Take-away: Don’t grip your pen tightly. Just don’t.
Reading time: 2 minutes.
Here is the story about how I lost my hand.
It all starts a few years ago, when I was holding my pen like this:
Oooh, drawing with a deathgrip. Guess what I got out of it? A lifelong injury! Well, maybe it’s still reversible but I don’t want to stop drawing to check. Three-week breaks from drawing have yielded no improvement at all.
Just two weeks after starting Art school, my hand and wrist were hurting. Every day it hurt a little bit more. It became difficult to hold my pen. Quickly, I stopped pinching by myself because it hurt too much. But then it became painful to just hold a pen. Or to hold anything, really.
At the height of my pain, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bend my fingers.
So like all sane people and aspiring artists, I kept drawing.
First I tried rubber bands to tie my pen to my hand, but they cut off blood flow. I started using tape, sticking the pen through my wrist brace, tying it with scraps of cloth, ….
A few weeks later I found a working technique:
Yup, I used a bandage to wrap my pen onto my hand and that’s how I kept on drawing.
Holy damn, do you need your hand a lot. Losing functionality in my right hand, I had trouble with:
Opening doors, using chopsticks, shuffling cards, carrying anything, opening bottles, writing, using your smartphone, mouse/touchpad,
Some of my homework that had teardrops on it. I learned to hide those stains by scanning, upping contrast and submitting the print.
Here’s my class notes before and after pain in my hand:
But at least I finished school.
What’s the point of this post? Am I looking for pity for my broken hand? Am I encouraging you to draw through the pain?
Nah, man, that’s silly.
I’m telling you DON’T PINCH YOUR PEN. Just learn to hold your pen correctly. You can avoid all of my pain ’n suffering. If this little story doesn’t convince you it’s important, then I… eh… well, you do you.
When you draw a non-living object from real life, you’re making a still life. Think of all those old paintings of flowers and fruit bowls – those are still lifes. We will start very simple, with just one single object.
Good objects to pick for your first time are organics, like a bell pepper or a banana. Why? When you draw a banana and you make it a bit too thick or too small, then your drawing will still look like a banana. Now if you pick a glass or keyboard for your first attempt, then you have all that cumbersome geometry and symmetry. Draw it wrong? Now it looks broken. So it’s easier to avoid man-made objects in the beginning.
Here’s a good list to choose from:
My #1 recommendation: plant/tree leaves. Easy to find, beautiful curves and super-forgiving to draw.
plant or tree leaves (ivy is fun to draw!)
veggies: a bell pepper, a pumpkin
non-round fruit like a banana or a pear
a banana peel
eaten apple core (a fresh apple is a tad too symmetrical)
small bones (why would you have that laying around though?)
If you don’t have any fruit or veggies laying around and not a single plant growing in your neighbourhood, then you can pick anything close to you. Don’t worry about finding the perfect beginner’s still life. It’s more important to start practicingtoday.
2. Why do we draw Still Lifes?
So why do we do still lifes? Our goal is to translate 3D-forms from the real world to 2D-forms on your paper. You want to understand volume and 3D-shapes. This will help later for perspective, shading and so on. Still lifes train your eye and your brain in a different way than grid drawing does.
Grid drawing can form bad habits – such as not looking at your reference as a whole or becoming unable to estimate big shapes. That’s why you want to do still lifes together with drawing from photographs.
3. How to draw a Still Life
There are a lot of techniques to help still life drawing, for example creating a viewfinder. We’re not gonna look at that stuff now, this is a simple get-started walk-through.
So let’s draw!
Step 1: Draw the general shape softly (= sketching)
Step 2: Mark the details
Step 3: Draw in bold lines, correct the sketch lines when necessary
Step 4 (optional): Draw the outline of the shadow. Often the edge of the shadow is a bit fuzzy, so it’s an exercise in decision-making! 🙂
Shading your still life is optional. Do whatever is more fun to you! With time and space left-over, pick up your object and draw it a few more times from different angles.
Here’s my first page:
This was a year later:
Back then I didn’t draw everyday – so you can improve faster by putting in more hours.
4. How NOT to draw a still life
Drawing from a photo of a still life is NOT drawing a still life! It’s a photo study. You’re not training 3D to 2D, instead it’s a more advanced version of grid drawing or maybe a subject study.
However, you can apply what you learn from your still lifes to your photo studies. You will have a better understanding of volume, so you can figure out what is going on in a particular pictures.
If you have any more questions, leave a comment or mail me at email@example.com (personal email).
Take-away:by placing grids over photographs, you can compare the angle and length of shapes to straight lines. This helps you to draw it correctly.
