This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Category Archives: Art

Tips to Create an Excellent Observational Drawing

What follows is a list of tips that have been written specifically for high school art students who are looking to improve the realism of their observational drawings. It is for those who have already selected something appropriate to draw (see this guide for selecting subject matter if you need help with this) and who understand how to compose a drawing well (this will be covered in a subsequent article).

Tip 1: Look at what you are drawing

Failing to look at what you are drawing is one of the most fundamental errors an Art student can make

This sounds obvious, but it is the most common error made by art students. Many students attempt to draw things the way that they thinkthey should look, rather than the way they actually do look.

The only way to record shape, proportion and detail accurately is to look at the source of information. Human memory does not suffice. Forms, shadows and details are hard enough to replicate when they are right there in front of you; if you have to make them up, they appear even less convincing. In order to produce an outstanding observational drawing, you must observe: your eyes must continually dance from the piece of paper to the object and back again. Not just once or twice, but constantly.

Tip 2: Draw from real objects whenever possible

(This doesn’t mean, however, that you should never draw from photographs. Students frequently traipse from home to school and back again: it can be impractical to carry and set up complex still life arrangements over and over again. Some subjects – such as landscapes and nude models – are also unavailable in most classroom settings. It can therefore be good practise to set up a still life arrangement in the flesh (or visit a location) and begin drawing directly from the subject, using photographs to complete the work at home).The phrase ‘observational drawing’ typically implies drawing from life (see the superb observational drawing exercise set by artist and teacher Julie Douglas). Ask any art teacher and they will list the benefits of drawing from objects that are sitting directly in front of you. You are provided with a wealth of visual information…changing light conditions; rich textures; views of the subject from alternate angles; as well as information from other sense…smells and noise from the surroundings etc. Transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing from a photograph, but it often results in drawings that are ‘richer’ and more authentic.

Tip 3: Don’t trace

Throughout history, great realist painters have traced from photographs or worked from projections blown up onto walls. But these painters are not high school art students; nor are they assessed on their ability to replicate form.

There is a place for tracing in IGCSE or A Level Art (such as when tracing over something you have already drawn or creating a repeat pattern), but tracing from photographs and then simply applying colour or tone is not acceptable. Such methods of ‘drawing’ involve minimal skill, teach you little and run the risk of producing clunky, soul-less outlines. Don’t do it.

Tip 4: Understand perspective

As objects get further away they appear smaller. The replication of this change of scale on paper (through the use of vanishing points) is called ‘perspective’. The fundamentals of perspective are usually taught in junior high school; by Year 10 at the latest. If you are a senior art student and have somehow missed this lesson, remedy this situation urgently. There are not many theoretical aspects of art that are essential to learn, but this is one of them. Please view the perspective handouts in the Student Art Guide free teacher resources to get you started.

Tip 5. Use grids, guidelines or rough forms to get the proportions right before you add details

Many students start with a tiny detail (the eye on a face, for example) and then gradually add in the rest of the image…ending up with a drawing that is badly proportioned or doesn’t fit on the page (or floats aimlessly in the middle of it). This can be avoided by approximating the basic forms before adding details or by using guidelines to ensure that proportions are correct.

If working from a photograph, using a grid can result in highly accurate work. It allows students to focus on one small segment of the image at a time and gives arbitrary lines from which distances can be gauged. This can be a helpful strategy when precise, detailed images are required and can itself become a celebrated component in an artwork. As gridding is methodical and involves meticulous plotting of lines, however, it is important to acknowledge that this approach runs the risk of producing tight and regimented drawings that lack in ‘spirit’ and should thus be approached with care.

If working from life, roughly sketching outlines of the major forms will allow you to get the proportions right, before you add the details. While you do this, you should constantly check which points line up (i.e. edge of nostrils lining up with edge of eye) and the size of every object should be estimated in relation to the things that are beside it. You must get used to seeing things not in terms of absolute scale, but in terms of how one thing compares to another.

Tip 6: Be wary of ellipses

Ellipses – the oval shapes that are visible at the top of cylindrical objects such as bottles or jars – frequently ‘trip up’ a weak drawer. They can send an immediate signal that a student isnot looking at what they are drawing. All ellipses, no matter what angle they are viewed from, should be rounded (not pointed) at the ends, as illustrated in the image to the left (by Rachel Shirley) and below (sourced from IDsketching).

Tip 7: Keep the outlines light

As your drawing is fleshed out in more detail, with attention given to the subtle variations in shape and form, the natural inclination – especially of the novice drawer – is to want to darken in the outlines, to help ensure they are visible. Do not do this.

Real objects do not have dark lines running around every edge. Edges should instead be defined by a change in tone and/or colour, as in the beautiful graphite drawing by an IGCSE Art student shown to the left.

If you are producing a line drawing, a cartoon or some other graphic image, outlines may be darkened, but in an observational drawing – especially one which you wish to be realistic – dark outlines are never advised.

