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Core Art Skills: Part 1, Welcome to the Course

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This post is part of a series called Core Art Skills.
Core Art Skills: Part 2, The Sketchbook

Vectortuts+ is excited to bring you a new five part series on core art skills. In this series, Ben Mounsey will be sharing in-depth knowledge and analysis of the skills required to become a better illustrator. Ben will be outlining four main skills; using sketchbooks, life drawing, working in traditional 3D and using traditional media techniques for your digital work, culminating in a professional tutorial that will knock your socks off! This series is great for all skill levels and you'll be surprised how a solid understanding of traditional methods can greatly improve your digital workflow. Let's get started!

Core Art Skills Series


It's important to recognize the value of Core Art Skills and the benefit's they can bring. From understanding form, competence with media to research methods, idea generation and understanding these as transferable skills you can put to use in your work. Building on these strong foundations can make a huge difference to your productivity and expand your horizons.

This course isn't about ditching digital and binning your Mac (or PC), rather it's how traditional skills can play an important role in furthering your digital work, and compliment your digital skill-set. This series will show beginners new ways of working, and for those more experienced, it will provide an opportunity to cast a critical eye over your working practices.

Reflect on Your Own Workflow

Maybe you've been working in the same way for a long time and have some experience under your belt. It's all too easy to get into a routine with your workflow, but it's important reflect to on your routine and see if it's as relevant as it was on day one, and where it can be improved. For those just starting out, now's the time to get it right. Start by asking yourself the following key questions:

  • Do you write/draw down your ideas and keep your thoughts in a sketchbook?
  • How do you start a project, do you work on paper or in a sketchbook before going to the computer?
  • Are you competent with figure drawing?
  • Do your figures feel grounded and convincing?
  • Are you comfortable with designing in a 3D space, using dimensionality, perspective,etc?
  • Can you command a range of traditional media?

Being a little self critical is a good thing, if you can take an objective eye and look at your skill-set and how you work, it can reveal areas of improvement. A question you might be asking yourself is, “If my work isn't made to look realistic, how would this benefit me?”. It's true, your work may be highly unrealistic, cartoony or very digital in it's look and feel. But even if you don't use any of the techniques directly in your artwork, honing your skills as an artist will have a big impact on everything you do. Your sharpening your senses, and I'd eat my hat, so to speak, if that didn't make your work more convincing and refined. All artists have strengths and weaknesses but everyone should have experience with the Core Skills, they're the strong foundations your work is built upon.

Traditional/Digital Harmony

The processes I'll discuss in this course are all lo-fi, traditional/classic treatments, but as I've already said, it's all about supplementing and complimenting you digital workflow, rather than a choice between the two. There will always be trends in design and illustration that change with the tide, leaning toward either traditional or digital, so it's best to be as competent with both as possible. That's not to say you ditch your digital style when trends change and get out your paint brushes. I'm no fine artist, you wont find me painting a landscape with oils, but I do know how to use media for my own purposes. You can harness a little of those traditional mediums to add some authenticity and physicality to your work and create a hybrid, Traditional/Digital Harmony. Ill talk more about this in Part 5.

Don't be fooled that this is all going to be a huge time sink, I'm all for short cuts time saving and compromise. There is a perception that digital is quicker and simpler, and that traditional practices are going to be fazed out — after all Photoshop has textured brushes. Rubbish! it's a huge misconception, and everything that I show you in this series has been made to fit in with common working practice. It should also be made clear that any of these built in digital solutions such as the aforementioned brushes, don't even come close to the real thing. Using real media means your guaranteed a unique and individual finish every time.

Project — Study Your Workflow

I'd like you now to take a look at your own working practice, as I mentioned earlier it's good to stop and take time out to reflect on your own workflow, see what improvements can be made. Before using any of the ideas discussed in this course, it will be useful to see where you could implement/where you'd like to improve implementations, of the Core Art Skills. Make yourself a quick diagrammatic sketch of a typical project, from start to finish and highlight areas that you struggle with, or take the longest, it might be idea generation for instance. Also, take a look at which areas you use digital techniques for, that traditionally would have taken place with more lo-fi means. Remember, be critical, no ones perfect.

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