Master hand-drawn art

Rediscover the art of drawing!
  • Alice Ross (Digital Arts Magazine)
  • 10 January, 2011 16:09

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2_DA_Master_hand_drawn_art Think back to the first time you wielded a pen, pencil or crayon. Drawing is one of the first ways children express themselves visually. A lucky few go on to hone and perfect their skills over decades, building their whole career on that simple pleasure of drawing a pen across paper – or graphics tablet – and marvelling at the result.

Once upon a time, it was simply impossible to be an artist, without having superb drawing skills. Sketching and drawing were the foundations on which paintings, carvings, frescos and sculptures were built. But that was then. In a digital era, it's easy to avoid ever having to pick up a pencil. Many stellar creative careers rest more on high–tech software and great source imagery, than on traditional art skills.

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Why, when you can create dazzling work using Photoshop filters and intricate Illustrator line work, would you dedicate the time and energy to perfecting your drawing? After all, it's a skill that demands minute physical control, an understanding of media (if you're sketching on paper, you need to understand the different ways that pencils, charcoals, inks and crayons work) and endless, endless practice.

First, because it's fun. The ability to pick up a pen – whether you're working on paper or using a graphics tablet – and let your imagination take flight is exhilarating. The act of drawing has a sense of playfulness that can take artists back to the intense concentration and experimentation of early childhood.

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Second, because it's liberating. Artist Dave Bain (davebain.com) who creates everything from delicate mixed–media pieces to bright naïve paintings says, "There is something wonderfully immediate about using a pencil on paper, without having to switch on a computer screen or click a mouse."

Belgian illustrator Sam de Buysscher, who works under the name Toy Factory, says sketching on paper is liberating, both physically and mentally. "You get more freedom to draw wherever and whenever you want. Nothing is more fun than drawing in a park under a sunny sky. Nature can be your studio – isn't that great?"

There is also the fact that when you draw, even if you're using the very latest graphics tablet, you're tapping into a creative heritage that stretches back over centuries. This gives you an incredible archive of past masters to learn from and a dizzy range of styles and techniques to explore.

"I'm often looking through art books from the past. Classical drawing styles have always fascinated me, whether it's a rough, preliminary sketch, or a fully realised etching," says Dave Bain. These influences can clearly be traced in some of his work, such as the image of two brawling women, immaculately rendered in a late–Victorian sketch style.

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Honing your drawing skills doesn't have to mean turning your back on digital art. Many creatives find the two work perfectly, hand in hand, offering the chance to combine the spontaneous feel of sketches with the flexibility of digital working and the all–important Cmd/Ctrl + Z.

Mixing it up Illustrator Sam Kerr's works (debutart.com/artist/sam-kerr) combine beautifully observed drawings and paintings with crisp vector images.

"Hand–drawn stuff is very final. Once it's done, you've got to be happy with it, or start again," he says. "Combining digital [elements] allows room for adjustment within your image. In the same manner, the graphic elements allow me to be more creative with ideas as drawing in detail from photographs can have its restrictions."

Andy Macgregor's (andymacgregor.com) portraits and illustrations have appeared in The Guardian and GQ. He says integrating hand drawings with software is especially useful when working for clients.

"It gives me the freedom I need to produce exactly what is asked of me. Time lines are very tight and clients tend to change their minds a lot, so I have to be able to amend the illustration quickly and easily."

He adds, "It also means I can experiment and find the best solution to the problem."

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Dave Bain says, "I sometimes use Photoshop to manipulate the drawing in ways that are not achievable or time–consuming to accomplish non–digitally. An example is using several scanned–in textures I've created using experimental techniques. I'll then tweak these using the Contrast and Levels settings, before incorporating them into artwork I've drawn out."

Meanwhile, other artists work entirely digitally, using techniques adopted wholesale from hand drawing. Oliver Barrett (oliverbarrett.com) combines his day job at US graphic design and branding agency Go Media with a sideline in lush portraits of musicians and other luminaries. He says his graphics tablet, rather than pen or pencil, is his key creative tool.

Oliver explains, "Usually I will do a rough thumbnail sketch, in order to get a basic idea of what the composition will be. From there, it depends on the project. There's always a lot of Wacom tablet work, but occasionally, I do work on paper extensively and then scan it in. After that, I may use scanned in textures and layering techniques to achieve the result I'm after."

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Above Andy Macgregor's El Bot for El Bosque, a Colombian illustration magazine. "Everything is hand–drawn first, then all other elements are added separately – paint washes, found paper scans and mark making."

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In contrast, award–winning illustrator Gemma Correll (gemmacorrell.com) works predominantly on paper. "It's all hand drawn," she says of her blocky, childlike illustration style. "I sometimes add colour digitally, but the line work is always done by hand. I have tried drawing with my Wacom tablet but it didn't really work for me – the line quality wasn't right."

She continues, "I enjoy the freedom of mark making and experimenting with media. I find felt pens and markers easy to use. If I make mistakes, I might erase them later using Photoshop – or I might leave them in. Sometimes think mistakes add to the character of an illustration."

Learning to draw can be a long, hard process – and it's one that's never finished. Even the most skilled artists have objects they struggle to draw. But all this can be overcome with two simple techniques: observation and practice.

Be quick on the draw Dave Bain claims the secret is to keep drawing and looking. "Wherever I am, if I have the materials to do it, I'll try to do a drawing," he says. "Even if I'm not quite in the mood or the final result is weak, just that process of drawing keeps me focused and improves my ability."

Dave adds that he sketches a lot when he's out and about. "If I'm drawing in public I tend to look at the people and not at the drawing page. I do fast, quick drawings that give me an impression of the movement of the person, rather than spot–on accuracy."

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Above The Guardian commissioned this piece from Sam Kerr. "The column it supported spoke of Gordon Brown's dual personality, comparing him to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde."

He says these sketches often get recycled into his other work. "I find that when I draw, all kinds of ideas flood into my mind about how that drawing can be used, or other ideas that I'd like to try out."

Andy Macgregor says, "I try to use the old–fashioned [method of] looking at the reference constantly, ghosting in the shape of whatever it is I'm drawing, then running the final line on top."

He continues, "It's most definitely a practice thing, but you should never be afraid to just draw what you see and welcome a sense of naïvety to your work."

Andy admits finding drawing most challenging when he can't base his drawings on observation.

"The most difficult thing to draw is something you have to pluck out of your mind. Sometimes, there's no reference for what you're asked to draw." He says in these situations you have to completely rely on your common sense and give way to trial and error.

While Andy can draw some things without observing them, Sam Kerr finds others extremely challenging.

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"Don't ever ask me to draw a cow from memory," he says. "However, like with anything that you might struggle to draw, the best approach is to keep at it, until you get it right."

As with any artistic discipline, constantly experimenting with materials and techniques is an essential part of honing your skills and developing your style. Indeed, Andy reveals one of the simplest tricks is also one of the most effective.

"Be confident in your own ability," he says. "Everybody is different. You've got to nurture the skills you have and be confident doing it."