What are the art fundamentals
The meaning of art fundamentals changes from niche to niche and artwork to artwork. If you’re drawing a city, or an indoor scene, a good understanding of perspective is very important. This is not so much the case if you’re working on a portrait of your pet. And colorful scenes require a good understanding of color theory, while a black and white painting doesn’t as much. And so on. In other words: Art fundamentals are relative, and I will do our best to cover as many as possible in this article.
Why redirect to other artists?
It may look counter-intuitive for an artist to refer to other artists. But this is common practice. There are several reasons for that, but the most important one is that every artist has his or her own unique take on art, and therefore also art fundamentals. If you really want to create your own voice, something you really should do if you want to stand out: Make sure you pick your teachers wisely and take what you learn to heart. There is always more than one way to approach the same subject, especially when it comes to art. It’s up to you to decide which approach you like most. And don’t think that if you pick one approach: Others are no longer an option. You will always evolve and always change your opinion and take on your own art and that of others.
The artists in the lists below are among the best in the field. Not all of them are creature or character designers per se, but when it comes to art fundamentals that don’t matter.
There are way more amazing artists out there, please don’t think that that list stops with those listed in this article. Just be wary of artists that blow smoke at you or don’t know what they’re talking about. Do your research and you should be good! You will see that a lot of the time when you start following artists, that they tend to refer to other leading artists as well.
Color theory, if there is something I consider my weak skill, especially in the early stage of my career, it’s color theory. Some people just ‘get’ it, while others struggle to understand. There are a lot of rules when it comes to color. They can all be broken when you’re skilled enough, but especially in the early stages of your art journey, it’s wise to make sure you understand these rules. It will also help you compartmentalize every aspect of your own artwork. When practiced enough, color theory will just become a ‘routine’ and part of your style and workflow.
It’s worth noting that colors are interpreted differently throughout different cultures. Make sure you check out their meanings when you cater to a specific culture, or make a drawing about that culture.
In my opinion, Marco Bucci is one of the leading color theory masters. He did a bunch of color theory tutorials on his channel. As they all intertwine and can read as a series, I will list them all below. Marco Bucci will give you a solid start into color theory! More tutorials by other artists will follow right after.
Color theory tutorials by leading artists
- Marco Bucci – Color Harmony – How colors affect one another and how to make it work for you, instead of against you.
- Marco Bucci – Shadow colors – The way the presence of shadow affects color. (Part 2 of 2, part 1 is about ambient occlusion (light))
- Marco Bucci – Colour notes – When flat colors are not enough to your taste, and instead you’d love to apply a lot of color variety that together imply one color.
- Marco Bucci – Grayscale to color – For many artists it’s easier to start in grayscale and apply color after. Here is some advise about how to do that correctly!
- Marco Bucci – Boring colors – Intermediate tips and tricks about creating interesting colors and color combinations with values only.
- Marco Bucci – Value, hue, and saturation – Learn what they mean and how the color picker tool can fool you.
- Marco Bucci – Light falloff – Saturated colors between light and shadow.
- Tyler Edlin – Color and light overpaint – Overpaint specifically aimed at color and light.
- Nathan Fowkes – The (Not) rule of color relationships – Let Nathan take you on a ride about color theory and relationships.
- Nathan Fowkes – The (Not) rules of color temperature – The not-series by Nathan Fowkes, this time about color temperature.
- John Burton – Color and authenticity – About how the color you think you see isn’t the color you actually see.
- John Burton – Color Temperature – More on color temperature, this time by John Burton.
Light and shadow
Light is what shapes our world.. Without light there is no shadow, and without these two counterparts there wouldn’t be value, no shapes, forms, colors… You name it. Light and shadow are essential in our paintings, but how do they work with color? Or texture? And how do they set moods? These tutorials will ‘enlighten’ you.
Light and shadow tutorials by leading artists
- Marco Bucci – Ambient occlusion – All about light in shadow, also known as ambient light, bounce light, indirect light and reflected light.
