A couple of days ago, I posted an article about how to get more out of your image editing software. So, today, I thought that I’d look at several ways that you can get more out of the physical art supplies that you already have.
This is mostly because, if you’re new to making art, it can be easy to think that you just need the right brand of art supplies in order to be a good artist. This isn’t true.
Whilst certain types (but not brands) of art supplies will allow you to give your art a particular look (eg: watercolour paint looks different to pencil shading etc..), the true test of an artist is what they can do with the materials they already have.
So, how can you get more out of the art supplies that you already have? Here are a couple of basic tips:
1) Learn how to make art in black and white: Even if you don’t plan on making black & white art regularly, then learning how to make proper monochrome art (or how to improve it) can be a surprisingly useful skill to have if you want to get the most out of your art supplies.
Plus, it’s the kind of art that can be made with nothing more than a simple ballpoint pen too – although you can obviously get more impressive results if you use things like traditional ink, black paint and/or digital tools too:
So, why is learning how to make this one type of art so important? And what does it have to do with getting more out of your current art supplies?
First of all, it teaches you a lot about lighting, contrasts and shading. Because you literally just have two colours (black and white) to work with, you’ll have to learn how to create a wide range of different effects using as little as just one pen. This will, of course, force you to think more creatively about using the things you already have.
Likewise, if you make a drawing or a painting that works well as a B&W picture, then (as long as you use complementary colours), you can also turn it into an interesting piece of colour artwork using as little as two additional colours (and the principles you have learnt).
For example, here’s one of my old horror-themed limited palette paintings that has been digitally converted into a B&W image:
And here is a scan of the actual painting (after digital adjustments to the brightness/contrast levels). If I remember rightly, the only other watercolour pencils I used were a blue pencil and a brown pencil. However, I also used mixing, varying amounts of pressure and/or varying amounts of water in order to create a greater number of colours in the actual painting:
2) Experimentation and emulation: This sounds obvious, but you can usually find out lots of other cool stuff you can do with the art supplies you already have if you’re willing to experiment with them. Likewise, if you’re willing to do things in a slightly different way, you can often emulate other types of art materials with the ones you already have.
For example, if you don’t have waterproof ink pens, but you want to add some ink drawings to your watercolour art – then just make the basic sketch in pencil (using little to no pressure, or a lighter type of pencil like a 4H pencil). Once you’ve done this, then add colour to the sketch using watercolour paint or watercolour pencil. Then wait until it has dried completely and go over any visible pencil lines with a normal black pen.
This is a lot more complicated and convoluted than just drawing the line art with waterproof ink before adding paint. But, if you don’t have these types of pens, then this process can be a good substitute for them and/or a good way to experiment with adding ink to your watercolour paintings before you buy any waterproof ink pens.
Likewise, if you only have a limited number of coloured pencils, you can sometimes create more colours by mixing them (although different brands of pencils are better or worse when it comes to doing this). This works in a vaguely similar way to mixing paints – just shade an area lightly with one colour and then go over it again lightly with another colour. From a slight distance, the two colours will appear to blend together.
Plus, if you don’t have expensive marker pens or gouache paint, then sightly similar effects can be created with watercolour pencils (although you’ll obviously need watercolour paper too).
Start by applying a fair amount of pressure and/or going over an area several times when using the pencils. Once you’ve done this, go over these areas very lightly with a slightly moist paintbrush instead of drowning them in water (not drowning your painting is probably the most important part of the process!).
Here’s an unprocessed scan of one of my old paintings to show you what this looks like. Although it looks slightly bolder in real life than it does in the scan, it still looks a bit like watercolour – but it doesn’t have the “soft” or “faint” look that more traditional watercolour painting styles have:
This was something I learnt completely by accident after switching from coloured pencils to watercolour pencils. Since I instinctively used watercolour pencils in the same “heavy” way that I used coloured pencils, I found that my art tended to include bolder colours.
More importantly, since the watercolour paper I use for my daily paintings is a fairly thin and cheap type of paper, it can often be damaged if I start using water too copiously. So, because of both of these things, I learnt how to create very un-“watercolour” levels of boldness in my art.
Of course, the best way to re-create the boldness of marker pens or gouache using watercolour pencils is just to digitally edit a scan or a digital photograph of your art. You can even do this with a free open-source program called “GIMP” that can be found here. Just find the “brightness/contrast” option (most image editing programs include this basic feature) and then lower the brightness level slightly and increase the contrast level heavily. Then your art will look more like this:
These are just a few small examples but, if you’re willing to think and experiment, then you’d be surprised what you can create with only one or two types of art materials.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