“Practice, which some regard as a chore, should be approached as just about the most pleasant recreation ever devised.”
Regular, consistent practice is the only way to build any skill. That’s as true for design and composition as it is anything else.
That’s not news to musicians, who happily spend the majority of their time at their instrument practising. Most of what they produce, an audience never hears.
Why is that approach so rare for visual artists?
Perhaps you think that design is one of those skills that you’re just born with. If you do, then frankly, you may as well stop reading. I write for people who believe they can get better with practice, and who are willing to commit their time to that belief.
If that’s you, then I think I’ve got something for you. I’m about to go into more depth than I ever have before, with a series of video posts that will show in detail how I’m currently using practice exercises to develop my composition and design skills.
Today I’m posting the first two videos of the series.
I’m going to start with some studies from life. Then you’ll see me gradually distill the studies down and begin to create designs from them. Each exercise will have one, and only one goal: To develop design sensibility.
I’ve been using the method I’m about to show you for some months now. I’ve seen my sense of design improve and felt my compositional confidence growing. A long time ago, I used to believe that design was one of those natural “you have it or you don’t” aspects of art, mostly because I didn’t seem to have it.
I don’t believe that any more. If I possibly can, I want to prove to you that you can build your design skills too, with practice.
If you’re reading here, you’re probably a realist artist, or at least start with the visual impression. So I’ll be starting where I always start, with studies from life.
This first video in the series shows the initial drawing out of the lilies. I don’t like time-lapse because it makes everything look much easier and quicker than it is. This work is slow. So I’ve cut together lots of different stages of the drawing but still kept the video short – just over two minutes.
You’ll notice that the drawing has already been simplified ready for use as part of the composition exercises. It’s only outline, with no value shading to confuse the issue.
In the first stage, I’m going to try to create a design using line only.
In this next video, I’ll take that initial drawing and try to make a design from it, an initial composition. First, I’ll trace the drawing. Then, having laid another sheet of tracing paper over it, I’ll crop it in a way I think makes a good design. This method of laying tracing paper over drawings to try out changes on them is really very useful, especially for design and composition practice like this.
Where this is going next:
The next post will see me making a notan composition of this drawing. From there, I’ll take more of my studies from life and produce tracings of them which can be combined in different ways as abstract design. I’ll be trying pot designs, repeat designs and rug designs.
Then the streams will cross again when I return to picture composition and produce some more notan designs based on the simplified elements, which will be worked up into full picture designs in three values.
What I won’t be doing, however, is trying to produce a finished piece at the end of all this practice. I’m not going to make a lily painting. If you’re hoping for a demonstration of some compositional tricks you can apply, like the rule of thirds or the golden section, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you.
Because I firmly believe that if you haven’t practiced enough to develop your design sense, no amount of tricks or cheat sheet of composition rules is going to help you make good compositions.
But if there’s no finished drawing, what’s the point?
Throughout all of the videos you’ll see in upcoming posts, I’ll have a single goal in mind: to stretch and build my design muscles, just like an athlete does through repeat practice.
What I hope for more than anything else is that I can inspire you to try some similar exercises yourself. If you do harbour any doubts about whether design and composition can be learned (and I know many people do) then I hope I can go some way towards dispelling them.
What I hope for more than anything is to be a able to encourage you to prove to yourself that you can improve your compositions through regular, positive practice.
So where do you start?
Well, you could dive straight in with something like this. Or you could start a bit smaller, like I did, and gradually stretch your design muscles with time.
I’ve posted previously about some of the initial exercises I did along these lines. That might give you some ideas.
A great initial exercise to try is simply to divide space with horizontal and vertical lines. It sounds simple, I know. Too simple. But I do this very exercise myself every morning, and have been doing for months. It’s like an early morning meditation for me now.
And you’d be surprised what a difference very small steps can make when you add them up.
They quickly become yards, then before you know it, miles.
Posted: December 23rd 2012
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