6 Skills for Intermediate Level Artists – The Roadmap part 2
If you’ve not seen part 1 where we covered the first 7 skills, you can view it HERE.
This is part 2 of the roadmap, where we transition towards intermediate level skills. It’s with these skills that your drawings are really going to start to transform, so this is an exciting time. Let’s get straight into skill number 8.
8. Weight and balance
Are you establishing a sense of weight and balance in your drawings? There’s no need to overcomplicate this. I used to hear people talk about the centre of gravity and I’d think i needed a degree in physics to figure that out. Firstly, let’s think about standing poses. Is their weight on both legs or on one leg?
If it’s on one leg, that leg probably has to angle in under them, so they are more centred over it. If their weight is on both legs, then you want to see the relationship between the two feet. Either way, a drop line down from the crotch and / or a drop line from the middle of the collarbones is probably going to be helpful. If they are also leaning on something or supporting themselves with an arm or something, then it changes things.
Then, the second thing to look for is the tension on the limb or body part that is bearing the weight. Generally, that limb might have to be more rigid and it might push up the joint it’s attached to. So here the weight is on the right leg, and that leg is pushing the right side of the pelvis up, so I need to draw that angle on the pelvis to get a sense of weight. Sometimes a person has some of their weight on one arm and often that arm will push up the shoulder on that side.
9. Quality mark making
Are you using confident marks? Using a nice overhand grip, you can put down a gestural swooping curve in one stroke. But that is just one example of a way to approach your lines. All I mean by quality mark making is that you are confident about what marks you’re making, and you’re building up good muscle memory, so now the marks are not coming from your nervous side but from your confident side. Some people have a scribbly style of mark making, but it’s very intentional and confident so it feels great to look at.
Or maybe you’re painting in the Heavypaint app using only the very simple tools like Tiffanie Mang (below). I love this mark making, to me it’s full of confidence and it’s not about slick swooping charcoal pencil lines, in fact she’s limited the marks she’s allowed to use for this exercise, but it’s about her confident application of those marks.
Probably the best way to work on your mark making is to find the artist whose marks you love the most and try to emulate them by studying, i.e. copying their drawings, and trying to recreate their marks. I’ll put some examples of artists you could study below. By the way, this stage is where your drawings start to look really good sometimes. Not always, but sometimes. So don’t worry too much if you’ve been studying tons and it’s still not looking great, this is where that starts to happen. But don’t try to skip to this step. Line quality comes from confidence about where your marks are going, and that happens once you’ve spent time studying the previous skills.
10. Intermediate anatomy
So now you can get deeper into anatomy. Remember, when you crack open an anatomy textbook, it has everything mixed together. The basic, the intermediate, the advanced. Most of them are more like a dictionary than a textbook you work through.
At this stage, you are starting see more of the shoulder muscles that go from the shoulder-blade like the terus major, you are seeing the three big groups of muscles on the forearm, but not every little muscle. Your understanding of the IT band on the outside of the thigh is developing and you can see how it holds things in there making the outside of the thigh tighter than the inside. That sort of practical information is about the limit of how advanced you want to go here.
Here’s a marker for where your anatomy understanding should be at this stage. Can you draw a figure reasonably well from memory, like Simon Luty is below? In other words, you draw a pose, then you hide the reference and your first drawing, and try to draw that pose again. That requires that you know the major anatomical forms well enough that you can conjure them from your mind. You can view this exercise with artist Simon Luty HERE.
11. Light and shading
When you were simplifying your values, you were already thinking about light and shadow. Now though we are going to start really studying how light works, how it bounces around and creates core shadows and cast shadows and you’ll start to think about how you want to render the lighting in your drawings. You might like to vary the marks you use depending on whether it’s a cast or a core shadow for example, with soft and varying marks for the core shadows and crisp, thin edges for the cast shadow edges. Or you might be interested in different ways of hatching or rendering with charcoal or whatever ways to depict light that you are into. Shading techniques like these are things people start worrying about way too early. Notice that we have worked through 10 different skillsets before worrying about shading or rendering anything. You want to be able to clearly define forms, shapes and gesture before you start worrying about your shading techniques.
Ok there are a couple more skills to work on, but they are sort of optional so first let’s talk about something super important. The first time you work through these, you don’t need to be perfect, you just need to be trying to do it, starting to get it, being able to do it with easy poses some of the time. But then you will need to circle right back to the start, back to the basic landmarks, but this time, you want to be able to see those landmarks really well, and even when they are hard to see. This second time, when you get to angles, you’ll want to start seeing how you can push them and make them even more interesting. You will take a second pass at these skills, and then a third and so on, constantly improving and refining your knowledge.
The next skills I’m going to list are really optional depending on where you want to go with your drawing.
12. Colour and painting
This one is optional and depends if you are interested in colour and painting. Once you have drawing skills and value skills, it’s fun to start adding in colour. Colour might seem intimidating, but actually the hard part of painting is actually drawing and clarifying forms and shapes and also simplifying the values. So if you can do those things already, you will find you can start adding colour successfully. You can have fun letting the colours bounce around with the light, you can start to learn about subsurface scatter and how it creates quite saturated colours which are fun to use in figures. You’ve done so much hard work at this point, adding colour is actually quite a fun time, because if the values are working, you can do all sorts with your colours. The main thing is you need to keep your saturation levels under control. We have some videos about colour and saturation, I’ll link those below if you are working on these skills.
13. Advanced anatomy
This one is also optional. If you want to get super into your anatomy, you can. I’m talking about learning every little muscle of the forearm and lower leg, being able to construct that level of complexity from imagination and so on. You can go deeper and deeper into anatomy. I do think there can be a risk when artists love anatomy so much that they can’t help by draw every little thing, the drawings pick up on so many little forms everywhere in the figure, the drawing loses its focal point and the figure starts looking like a sack of potatoes, so try to avoid that if you do this type of study.
Experiments and risks
This isn’t really a technical drawing fundamental, but at some point you need to also be trying out some things and taking risks. Just purely doing technical exercises can get addictive, but you also need to branch out into expressing yourself too. This is a separate topic but I did want to mention it.
And that’s it! If you’d like to have a handy guide which will help you figure out which skill to work on next, with links to tutorials about each skill, click HERE to download the free Figure Drawing Skills Assessment guide.