Old Iron - Value Study

Free Value Exercises

If you believe you can improve your art through regular practice, I want to help you do that.

Of the many problems people email me about, by far the most common is value. If you want to paint realistically, good values will help your pictures come to life.

Enter your email address below and I'll send you three free value exercises. After that, I'll also send you regular updates from this site to (I hope) help you with your artistic growth.

Vermeer, the Milkmaid.

Composition can make the difference between a technically skilled piece of work and a beautiful one.

Design and composition is what allows us to take our visual impressions and make them into art.

Composition is where you create, where your personality comes through the most clearly in your work.

So why is good composition so rare these days?

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Childrens building blocks

One of the most common things I hear from people is that they want a structure to their practice.

They feel that they're just thrashing around aimlessly without learning anything.

It's a good question:

Which building blocks do you need? And how do you need to combine them?

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Belfast Drawing Workshop

A couple of weeks ago, I was involved in Julie Douglas' Draw-In in Belfast, a symposium celebrating drawing.

Getting together with artists is always really rewarding, but this was special.

Special because Julie, art teacher and the organiser of the event is special; special because all the artists that gave workshops and presentations were special; special to me personally because it was the first time I've given a live workshop.

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An Enso, brush and ink

Japanese calligraphy (called Shodo) exists somewhere between art and meditation.

In Shodo, the lines between drawing and writing are also blurred. The word Sho can mean to write, to draw or to paint.

There is perhaps little real difference between them.

The part of the word Shodo that interests me most, though, is the second part - do, meaning the way

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Jamine leaf drawing

At what point during a flower's life does it achieve perfection?

Is it when it's still a seed, filled with potential?

Or is it when the green shoot first breaks the surface of the soil and reaches the light of day?

Is it when the first bud appears?

Is it when the flower opens fully, or is it when the flower dies and goes back to the soil, to become food for other plants, giving itself to create new life?

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Breathing Lines Exercise

For a lot of people, practice is frustrating.

After all, you know where you want to be; you want to be drawing and painting really well. At least, better than you do now.

You might even have particular artists in mind whose level of accomplishment you'd like to be able to emulate.

It's just that boring part of doing all the practice you could do without. Wouldn't it be great if you could just skip to where you want to be without having to go round the houses first?

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Mondrian tree.

Artists see differently.

Someone who sees in this special way that artists see can look at a collection of buildings and see a design, become entranced by a pattern of light and shadow.

The greater your ability to see in this way, the more you will be able to look at something and see a picture. The better your ideas for pictures will be. And your life will be enriched with the simple pleasure of seeing.

Honestly, it's worth it just for that.

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Bamboo painting, destail - Okubo Shibutsu.

Debbie is walking past her living room. She is struck suddenly by the shadow of a plant, cast on a glass door.

She stands enraptured for a moment, then rushes to find pencil and a sketch pad, so she can catch this fleeting moment that has impressed its beauty on her consciousness.

What is it about Debbie that privileges her with this wonderful moment in her day?

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A negative space design based on a drawing of lily buds.

Ultimately, I believe we all teach ourselves.

Taking classes can be helpful because it can help motivate you and give you a structure, removing barriers to practice. But you need to be actively engaged. Just turning up doesn't guarantee you'll make any progress.

How effective a class is will also depend on how well it meets the criteria for effective learning.

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draw more

It's that time again - New Year's resolution time.

That time of year when we get to sacrifice our self esteem on the altar of failed commitments.

All You've really managed is to create a stronger barrier to achieving your artistic goals. Hardly the point. Let's try not to let that happen this year.

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What is it about birthdays that makes us reflective? Or is that just me?

Here's my thoughts today on art education, and why so many of us have been failed.

And perhaps, too, what we might do to turn that sad state of affairs around.

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