Reading Time: 5min + 30min practice (each day)
I uploaded a lot of pictures for this post. Let me know if the page loads slowly, then I’ll move the extra pictures to an album on Imgur ^_^
1. What is Grid Drawing?
If you read part 1 of Your First Week of Drawing (you can find it here), then you know that we want to see the world as a combination of shapes and angles. But like learning to run, you first have to go through the phases of crawling and walking.
So we take the picture we want to draw and place a grid over it like this:
The paper we will draw on gets the same grid.
What does this do? Instead of having to abstract the whole horse’s head, you can now focus on just the shapes within one square. While drawing, you tackle square by square. It’s like taking little bites instead of cramming the whole cake in your mouth.
2. Demo – Exercise Example
You can follow along with me, or choose a different picture if you don’t like horses. The other pictures are at the end of this post under “Day 1” 🙂
Choose one that you like, print it out and start sketching!
STEP 1: First we look at intersections between the big shapes of the horse and the grid.
We look at the place where the horse shape crosses the line of the grid and try to estimate that location on the grid on our paper.
To help you estimate the correct location, ask yourself questions like “Is it halfway or less than halfway of the line?”
Make as many or as little as you want – when we continue drawing, you can always add more marks.
STEP 2: Now we have bunch of dots, we can look at the shape between them.
Take the ear for example. Inside the square, what does the shape look like between the marks that you made? Is it a curve or a straight line? Does it go down first or does it go up?
We can also add in an extra dot to estimate the tip of the ear. How far from the edges of the grid is it? Breaking it down into nothing but dots and lines, we’ve now drawn the ear!
Is this familiar to you? It’s like creating your own connect-the-dots drawing!
STEP 3: Just like the ear, we keep analyzing the shapes between different marks of the grid.
Little by little we outline the horse. For a difficult shape, you can first lightly sketch it or use a dotted line before committing to the final line.
Every part of the horse is just an abstract shape that we’re expressing with a line.
STEP 4:The most difficult shapes are those that flow through some empty space, like the halter of the horse. The technique is still the same. Compare to the edges of the grid. How far up does the line go? How curved is it?
It’s about done at this stage!
STEP 5: for the last step, you can clean up your lines and add in details. Experiment if you like, you’ll make thousands of drawings over your life time. If you experiment and you don’t like the result, you can always draw it again! And if you do like the result, you’re one step closer to creating your own drawing style.
It doesn’t have to be a perfect copy. If you look at my example for a long time, you’ll see spots where I’m off a bit or my line is not rounded enough and more details like that. But it looks like the horse in the picture, right?
So how did it go? Do you feel like you are better at seeing shapes objectively?
3. Why do we start with this exercise?
Grid drawing simplifies drawing. It breaks it up in small manageable chunks, exactly what we want as a beginner. When you look at the drawing square by square, you prevent your brain from going “Horse! Let’s symbol draw!“. Instead, the grid makes it a lot easier to see just shapes and lines.
This is easy! Can I draw with a grid forever?
Grid drawing is a temporary exercise, like riding a bicycle with safety wheels. Eventually, you will ditch the safety wheels and never look back.
You might encounter online backlash when posting your grid drawings. Why? If your drawing looks very good, but has a grid on it, people might bash you for it. That’s a compliment! See it as people telling you that you’re ahead of this stage already 🙂
We’re training your artist’s eye. Eventually, you’ll be able to abstract shapes so you can draw 3D-ideas with 2D-lines.
5. Getting Rid of The Grid
Grid drawing can teach you bad habits too. That’s why we’ll combine it with life drawing (this will be in part 3 of Your First Week of Drawing).
As we’re training your eye, we’ll slowly get rid of the grid. Like learning to walk, the first day is more like crawling. The whole picture is covered in squares!
By the end of the week, the only thing left will be a simple cross like this:
6. More Exercises
Below are extra references, sorted by day. You can also make your own grid drawings! Use a photo editing program that you have or a site like IMGonline. What you want to do is overlaying the two images.
Take-away: FZD is great for some and horrible for others. If being a concept artist is your number one life goal, FZD will be awesome. The teachers are helpful if you work first and ask questions second.
The FZD program was great and I’m working freelance now (busy busy busy). Oh, I also got married to a fellow FZD student. Going to the school was the best decision ever!
My freelance stuff is a bunch of small jobs, I’m not comfortable yet. I’m also doing marketing art, product design and illustration besides concept art.
2. Will I have a job after going to FZD? Maybe.You do not have a guarantee of a job. It’s overall positive – fellow class mates get hired one by one. Even the student that was struggling the most got a job in-house.
But that’s not everyone. You’ll have to job hunt and keep crafting.
Feng told us that the average graduate has to apply 200 times before landing a good job. It seems a lot less, but maybe the average gets skewed by a few graduates having a hard time.
For me, without the school I would have 100% guarantee of unemployment (I tried to get commissions before FZD and landed a total of two times $20 bucks). At the moment of writing, I’ve got three ongoing projects. Prices: 1. open-ended illustration project, currently just crossed $1k. 2. a $500 product design project 3. a $750 illustration project
…I should be drawing instead of writing this post.
