A number of techniques and ideas...
What to do for the next installment of Practical Lessons In Art? Textures? More photography? Gathering an art morgue? Comic book style art? Manga?
Honestly, by this point, you should have the basic knowledge to veer off into new directions on your own, but I'm gonna just give you a few ideas to try for fun and learn from this time around.
Multi Color Shading
If you recall my advice on how to shade areas in an earlier installment, utilizing three different light sources to produce depth, then you're gonna get through this one just fine. For this particular exercise, you'll need to draw at least four different objects, but nothing too complicated to start. As an example, I'll choose a horse, a woman's face, a blossom of some sort, and a rather simplistic, but easily recognizeable dragon! Each drawing should be clean, dark lines like a coloring book illustration. As you have fun with this technique, you'll be able to use it with nearly any sort of drawing or media. Let's use the woman's face to start. At random, select three different colors from your box of colored pencils or crayons or ink pens or what have you. You may use the cross-hatch technique I discussed in an earlier article, but to begin, it's nice to just use gradual shading with heavier strokes at the darkest shaded parts, with lighter pressure toward areas where the shadow fades out. If you're using markers, may I recommend you use color-blocked areas and simply allow them to overlap. That is, if you know that there would be dark shadows from a lightsource directly above the face, go ahead and outline where they would fall and color that entire area in. Around the eyelids, beneath the nose, under the chin would all be colored your darkest solid color, and then the other two colors would follow pretty much as I'm about to describe for crayon or colored pencil use.
Okay. Your main lightsource will be coming from directly above the face. Of the three random colors you've chosen, take the darkest and go ahead and shade in the areas which would be in shadow. Let's say you picked up blue-purple, yellow-green, and grass green. Your purple is probably darker, but it's always good to keep scrap paper handy to test colors just to make sure. Find the darkest color of the three and use it to color in the darkest areas of the face or whatever figure you've chosen, fading the shadow out toward the edges where it would begin to lighten. Can you see where this is going? Select your mid-range color and use it to shade areas that would contain shadows if your lightsourse was above and to the left of your face or figure. REpeat with your lightest color, angling it as though the lightsource came from the direct left. Allow the colors to overlap as they will. The results may seem odd, yet also natural, as if the object or figure was in a situation where the light might be reflected from something like grass, a strangely colored sky, or party lights. This technique works especially well when drawing fantasy pieces. Any three colors or less or more can be used so long as you can identify which colors are lightest and darkest and which direction those shadows should fall from.
Sky's The Limit
One of my art teachers in high school informed us that we could color skies anything we pleased, but that we would never find green in the sky. This is completely untrue as any meteorologist will tell you that one of the signs of a possible impending tornado is a greenish cast to the sky, which I myself have witnessed numerous times. For this exercise you'll need a camera and 800 speed film. No flash is necessary, nor are special lenses, though this might be a fun time to try out that panoramic camera you might've picked up at a yard sale.
If you recall the exercise where I had you photograph things that were distintcly solidly colored like a red rose, an orange, a yellow fire hydrant, etc., then you're all set to keep youreyes trained for different sky colors. If you are able, try and photograph the sky at different times of the day under differing weather conditions, with or without any objects or a horizon of any kind in the photo. You're looking for distinctive colorations, like the deep blue of the zenith at noon, the strong and blended colors of dawn, the often jazzy outrageousness of color streaked clouds across a sunset sky, the odd shades and highlights of the sky right before or after a major storm. Seek cloud patterns, too, from a perfect sky dotted with clouds like at the beginning of The Simpsons, or a perfectly clear sky, anvil-shaped thunderheads, the odd trails of a mackeral sky, and note how light colors the clouds and tints them. It's great if you can come up with a collection of wildly varying photos with which to use as a reference for future projects, but if not, then your imagination will probably suffice just fine.
I went to school with a fine artist who was colorblind, but who was reknowned for his amazingly vivid and realistic skies. It doesn't matter what colors you use or if you choose just one, but a mesmerizing skyscape can turn a so-so painting or drawing into something quite memorably dramatic. Once you have your collection of sky photos, go ahead and have fun trying to reproduce them on paper. Pay special attention to the clouds because most of us are content with splotches of white and grey fluffiness, but a real artist will go after strange colorations and know how sharp or blurry to make shadows and cloud edges. Something as simple as a good sky can boost your work from mediocre to outstanding to look at.
The Art Morgue
This is a fun project, but it can irritate people if you don't have any place to really keep a new collection of any kind. An art morgue is a collection of images that inspire you. It may contain actual photographs, other people's art, magazine illustrations, book jackets, or anything else that really catches your fancy. Look for images which really stimulate your imagination. Maybe you like the way Boris Vallejo draws figures, using strange lightsources to add drama. You can find his work in magazine ads, on old calendars, book jackets, album covers, movie ads, trading cards... Gather as many different types of things which attract you. In my art morgue there are pictures of rooms lit only by firelight, autumn trees carpeting mountains, glittering gemstones on sand or velvet, pictures heavy with water reflections, highly detailed animals, people in many different types of period or fantasy costume, many animal photographs, pictures of food. I try to gather things I like not only for their unusual lighting, shading, perpective, or detail, but mainly things I like to draw or paint anyway like fantasy art and wildlife. This refernceis yours to gain inspiration from, but not to copy. Way too many people I know who call themselves artists are little more than human Xerox machines, copying other people's work, changing little or nothing. This is fun for personal use, but not for selling art or using it in competition. Be wary of the artist who reproduces something you've seen before in a magazine or other public source. They're often just asking for an ugly lawsuit. If you do copy someone else's work (tattoo artists are often asked to do this and many will just to please the customer), then you must make enough changes to your version to be able to honestly call it your interpretation. Remember that the Ghostbusters people got into a legal battle with the Casper The Friendly Ghost people over the now well-known Ghostbuster logo. Maybe you don't think your work will ever get linked to the original piece you used because you don't think you're as big as Ghostbusters, but it's surprising how news can travel, or the right person can happen to be at the right place at the right time to challenge your right to use their work. The art morgue should inspire you, not have you making fun copies of Olivia's work to put on your friends' skateboards or T-shirts.