- Marco Bucci – Essential values for painting, lighting, and design – Learn about value control and realistic lighting in a character design.
- Marco Bucci – Drawing in shadow – An interesting tutorial on how to draw an object that’s in the shadows.
- BoroCG – Dynamic range – In-depth information about value.
- Tyler Edlin – Interior lighting – Specifics around lighting an indoor scene.
- Tyler Edlin – Do your shadows suck? P1 – The different components of shadow.
- Tyler Edlin – Do your shadows suck? P2 – In-depth information about shadow.
- Andrew Tischler – Capturing light in a portrait – Wonderful tips for reference images, shooting your own reference, and properly applying light in your artworks.
- Nathan Fowkes – Contrasts – How contrasts can make or break your painting.
- John Burton – Invaluable values – Value is more important than color, here’s why.
Anatomy is key in any artwork that contains organisms. In both character and creature design it’s extremely important to understand anatomy. For characters this can mean that you create a design that translates profession, or character traits, or age. You will need to understand human anatomy if you want to communicate these traits properly. In creature designs you communicate the same, but as you’re most likely creating something completely new, it’s of utter importance that you understand the basics of anatomy, and the anatomy of the animals you are inspired by to draw this new creature.
Anatomy by leading artists
- Proko – Proko channel – Your absolute first go-to on human anatomy is Proko. I won’t even bother sharing the individual video’s here, his whole channel is gold.
- Marc Brunet – Anatomy skeleton – The human skeleton explained.
- Ergojosh – How to draw anatomy – Tips and tricks to draw human anatomy.
- Moderndayjames – Drawing animals (Quadrupeds) – Drawing four-legged animals, the basics.
- Bobby Chiu – Learning animal anatomy from human anatomy – Similarities between human and animal anatomy.
- Terryl Whitlatch – Animal anatomy and creature design – A very long extremely useful art talk and examples on animal anatomy and creature design.
An edge is an edge, right? Or is it? There are many types of edges. Soft edges, hard edges, lost edges, and so on. We see hard edges most of the time at the focal point. You can also use light, values, and color to create a focal point, but most of the time, when your focal point is a solid object, it makes sense to have hard edges as well. This has to do with the way the human eye works.
The human eye has only a very small point with sharp vision. We can use this by applying hard edges to fake this vision and pull the eye to the focal point. When it’s the sun you’re drawing, you might want to rely on value and color and use lost edges instead.
Hard edges are sharp defined lines, soft edges are edges that are visible but not well defined, lost edges simply don’t have show any edge, but rather a gradient.
Tutorials about edges by leading artists
- Craig Mullins – Edges – Quick basics about edges.
- BoroCG – Adding a floating one – Lost edges, but with a different take.
- Ian Roberts – You control your painting with your edges – A great narrative about your edges do with your audience.
- Ian Roberts – How edges make or break your painting – Do’s and don’ts regarding edges.
- Moderndayjames – Understanding edges – James explains the different kinds of edges while drawing them.
- Marco Bucci – Learn to see like a painter, with edges – Artworks analyzed through their edges.
One of my least favorite subjects, but oh so powerful when applied correctly. A wonky perspective is arguably one of the most painful errors in paintings. If you have a lack of understanding of perspective, you will most likely be able to tell something is ‘off’, but probably not why it is, or how to fix it. A basic understanding of perspective is key in nearly any artwork, but when you’re drawing indoor and outdoor scenes, especially cities, or other large scenes with objects in them that have a specific size, it’s absolutely essential to understand perspective inside out. So here you go, have your dose of perspective tutorials and you’re well on your way!
Tutorials about perspective by leading artists
- Moderndayjames – One point perspective for beginners – For anyone that’s just starting to learn about perspective.
- Trent Kaniuga – Common perspective mistakes – In case you already had some practice and are now struggling.
- Marco Bucci – Perspective – A quick 10 minutes into the basics of perspective.
- Tyler Edlin – Color and perspective – An interesting three-point perspective by Tyler Edlin.
