Category Archives: Philosophy

How to Draw Better

So you want to know just how to make teh guud drawz? Well read on and learn how!

A few months back, after teaching an exploratory camp in Concept Art, I had a student approach me after class with a desire to take her art further. She specifically wanted to get into animation or graphic novels and asked if I knew of any colleges or high schools where she could begin training.

While at college, I not only studied art itself, but how to get better at it as well. I wanted to know the exact process of how to get from point A to B, from stick figures to master level visual representation, but this was never laid out plainly for us to see. So with much intensive research and study, I was finally able to break down the journey into simple sequential steps.  When my student asked me how to be a better artist, bless her heart, I saw this as a great opportunity to document this guide and share it so that others won’t have to waste time figuring out what to do.

I now present you the guide to which I wrote her.

First things first: remember that manga, american comics, animation, illustration, concept art, storyboarding, GOOD gallery art, etc, are all about VISUAL COMMUNICATION.  If you want a career in one or more of these sub-disciplines, you need to be able to communicate ideas to people visually and do it effortlessly. That means learning and mastering the fundamentals of visual communication, ie: the way the human brain perceives visual imagery.

Here’s a small PDF on these and more:
Mastering these means you:
  • Can draw what you see
  • have CONTROL over line
  • Have a DEEP understanding of perspective
  • Can draw 3D shapes effortlessly
  • Understand Color Theory and how it applies to human psychology
  • Understand Gestalt Theory
Further more you are going to have to know figure drawing like nobody’s business:
  • Body rhythm (line of action)
  • Gesture
  • Human proportion
  • Anatomy (Bone/muscle/features)
And if you want to get into animation, you need to know all of the above PLUS animation principles:
This is a lot but don’t worry, you’ll get better at this stuff with practice. Remember, there is no such thing as talent, only AMBITION. You should be attacking your art education with the intention of being the best artist there ever was. Don’t stop until you are. If you shoot for the galaxies, you’re sure to hit the stars. 🙂 I’ll list some books that can point you in the right direction. Even fine artists that just make blobs and squares on canvases understand the basic visual communication principles, which brings me to style.
Notes on style
Remember style comes second. Style is something that you layer ON TOP of your knowledge of the above principles. A good artist should be able to analyze and draw in ANY style. Your personal style is something that is always evolving, you find styles that you like and add stuff from them to your own style but only AFTER you’ve mastered the fundamentals.
Before you can draw this: (Stylized)
You HAVE to be able to draw this: (Non-stylized)

Notes on drawing/figure drawing
Manga, anime, storyboarding, and virtually all forms of art require knowledge of figure drawing. To get good at this you should be drawing humans all the time.

Go out and buy super cheap sketchpads and try and fill AT LEAST one per month of figure drawings, gestures, hands, feets, heads, etc. Draw people you find on the street, pay attention to their pose and body language.

You should also get an anatomy book and MEMORIZE the scientific name of every visible bone and muscle. I’m not joking. If you know the name of a a body part, then you will know not to leave it out when you draw it.

Take life drawing classes and attend life drawing workshops when you can find them. The internet is a great place to look for these in our area. I’ll add some good resources in the next section.