So yeah, the before-and-after is damn spectacular for me. But you see that it ain’t big bucks either. On top of that I hesitate to work hourly. I’m still slow.
3. What are classes like?
There’s a boatload to say about FZD. Have you read Alex Jessup’s post about his experience? Here’s an excerpt:
The workload is killer. What’s your studying style? Do you crunch and then crash or do you work with a steady daily schedule? People will brag about not sleeping, but then miss a full day when their body crashes. It could work for you, it might not.
The workload will be your strength when job hunting – being fast in delivering. Speed is still a weakness of mine, so I rely on communication as my personal strength.
4. Is it true that the teachers don’t help you?
Have you come across the angry internet guy hating on the teacher? I felt the opposite – everyone was so damn kind and helpful. Why the difference? You have to show effort first.
If you have questions, show the teacher your failed attempts. Be respectful, for example by arriving on time.
Two side notes:
People compare the school’s curriculum to Scott Robertson’s books (How to Draw & How to Render). Let me add some nuance: Scott Robertson is the theory, and FZD is the practice. The school showed me how to apply the techniques and then made me do a ton of exercises.
Teachers change frequently. At the moment, Feng doesn’t teach personally anymore. His replacement, Charles, is a splendid dude though.
5. Is FZD a good school? Is it the right school for me?
I had all those questions before going. Will it be worth it? Can I handle the work? Am I good enough?
To know whether you will fit in the school, just ask one thing. Is becoming a concept artist your number one life goal? Yup? Then you’re good. You can have doubts, worries and insecurities. It doesn’t matter. All you need is that drive that this is what you want. You would be unhappy and die full of regrets if you don’t pursue this in your lifetime. A burning inside telling you that you want to work the very hardest that you can. That does not mean being confident. That means being ready to fight despite feeling scared.
You doing your research is already a good sign. Some people were surprised to find out what the school was like!
How do you figure out whether you have that obsession? It keeps haunting you. Maybe it’s only a small voice. For example, this blog is an obsession of mine. I decided to not spend time on it. I just went to FZD, now it’s time to focus, yaddayadda. You know, tackle my freelance career first.
But every single day, I thought about posting here. That’s 714 days between now and the last text post. Every single day. I tried to push it away. It’s time to draw, goddammit! Until I finally caved. I simply didn’t have peace without working on it. That’s obsession. And I feel the same about concept art. A day without drawing and I’m itching and aching.
The school was good for me – I had fun, made friends and it launched my career. At the same time, I don’t recommend the school or a concept art career to anyone. It’s so damn competitive. It will kill you if you don’t love it.
Boom. What other questions do you have? You can use my work email firstname.lastname@example.org or my personal email email@example.com.
Guess who’s going to art school? Yes, I am going to study at FZD (Feng Zhu School of Design). This is a quick long blog post on four topics: 1. Applying for FZD 2. The Entry Test 3. The Interview 4. Why so serious?
Whew. The last months it felt like my days were going nowhere and suddenly I got into this amazing design school. Why does my first post feel so far away?
“My plan is to create a portfolio and go to art school.” – that was only January.
Here I am.
Next destination on my art journey: the class room. And a pretty fancy one. I’ve always regarded FZD as the best art school out there. During the interview, they said “We treat our students like professionals”. That appeals me. That scares me as well. Since last year I had been thinking that I had to study there. When? I didn’t know yet. Maybe when I turned 35 years old. Maybe next year. Well, apparently I’m going in less than two months…
Applying for FZD
I’m very insecure, I beat myself up constantly. At times, I’m afraid to draw. But soon I’ll be forced to draw 18 hours a day, regardless of how timid I feel about it.
Look at the students’ gallery on their site, or the before & after section. These guys are good. I feel they learn more in a few weeks than I managed to self-study in three years.
When applying, I was very focused on the artwork. I kinda ignored the English certificate that was also a requirement. Well, first lesson learned: if you need an English certificate: do that as soon as possible. I looked at getting a certificate only when I felt ready to apply. Guess what? They have the exams just a few times a year and after that you have to wait at least two weeks before you get the results. By the time I had everything, the February and June intake were both full.
On the plus side, the FZD staff is quick and helpful with replying to any question. Seeing both June and October getting full, I applied for the October waiting list, with the February intake as my back-up plan. I was busy with the application procedure for over a month, due to the time between the various stages, and suddenly everything went very fast two days after the interview. We’ve got a spot over for June. Wanna come? HELL YEAH!
The Entry Test
Next up was the entry test.