Myths & Monsters
As mentioned, I'm known as a fantasy artist, so people are always asking me would I draw a unicorn for them or a minotaur? A griffin perhaps? A gorgon?
It's fun to do your own interpretations of legendary creatures. I think I've almost done the unicorn to death, depicting a horse with a horn, the more caprine style unicorn made famous in those medieveal tapestries, a Roman-esque Bucephalus, a cutesy ball of fluff with split hooves and a short horn, and even a very reptilian version based on both ancient Chinese legend and artwork depicting dinosaurs in books. We're all familiar with a handful of recognizeable creatures done over and over again by countless artists over thousands of years, but what if you could come up with something new?
My wife Emma came up with a strange series of rough beasties she titled "Dragons Of Olde" based on a technique I taught her. It's very simple and pretty fun and allows you to expand your ideas of fantastical creatures into realms no one else has ventured into.
Grab a good book with lots of photos or drawings of different kinds of animals, a handful of sketch paper, and a pencil. Take every animal you see and add a part of it to make a new animal from many. I start with the head of the first creature I see and draw sketch it, not caring much about specific details unless I really want to emphasize them like tusks or horns or something. Draw the neck and or shoulders of the animal in the next picture. Add the forelimbs (if any) of the next animal, the basic body shape of the next, hindlegs, then tail, then any other features you think will make the animal you've invented really stand out. Sketch a bunch of these creatures, and if you run out of pictures, then trying using the head of the second animal you saw and then going through the book again, finding various body parts you haven't already used. When you're done, take a look over your monsters and choose the ones you think are the coolest to really draw and detail like the thing really exists. Don't stay strict to what the real animal looked like--use your imagination to alter things enough that people won't look at your results and go, "Oh that's a camel-headed platypus with a rooster tail." You want to make something that seems totally unfamiliar, yet plausible. Color as you wish, but again I've found the most realistic colorations can be taken from what already exists in nature. While airbrushing dinosaurs at a theme park, I colored a pair of Saurolophus with the patterns of whale sharks, added a Phaon Crescent butterfly's markings to the neck frill of a Chasmosaur, and detailed a family of allegedly genteel Maiasaura similar to white-tailed deer.
I'm A Superhero,
Now What Do I Wear?
This is another fun activity very similar to the one we just went over using animals. I'll take a stack of comic books and go through and roughly, lightly sketch a bunch of interesting poses. Next, I'll go from page to page deciding if the figures should be male or female...or what have you. I'll draw hairstyles based on what I see from page to page, book to book--all of this still done very lightly, or better still, all of the sketchwork done with a non-photo blue pencil like many professional illustrators used to use. Starting at page one of the first book you grab, adapt whatever headgear the first figure is wearing to the first figure you drew. Maybe there's none, maybe it's eyeglasses, maybe it's a snorkel...whatever. This exercise is not only fun for creating costumes, but also helps work on perspective skills, because it forces you to imagine what each item you've selected will look like on the figure you've chosen based upon their pose. You may be forced to adapt the item being added based on how you think it would look if it was in front of you and you could actually turn it the way you'd need to see it to draw it proportionately. From the next figure, assuming it's not the same character over and over again, draw that person's cape or scarf or shirt or coat, but be prepared to alter the original art by adding an undershirt or tie or bolo neckware from yet another character. Keep adding bits of clothing or armor or whatever, keeping the design simple, not too cluttered, until you've completed that figure's new costume. Sometimes it's fun to leave things off entirely like shoes or hats or even masks...or maybe the character will have strange facial features or markings or makeup instead of a mask. Some of your figures will look dopey, but a few will turn out especially cool. Choose a few to be villains or heroes and ink in their outlines, altering as you go for a more tailored effect, then color them in or redraw them as individual pieces as though you are a new comic book artist with a whole new slew of characters to start a whole new hero universe with. THis exercise is also useful if, say, you're trying to do a medieval-themed piece or ancient civilization piece and don't want to use traditional costuming. Just find illustrations featuring the era or area you're interested in, then start interchanging pieces until you end up with something you like. If you want to be realistic, just try and imagine how heavy or sturdy or flexible a part may be to see if it could be feasible for the character you're designing to wear in various situations. Vampirella ought to freeze in temperatures much below sixty, but if you need to keep her so scantily clad, you just work the reasoning into the storyline and keep putting her in a bathing suit out in the snow. If you're trying to design something for acting or convention or other wear, then comfort and feasibility should be your main concerns. For actual clothing design and wear or for real characters you plan to draw over and over again, you'll also need to be able to replicate the same pieces of clothing on a figure facing forward, sideways, and from the back.
Okay. You now have a few more fun ideas to incorporate into what you know about art and design already. You should be getting better at realistic shading, coloring, and perspective using these techniques. The last two excercises here should have you creating whole worlds populated with new creatures, new plants, new vehicles, etc. Just work on making everything seem new and fresh and totally your own and you'll soon be recognized as a highly imaginative individual, often sought after by people trying to express ideas through radically memorable means.
Have fun! And remember, save everything you draw, even if you don't care for it at the time. It may inspire you to perfect your vision later on.