Drawing & Art Tips

How to Draw: Selecting the Best Drawing Paper 

The question most people usually ask when starting to draw is what kind of pencil to use. Ironically, even though there are a myriad of options when it comes to pencils, probably the single most important aspect of a quality drawing is not the pencils, but rather the paper.

Top quality, acid-free paper is essential if you want the best drawing results. Standard drawing paper has a poor-quality surface, and lacks the qualities needed to allow rich tonal development. Everyday papers also tend to have acidic qualities, which means they will yellow and/or discolor over time. (Think of old newspapers as an example – they turn yellow and discolor.)

The surface of the paper is going to be one of your most important choices. Most drawing surfaces have a slight texture, or “tooth” to them. These are usually known as vellum surfaces. Drawing paper is also available with an extremely smooth surface, which would be known as a plate surface. You can purchase drawing paper as actual paper, or in heavier weights known as bristol board. A sheet of bristol is heavy enough that both sides have suitable drawing surfaces. There are also illustration boards – these are heavier still, though only one side is suitable as a drawing surface.
As a general rule, most artists using pencil, charcoal or pastel will prefer the vellum surface. The texture in the paper provides some friction to the media applied, and thus allows for a greater range of effects. Smooth or plate surface paper is usually preferred by pen & ink artists as very clean lines can be achieved with such a surface. For myself, I prefer a bristol surface when drawing “living” subjects such as people or horse or dog drawings. I like the plate surface for more mechanical subject such as aviation drawings or historic home portraits.
In addition to the weight or thickness of the paper, you will want to consider brightness. Drawing papers come in a range of “whites.” Some are soft white and have an antique appearance. Others are off-white. My favorites are the brighter whites, as I feel I can obtain the greatest range of shadows on these papers.
For years my paper of choice has been the drawing paper is Strathmore 500. It’s bright white surface and acid-free/archival properties make it a superb choice for pencil drawing. Strathmore 500 is available in paper weight, bristol board and illustration board. I also like this paper as it is available in large sheets – up to 30″x40.” My top two suppliers for this paper are DickBlick.com andUtrechtArt.com.


The Best Pencils to Use for Pencil Drawings

“What kind of pencils do you use?” I think this is one of the most common questions I have been asked over the years.
I often receive emails posing this question. Many emerging artists have tremendous talent. They know the time and energy that goes into a detailed drawing, and they want to use the best materials possible.
My answer to this question surprises some. For the most part, I use ordinary pencils purchased from an office supply store. I like mechanical pencils, as the leads are quite thin and thus yield a sharp point without wasted time sharpening and making a corresponding mess. The mechanical pencils are available in several thicknesses too. My favorites are the .5 mm and .7 mm thickness leads. Most mechanical pencils come with HB leads, though you can purchase other hardnesses separately, such as H, B and 2B. There are also .3 leads, though they are so thin that the lead is almost too fragile to use effectively.
I do 90% of my drawing with the mechanical HB pencil lead. Then, I use artist pencils or leads in the B to 6B range to “punch out” the darkest areas of my drawing. See my Pencil Drawings Process page for an illustration of this effect. My two favorite art suppliers for pencils and pencil leads are DickBlick Art Supplies and Utrecht Art Supplies.
Another important aspect of pencil drawing is the type and quality of paper used. See my earlier post on selecting the best drawing paper!


How to Avoid Overworking a Pencil Drawing

When is a Drawing (or Painting) Done?