The entry test is different for every intake. Every student has to take it… at least, that’s what they replied when I asked, but I suspect that if you’re really really good, you can skip it. There are a few fellow students who didn’t have to take it, and their portfolios are mind blowing. (hey, how do you dare outshine me before we even started…). Anyhow, if you look at the sketchbook section on the school website, you have an idea of what they’ll ask. First off all, it will be line drawing. Secondly, you’ll need perspective.
Oh man, I suspected this before I even got the design prompt. Why? Because my portfolio was devoid of anything mechanical or structured. By the way, this is the portfolio I used:
Don’t take it as an example, I’ll explain in the interview section what they didn’t like about it 😉
Now, I was eating myself up for two weeks. I was convinced I would get vehicles designs as the test’s theme. Why? Because vehicles are my weakest area. Guess what I got? Vehicle designs!
Here’s what I made:
Again, don’t take my work as an example. I have no idea whether they liked it or not. If you want a reference, look at the school’s sketchbook gallery. That’s what they gave me as a final submission reference.
They clearly said: “We want to see how you think on paper.” There’s only one thing you should never do: cheating. Never cheat. So no copying or tracing. The test also has a deadline of 50 hours after starting, so it’s possible that they want to check your punctuality besides your drawing.
Depending on your intake, you might get observational drawings or design options. Buildings, vehicles, environments, … You can prepare by practicing drawing and by practicing perspective. That’s it. 🙂
There’s something else I learned from the entry test, but it only clicked a few weeks later. I’ll first talk about the interview. 🙂
You’ll hear everyone say the same: the interview is pretty chill. I still prepared for it. If you can prepare and do better, why wouldn’t you? Preparing for interviews is the same as preparing for exams.
First step, brainstorm about the questions they might ask.
Second step, prepare your answers to those questions.
Third step, whatever you can’t answer, plot it out or look it up.
As often, the most important question to ask is “why”. Why do you want to study art? Why do you choose FZD? And in my case, why now, after already completing a bachelor degree?
That’s actually what makes the interview so pleasant – you get to talk about your dreams and your inspirations. Heck, you can talk about television series and video games and travel all you like.
So yeah, my first tip would be to prepare it by inventing questions as described above. My second tip would be body language. If you’re an international student, you’ll do the interview by Skype. For me that means no control on stress and slouching and even showing some nervous ticks. For all presentations and interviews I’ve done so far, it helped me tremendously to watch my body language. Straight back, chest up, slow breathing. Oh, and smile. Here’s the TED talk that explains why it works:
Your body associates a confident attitude with a safe situation, so your stress levels will lower and you will do better.
Now, I spent the last few paragraphs talking about how relaxed the interview was, but actually I didn’t feel good about it. They emphasized the stress and little sleep, I felt like an outsider because hadn’t been submerged in games, movies and series for years and most of all, it bugged me that I had such a huge shortcoming – lack of creativity. They pointed out the contrast between my portfolio and my entry test. They said I might have to take a second entry test. They asked to send life sketches and “representative” drawing.
This will forever stick with me: my portfolio is sterile. Their words, not mine, but I fully agree. What is representative of my drawing? Unfinished, quick, goofy. My portfolio was sterile because I only wanted to add finished work, instead of sketches and doodles. In a way the sterile feeling is representative. When I try to finish something, I worry about how it looks, about which colour to use, about how I’m doing everything wrong. The fun goes out of it. On top of that, I’m afraid to experiment. “But I don’t know how to draw this!” I exclaim in despair and then I never draw it. Hallways of castles, crown princes, dream scenery: it seems too difficult and I put it off.
They want a creative portfolio, regardless of drawing ability. I’ve always avoided subjects that didn’t match my ability. I’m insecure and afraid. Why do you think “practice perspective” has been on my to-do list for so long?
So I felt pretty awful after the interview, thinking I had been doing everything wrong and that I might never make it, because hey, I lacked the courage to make mistakes.
But here’s lesson 4: have fun.
Why so serious?
I had fun with the entry test. It was weird, I was ready to be all serious and boring about it, but in their mail they literally said “do your best and have fun.”
So I decided to have fun. And it was great. That’s why my entry test submission didn’t look as sterile as my portfolio pieces.
There is a conflict between “fun” and “drawing” for me. Pretty weird, ain’t drawing all about fun? Nah. I am afraid to fail. Causing me to fail.
I failed at creativity and at having fun. As a result, I just drew less. My pen hovered above the page, yet didn’t touch it. “But I don’t know how to…”
Well, dammit. Perspective, construction, anatomy, I’m going to learn that at school. The next weeks before school starts, I have to prepare in a different way – I have to break my self-imposed limits, my drawing shyness. So far it isn’t working. Heck, I’m telling myself to just doodle along for the next month! When did fun ever require courage? We’ll see how I’ll manage next month.
Now the next challenge is preparing all the practical stuff in just a month, seeing how I’ll only be back in Belgium after a two weeks. Aaaah.