When I was a teenager, I studied ICT as one of my GCSE options at school. Surprisingly, this course taught me something important about making art.
Although it was basically a two-year secretarial training course in how to use an older version of MS Office, the exam board/Government couldn’t exactly be seen to endorse one office program. So, we had to learn how to answer exam questions and do our coursework using program-neutral language. For example, you’d get exam questions about a “spreadsheet program” – which you’d then answer by talking about Excel, without actually mentioning Excel too often.
As silly as all of this sounds, doing this for two years actually opens your mind quite a bit. I mean, the program that I’m using to type the first draft of this article is an old version of MS WordPad (which loads super-quickly and doesn’t have a distracting spell-checker) and I’ll probably spell-check it in an ancient version of Star Office, whose dictionary doesn’t include words like “blog” and “smartphone”. I don’t actually own a copy of MS Office.
Believe it or not, this attitude is especially important if you are an artist.
It doesn’t matter what type or brand of art supplies you use, the really important thing is the basic functionality of the art skills that you’ve learnt through practice and research. Unless you have a fairly large art budget, there’s probably a good chance that the brand of art supplies (or possibly even the type) you use is going to change from time to time, or your paints/pens/pencils etc.. will run out and you’ll have to use whatever you’ve got left until you get some more.
Most art skills don’t require a particular brand or even a particular type of art supplies. I mean, the skills needed to create realistic lighting are pretty much the same regardless of whether you’re using pencils, pens or paints.
The skills needed for monochrome drawing will work if you’re using a complicated combination of paints and pens, or if you’re just using a simple ballpoint pen. Likewise, knowing how to use complementary colour schemes is a skill that will work with any type of art supplies you have. Practice is something that will always (slowly) improve your art, regardless of what you use.
Yes, learning how to use a new type of art supplies (or getting used to the quirks of a particular brand of art supply) might take a while – but, if you’ve practiced making art for a while, you probably have more transferable skills than you might think you do.
The same sort of thing holds true for digital image editing too. If you look for image editing tutorials online, you’ll find a lot of stuff that is specific to one trendy, expensive well-advertised editing program (whose name rhymes with “motor stop”). If you’re new to image editing and , like me, you’ve never actually used this program – then this can easily make you think that you need this one program in order to edit images. You don’t!
All of the really important art-based features of an image editing program (eg: cropping, brightness/contrast/hue/saturation/RGB/lightness etc.. adjustments, layering, colour picking tools etc..) can be found in almost all editing programs – even open-source ones you can legally download for free. They can also be found in editing programs that some would consider “obsolete” (eg: I mean, my favourite editing program came free on an old magazine cover disc sometime during the early 2000s, and was originally released in 1999!)
Thinking about your art skills and the tools you use in a non-branded way means that you’ll be able to be a lot more flexible when you make art. It means that you’ll feel much more confident as an artist, since you won’t have to worry about having the “right” tools (eg: if someone handed me a HB pencil, an eraser and a ballpoint pen and asked me to draw a picture – I could do this fairly easily).
More importantly, taking this attitude will make you consider your artistic tools on their merits alone.
For example, I was vaguely curious about marker pens a few weeks before I wrote this article. It can be easy to think that you need to use one super-expensive brand of markers (which rhymes with “topic”) if you watch a lot of Youtube videos about marker pen drawing. However, if you think more independently – you’ll probably start researching other brands of alcohol-based markers and, more importantly, comparing them to the other art supplies that you already use.
For example, when I was researching marker pens, I realised that they didn’t really offer that many advantages over the watercolour pencils that I already use. Sure, there’s no drying time and you possibly don’t have to use waterproof ink pens if you want to draw too. But even cheaper markers are significantly more expensive than watercolour pencils (so, I’d have less of them and be reluctant to use them regularly), it’s much harder to fill an area with a consistent colour with markers (since you can’t just go over it with a paintbrush), the final pictures don’t quite have a “painted” look to them etc..
So, in the end, I didn’t get any markers. I already have something just as good. My “painting tools” and “drawing tools” were good enough. They did what they were supposed to do and the new ones I was looking at didn’t really offer too much (if anything) in the way of added functionality. If anything, they seemed more difficult to use.
Still, it’s strange to think that a GCSE course that I absolutely hated at the time, that I regretted choosing mere weeks after it started and which I thought was totally useless has actually had such an impact on how I approach making art.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