Many of us have struggled with that question. We throw ourselves into the creation process, the inspired image fresh on our minds, only to end up overworking a drawing until it looks like mud! How does one decide when to stop drawing? When is a pencil drawing truly complete?
Speaking as one who has over-worked several drawings, I have come up with a number of tricks that help me reach for this fixative spray at just the right point.
The first thing I do is to stop drawing when I feel the piece is 90% complete … or when I know I still have more to do but it is almost done. I then walk away from the drawing for several days so that I can see it with fresh eyes later.
When I come back the the drawing table, I take the artwork and tape it to a door or wall and view it from a distance. I leave it there for another day or two and let my new impressions & inspirations sink in. Most of the time, I know at this point exactly what I want to do to finish the piece.
If I am still questioning myself, I hold the drawing up to a mirror and view it in “reverse.” This offers a completely new perspective, and I nearly always clearly see anything that has been bothering me about the drawing. Occasionally I will take a digital picture of the artwork and view it on a computer screen. It’s amazing what a different view of the art will reveal
Pencil Artist David Horne says “When you start looking for things to do in a piece of work that's normally when its done.” I think this is a wonderful quote, and I know it will help me with future pencil drawings. And pencil artist Clive Meredith shares “I tend to know that a drawing is finished when the image on paper matches the one in my mind.” … another wonderful thought!
Pencil drawing is a very soothing artform, requiring many hours of dedication in peace & quiet. It can be so easy to become lost in creating detail, that we become trapped in that detail, losing site of the desired result. I hope the above tips will help you to create your perfect drawing in pencil!

Methods of Reproducing Two Dimensional Art Drawings and Paintings

I am often asked by emerging artists: “How do I make prints?” This post will cover two of the most common forms of reproduction in use today. Many artists use one of the following methods for making print reproductions.
Offset Lithography
This is a traditional printing process involving the use of plates and ink with printing presses. Lithography is a great option for quantity if you plan to print at least several hundred copies of a print and have the funds to cover up front printing costs. Your cost-per-piece will likely be the lowest with offset lithography. To find a quality commercial printer, you may want to contact your local chamber of commerce and ask about printers who specialize in artist prints. Investigate mid-size print shops, as high end shops focus on much larger jobs than artist prints, and small shops may be more geared to lower-end production printing like advertisements, flyers, newsletters and the like. You want the best quality/price ratio you can get. My printer of choice for my pencil drawing reproductions is North Coast Litho.
Sometimes artists are intimidated by the higher initial cost of offset printing. Keep in mind that a commercial (offset) printer often utilizes giant sheets of paper. He may be able to run multiple prints on that same sheet (2-up, 4-up, etc.) This brings the cost per print down even further, something to be considered if you want numerous prints reproduced.
You can save some money by doing the pre-press file preparation yourself. If you do not possess the knowledge and skills to prepare work for reproduction, try finding a local graphic designer to assist you.
Digital Printing
This term covers ink jet, giclee, and other direct printing methods available today. The big plus with digital printing is the ability to print low quantities – even one print at a time. At the lower end of digital printing, you can purchase an ink jet printer (hopefully with archival inks and paper) and print your own reproductions. This assumes that you or someone you know has the ability to prepare the electronic files for optimal output.
At the higher end of the digital printing scale is the giclee print. While still a form of ink jet technology, the equipment used is geared for high-end output such as art prints. Giclee prints can even printed on canvas. Many professional color labs and some commercial printers offer giclee prints. Your cost/print will be higher than with offset lithography, but you can purchase only the number of prints you need. This can be an ideal way for an artist to get started selling reproductions. The same “pre-press” consideration applies here. If you can supply quality hi-res files, you will save money.
A note about archival inks and paper: I have seen artists selling reproductions printed by low-end ink jet printers with regular paper. Look at those prints 6 months to a year later and you will often see a faded image on yellowed paper. It is similar to the effect you see on aged newsprint, and has the same cause – acidic ph of the paper. This highlights the importance of using archival paper and inks for your reproductions. The last thing you want is a happy customer today, who morphs into an unhappy customer next year, because his purchase from you had literally faded away.