Tips to Develop Your Ideas in an Art project

‘Development’ means systematically working towards better artwork: trialing, refining and exploring compositional devices and technique, demonstrating to the examiners that you have gone through a learning process and arrived at a successful final piece.

As an example, the following process was undertaken by my A Level Painting students (this process could be easily modified for Graphic Design, Photography or Sculpture) during the course of the year:

1. Complete 4-10 drawings of your chosen topic in your A Level Art Sketchbook.

using a range of black and white and coloured mediums such as graphite pencil, Indian ink, acrylic, coloured pencil, watercolours, oil. The level of realism achieved in these drawings will be dependent on your own drawing style and preferences. Mix and layer mediums as appropriate.  Include photographs if desired. The drawings may be semi-incomplete and can merge into each other. At this point, do not worry so much about what you are achieving in terms of composition. You are merely conducting visual research and exploring your topic.

2. Fill gaps around the drawings with notes discussing your theme / issue / message

why this is personally relevant to you; what appeals to you visually about the subject; how the subject matter might be composed in order to support or convey your ideas. Look carefully at what you have drawn and make notes about how the visual elements (line, tone, texture, space, colour etc) interact… For example, are there strong contrasts between highly detailed areas and sparse areas? Are the negative spaces as interesting as the objects themselves? Are there repetitions of certain shapes and colours? Are you exploring frames within frames? …In essence, establish what you are dealing with visually.

3. Select an artist model whose work relates to your subject matter and inspires you.

Research this artist. Complete several pages in your A Level Art Sketchbook, including composition studies, imitations and pastiches of their artwork, using a range of mediums.  Fill spaces around the illustrations with notes explaining/discussing their technique/s (mark-making methods); use of media / materials; style; composition (i.e. the relationship between the visual elements: line, shape, colour, tone, texture and space. Discuss how these elements form ‘visual devices’ that ‘draw attention’, ‘emphasise’, ‘balance’, ‘link’ or ‘direct the viewer through the artwork’ and so on). Write notes about the ideas, moods and subjects explored within the drawings and how all of the above relates to your topic or theme. Your comments should show evidence that you have researched your artist (using proper terminology) and should also contain your own thoughts and responses. Under no circumstances should it appear as if you are just regurgitating information from a textbook. Learn from this artist and establish how this artist is relevant / useful for your own project.

4. Complete 10 – 15 drawings and paintings that show a smooth transition from your original artworks.

Do not leap in and copy everything the artist does. It may be, for example, that you simply copy the way a particular artist uses foreground, mid-ground and background, or the way in which they apply paint onto a scratched, irregular surface. The purpose of this exercise is to learn particular techniques or compositional strategies – not to copy their work in its entirety. The result should be a series of paintings which show gradual changes and exploration. After each one you should have a discussion with your teacher about what you can do next to help convey your ideas more successfully.

5. select another artist and repeat the process.

Once you have learned from this artist, repeat again. The intention is that by the time you get to your final piece, your work is a beautiful combination of your own ideas and the influence of several others. Your work should look absolutely original – a beautiful mixture of wisdom gained from a multitude of sources. It can be good practice to choose a range of artist models – ie. national / international, contemporary / historical etc…but this is not always necessary. The best outcomes occur when students choose artists whose work really moves them. It can be typical for an AS student to have 2-4 artist models and A2 students to have 3-10 artist models.

6 Reasons to Study Art in High School

1. The internet has created an explosion of opportunity for digital designers and multimedia artists

The world is filled with computers, smartphones, tablets and other portable electronic devices. Almost all businesses have an online presence, with online advertising increasing by the day. We are connected to the internet for long periods, seeking information, socialising, playing, shopping, watching videos and engaging in other forms of online entertainment. The demand for web designers, app designers, software designers, graphic designers, digital illustrators, multimedia artists, video producers, online publishers, animation artists, game designers and many other digital careers is undergoing unprecedented growth.

An Australian study analysing national census data, found that the number of people working in art-related roles that are embedded within other professions (i.e. visual designers working in other industries) has almost doubled in size between 1996 and 2006.

While Art continues to be a desirable option for students wishing to pursue ‘traditional’ creative careers, such as Architecture, Interior Design or Painting / Fine Art related professions, the internet has seen an explosion of exciting, new roles emerge.

2. Fine artists can reach a worldwide market at the click of a button

For the first time ever, those who make fine art, sculptures, photographs, fashion garments and other hand-crafted products are able to market and sell these directly to the public – on a large scale – without going through a third-party such as a gallery. Marketing and selling products via an artist website or print-on-demand facility enables artists to ship printed images and products to an audience that would previously never have known they existed. Instead of institutions or established galleries deciding which artworks ‘make it’, the public votes work into the spotlight through viral sharing on social media.

This doesn’t mean that making a living in these fields is easy. Competition remains tough, with an oversupply of those wishing to work in a creative field. Success will always require skill, commitment, dedication and good business sense. Nonetheless, the playing field has been levelled. A multitude of individuals are able to make their living in creative ways that were previously rarely possible. Creators of original content often have the upper hand.