Helpful books/videos/websites
Here are some great resources to use in your education. This is not everything thats out there, just some good stuff I have found in my own art journey. Some of the books are links but check your library to see if they have them first so you don’t have to buy them. You can also ask the library to buy the books so you can check them out.
Drawing what you see
Drawing on the right side of the brain by Betty Edwards (This is THE BOOK used in all intro to drawing classes. I got better at drawing just by READING the first chapter. Do every exercise in this book multiple times. This is where you start out. None of the other stuff I’m talking about matters until you have control over your arm. This is what this book is all about, learning to tap into the right side of your brain at will and drawing exactly what you see.)
Line Control/Perspective
How to draw by Scott Robertson (Great for learning to draw 3D shapes which is the next step.)
General Drawing
Free Drawing Books by Master Andrew Loomis  – (download these, they are awesome.)
Color Theory
Gestalt Theory
Figure Drawing
PixelLovely – (GREAT tool for figure drawing practice)
Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton (One of the best books out there on the subject)
Launching the Imagination By Mary Stewart
NOTE TO BLOG READERS: The camp was held in the Portland, OR area so these highschools are in that area.
So the only high schools that I’ve found in the PDX area that give an advanced level of study in art are these two:
Vancouver School of Arts and Academics  (The one that I showed you before, it has like at least two semesters of animation stuff and 2D stuff, though the 2D stuff seems to be more “fine arty” and less about hard skill which is what you will need for comics and animation.)
Northwest Academy (This one seems pretty good and its in down town portland which is nice. I don’t think it has animation but has drawing, though it might be “fine arty” as well. In fact, many schools across the US don’t emphasize hard skill enough. Here is a recent article about that controversy.)
If you don’t end up going to one of these its ok just make sure you study study and practice your art! 🙂
Notes on choosing colleges
Ok here is a list of the colleges I’ve discovered throughout my travels, these are the cream of the crop, the best art schools in the united states. Some of them are very expensive so try to get scholarships to them, call them, ask them, look on their website, etc. These aren’t the only great schools they are just only the ones I’ve found to be good. They are all in the United States, there ARE great schools in other countries, I just personally haven’t looked (mostly because their websites are in other languages).
When looking for a college, you want a college that cares about its reputation. These school will be both difficult to get into, and once you are in, they will be VERY critical of your work and some will ask you to leave if you aren’t doing good enough so you have to work VERY hard. But thats what you want in an art school – one that will help you be a great artist. DO NOT go to the Art Institute of Portland, they don’t care about greatness, all they care about is money so they will pass you even if you are doing poorly which in the long run will leave you $80,000 in debt with no skills to show for it. I’ve listed the schools in the order that i’d recommend but they are all pretty good. Make sure you research them yourself. When I find an art school I always look at their student work section to see how good they teach them.
Art Center Pasadena, CA  (One of the best schools in the world for art. I think they offer a scholarship if you submit some awesome work to them, look on the website.)
Art Students League NY New York, NY (Not really a college but a conservatory. Its cheaper than a college because you are learning directly from Masters. Some of the greats like Andrew Loomis and Ai Weiwei went here.)
Calarts Valencia, CA (Very prestigious college, all of the great disney animators went here.)
School of Visual Arts New York, NY
RISD Providence, RI
LCAD Laguna Beach, CA
SCAD Savannah, GA
Ringling Sarasota, FL (Good school but Florida is a terrible state.)
Pratt New York, NY
Academy of Art University San Francisco, CA (Anyone can enter this college but few come out, they care VERY much about their reputation.)
AICAD (This isn’t a college but its more of a list of non-profit, reputation oriented art schools. Most of the schools I listed above belong to AICAD.)
Atelier System:
Another great way to learn art (and cheaper too) is the Atelier system. Its basically the way that the old masters like Da Vinci and Michelangelo learned. In an atelier you learn directly from a master artist. Tuition is cheaper because you aren’t paying a school, you are paying the master him/herself.
ARC (This is the Art Renewal Center, it lists most of the Ateliers in the world, read about them. I have listed a couple that I like below. I don’t have any experience with this system though.
Georgetown Atelier Seattle, WA   (Tanaya Sims is the master and he comes from the entertainment industry so he will probably gear his lessons to help you enter this field.)
Watts Atelier Encinitas, CA    (This atelier is right next to the heart of the entertainment industry and many people who attend Art Center come down to this atelier during the summer to improve further.)
Angel Academy of Art Florence, Italy   (Its pretty far away but seems like a great place to study, its also in the heart of where the renaissance took place.)
Japanese Schools:
Here are a couple of schools I’ve heard of in Japan. Bear in mind you will have to know fluent Japanese to go here and if you plan on making art in Japan you will probably be advise to make a Japanese pen name to make your work under as its harder for Gaijins like us to get a foot in the door over there.
Kyoto Seika University (This place has a college program in manga creation where you learn from professional mangakas. Here is a video of a foreign girl attending it.)
Digital Hollywood Tokyo, Japan (Seems like a cool place to learn a variety of skills including Anime, maybe you could go here after studying in the US first? Here is also an article about it in Danny Choo’s website.
There are probably many other places out there where you can learn to adapt your hard traditional skills to japanese styles, all you have to do is research!
Remember, there is no such thing as talent, ONLY ambition! If you REALLY want something, then you’ll have the dedication and patience to go out there and achieve it. Read Danny Choo’s article about himself for a great example. Further more, subscribe to these daily inspirational quotes to help keep you motivated on your journey – with whatever you decide to do.
 It doesn’t matter what you chose to do, if you are willing to sacrifice, you can become great. There are no rules. You don’t even have to go to college to become great but you’ll have to motivate yourself to draw and study every single day which is hard for many people. Getting trained is great for motivating you to do that, as well as making connections to help you in your career. Nothing worth having is easy to achieve!

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Finally time to rest…

Hello world, my name is Vince and you’ve stumbled onto my blog. I must admit I’m not a very bloggy kinda guy, but I have way too much stuff going on in my head to keep it secret forever.

I just graduated college last month and figured now its time to start my life of creation. So let me begin this blog with one of my last homework assignments ever: an essay on what I think Design is.

What is Design?

In order to begin to explain what design is, one must take a peek into the psychology of the human animal. After all, isn’t that the where the root of all design need is hidden? The need for the world around us to be more readily available, to conform to our will, to bend around the very illusions that make up our daily consciousness. The human animal wants to be free of discomfort. It wants the easy route. It wants to conserve energy and time. It wants to lean back in its recliner, sip a Portland micro brew and ponder the human spirit: watch a movie, listen to music, spend time in the company of friends. In order for these things to happen problems must be solved. How can we make A equal to B? This requires systems to be implemented. This is where design comes in. Design is the purposeful creation of a system of elements that are related to one another in the context of what the system sets out to accomplish.

In her book Game Design Workshop, Tracy Fullerton defines systems as “… a set of interacting elements that form an integrated whole with a common goal or purpose,” (p.111) referencing the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a biologist in 1940’s who first suggested that systems affect a wide range of disciplines.

