My Duh Moment in Art

Here it is: Make better art by learning from better artists. Duh, right? But I don’t think that way often enough. I’m all about looking at artwork—more and more and more artwork—but sometimes I don’t really put my thinking cap on when it comes to gleaning what artists are saying with their work. Here are a few tips that came to me directly from the artist—no puzzling it out required.

Bird Me!

Painting or drawing birds is a definite challenge but Dutch artist Jacob de Gheyn was a master at varying his drawing techniques and marks to account for all the textures in any fair fowl—from wispy strokes for feathers to scaly marks for feet to dimples and dots to account for skin that looks plucked.

Plucked Chickens Hanging from Nails by Jacob de Gheyn, 1598, pen and ink drawing, 6 1/2 x 6.
Plucked Chickens Hanging from Nails by Jacob de Gheyn,
1598, pen and ink drawing, 6 1/2 x 6.

Sneaky Sketching

“I would often get caught drawing because the sound of the pencil scratching, the sound of sharpening, or pulling out the blade to sharpen would attract too much attention. I began doing the sketches in pen-and-ink because it’s better suited for sneaking up on people.”-Neil McMillan

'A' Train, no. 4 by Neil McMillan, 2008 pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2. 'A' Train, no. 5 by Neil McMillan, 2008 pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2. 'A' Train, no. 3 by Neil McMillan, 2008 pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2.
‘A’ Train, no. 4 by Neil McMillan, 2008
pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2.
A’ Train, no. 5 by Neil McMillan, 2008
pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2.
‘A’ Train, no. 3 by Neil McMillan, 2008
pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 3 1/2.

Don’t Break Down On the Curves

Curves are a tricky beast and really hard to accurately draw. But there is one approach that many artists used, including no less than Peter Paul Rubens. The trick is to use only straight lines for edges, softening them into curves where appropriate and needed later in the process.

Two Satyrs by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618-19.
Two Satyrs by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618-19.

Give Your Drawing Patina

Anthony Mitri drags fine sandpaper vertically and horizontally across his drawing surface. It creates a linen-like texture, a kind of cross-hatching that lends the work a sense of roughness and history, similar to an old filmstrip. He also steers away from fixative until the very end of the process because it makes the paper grainy.

115 Bales and One Silver Ring, Normandy, France by Anthony Mitri, charcoal drawing, 22 1/2 x 30, 2002.
115 Bales and One Silver Ring, Normandy, France by Anthony Mitri,
charcoal drawing, 22 1/2 x 30, 2002.

Learning these drawing tips and techniques has only increased my desire to focus on becoming a more fluid and skilled draftsman. And what is great about this goal is that it can happen on the spur of the moment and pretty much anywhere, especially if I have the Artist’s Draw-On-the-Go Mini Kit, with everything you need to get inspired for an impromptu sketching session. Get yours now and enjoy!

P.S. If you haven’t yet participated, please consider taking a few minutes to fill out The Artist Magazine’s Survey for artists. It’s your sharing that helps us understand what artists really want and need. Thank you!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “My Duh Moment in Art

  1. I think my ‘duh’ moment was something like – it doesn’t have to be perfect or even close to perfect – it has to have some thing or things that makes you forget that it’s not perfect. And figuring out what that is, is the fun part.

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