3. High school students can achieve recognition while studying

Part of the joy of a high school Art course is that you don’t just study Art: you make it. Those who are skilful, driven and passionate – and produce high quality, gut-wrenching work – are in a position to achieve recognition even while studying. With broadband streaming into your living room, youth is no longer a barrier to success.

4. Those with a wide skill set have an advantage, in any career

Some people excel at mathematics. Others have strengths in written language. Others excel in creative areas such as Art and Design. If you are lucky enough to excel in two or three of these areas, you are part of a much smaller subset of the population. Those who are multi-skilled are astronomically more useful, well-rounded, hireable and capable of excelling in a much wider range of professions. Unless you are aiming for a degree that requires particular specialism (university websites clearly outline recommended and required subjects), it can be beneficial to select a wide range of subjects.

5. Studying Art improves performance in other subjects

James Catterall, leading professor and Chair of the Faculty at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, has studied 12,000 students over twelve years. His research demonstrates that involvement in the arts (both Visual Art and Performing Art) – especially for students from a low-income background – is associated with higher levels of attainment in both high school and university. Catterall also notes that studying the arts can have other positive benefits such as greater involvement in community service. (More information can be found in his book Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art – affiliate link).

Art enhances fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem solving skills, lateral thinking, complex analysis and critical thinking skills. No matter what career you choose, those who can arrange, present and display material in a way that is aesthetically pleasing have an advantage.

6. Good marks impress, no matter what

Outstanding marks, in any subject, indicate skill; intellectual rigour; strong work ethic and a commitment to fulfilling one’s potential. All of these things are desirable traits in an employee or university applicant.

Most medical schools prefer that you study Chemistry and Biology over Art – but this does not mean that Art is any less valuable: it means that it is less valuable for medical students. For the vast majority of university degrees, taking an art-related subject alongside other subjects will not disadvantage you (this is a popular topic of debate in the UK’s Student Room, however the official representatives from twenty six UK universities who spoke to The Guardian confirm that, aside from the stated required or recommended subjects for each degree, no subjects are looked upon favourably when considering an applicant for UK universities).

Top 7 Art Mistakes

Thinking Art will be an entertaining, ‘filler’ subject

Many students select Art thinking that it will be a fun subject where you hurl a bit of paint around and scribble with brightly coloured crayons. Students who enter under this misconception suffer a very quick wake-up call. Art can indeed be fun, but it is also an unimaginable amount of work. It requires constant and ongoing effort. Many students spend more time on their Art homework than they do on all of their other subjects put together. Art should be taken for one reason only: because playing with line and tone and shape and form and texture and colour fills you with joy. If you don’t love making art, your subject selection will torment you. Art will become your demon: the subject you resent with a passion, instead of enjoy.

Taking too long to begin

Some students are struck with a fear that they don’t have an original starting point or that they haven’t interpreted their exam topic in quite the right way. They spend weeks fretting over their topic selection and worrying whether it is good enough. Here’s the truth: it’s not the idea that matters – it’s what you do with it. Even the lamest beginnings can become draw-droppingly amazing if they are developed in the right way, with reference to the right artist models (visit our Pinterest Boards for artist ideas). Delaying your project in the hope of stumbling upon a ‘perfect’ topic rarely works: instead it results in panicked, last-minute submissions that are a pale shadow of what they could have been, had the full allotment of time been used. Great high school Art portfolios (in almost all cases) need time. Do yourself a favour and begin.

Producing weak or uninspiring compositions

Compositional errors can be broken into the following four categories:

  • Cheesy: Surprisingly, there are still students who attempt to create artworks containing hearts; glitter; prancing horses; leaping dolphins or bunches of roses. Overly ‘pretty’, cliché and/or unimaginative subjects are rarely successful.
  • Boring: Those who select appropriate but common subject-matter (i.e. portraits) but make no effort to compose these in an innovative way, do themselves no favours. Even highly able students sometimes submit projects that make an examiner want to yawn. (A less able student, on the other hand, with exciting ideas and clever compositions, can make an examiner sit up and take notice).
  • Simple: Another common compositional error – usually evident in weaker students – is to avoid complex / challenging arrangements and/or choose a scene that is completely ‘flat’ or formless (i.e. an enlarged detail of a brick wall or a cloudy sky). This is unlikely to give you sufficient opportunity to render complex three-dimensional form and runs the risk of limiting or stifling your project.
  • Unbalanced: Every image, page and preparatory component of your high school Art project should be arranged in a well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing way. This can be a challenge for some, but certain principles – and directing conscious attention to composition – make this easier. (More on composition in an upcoming article).

Flaunting poor skills

Struggling with a practical aspect of Art is not a mistake (no one is perfect; everyone is in the process of improving their skills and becoming better) but flaunting your weaknesses to the examiner is. Remove weak pieces and ensure that you present your skills in the best light. If you are messy and struggle to control paint, choose an artist model that allows you to apply gestural, expressive brush strokes, so it appears that your lack of control is intentional (this will allow you to continue practising with wet mediums, rather than avoiding them completely). If you struggle to draw realistically, Read 11 Tips for Creating Excellent Observational Drawings and consider embracing gestural drawing, distortion, manipulation or semi-abstraction. Showcase your strengths and use these as a distractive mechanism, while confronting your weaknesses head-on.