Let’s take a look at games. They are undoubtedly painstakingly designed (though you wouldn’t know it of some of the filth that comes out these days). Their purpose is to entertain us, to teach us, to provide a platform of self expression. Games are nothing but systems. Tracy Fullerton explains “At the heart of every game is a set of formal elements that, as we have seen when set in motion create a dynamic experience in which the players engage.”  (p.111) A good example would be the game of Chess. It’s system elements are the board, the pieces, the players and the rules. They all come together and affect one another in just the perfect way so that you get a game that has lasted throughout the centuries.

What about print? There is an entire discipline of study called “graphic design,” therefore we can deduce that things like concert posters are an example of design at work. But how can a concert poster be a system? First let’s ask what is the purpose of a poster: to grab your attention, and then inform you of something. The formal elements within this system are line, shape, color, value and texture – something you would have learned in any intro 2D design class. These elements work together to guide your eye to the information. They work together to give you the desired feeling the designer intended, whether it be fear, anger, or curiosity, etc. Maybe the intent is to stir you into action, such as going to a concert.

We can even think of a piece of clothing as a system and apparel design as the creation of such systems. Silhouette, color, length, and material are some of the formal elements. The functions could be to keep warm, keep cool, impress, raise confidence, make a statement, arouse, or otherwise prevent from being naked.

Another area of design that shares some of apparel design’s working formal elements is product design. Silhouette, color, shape, material, etc. are all formal elements related to one another within the context of the design that work together to achieve the designer’s intent; whether this be a certain feeling conveyed in the product’s use, or a new outlook on the larger scope of product design. Perhaps it isn’t that deep; maybe it’s to simply make a cooler looking stapler than the rest.

One could even make the argument that pieces of literary fiction are systems and thus can be designed. Randy Ingermanson explains on his website that “Good fiction doesn’t just happen, it is designed…–you start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story.” In fiction writing, there are things called the “elements of fiction”. These including character, plot, setting, conflict mood, theme, etc. They all work together to give the reader the desired experience. Other elements could also be included in the formula such as the typography of the book, the cover, and any pictures within.

Design can even go a step-or multiple steps- further if you think of design as systems nestled within systems –”systemception.” An easy example of this would be an iPad. The device itself is a system composed of its shape, its color, the material it’s made of, and any buttons or jacks placed on the outside. The minimalist design of this object was designed so as to focus the user’s attention on its true function: allow people to interact with its internal systems. You might call these apps, programs, etc. Each one of these apps were designed and are systems within themselves within the confines of the iPad.

But systemception isn’t limited to just computer technology. Fashion can even be considered systems within a system. The patterns and designs on the textiles used in apparel design are systems themselves! Similar to the poster analogy above, they are a visual system designed to give the viewer a desired effect.

Games too are examples of systemception. The formal elements of game design; boundaries, players, procedures, rules, goals, etc can all contain systems within themselves. In a role playing computer game, level designs are systems designed within the game boundaries. Zones are systems designed within the level design, villages are systems within the zones, houses and their architecture are systems within the villages, etc, etc.

Design, and design-within -design is not just limited to material/third dimensional things and concepts; group dynamics can even be designed. Someone along the way designed how the military chain of command was going to work and how the all-too-similar corporate ladder works. There continues to be new and better innovations in system design in this regard with companies choosing to break away from the normal military way of organization and choosing instead to come up with new strategies to distribute responsibility.

Within these systems of group organization there can even be systems within systems.  These are usually designated as “departments.” With companies like Boeing, there is an aeronautics department, a sales department, a manufacturing department, etc; each a system within itself with related elements that work together to serve a function. These departments are all elements within the larger system of the company itself, all with the purpose of churning out planes and new aeronautic technologies.

The same can be said of any given game production studio. They have an art department, engineering department, sound department, etc; all systems within a system that was designed with the soul intent of creating systems (designing games), whose working elements are systems within systems within systems within systems!

This leads us to the argument of art vs. design. If most design studios have an “art department” does that mean that art is separate from design? There are many designers out there who virulently proclaim they are not artists, but problem solvers. What about literature? What problem does a story attempt to solve? Perhaps a social one? To allow a reader to step into the shoes of someone they would normally have judged? There is no arguing that stories aren’t art, but if they are designed, does that make the designer an artist? Whoever designed the structure of the military surely wasn’t creating a piece of art. Perhaps the creation of art is just another problem to solve and at the same time can also be the solution to a problem.

In conclusion, the world around us: this system of physics and energy transfer, is a beautiful yet dangerous place that can nurture and demolish our fragile human bodies and minds. We as humans are also capable of nurturing and demolishing the world around us. In an attempt to climb Maslow’s pyramid, and make the world we live in a more tolerable place, systems have been created to carry out our wills (good and evil).These systems all have working parts that need to fit together, and they all serve a function. It is the role of the designer to come up with these systems—mechanical, aesthetic, social. It is the role of the good designer to ensure these systems harm neither our planet, nor each other. And it is the good designer’s role to influence the creation of future good design.

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