Art is an ongoing process,one that I often don’t take the time to reflect upon, nor do I share it with others. In an attempt to be less selfish, and to be able to look at my own notes for future use, I present to you my art lessons of the past year.

Of course by lessons I mean, “stuff I headbutted against for years until it slowly dawned on me there is a better way.”

Hands: New lessons in learning how to draw these bastards.

Hands are hands-down (heyooo,) one of the most difficult parts of the human body to draw. Just like faces, the average person can immediately tell if a hand looks weird, even if they can’t pinpoint just what makes that hand look wrong.

Hands are also something where knowing half the tips and tricks to drawing them is probably worse than knowing all the tricks. I’m still working on my knowledge of hands, but this year it got a lot easier.

When you’re a kid, a hand is mostly the end of a stump with some sausages sticking out, or if you’re real classy, maybe a circle with some sticks shooting out.

When you’re a little further on, hands turn into a square, or even a square with a circular pad for the thumb. The idea is there, that a hand contains shapes within shapes, but now you start to reach the danger zone. Your hands will look closer to correct, but at the same time it’ll start to be more apparent when the hand isn't quite… right.

The 2 hot issues with box hands that will shock you.

1.) Hands are almost never flat.

If you look at your hand, there is always a slight or major arc going horizontally across the hand. If your hand is in a fist or, say, typing, it’s a minor arc. If you’re holding a pencil or picking something up, the thumb and pinky swivel towards the point of interest to create a major arc. Once you realize that the main area of the hand is never straight like a box-car, (it’s curved like a rainbow,) your life gets easier.

2.) No part of the hand is along one straight axis.

Just look at your knuckles. You can easily see two things, first that your knuckles actually have a slight arc to them, with the middle knuckle being the highest, and the pinky being the lowest. Secondly that the distance between fingers isn't constant, the pinky knuckle is sliiiightly further away from the rest of the fingers.

So instead of using a flat base hand-shape.

You’re connecting to a shape like this.

With hands, always remember humans generally own two of them, so use the ones connected to your body when in doubt. For me, realizing that outside of high-fives, hands will always be in a curve, and the middle knuckle is the top of the curve, has helped immensely.

Value: Shadows, light, and the perils of not adding enough of either.

Shading seems simple, objects cast shadows, we know this. What I started to tackle this year was not adding enough value to art. Even with color, if you’re not adding a lot of highlights and low-lights, an entire picture can seem washed out or grey. This is because in terms of value, you have a boring image.

Shadows caused by major light sources hitting the object are the first things usually tackled, and then at some point you become aware of cast shadows and start adding those in.

The main peril with thinking about individual shadows, (and sweet jebus I made this mistake for YEARS, and still do to a certain extent,) is that you’re already too deep in the shadow game. You need to not just jump into cast shadows and individual shadows, but look at the value of the whole kitten-and-poodle. As with all art, work on the macro before the micro.

Once you add in individual shapes, and shadows casted shadows OVER the central shading, it looks much more impressive.

So when going for more layered shadows, I have to remind myself all the “fun stuff,” is really step 4, (if even that.) The overall values come first, if I’m going for more drastic, realistic shading.

Not that everything needs to have the same shading style. Once you add in color, there are many times that you might want to consider just what you’re trying to present.

The relationship between color and shadows

Jessica Lim’s illustration of creme brulee is a great example of color being more important to a piece than complex shadows or contrasting values.

Taking Gabriele Brombin’s art and converting it to black and white, you can see how if you keep low-values in a piece of art, it actually allows color to be stand out more.

In comics, the dark shadows speak the loudest. While color still plays a huge role, the inks determine the form.

Art by Chris Samnee.

Shading, as with all art, is about learning as many of the rules as you can, so you know when to not follow them. Learn how to shade realistically, and then you can decide when to use that tool, and when not to.

These are the two big lessons I spent a lot of time wrestling with this year, hopefully this helps someone climbing the infinite learning ladder that is art.

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