Failing to show development

Many Art qualifications (i.e. IGCSE, GCSE, NCEA and A Level Art) ask students to develop ideas from initial concept/s to final piece. Difficulties with development usually present themselves in two forms: submitting a body of unrelated work ORsubmitting work that doesn’t develop at all. We have written an in-depth article about development to to help those who struggle with this (it was written for A Level Art students, but it applies to other Art qualifications also): this is one of the most important articles on this website.

Continually restarting work

Those who take Art are often the perfectionist type, wanting every aspect of their portfolio to be perfect. This ambition is great – in fact, most teachers wish this was a more widely-held attitude – however the mechanisms for achieving this are often flawed. Continually restarting pieces of work is not a good idea. It is rare that a drawing, painting or mixed-media piece cannot be worked upon and improved. In almost all cases, initial ‘bad’ layers give an artwork substance, resulting in a richer final piece (see this article about working over grounds for more). Those who habitually restart work have less time to complete the second piece and often end up with a folder of semi-complete pieces, none of which truly represent their skill in the best light.

Drawing from second-hand sources

Drawing or painting from images taken by others is one of the most risky strategies a high school Art student can use. It sets off alarm bells for the examiner, as it can indicate a lack of personal connection to a topic, a lack of originality, plagiarism issues and result in superficial / surface-deep work. Using images sourced from magazines, books and the internet screams of one thing: a student who cannot get off their backside long enough to find something of their own to draw. NOTE: This is a guideline only. There are certain art projects – some of which are featured on this website – in which drawing from second-hand resources is acceptable. In general, however, this is something that should be approached with extreme care.

Tips to Stop Procrastinating

How to get your Art homework done: a no-nonsense guide

1. Get a wall planner

Not a calendar, diary, smartphone app, or a dog-eared handout tucked at the back of your sketchbook. A clear wall planner that is the first thing you see when you wake and the last thing you see before you fall asleep at night. In bold marker pen – highlight your project due dates and cross off the days that have gone.

2. Tidy your bedroom

To make great art you need an inspiring, well lit place to work, where you can spread out art supplies, tools and mess. If your bedroom is unsuitable, use a spare room, or stay late at school and work in the school art room instead. (Your teachers won’t mind. They will be deliriously happy).

3. Rid your workspace of all distraction

Turn off the internet; turn off the TV; put your phone on silent and put it out of sight. Forget about reading articles about how to avoid procrastination (like this one) and turn the music on instead. Crank it right up and let it fill your soul.

4. Pin blank sheets of paper onto the wall to represent the quantity of work that you have to complete

For example, if you are aiming to complete six A1 sheets of Coursework preparation, pin six A1 sheets up on your wall (NOTE: ten is the maximum for CIE Art & Design A Level students – it is perfectly acceptable to submit less). These sheets can be scrappy bits of paper or card: they should not the final presentation sheets, as they will get tattered and messy. Pin all of the work that you have done onto the sheets – including pieces that are incomplete and barely begun. (If you are working in a sketchbook, blutack all of your work-in-progress into the book). This allows you to get an immediate snapshot of how much you have done and how much you still have to go. In all my years of teaching, this visual representation of progress is the single thing that motivates students the most.

5. Look hard at what you have done…and work out what to do next

For some, this might be improving an existing artwork; for others it might be beginning something new. For many it should involve working in series (working on several works concurrently). This avoids the need to wait for paint to dry and allows similar colours and materials to be used in several works at once. When selecting which piece/s to work on, remember that you should:

  • Focus on the things that will get you the most marks. In other words, not page headings or borders. Not sharpening pencils or carefully premixing colours of paint. Don’t spend time writing tonnes of notes if the drawings are barely complete.  Work instead on the gutsy, important pieces and work on these until they are done.
  • Decide quickly. If you are unsure what to work on, just pick something. Then, when you next have class, ask your teacher.
  • Don’t write a checklist or obsessively chart your goals. In almost all cases, lists and their endless variations are just procrastination measures. The time you spend on writing a list and organising what you should do, would be better spent actually doing it. (NOTE: Any thinking you need to do can be done while you are creating. This is the perfect time to be planning how to improve / develop / extend your project. If you want to record your thoughts, just grab a sketchbook page and scribble the idea down when it comes to you).

