Friday, July 12, 2019

7 Confessions of a Raggedy Artist: Part 1

While my majors for my college degrees are not in the art category, I did attend some art school many years ago, and I have taken non-credit art courses in my spare time over the years. I watch online videos and read a lot of books about art techniques as well. I have noticed that there are some bits of advice that have reappeared throughout my studies, mostly little "rules" that are actually well-intended and helpful to a point. We all know that breaking rules is part of artistic license, however, and today I am here to confess some art school "sins" that I commit regularly without remorse. Let's keep this a judgement-free zone, folks. Glass houses and all that!

1. I use cheap paint brushes.

Not sometimes, not limited to when I am in a bind or don't have any other alternative. I only use the cheap brushes sold in variety packs at Walmart's craft aisle or on Amazon. I don't mean the plastic bristle kiddie ones, of course. Mine are mostly made by Plaid, Royal & Langnickel, and Daler Rowney (the Simply line). They are not poor quality, and they have lasted a long time because I take good care of them. 

One of those rules that have been the mantra of artists for, well, forever, is to use the best materials you can afford. I say it as well. However, some people misrepresent this advice to argue that we should only use the best brushes (or paints, pastels, charcoal, etc) and ignore lower cost materials. 

It would be nice to be able to blow $50 or more on one brush, and I would do it if I had that kind of cash flow, but are we supposed to never paint unless we have the best sable brushes? Of course not! Personally, I think this myth was more understandable a few decades ago when craft store tools were really low quality compared to the ones made specifically for artists. That just isn't the case anymore. The brands I have mentioned are readily available and quite affordable, so don't let snobby artist rules poop your party- use what you have available!

A Little Raggedy Artist Pam Story Time:

I actually got a lecture from one of my college art professors when he saw me using cheap watercolors. According to him, I didn't care enough about my work to use quality supplies, so why should he care about my work enough to give me a decent grade? Either he had never struggled as a student or that period had been too far in his past to allow him to empathize. This same teacher later refused to give me a final grade because I could not afford to get three of my works professionally matted. It was a freshman course! 

He felt that I should have bought some mat boards and cut them myself in the drawing lab studio. Well, okay, but those boards are not cheap, and when you have no experience cutting your own mats, it can get messy and expensive as you ruin a few to get the hang of the procedure. I only had to mat three of my pieces, but I had to wait until I had my final portfolio for the course completed to choose the best ones. So by the time the end of the semester rolled around, I had completed all of my required work except for the matting. I did not have the cash, period. I had saved my own money during high school and received some scholarships, and that is why I was even able to go to college. I still have an "incomplete" for that class because I didn't return to that college.  

2. Most of my references are photos from Pinterest and other sharing sites. 

Another old school rule for artists is to draw from life predominately and use photo references sparingly. Some art competitions require it, strictly forbidding photo references. Drawing from life is an essential practice, really, but it is not always practical, especially when you are a self-taught artist. There are plenty of things you can draw just inside the room where you sketch, but that will get old, and most artists strive to capture more dynamic subjects over time. If you are not a photographer, the best resources you have for subject matter are physical media such as magazines and digital images on the internet.

 Pinterest is fantastic because you can find unlimited photographic references as well as other artist's works for inspiration. Many artists make pins of their own art tutorials as well, offering additional learning materials to self-taught artists. I have a ridiculous amount of boards on my Pinterest page, but my most used board is for drawing references. I am not a copycat though. Please keep reading!

Important Caveat Below!  

Be careful of using photos or artwork from Pinterest if you publish any work derived from pins, however. It is no big deal if you only use them for sketchbook works, but if you post a finished piece online that is too much like another's work, you might get a nasty letter from someone's attorney. Also, be aware that just because the artist is referenced in a pin, it does not necessarily mean that the artist gave permission for the pin to be shared.

To be clear, referencing an image to understand the physical characteristics of the subject, like the shape of an object or the position of a person's body during a specific movement, is perfectly ethical. However, copying an entire image or part of that image might violate copyright rules. It's complicated!

The best way to avoid issues like this is to use images that are on the Public Domain (PD) or released into the Creative Commons (CC) for others to use. Public domain items have no limitations for use. You could print off an image from the PD and sell it with no repercussions (don't be a jerk, please). When using CC resources, you have to consider the licenses of the items. Some allow you to do anything you want, while other licenses limit conditions of use (i.e. some require simple attribution, some do not allow commercial use, etc). Please read the information at the linked sites as I have barely touched on the rules here!

As I prepared this post I realized that there was more to discuss within each "confession" than I had anticipated. I wanted to present helpful information, as it is the least I can do to repent for my craven acts. Maybe I have earned a little redemption from this post, but to save my artist soul I must complete a few more posts detailing my other transgressions. Are you an artsy rebel or do you play by the rules? Let me know in the comments.    

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