Reproducing Two Dimensional Art

Open Edition vs. Limited Edition Prints

In addition to knowing how to reproduce pencil drawings and other 2D artwork (a topic to be covered in detail in an upcoming post), one should consider the category under which the reproductions will be sold. This posting will address the difference between “open edition prints” and “limited edition prints.”
FYI – Two-dimensional reproductions are often referred to as prints, and I will use the terms here interchangeably. The term “print” is not to be confused with the original print-making process where an artist actually hand-creates each print. For this posting, a print will be known as a reproduction of an original painting, drawing or other two-dimensional piece of artwork.
An open edition print is a reproduction of unlimited quantity. You can print as many of them as you like. A limited edition print refers to a set number of copies of the work of art. Each reproduction is then signed and numbered by the artist for authenticity. As the total quantity available for sale is limited, the sale price for limited edition prints tends to be higher than that of open edition prints. This price ratio increases as the artist gains recognition.
The practice of limiting editions and numbering of reproductions dates back to early printing methods – when the quality of the images declined as the printing plates began to show evidence of wear. By limiting an edition to the best examples of an artist’s work, the artist protected both his or her artistic integrity and the value of the work to the collector. Printing methods have since advanced considerably and editions are now often limited for financial reasons. By ensuring the relative rarity of the work, an artist increases its value.
In addition to a fixed number of edition prints, there may also exist AP prints and HC prints. AP prints refer to Artist Proofs. Artist proofs also date back to early printing methods. These were the first sheets off the printing press which were used to determine ink coverage and general quality. As they were the first pieces to be printed, they were considered to be more valuable. AP prints are signed and numbered separately from the main edition. HC prints, or Hors De Commerce (not for trade) prints, are marked by the artist as prints to be used for business practice: such as samples, display only, etc. Occasionally there are also PP or Printers Proofs. These refer to the prints gifted to the printer responsible for printing the artwork.
A hand-tinted print is a custom variation on reproductions. Hand-tinting refers to the process of manually adding color highlights to black & white photographs or black & white reproductions. The process usually involves the application of watercolors or dies applied with a brush. Note that in the case of limited editions, any tinted prints are part of the same edition and not a separate edition. In other words, if print #43 is sold as a hand-tinted print, no other print #43 of the same image and size exists.
You can print open editions and limited editions of the same image, by the way. Try different sizes – perhaps an open edition with a small image that can be matted to fit an 8″x10″ frame. Then run a larger print size in a smaller quantity and sign/number those prints as limited editions.
A limited edition print should include a “Statement of Reproduction.” This can be a label or certificate that contains at minimum the following information: title of artwork, reproduction method, artist name, publisher name, image size, copyright declaration, edition size and the number of the print. Also include your contact information. If your prints are matted or framed for sale, this statement should be affixed to the backing board behind the print.

Artist Marketing Tip: Create Basic Artist Marketing Materials

Artist Marketing Materials: Business cards, flyers, bio, artist statement

Marketing materials are very important in starting and building an art or craft business. Some of the most important pieces include: business cards, flyers, an artist statement, and a bio/resume. I am surprised at the number of emerging artists I meet who have work ready to sell and not so much as a business card on hand!
Create a business card, and keep plenty of them on hand. With the availability of online discount printing sources, business cards are downright cheap these days. Carry the cards with you, attach one to every original, print, necklace or anything else you sell. Hand them out at networking events. Post them on bulletin boards. The card should reflect your name and contact information. A nice slogan or tag line to help people remember you is also a great idea. Try to pick a form of contact that won’t change frequently. That might be a formal address, cel phone number, email address, website address or blog url.
A nicely designed flyer is also quite valuable. The flyer should contain information about you and your work. People want to know about you – the artist or crafter! A great flyer would consist of your artist bio, your artist statement, a picture of you and 1-3 pictures of your work. An artist bio (short for biography) is written to tell people more about the artist. The bio can be written in 1st or 3rd person, though it is often found expressed as a third person view (appearing like a publication review of the artist.) The artist statement can be anything you choose, though most artist statements reflect an artist’s philosophy and vision for his or her work. The flyer does not have to be large or printed in full color. A 1/2 letter size sheet works well, and can be reproduced on home printers. On the back you might list your Awards and Accomplishments. (You can see a sample Artist Bio and Awards/Accomplishments List for my Pencil Drawings at pencilplace.com.) You will want to include contact information on this sheet as well. As with the business card, include one with everything you sell.
If you have enough written copy and images, consider a brochure. A 3-panel brochure, even a 1-color version, makes a nice addition to your marketing materials. They are also easy to drop in the mail as they fit in a #10 envelope. Add a greeting letter and a business card and you have a complete marketing package!

