Why Should You Study The Fundamentals of Art?

Practising basic skills is more important than finding the right brushes or software. These basic skills are called the art fundamentals. Without foundational knowledge you will be more likely to get frustrated with your artwork. I’ve learned that even a tiny bit of knowledge can make a huge difference to your artwork.

You can think of the art basics as the backbone of your picture. It doesn’t matter how fancy your brushes are or how “cool” the subject matter is, without the backbone, your image is a big blob of shapeless jelly. The main skills needed are perspective, form, value, lighting, anatomy, colour theory and composition. There are more areas, but these are good to start with.

The fundamentals can be tedious to learn at first, but with time and practice it gets easier and will improve your final work. If you understand why you are doing something it makes learning how to do it far more effective. Here are some good reasons to practice them.

In general beginners see perspective drawing as technical and difficult. Because of this people tend to avoid learning it. Even a bit of perspective knowledge can improve your art and give you more options for image making. With this knowledge you can draw different viewpoints and create the illusion of depth giving a greater sense of reality in your artwork.

Different planes to work in (foreground, middle and background) give you more control over the design of your images. You can play with big, medium and large shapes and overlapping.
Perspective also helps with the placement of shadows and lighting.

Three types of linear perspective drawing for beginners are one point, two point and three point. Atmospheric perspective creates the illusion of depth with tone and color. A great book to start with is “Perspective Made Easy” by Ernest Norling. You can also find free videos on YouTube to help you with understanding the different types of perspective.

Form makes objects appear more three dimensional giving them the illusion of volume. A good thing to learn is how to break complicated forms into simpler forms using cylinders, cubes, wedges, spheres and pyramids. This is useful because it will enable you to draw anything from different angles. This enables you to create any objects you want without needing the exact reference for it. This skill goes hand in hand with perspective. It helps to understand the form of objects so that you can place them in perspective.

Value and Lighting
Value and lighting is important to study for increasing your knowledge of form. Value and lighting helps suggest mood and heighten the storytelling of an image. It also helps your understanding of how to use color.

If you want to draw convincing figures and characters then anatomy is useful to learn. I’m not talking about internal organs here, I mean the proportion and structure of the human body on the outside. Knowledge of skeletons and muscles is handy to understand movement and surface forms. An understanding of the human form and how it moves also helps with placement of clothing.

Color Theory
Knowledge of color and how it can affect an image is a useful skill to learn. Different colors evoke different meanings, associations and moods. Color harmony can make or break your painting. Color is especially useful combined with a good knowledge of value and lighting.

Composition is an extensive subject on it’s own. It is about controlling the design or look of your image and defining focal points. Composition can help you improve the storytelling and aesthetics of your images. If an image is well composed it creates a better sense of mood and narrative. It will thus help you create more powerful images conveying your message.

Composition relies on the other fundamental skills and takes a long time to learn as a result. It will become clearer the more you create art with intention of what you are trying to say. It is worth looking at work of master artists, photographers and film directors to get a sense of what works. A good book for beginners is “Picture This: How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang.

In summary those are some reasons for learning the fundamentals of art.

Further Reading


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