6 Tips to Super-Size Your Illustrative Skills | Art Journal Inspiration

Amid her helpful tips for art journaling and drawing, mixed-media artist Danielle Donaldson reveals a truth about creating art–one that we sometimes want to ignore. Read her guest blog post and learn how to take your art to the next level with our Whimsical Watercolor Ultimate Collection. This exciting collection includes Danielle’s three new DVDs: Watercolor Illustrations, Watercolor Story Blocks, Watercolor Words, plus her wonderful book, creativeGIRL.

Art journal and Mixed-media art tips with Danielle Donaldson | ClothPaperScissors.com
Homeward (mixed-media art) by Danielle Donaldson

6 Tips to Super-Size Your Illustrative Skills by Working Small and Using Some Big Imagination by Danielle Donaldson

6 Tips to Super-Size Your Illustrative Skills with Danielle Donaldson | ClothPaperScissors.com
Glass Half Full (mixed-media art) by Danielle Donaldson

Your pencil, preferably a mechanical pencil, is your best friend. At least it’s my best friend. It’s my starting point for ideas and allows me to work through mistakes and transform an everyday object into something beautiful and quirky. This tool serves as the starting point for all of my rainbow-filled pieces.

In my new DVDs, creativeGIRL: Watercolor Illustrations and creativeGIRL: Watercolor Story Blocks, you’ll get a peek into my creative process. That process always starts with a pretty picture in my noggin and a lot of practice. Here are six tips to give your illustrative practice a little boost!

1. It’s all about using the right tools. Avoid creating a heavy-handed outline with a regular pencil. Use a mechanical pencil with lead instead. The tip stays sharp and precise. (Even better, I recommend investing in a refillable .3 lead mechanical pencil.) Add a white vinyl eraser and good lighting and you’re already ahead of the learning curve!

2. Pick a subject and really focus. I know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s true: The only way to get better is to practice, and practice, and practice. The other part of this big truth is that you have to draw the same thing over and over. You develop necessary creative muscle memory when you draw something repetitively. It make creating a series of work so much easier!

3. Be aware of white space. One of the most integral parts of my work is white space. The parts that are devoid of any art. Weird, right? There’s good white space and bad white space. Good white space tells your viewer where to look. Bad white space is distracting. When you begin to practice on small pieces, you’ll be surprised at how hard it is to find the balance. Most of us are used to filling up a page with something like a drawing of a girl. If I illustrate a tiny girl, she sits in the center of the paper with white space evenly placed all around her. To create good, comfy white space, make a little pencil mark where the top of her hair is and make another where her tippy-toes end. This is a great way to force yourself to draw super-small and contain your illustration within a specific place, surrounded by the good kind of white space.

The bad kind of white space, trapped space, is a little trickier to spot, but is easier as you get into the habit of scanning your drawings. Let’s go back to the tiny girl–if she’s just a smidge bowlegged and her toes touch, do you see the oval-ish space between her legs? While that space wasn’t created with intention, it’s a shape nonetheless, one that’s distracting to the viewer. If this trapped space doesn’t help your viewer move their eyes to your lovely work, how can you change the drawing to make the white space work for you?

4. Draw, don’t sketch. Instead of adding weight to your tiny works of art practice using single, light-handed lines when you draw. None of that back and forth stuff–start the line and don’t stop until you reach your stopping point. When you’re drawing small, you want to add depth to your drawings with what I like to call “visual tension” rather than just pressing down hard and creating a thick, uniform line. Typically I work in layers. The first layer is a light outline of the objects. The second is color. On my third layer, I retrace bits and pieces of my original pencil work by adding visual tension. Visual tension is the amount of pressure or width of line used in illustration. Notice where the lines are darker then get lighter. Lots of times the visual tension is added at end and connecting points.

5. Break down your drawing practice. When I try to learn to draw something new, I like to break down my object into smaller, more drawing-friendly pieces. It allows you the opportunity to get really good at drawing specific things without the added pressure of needing it to be a perfectly assembled illustration from the very beginning. For example, if you want to learn how to draw treehouses in a more imaginative and illustrative way, break them into pieces. Open up your practice journal or grab a stack of paper and designate a page for trees. Try out different shapes of trunks, branches and overall shapes. Start another page for doors and windows. Who says they have to be rectangles? Add yet another for roofs, balconies, and chimneys. You get the idea! Once you have created all sorts of variations, you can spend time assembling them in fun ways and the sheets serve as great “notes” to remind you of what worked and what didn’t and what your favorite combinations are! And don’t forget to label the bits and pieces with your very own hand-lettering.

6. Get over realistic proportion and details. Infuse your work with your imagination! Just because you are drawing a treehouse, it doesn’t mean the tree has to be proportional. It can have a twig trunk and a big, squishy cloud-like top. And maybe it doesn’t have apples, but it sports a wicked plaid! Maybe the house is nestled in the circle of a tire swing! Maybe this treehouse has a dog house in the cat-bird seat at the tippy-top! And don’t stop there with the imagination thing–green trees are (yawn) boring–try hot pink with orange stripes. That will do the trick!

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Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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