6. And lastly, most importantly, pick up your pencil or paintbrush and START!

Even if you are disheartened at the amount of work that is required and feel that Art homework is taking over your life, remember that there is something inherently wondrous about putting marks on paper (or sculpting or composing three-dimensional form or whatever it is that you do). Unlike other high school subjects, where you have to commit facts to memory and regurgitate these in various contexts to demonstrate your understanding, in Art you get to play. Forget about everything else and concentrate instead on the joy of making: the thrill of smearing line and colour and texture about a page. Even if your teacher has instructed you to draw the most heinous still life imaginable, pour your teenage angst and heartache into it the work and turn it into something that really matters (i.e. explore the still life in a way that makes it personal to you). Take a deep breath and start. And after a little while, you’ll realise something awesome. The motivation you have been looking for all of this time comes with the doing. It is not some magical quality that you need to find before you begin: in starting, the motivation finds you. It snowballs, wraps you up in enthusiasm and builds momentum. To eliminate procrastination you just have to do something simple. You have to put down this article and begin.

Cool Art Project Idea

This is a concise article, aimed at helping students generate ‘cool’ art project ideas. What follows is a list of art project ideas that might be suitable starting points for those studying high school qualifications such as GCSE, IGCSE or A Level Art.

These ideas have been collated from students, teachers, artists, examination papers and from those kind enough to comment on the Student Art Guide. This list is largely aimed at helping the brainstorming process, prompting original thought and spurring a student into thinking creatively. The suggestions are primarily subject-matter orientated (i.e. based upon a physical object or scene) and do not begin to address the theme or message –  something that is as important as the subject itself. For those students who need more in-depth direction and guidance in this area, I recommend reading the accompanying guide for selecting good A Level Art project ideas. Students may also like to read this list of possible Art exam topic interpretations.

Creative Art Project Ideas

  • Chickens in cages
  • Pigs in pens
  • Discarded / rubbish
  • Abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Drugs
  • Bullying
  • Self-harm
  • Binge eating
  • Sugar and the malnourished obese
  • Corn husks
  • Banana skins
  • A carcass, turning on a spit
  • Hunting
  • Train stations
  • Toilets / broken, dirty, graffiti-covered
  • Mice in experiments
  • Students in an examination room
  • Students in a classroom
  • A dead sheep
  • A herd of cows
  • A milking shed
  • An abattoir
  • Aerial view of a city
  • A slice through the brain
  • Bone collections
  • The art room sink
  • A hospital
  • Newborn baby
  • At the dentist
  • Meat
  • A factory scene / manual labour
  • The photographer
  • Weird things in jars
  • Manipulation of scale (tiny humans in an over-sized setting)
  • Cancer
  • Snapshot moments
  • Moving house
  • Urban decay
  • Out the window
  • Merry go round / at the fair
  • Painted faces
  • Running marathons

Tips to make an art portfolio for college

What should be in an art school application portfolio? How do you present a portfolio? What gives you the best chance of being accepted by the art school of your dreams? This article explains how to make an art portfolio for college or university and is packed with tips from leading art and design school admissions staff from around the world. It is written for those who are in the process of creating an application portfolio for a foundation course, certificate, associate or undergraduate degree and contains advice for specific art-related areas, such as Architecture, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interior Design, Animation, Game Design, Film and other creative, visual art-based courses. It is presented along with art and design portfolio examples from students who have recently gained acceptance to a range of art schools from around the world, creating a 9,000 word document that helps guide you through the application process.

What is an art school application portfolio?

In addition to meeting academic requirements, Art and Design Schools, Universities and Colleges typically require a practical art portfolio as part of the application process (this is often accompanied by a personal statement and/or an art school interview – more on this soon). So what is this?

The University of the Arts London gives the following definition of an application portfolio:

A portfolio is a collection of your work, which shows how your skills and ideas have developed over a period of time. It demonstrates your creativity, personality, abilities and commitment, and helps us to evaluate your potential.

Just as every art student is different (with individual strengths, experiences, passions and ideas) every art school has different requirements and expectations. While some universities and colleges have strict criteria when it comes to preparing a portfolio, others are open and flexible. This variation in expectations can leave students uncertain about how to proceed. Even when criteria is clear, applicants may feel overwhelmed and wonder what to draw/paint/make/create, which mediums to use and how to best select and present their work.

Producing an art portfolio is not to be taken lightly. Top art schools often accept very small percentages of applicants. Understanding how to produce a great portfolio is crucial. Although it is impossible to generate a list of criteria that are appropriate for all applicants in every circumstance (there is unfortunately no guaranteed magic formula for creating a winning art portfolio) this article highlights tips from experienced admissions staff and makes general recommendations to help you produce the best university or art college application possible.

A step-by-step guide to creating an art portfolio for college or university

Research carefully and record the art portfolio requirements for a number of courses that interest you

Deciding which art or design school is for you is a big decision (our upcoming article ‘how to find the best art school in the world’ will help with this). While you consider your options, it is advisable to apply to a number of different schools, in case you are not accepted into your first choice. There is no shame in applying to college or university and not getting in (many highly successful individuals are not accepted into their university of first choice); but being left with no place to go because you didn’t apply to enough schools is an easily avoidable circumstance!