Copyright Protection and Visual Art

A Brief Primer on Copyrights

Several emerging artists have recently asked me about copyrights – what they are and how they work. Copyrights become important when artists begin to discuss reproducing artwork and protecting their images from unauthorized reproduction.
So what is a copyright? A copyright is a form of intellectual property. In the case of visual arts, it pertains to the artwork created by an artist.
A copyright is separate and distinct from the artwork itself. In other words, purchase of any artwork, including original work, does not include the transfer of copyright, unless specifically stated in writing. In most cases, the artist retains the right to reproduce the image(s) in other mediums.
Ownership of copyright is established upon the artist’s completion of the work. Registration of the copyright with the US Copyright Office is not required for ownership, but is required to pursue any legal action(s).  In other words, if XYZ Company steals your artwork and prints it on greeting cards, you cannot followup with legal action(s) until you register your ownership of copyright. And in most cases, any damages you may win will be limited by registering the copyright after the infringement took place.
Bottom line? If you create a piece of artwork which you feel will be a real winner, it might be in your best interest to register the copyright in advance of any reproduction. You can visit the US Copyright site for a list of FAQs on Registering a Copyright.
Also, if you commission an artist for artwork, and intend to reproduce that artwork, make sure this is understood up front. You will need a written release of copyrights in order to legally reproduce the image.


Marketing Pencil Drawings and Art on Products Using Print-on-Demand Sites

Have you ever wanted to have t-shirts printed with some of your artwork? Or perhaps coffee mugs or some other promotional type products?
While the mainstay of my business is my two dimensional art such as original pencil drawings, prints and note cards, I have found that putting my images on products is a great way to broaden the audience for my work.
Years ago I set up a Zazzle Store with more of my horse and dog art. Zazzle allows you to add your artwork or photographs to a variety of product items. With Zazzle however, you can give the customer more options for individual customization of the product. Let’s say you have a drawing of a Doberman Pinscher that you want to sell on products. Joe Smith Customer could purchase a mug with that drawing, and then add his own dog’s name to the mug to personalize it! Customization can broaden the appeal of your work considerably.
Setting up an account with Zazzle is easy … and free. Once you have an account, you can proceed to upload images and begin selling t-shirt, mugs and other items that you like.
It is important to know something about electronic image preparation before uploading artwork files to one of these sites. Most importantly, the file needs to be high resolution, which means at least 300dpi when printed at the largest reproduction size you plan to use. Effective resolution will be less if you start with a small file (say 2″ wide) later try to reproduce the image at a larger size (say 6″ wide).
I scan all of my artwork images as native Photoshop files. I then do any clean-up and/or image editing required. Once I am done, I re-save the file in jpg format, using the lowest compression (highest quality) option available. (As jpg is a “compression” format, higher compression makes for a smaller files size, but more lost image data.)
When I design graphics that utilize vector art and lots of white background area, I generally save the file in the png format. This format has slightly smoother gradients and leaves a nice, clean, white edge around the graphic.
Also, if you are using the products to help market your work, consider adding the name of your website in small letters to the bottom of every image that you upload. This way, when a t-shirt with your artwork becomes a gift to Jane Doe, she will be able to find the artist behind the creation.
Zazzle has extensive help sections for beginners. For more on preparing your images for reproduction on products, visit the the Zazzle Getting Started page.

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