Sry for the long post. It’ll probably be my last one for a while so I wanted to include a wealth of information. Hopefully it will serve to motivate and get some of you started!
For those looking to become better artists
Below is an orientation by Jeff Watts for his school “Watts Atelier”. Please watch the entire thing, I absolutely cannot recommend it enough!
I first heard about Jeff Watts in one of my university art classes. My professor overheard me talking about comics so she jotted the name down on a small slip of paper and told me he ran a small school up north. Several classes later I became unsatisfied by how the art curriculum seemed to favor self expression and experimentation over improving technical skill. I was left without any clear direction and hundreds of dollars worth of materials I bought for art class projects--most I ever only used once! So I sought Jeff out, attended his panels at conventions, and finally enrolled at Watts Atelier in 2007. I was stunned by how much more effective the instruction was! Students of various ages, skill, and experience (some already working illustrators and concept artists) learned side by side helping each other get better! I went back in 2012 and was completely floored by how much some of the old students improved! I remember how they struggled yrs ago but are now absolutely killing it! It’s truly a testament to the atelier teaching style and expertise of the instructors! It kills me to know how much I could’ve improved had I stayed. Currently going through major changes but absolutely aim to continue my education there once I save up!
Frequently Asked Questions
Just my two cents regarding the potential questions plaguing every new artists mind. My answers are based purely on my personal experience and my education in art. I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject… just another point of view to be considered.
How do I go about becoming a great representational artist?
Seek articulate instruction conducive to a firm understanding of fundamentals! Many of us need help in correcting some of the bad habits picked up from attempts at blindly emulating exaggerated simplified styles. Realize that within the realm of representational art there are indeed rules you must learn. There’s little you can refute with when learning fundamental concepts like edge and value. For example, hard edges are used to express a sharp abrupt change in angle while soft edges are for smooth forms which gradually bend away from light. A firm understanding is crucial in developing a strong foundation of knowledge and skill. By skipping the fundamentals you risk compromising characteristics like depth and dimension in your work.
How do I know if I have what it takes to be great?
Well, you’re gonna need a well trained eye and the hand of a surgeon… achievable with patience and determination of course! The eye needs to be trained to analyze visual information while the hand needs to be dexterous enough to accurately translate that information onto paper using precise strokes varying in length, thickness, curvature, pressure, etc. It’s comparable to performing combos in a fighting game! Your eyes need to be trained to react off visual cues (i.e., certain atks connecting) while your hands need to be able to keep up and execute complex button sequences and motions. Both demand a certain caliber of hand eye coordination which can be cultivated with articulate instruction, diligent practice, and repetition.
Are animated cartoons, comics, manga style etc. great styles for me to learn from?
Every visual style is a derivation of the human figure from life… just different in the way one chooses to simplify and exaggerate it. It’s okay to be inspired by these styles--they certainly can be appealing--but they also give less visual information to study from. Understand that these styles have to be dumbed down and simplified. I can’t imagine a traditional animator or comic book artist wanting to spend hrs upon hrs rendering every muscle on every figure on every frame/panel. Relying on a dumbed down style to teach you will yield a dumbed down understanding of the fundamentals. It is the reason you see most amateur artwork focus heavily on contour with little to no sense of underlying structure and minimal tone ultimately causing the image to look completely flat. Most successful artists and illustrators recommend first drawing from life. Once you have a firm understanding and are proficient in drawing you can bend and distort your style in any way you please and still be able to produce solid work!
What style should I be studying?
You should aim to draw accurately from life. Drawing from life is a practice proven tried and true by the old masters. Centuries ago exaggerated visual styles did not exist, techniques and styles were developed by studying and portraying subject matter referenced from reality. The knowledge was then passed down from teacher to student for generations. Art was approached in a scientific way. Fundamental concepts (i.e., edge, value, structure, anatomy, etc.) were meticulously studied leading to a solid foundation in knowledge and skill.
What’s with all the name dropping and technical jargon, am I suppose to know them?
Sure, look ‘em up! I mention artists to give an idea of the history and legacy behind certain styles and methods. The “Reilly method” (which I talked about in a previous post and encourage you to learn) has been passed down for almost an entire century. From Reilly to Fixler to artists like Orbik and Watts who still teach today, it’s all very fascinating stuff! Every time you come across jargon or an artist you don’t know, look ‘em up. It will help you better understand what’s being talked about and may even lead to inspiration!
I’ve got a mechanical pencil, pens for inking, copic markers, oil paints, and a Fredrix 24”x30” titanium primed canvas! Am I ready to get started?
You don’t need any of those materials when drawing from life! Heck, some of ‘em will even limit your capabilities! You can only make thin sharp strokes with a mechanical pencil and your values are reduced to either black or white with a pen! Color is completely unnecessary for the moment! If your drawing sucks no amount of color can save it and if you cannot draw you are going to suck at painting, I guarantee it! Drawing is the backbone of art leading to other disciplines like painting and sculpting. If you are skilled in drawing you will already posses the dexterity to make painterly strokes and you will already posses a decent knowledge of anatomy for sculpting. So focus on drawing first! You’ll need little more than good ol’ pencil and paper.