Create a list of art or design schools that you would be prepared to attend and find their admissions criteria (you can search for art schools in California and New Zealand on this website – more areas coming soon). All university and college art portfolio requirements are different. Record the exact admissions requirements carefully, well in advance, as deadlines can be earlier than you expect and portfolios take a long time to prepare. Print these out, highlight key information and keep on-hand, so that you can refer to them as needed throughout the application process.

In particular, keep careful records of:

  • Open Day times
  • Application and Portfolio due date/s. If you are currently studying Art at high school, check how the portfolio due dates compare to your own coursework deadlines and exam timetable. In some cases there may be issues with work needing to be in two places at one (i.e. submitted for assessment at high school and delivered to an art school in hardcopy at the same time). This occurs particularly for students studying international qualifications or applying to art schools in different countries, so you need to prepare for this in advance. Mark the deadlines of the schools that you are applying to clearly on your calendar.
  • Size and format of work required
  • Whether only finished pieces are expected, or whether sketchbooks, development and process work are also welcome (some schools require only finished pieces, particularly in the US; others love to see development work as well).
  • Whether submissions are digital, hardcopy reproductions or original artwork. If copies of work must be sent in, find out whether these should be colour photocopies, slides or photographs etc. Find out whether there are specific criteria for time based media (animation/moving image/video/interactive website design and so on).
  • Labelling and presentation requirements. Many art schools have precise portfolio presentation requirements, with work labelled or identified in certain formats, with details about titles, dates and materials used, for example. Digital portfolio submission may use online tools such as SlideRoom.
  • Whether there are special requirements for international or out-of-state applicants. If you are applying from another location, there may be special application criteria for you. For example, some colleges may accept international portfolios via email, instead of delivered in person.
  • Whether supplementary material is needed, for example, a personal statement or written essay (more on this soon). Art schools typically have academic requirements set by the university or college as a whole, which may require a separate application form and a different deadline. You may also be asked to submit images of work or objects that have influenced your work or teacher recommendations, testimonials or reports (only include these if specifically requested).
  • Requirements about what to draw / include. Many art and design schools leave applicants free to select what to include within their portfolio. Unless specifically stated, the portfolio should contain primarily visual artwork, not art history assignments, artist analysis or extensive annotation. You may have to submit a combination of personal artwork, work produced in high school classes and/or ‘home tests’, exams or assignments set by the art school you are applying to. In the RISD application portfolio, for example, applicants must respond to three set assignments, such as ‘observe and draw a bicycle, or an interior space’.

A Guide to Make Line Drawing

 When we first picked up a pen or pencil and started making marks on paper, we began with line. Whether self-taught, through trial and error, or guided by others, we learned how line defines form, creates structure, divides a frame, traces contour, creates tonal variation (cross-hatching, for example) and leads the eye from one part of a work to another. Initially a mechanism for getting outlines onto paper – identifying edges – we begin to applaud lines for their own merit: celebrate their presence…whether a quiet flick of charcoal on paper or a streak of graphite.

This article contains exercises for Art students who wish to produce contour line drawings, cross contour drawings, blind drawings and other types of line drawings. It is a teaching aid for high school Art students and includes classroom activities, a free downloadable PDF worksheet and inspirational artist drawings.

Blind Contour Drawing

Definition: A blind contour drawing contains lines that are drawn without ever looking at the piece of paper. This forces you to study a scene closely, observing every shape and edge with your eyes, as your hand mimics these on paper. The aim is not to produce a realistic artwork, but rather to strengthen the connection between eyes, hand and brain: a reminder that, when drawing, you must first learn to see.

Blind Drawing Exercises: Blind drawing is an excellent way to start a high school Fine Art programme. Drawing wobbly lines that bear little resemblance to the chosen object is relaxing and stress-free. Often, a classroom bubbles with laughter at the unexpected results. Blind drawing stretches the arms and soul; eases you into observational drawing without fear.

A warm-up activity in which students were asked to create blind contour line drawings of shell (teaching exemplar by the Student Art Guide). These blind drawings were included in the first preparatory sheets submitted by CIE IGCSE Art and Design students.

Gesture Drawing / Timed Drawing / Movement Drawing

Definition: A gesture drawing is completed quickly – often in short timed durations, such as 20, 30, 60 or 90 seconds – using fast, expressive lines. Gesture drawings capture basic forms and proportions – the emotion and essence of a subject – without focusing on detail. Due to their rapid completion, they are a great way to record movement and action, as well as increase your drawing speed, confidence and intuitive mark-making skill. Gesture drawings are best completed with smooth, easily applied mediums (chunky graphite pencils, charcoal sticks, pastels, soft brushes dipped in Indian ink, for example), without the use of an eraser. They are often completed on large, inexpensive sheets of paper, where you can move your arm fluidly, be bold with mark-making, and not worry about mistakes. As with blind drawings, gesture drawing is an ideal warm-up activity.

Gesture Drawing Exercises: When you begin investigating your subject matter in the initial phase of a high school Art programme, it can be helpful to make several first-hand gestural drawings. The best of these can be selected for your final portfolio (taking advantage of a photocopier or digital camera to reduce in size, if necessary). A small still life scene can be depicted just as easily as a large moving form.