- BoroCG – How to use pricise perspective in a drawing – The technical side applied and tested in Photoshop.
- Nathan Fowkes – Creating depth – Creating depth in a painting with more than only perspective.
- Craig Mullins – The concept of perspective – A quick explaination about how perspective is so much more than a few lines and a vanishing point.
Shapes and form
Shape and form are increadibly important in debatably any artwork. They tell something about the scene you’re drawing, the nature of a creature, and the character of well, ehm.. A character. Even moreso, shapes define function, especially when it comes to creature designs. Trangles usually refer to danger (think shark, teeth, stingers), while circles are read as cute and friendly (think of chubby babies and kittens). Shapes and forms can also lead the eye when properly applied. All these things combined makes shape and form a very powerful tool.
The difference between shape and form
It took me a while to understand, as in the Netherlands there are no sepparate definitions for these two words. We just say ‘vorm’ which would best translate to ‘form’. This despite the fact that shape and form are two very different things. So if you’re one of these people not really knowing the difference: It’s actually quite simple. Form is a shape in a 2D world. Lineart consists fully out of form. Shape is something that exists in a 3d world. You can’t really apply shape without a 3D program, or without knowing how to apply lighting in a 2D scene.
Shape and form tutorials by leading artists
- Antonio Stappaerts – Shapes and forms – All about basic shapes and dynamic shapes. Applicable in any character and creature design.
- Marco Bucci – The power of shapes – Learn more about shapes in abstract paintings and when painting real things.
- BoroCG – Shape design from grayscale to color – About shape and form, and why some approaches work and others don’t.
- Wouter Tulp – Creating characters (Shapes) – Some great tips about shapes in character designs.
- Wouter Tulp – Creating characters (Poses) – Poses are essential to tell a story. They’re based in shape and therefore also in anatomy.
- John Burton – How to see the forest for the trees – How to organize chaos.
- Craig Mullins – Shapes – Why shapes are so important.
Composition and storytelling
Composition and storytelling are two different subject that are tied really close together, like light is to darkness. Composition, the way you place elements, colors, lighting etc. in your artwork will dictate how it reads to your audience. Because of this, composition is a very powerful tool to achieve the ultimate goal of images: Storytelling.
Since the dawn of human kind, storytelling has been extremely important. It’s how traditions were kept alive and how children were taught to not wander off into the forest at night. It creatres magic and wonder about the world around us, and will lead you away from this place we call ‘reality’. Because storytelling is so powerful, it will help you capture the attention of your audience when applied properly.
Storytelling can be an enormous scene in the middle of a desert with nomads and their camels traveling from one oasis to another, but it can also be a creature design that is properly lighted and so out of this world, and still recognizable that it will make your audience marvel about what it is. Even in human and animal drawings you can apply storytelling. It’s almost a profession of its own and just like any other art fundamental, it’s a very valuable skill to have.
Leading artists on storytelling and composition
- Andrew Tischler – Golden ration composition – Golden ratio is found everywhere in nature. We as humans are very attracted to it, so it’s a very usefull tool to know about.
- Andrew Tischler – How to create a great composition – A 20+ minute long critique session centered around composition.
- Bobby Chiu – How art connects with the viewer – A different take by Bobby Chiu.
- Nathan Fowkes – The (Not) rules of portrait composition – Creating visual balance in a portrait.
- Wouter Tulp – Storytelling with characters – An interesting take on storytelling with character design.
- John Burton – Design and composition – What goes into creating an effective composition.
- Brooks Eggleston – Composition crash course – Let Brooks Eggleston rush you through the basics of composition!
A special thanks
A special thanks to Rainbow Sarah, also known as The Rainbowphilosopher for allowing me to use two of her artworks in this article. The lead image and the one following it are both made by the talented artist Rainbow Sarah! Give her a follow if you like her art as much as I do.
Also a special thanks to Jade Jez from Steampower Studio’s for the cute creature design listed at anatomy.