s the closest to ‘fine art’ I’ve gotten.

The concept of being able to create many different textures with a single pencil or pen is intriguing to me.  This year I want to go from the occasional loose sketch and Inktober drawing to following tutorials and improved drawings.

Paint more

Last year I bought some acrylics and watercolors.  I love the feel of them, and am excited about creating with paint on both canvas and paper.  But I didn’t make much time for them.  This year I am going to change that.  As I said above, I look forward to playing with a variety of mediums, paint included.  Brace yourself for some paint-y speedpaints!

So there they are: my general art goals for 2017.  I hope you follow me on this journey, where you can see my work-in-progress and finished pictures on Instagram and Twitter.  Also be sure to check out my YouTube to see speedpaints, speeddrawings, art hauls, and more!