Continuous Line Drawing

Definition: A continuous line drawing is produced without ever lifting the drawing instrument from the page. This means that, in addition to outlines and internal shapes, the pencil must move back and forth across the surface of the paper, with lines doubling back on each other, so that the drawing is one free-flowing, unbroken line. To avoid the temptation to erase lines, it can be helpful to complete a continuous line drawing with an ink pen, varying the line weight, as needed, to indicate perspective and areas of light and shadow. Like the drawing methods described above, this drawing method develops confidence and drawing speed, and encourages your eyes and hand and brain to work together. Continuous line drawings work best with in-depth observation of your subject, without interference from your thinking mind. According toSmithsonian Studio Arts:

Continuous Line Drawing Exercises: This drawing method is great for sketchbooks and drawing from life. It can be an excellent starter activity, with drawings completed on large, inexpensive paper that can be scanned / edited / cropped and used in other ways within your projects.

Contour drawing

Definition: A contour drawing shows the outlines, shapes and edges of a scene, but omits fine detail, surface texture, colour and tone (‘contour’ is French for ‘outline’). According to Wikipedia:

The purpose of contour drawing is to emphasize the mass and volume of the subject rather than the detail; the focus is on the outlined shape of the subject and not the minor details.

The illusion of three-dimensional form, space and distance can be conveyed in a contour drawing through the use of varied line-weight (darker lines in the foreground / paler lines in the distance) and perspective.

Contour Drawing Exercises: Using line alone eliminates the challenge of applying tone, colour and mediums; and instead focuses attention solely upon shape and proportion. After completing warm-up activities such as blind and gesture drawings, slower, more formal contour drawings can be an excellent way to begin more realistic representations of your subject matter. Used intermittently throughout projects, contour drawings can also be helpful for the student who needs to work faster.

7 Creative Sketchbook to inspire

 An A2 Art sketchbook page by Ruth Beeley:

This A Level Art sketchbook page is exactly as a high school Art sketchbook should be: an exciting investigation of media and ideas. Using ‘modrock’ (a plaster of paris bandage) and glue to create raised areas, with other mixed mediums such as wire, ink and Biro pen, Ruth adds careful and detailed drawings over a chaotic ground. The piece is not a finished, resolved image: rather, it is a beautiful and competently executed exploration of ideas.

An A2 Art sketchbook page by Lucy Luu:

At its essence, a sketchbook page should provide insight into a student’s ideas and intentions, as well as revealing the influence of other artists. This A Level Art sketchbook page is beautiful in its simplicity: devoid of all superfluous decoration, it shows a dedicated and committed student learning a technique from an artist and then carefully applying this to original artwork.

Sketchbook pages completed as part of a VCE Studio Arts folio by Australian high school student Heesu Kim:

Heesu writes about the project: “I want to create a narrative-like line of work that illustrates the process of birth and innocence to slow corruption and finally death of soul. For me, the ‘death of soul’ is when our minds are shaped to fit the norms of society and cut to think only in the values that it presents. This process both starts and finishes at high school. Ultimately the conclusion is thousands of machine-like individuals, fresh and ready to become slaves to the system. I talk to my friends and see peers that conclude their whole lives and future based on how high their ATAR score is, who adopt dreams that their parents decide for them, dreams that make more money, instead of following their real passion. I’m aware of it but accept it myself as there is no other choice but to. So subtle and complete is the control over us that we embrace it, actively acknowledge to it, and at the same time still suffer emotionally under it.”

A Level Art sketchbook pages by Lisa Jiang:

Many high school Painting / Fine Art students worry that their sketchbooks must be wild, gestural explorations, with layers of media exploding from each page. This sketchbook is a reminder that this is not always the case. Here, a sketchbook layout has been approached with the sophisticated eye of a graphic designer; each page taking on the aesthetic of a contemporary magazine.

An AS Art Sketchbook page by Charlotte Taylor: 

This AS Art sketchbook page shows visual research at its purest. Students often forget that research doesn’t just involve analysing artist work; it includes the visual investigation of forms: drawing items from a range of angles and in a range of different mediums. Here, Charlotte has worked over scraps of lined note paper (some with maths equations left on them) with meticulous, detailed pen drawings, developing familiarity with the human form.

An A Level Fine Art sketchbook page by Sally Al Nasser:  

This rich and vibrant A Level Art sketchbook page is a reminder that the high school sketchbook is a prime opportunity to demonstrate your love of Art to the examiner. Here, the lavish, gestural, brush strokes contrast with careful annotation, resulting in a composition that oozes passion. Every speck of the page has been considered and worked over, using colours that integrate and link with the Chrissy Angliker artworks analysed. The whole page thus becomes an opportunity to absorb information from an artist; imbued with technique, emotion and style.

