How To Find “New” Art Techniques – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I ended up making a digitally-edited drawing (based on a photo I took last April) that looked significantly more realistic than most of my art does. Here’s a preview of the picture:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size artwork will be posted here on the 5th April.

One of the interesting things about making this picture was that none of the techniques I used to make it were really “new” to me. Yet, they produced a piece of art that was totally different to anything I’d made before.

I already knew how to take interesting-looking photos, I already knew how to draw from photos by sight, I already knew how to directly sample colours using image editing programs, I already knew how to mask off areas by selecting them, I already knew how to use digital airbrush tools etc… Yet, I’d somehow never thought of combining these skills with each other before I made this picture.

Here’s a (slightly simplified) chart to show you what I mean:

(Note: To view full size image, click on it and then select “View Full Size” below the image). This chart doesn’t show every step, but it shows how combining skills you already know can result in new techniques etc..

So, one of the best ways to find “new” art techniques is simply to look at all of the techniques that you already know and to try combining them in different ways.

But, although this is something that can be done consciously and deliberately, the best examples of it just tend to appear when you are reasonably confident with the techniques that you already know. When you instinctively know how and why a particular technique “works”, then finding ways to combine it with other things you know well will seem a lot more natural and intuitive.

For example, I suddenly thought of the mixture of techniques I showed you earlier because I thought it would save time. It didn’t save much time, but it did result in more realistic-looking art. So, yes, these things don’t always happen completely deliberately.

Plus, of course, you can keep adding other techniques to the mix too. For example, here’s a preview of the digitally-edited drawing (based on this photo I took last April) that I made the day after the one I showed you earlier. It uses the same mixture of techniques I’ve already mentioned….

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size artwork will be posted here on the 5th April.

…But, if you look closely at the trees and buildings, you’ll see that there is some very slightly more dramatic lighting. Here’s a close-up to show you what I mean:

Notice how the light seems to be filtering through the trees and buildings in a slightly hazy “lens flare”-like way.

How did I do this? Simple. I just used a technique that I’d used in digitally-edited paintings before (but hadn’t thought to use in the previous picture).

More specifically, once I’d worked out what colour the light was, I used a very large digital airbrush (applied lightly) to create the impression of a lens flare. And this technique was something I originally discovered when trying to find quicker/easier alternatives to using the digital lighting effects in an open source program called “GIMP 2.8. 22” – and I worked it out because I was quite familiar with how the program’s airbrush feature worked.

So, the general lesson here is that if you learn an artistic skill or technique to the point where it almost seems instinctive, then finding new ways to combine it with other techniques will become a lot easier and more intuitive. In other words, skills build more skills.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Ways To Learn New Artistic Techniques


Well, for today, I thought that I’d write about art learning. This is mostly because I wanted to make one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings look like something from the 1980s and ended up learning a new image editing technique in the process. Here’s a reduced-size preview of the painting:

 The full-size painting will be posted here on the 9th August.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 9th August.

So, how can you learn new artistic techniques? Here are the two most basic ways.

1) RTFM: Ever since I first heard this acronym in an episode of “Warehouse 13”, it’s been one of my favourite acronyms. It’s a more emphatic way of saying “read the manual” and it’s surprisingly good advice if you want to learn new artistic techniques. These days, there’s no shortage of free art tutorials and image editing tutorials online. Use them!

In fact, this was how I learnt how to create a ‘scan line’ effect in the preview picture that I showed you earlier. Yes, I still don’t fully understand how to use layers but I don’t need to learn everything about them to use this effect. All I had to do was to follow the steps in the tutorial as best as I could, and then use my pre-existing editing skills afterwards.

Contrary to what you might think (or what I used to think ages ago), looking at tutorials isn’t “cheating”. The thing to remember with tutorials is that they should be used as a springboard for your own artistic experimentation. In other words, a good art tutorial will show you the basics of what to do – but it’s up to you to mess around with it and see what you can do with it.

For example, when I was adding the ‘scan line’ effect to my painting, I probably didn’t follow the steps in the guide exactly. I was fairly close, but I probably didn’t do everything precisely correctly. After I’d finished, the painting still didn’t look exactly right, so I added some of the techniques that I already knew to it (for example, I altered the hue of one of the layers in order to give the picture a blue glow rather than a white glow).

Remember, tutorials are just starting points. You’re still supposed to experiment.

2) Observation: Of course, if you see a really cool drawing, comic page, painting, photo etc… there might not be a specific tutorial online for the exact technique you want to learn. So, you’re just going to have to learn the old-fashioned way.

Learning how to learn art techniques from observation alone is almost a skill in it’s own right. So, here’s how to do it.

The first thing to remember is that whilst a photo, drawing, comic panel or painting might look three-dimensional, it’s actually a two-dimensional image. It’s something that is displayed on a two-dimensional computer screen and/or sheet of paper. This sounds obvious, but not remembering this can be one of the largest obstacles to learning from sight alone.

Many cool-looking art techniques are just optical illusions that make a 2D image look more 3D. So, thinking of the image as a 2D image (trace a few pictures if this helps you get used to thinking about images like this, but don’t get too used to tracing) will make it a lot easier for you to work out how an artist did something.

Likewise, learning the basic rules of perspective (like one-point perspective) can sometimes help you to work out how an artist did something.

Likewise, unless you are colourblind, another skill that is worth learning is how to discern exact colours at a glance (and, yes, most colours in photos are at least subtly different to what you might think they are). You can learn the basics of how to do this by messing around with even the most basic image editing programs. This can be useful when it comes to working out things like colour schemes and/or how an artist has used highlights in a painting.

Once you think that you’ve worked out how an artist did something, try to do it yourself. Even if you’re sure that you know how to do it, then trying out the new technique once or twice in a sketchbook will help you to remember how to do it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