Art and the Web: Drawing: Part II

We are excited to announce Treehouse’s second book called ‘Art and the Web: Value, Texture, & Color’ written by Nick Pettit. This book is part of a larger series that Nick is writing about the elements and principles of art, as they relate to the web. We are releasing each chapter as a blog post on Think Vitamin and at the end, you will be able to download the entire book for free. — Ryan Carson.

Cover artwork for the book 'Art and the Web: Value, Texture, & Color'

To get you caught up, here is Drawing: Part I

Drawing: Part II

I strongly believe every web professional should possess some degree of artistic skill. The ability to draw allows us to quickly mockup a page layout or a visual idea and share it with others. In our domain of abstract ideas and fuzzy logic, drawing is capable of communicating many things that mere words cannot. Furthermore, I say that drawing is a skill because I also believe that drawing is not something that people are born with or something that they pick up accidentally. Just like writing, drawing is something that must be practiced in order to be perfected. However, while most individuals continue writing after the age of five, many do not continue to draw, and their artistic development comes to a grinding halt. It’s time to pick the pencil back up (for a beginner, any pencil will do).

In the series "Art and the Web", we’re exploring the elements and principles of art, and nothing reinforces concepts better than putting them into practice. In the last short book, we started with the elements line, shape, and form. Now, let’s take a look at how we can further develop our sense of value, texture, and color.

Albrecht Dürer, The Little Owl (1508)Albrecht Dürer, The Little Owl (1508)

Exercises

Drawing takes a lot of practice, so don’t be discouraged if your first (or twentieth) attempts are bad. Perhaps even more importantly, never throw your artwork away. Many skills do not produce material results that can be referred back to, so the fact that we’re able to look back on our work and monitor improvement is a tremendous advantage that shouldn’t be wasted. Drawing also takes a lot of concentration, so if you start feeling a wave of mental exhaustion after an hour or even a few minutes, then you’re doing it right.

Shade a Sphere

Most beginning drawing students will focus heavily on using lines to reveal the form of objects. There may be some shading involved, but it’s usually far too light. In the real world, we experience the full value scale on a daily basis, so in every drawing there should almost always be areas of complete darkness, bright white, and everything in between. Intermediate drawing students realize this and will sometimes overcompensate. Often there will be many darks and lights, but not enough subtlety and variety in the grays. Fortunately, this exercise is designed to develop skills and break the bad habits of any artist, beginner to master.

First, find a smooth and relatively spherical object. Something like a river rock, a ping-pong ball, or an egg, will work perfectly. For a real challenge, find a spherical object that’s highly reflective, like a metal ball bearing. Then, place the subject on a flat surface and shine a strong light source at it. A small desk lamp works best, but if you draw fast enough, even sunlight could work.

With the scene set up, try to draw the subject and its shadows as realistically as possible. To start, pencil in the basic shape of the object and its shadow very lightly. Then, shade in the object and its shadow, using the full range of value. In your rendering, there should be a full or near-black value, as well as areas that are nearly or completely white. When shading, don’t simply draw the object and then start to fill it in; use your eyes to very carefully observe the shape of the object, the shape of the shadows, and how the values gently gradate into one another.

Paul Cézanne, Rooftops and Tree (1888)Paul Cézanne, Rooftops and Tree (1888)

Gather Textures

It’s not always easy to define a texture, but we know it when we see it. For example, if a texture is enlarged to a great size, at what point does it cease to be a texture and transform into shapes, lines, and values? Beginning drawing students will often render textures as a muddled mess of values, but with careful observation, you’ll begin to notice that there’s more to texture than a jumble of visual noise. Texture at the most granular level is a pattern of other art elements.

Start by drawing 9 small squares in a 3×3 pattern. Then, look for textures around your home, in your office, outside, or wherever you happen to be. Some great subjects include carpeting, wallpaper, trees, and wood grain. Once you stumble upon an interesting texture, try to create a "thumbnail" image of the texture in one of the boxes. Again, try to pay careful attention to the composition of the texture; what is it that actually makes the surface textural? After you’ve finished drawing a texture, move on to the next one, until you’ve filled all the boxes. When you’re done, compare the textures to one another, and reflect on the differences and similarities. This exercise should yield insights into the atomic structure of textures.

Study a Color

Mastering drawing, especially color, is just as much observation as it is action. There’s a style of abstract art called Color Field painting that emerged in New York during the 1940’s. The style is characterized by (very) large areas of flat color placed adjacent to one another, or just one color filling the entire canvas. To gain a better understanding of color and its subtleties, try filling an entire piece of paper or canvas with a single color, using colored pencils, paint, or any other coloring medium. When you’re done, just stare at the colored area for a while. The logical side of the brain is tempted to categorize the page as being "red" or whatever color you chose. However, try to hunt for all the different shades, tints, and values. Furthermore, if you’re using a more visceral medium like oil or acrylic paint, you may even start to see some slight variations in hue. Concentrating on one color like this allows the mind to appreciate the complexity of light all around us.

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