- Conte 1710 B (get a bunch of these)
- Kneaded Eraser
- Smooth Newsprint (preferably 18”x24”)
- Large Clipboard or Wooden Board w/ frog clips to hold newsprint
- Razor Blade
- Sand Paper (a stick of small sheets)
Below is a video of Ron Lemen (was formerly involved at Watts Atelier) demonstrating the correct way to sharpen and hold your pencil when drawing. Sharpening this way will yield a long smooth tip which tapers to a sharp point on the end used to make calligraphic strokes varying in thickness and weight and will allow you to cover large areas with tone quickly and evenly. At the end you can see the proper way to hold your pencil and how to manipulate it to get a variety of strokes.
Okay, I’ve got the materials! Now what?
Start drawing from life! You can draw anything you want but I strongly recommend focusing on the human figure. It’s certainly more challenging than clouds and flowers but you’ll get more mileage from studying the movement and flow of various poses and the complex shapes of the muscles. Plus there’s a shit ton more resources which tackle the figure! Teaching you everything from simplifying the body into shapes and rhythms to filling in complex anatomy!
You can start off by doing simple gestures. I’ve already talked about the “Reilly Method” of drawing in a previous post. I quoted it below. Read it and look at the resources I listed to get an idea of the Reilly Abstraction and the process of drawing the Human figure from start to finish (Erik’s Figure Drawing Fundamentals PDF). I also quoted Sexperienced for the Croquis Café which is an excellent source for pose reference if you can’t get into a life drawing class!
For gesture I recommend studying the "Reilly Method" of drawing. A method preserved and passed down through generations of students, developed by Frank J. Reilly who studied anatomy under Bridgman himself at the Art Students League of New York some 80yrs ago. The Reilly method is a way to simplify and abstract the figure, to construct using rhythmic shapes and lines which act as a sort of 'road map' to help connect and relate the various parts and proportions of the body. This is the abstraction method practiced and taught by traditional illustrators like Glen Orbik and Jeff Watts--both were students at the California Art Institute under Fred Fixler who studied with Reilly--and the way I was taught to approach figure drawing during my few classes at Watts Atelier. Nowadays you can catch glimpses of the abstraction in the works of Jeff’s own students who have been groomed within the atelier to become his instructors currently teaching the new generation of students; check out Stan Prokopenko on Youtube “ProkoTV”, or look up the blogs of illustrators Erik Gist and Lucas Graciano. Keep in mind the abstraction is simply a way of thinking and may vary from artist to artist, pose to pose. Sometimes you may start from the head while other times the torso. As you become more proficient you may not need to draw as many rhythm lines and are able to fill in anatomy as you go. Ultimately it is adapted to suite one’s knowledge of the human figure and pose at hand. Try watching a demo if you can, otherwise below are some books--I don’t own any of ‘em so research if you’re deciding to purchase--and various online resources which may help you gain an understanding of Reilly’s abstraction method.
- The Frank Reilly School of Art by Doug Higgins
- Mastering Drawing the Human Figure From Life, Memory, Imagination: with Special Section on Drapery by Jack Faragasso
- Site dedicated to Fred Fixler
He studied with Frank Reilly. This page contains PDF’s of Reilly head and figure abstractions.
- Site of Doug Higgins
He studied under Frank Reilly. This page contains info on The Frank Reilly School of Art as well as essential info for new figure drawing students.
- Figure Drawing Fundamentals PDF by Erik Gist
First generation student of Jeff Watts turned instructor. I had him for one of my figure drawing classes, I remember asking him about this PDF and being told it was pretty dated. Regardless, it still gives a fair amount of insight into the process of completing a figure drawing from start to finish. The Reilly method can be observed in the initial lay-in phase.
- Drawing Anatomy For Surgeons PDF
Reilly Abstraction as well as some anatomy.
Reposting to remind everyone that Croquis Café is awesome, it’s basically uninstructed life drawing class! You can use it to practice figure drawing! Try finding the abstractions in various poses!
Any other helpful resources?
Here's an alternative to life drawing if you don't haves classes nearby:
Yeah, go back through the pages of this thread to find books and helpful links! Other than that…
Great channels to check out:
- Youtube Watts Atelier
Youtube channel of Jeff Watts owner of Watts Atelier
. Check out interviews with the instructors of his atelier and participate in the live workshops every other Friday! Also check out his school and enroll if you like the instruction, they now have an online program!
- Youtube ProkoTV
Youtube channel of Stan Prokopenko, one of Jeff’s Instructors groomed within the atelier. Tons of tutorials!
- Youtube Will Terrell
Youtube channel of Will Terrell; storyboard artist, illustrator, and comic book creator. Check out his weekly videos chronicling his experience as a recent student at Watts Atelier!
- Youtube Ron Lemen
Youtube channel of Ron Lemen, Illustrator and instructor (was formerely involved at Watts Atelier). Great quick sketch vids!