An AS Level Art sketchbook by David Wasserman from Monks Dyke Tennyson College, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom:

Above all, a sketchbook should be a place for developing and refining ideas. It should show thought processes and provide insights into a student’s thinking. This sketchbook page is a helpful reminder that a Fine Art / Painting and Related Media sketchbooks need not be overly gestural or expressive: those who prefer working in a tighter, ordered, structured style should not be afraid of doing so. Indeed, such presentations can be less distracting and allow emphasis to be placed exactly where it belongs: the artwork. Here the integration of artist work, student photographs and observational drawings clearly show the journey taken while exploring and developing ideas.

7 Tips to Draw And Paint Faster

 1. Use a ground

There are many benefits to working on a ground. One of these is increased painting or drawing speed. A ground covers a painting or drawing surface from the outset. It can act as mid-tone, with only black and white used to apply dark and light areas (as in the examples below) or be left partially visible in the final work. This results in an artwork that is much faster to complete (see our article about painting on grounds for more information).
The beautiful A Level portrait on the left has been completed upon a pale brown ground (this provides a mid-tone skin colour and is also left visible in the background). On the right, a wash of ochre, blue and brown provides a background to the drawing black and white pencil drawing.

2. Incorporate mixed media /patterned surfaces / textural elements

As with using a ground, patterned, decorative or textural items can cover areas of an artwork quickly. Although this strategy should be used with care, selecting only materials which support or enhance your project (usually with reference to a relevant artist model) this can be a great way to speed up your project and introduce creative use of mixed media.
Exploring fairy tales (the ‘Princess and the Pea’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, these well-composed works allow the student to demonstrate observational drawing skills in certain areas of the artwork, while saving time by covering other areas with mixed-media patterned surfaces.

Artist Scott Waters produces gripping paintings on a range of found surfaces, including wallpaper, postcards and romantic paperback book covers. Note that the chosen surfaces are integral to the message in the work; the shattering of domestic bliss.

3. Work on several pieces at once

Working in series – completing several paintings or drawings at one time – is a very helpful strategy for Art students. This speeds work up for a number of reasons:

  • A single colour can be used throughout a number of works, without needing to stop for remixing / washing brushes
  • While one work is drying, another one can be worked on
  • Similar processes or techniques can be mastered quickly and repeated on subsequent works

In addition, when working on several pieces at once, ‘preciousness’ about the work tends to be lost, leading to more experimentation and greater work speed.
These photos of Willem de Kooning’s studio show several works in progress pinned to the wall and scattered across the floor. Although creating a glorious working environment such as this is not possible in most high schools, many Painting classrooms have small pin board alcoves which can be used to display work in progress.

4. Paint things in the right order – background areas first

Painting things in an illogical order is surprisingly common amongst high school Art students. In almost all cases, the background should be completed first, followed by the middle-ground, ending with the foreground. This is easily understood when considering a tree in front of a cloudy sky. If you make the mistake of painting the tree first, the sky has to be meticulously painted around every leaf and branch: an irritating task that takes hours (and ends up looking a little shabby). Painting the sky first, however, means that a large brush can quickly be used to paint the sky, with the tree then easily added over the top. Painting in the correct order also results in a painting that has layers (which gives it a richness and lustre, as with using a ground). If you find that subsequent layers of paint do not adequately cover earlier ones, you have an inferior brand of paint. (We will detail our paint and art supply recommendations in an upcoming article – stay tuned)!
These vibrant, architecturally-inspired abstract works by Susan Danko are a prime example of an artwork that must be painted in a logical order. These paintings would have been exceptionally tedious had the rays of light had been painted first.

5. Use masking tape to create straight edges

Some students are concerned that it might be necessary to ‘prove’ that a straight line can be painted by hand. This is not the case. Your control of a paint brush can be ascertained immediately by looking at the remainder of your painting. Masking tape creates straight edges in seconds. Once mastered, this trick can save you hours – and make your paintings sharper, cleaner and more professional in the process. If you haven’t used masking tape before, buy some now!

6. Leave artwork purposefully incomplete

Artist work is sometimes purposefully ‘unfinished’. Art students shouldn’t feel obliged to ‘complete’ every item. There are many occasions when a fully rendered drawing is not necessary. Drawings, especially those in sketchbooks, can be left with edges trailing away and tone only applied to some areas. Leaving work unfinished is particularly useful when conducting visual research, exploring ideas and experimenting with media. Depending on your artist influences, this may even be appropriate in final works – as a way to draw attention to focal points and direct attention within an artwork.
Jim Dine is an outstanding artist to use with middle and high school Art students. His charcoal tool drawings combine precise, analytical outlines (which fade away and are incomplete in places) with perfectly rendered areas and gestural, and expressive mark-making in some of the negative spaces left around the tools.

Completed as part of the high school qualification AP Studio Art (2D Design) these drawings are purposefully rendered in small areas only, creating emphasis and directing vision.

7. Omit parts of a scene

Deliberately picking out certain parts of a scene to draw has a strong impact on the final work and must be used with care to ensure that the resulting image supports the ideas explored in your project. As with the previous option, this allows you to demonstrate strong observational drawing skills, while saving time by omitting part of the scene.