Stephen Travers Art

Things I’ve Learnt About Drawing #5

Stephen Travers

What Creates My Own Artistic Style?

 

I’ve come to understand each artwork as a solution of many individual problems.  In each of these problems I’ve had to make a creative decision about how to render a 3D object into a 2D one.

 

With, say, pencil sketching, I have only one basic tool – line.  With that one tool, I have to solve the problems of how to convey form, colour, shadow, light, distance, atmospheric conditions, impossible complexity, movement, etc.  All with the same, one tool – a line.

 

When I draw a tree – how do I represent that some of the tree is in shadow; that some of the tree I see looking through the canopy and is actually on the other side of the tree; the different colours of  new leaf growth; that the sun is low in the sky; the patterns on the bark; a foggy morning; wind in the branches; and, most importantly, how do I represent the millions of leaves I can’t even see, let alone draw.

 

Each of these issues I think of as a problem.  How I solve each one and arrange them together in a finished drawing will determine my style – what makes my artwork identifiable as mine.

 

Over time, I may change some, or all of how I solve these problems. My style will change accordingly (or not).  But it is in the creative process of finding, and changing solutions that I learn and grow and improve.  So I must be constructively self-critical: which solutions work well for my desired result, and which ones less so. Are there some particular aspects of my artwork that need more practice than others – or even a different solution entirely? Can I see an issue I never appreciated before?  It’s all creative fuel for the next artwork.

 

But there is one common practice I think is generally very unhelpful in our artistic development.  Next Blog.

Things I’ve Learnt About Hashtags #4

Stephen Travers

Use Foreign Language Tags

 

Art crosses language and culture boundaries, so why limit yourself to just one language.

 

English is the main language of Instagram, but many millions of users speak no English, and operate their accounts primarily in their own language. Why not use tags to try and reach some of them?

 

I know a little Spanish, but had no vocabulary for art words.   Fortunately Google Translate, or the like, can help. Type in drawing, and discover dibujo is the Spanish word.  Drawing can also be dibujando, which is used more as a tag. Or drawn is dibujado.  But extraer is the Spanish for draw in the sense of to extract, withdraw, pull out. So it is worth selecting the ‘more translations’ arrow and checking the meaning.  This wil also give you new words you may not have thought of.

 

But before you tag away it is worth checking the foreign words in the Tag Search bar in Instagram.  Some of these words may have never been used, or there may be a related word which comes up which is more popular.

 

So pick a country and try.  I have used tags in Indonesian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish, Italian, Hungarian, Turkish, and Russian.  Only one of these countries has not given me any proof that the tag was beneficial.

 

Of course, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet.  But if you go into settings on your iPhone you can have any keyboard from any language by the looks of it.  It’s not hard once you know the words (thank you Google) to just copy them letter by letter.

 

Analytics tell me that Moscow is the city in the world which has most of my followers.  That’s a surprise for a Sydney artist, so I’m glad I was using Russian tags.

 

I haven’t cracked languages with Arabic or Asian scripts, but I think if I can find someone fluent in the language, they can find me some tags, download the keyboard, type them into iPhone Notes and I can copy and paste when I want to use them.  Since I have recently discovered that the country with my second greatest number of followers is India, I clearly need to take my own advice!

Here is today’s Instagram post of the Hotel de Ville just visible in the bottom left corner in the number one position for the Italian  disegno  tag. With 1.8M users, why not give it a go?

Here is today’s Instagram post of the Hotel de Ville just visible in the bottom left corner in the number one position for the Italian disegno tag. With 1.8M users, why not give it a go?

Today’s post was also Number 1 in this Russian language post of 825K users. But still be aware of finding tags in your ‘sweet-spot’ (see Blog #2), even in foreign language tags.

Today’s post was also Number 1 in this Russian language post of 825K users. But still be aware of finding tags in your ‘sweet-spot’ (see Blog #2), even in foreign language tags.

Things I’ve Learnt About Hashtags #3

Stephen Travers

Finding Tags

 

If your 30 hashtags are a way strangers find your posts, then we need to use as many types of tags as possible to connect us with people who may like our work. Here is what I use:

 

Use Your Medium: pencil, watercolour, ink, marker – all these and more each have many related tags. You could use brand names of your art supplies if you’re hoping to attract sponsor attention!

 

Use Synonyms & Cognates: not just sketching words, but also drawing words, and art words, there are different tags using the same word but different cognates – such as sketch, sketcher, sketches, sketching, sketchers, etc.  Each one has its own possibilities, and some will be better suited to your tag-size sweet-spot (see yesterday’s blog) than others.

 

Do You Post Daily? (or almost): try sketchaday, sketch daily, sketchoftheday, dailysketch etc.  And of course, most of these are duplicated using the word drawing as well.

 

Use your Subject: if you’ve done an artwork of the Louvre, then tag the Louvre, tag Paris, tag I love Paris etc.

 

Look at the Tags of Posts Similar to Yours: Not everything will  be relevant, but new possibilities will be found.

 

Use Instagram: If you do a tag search, along with your tag will be a series of related tags as suggestions. 

 

Occasionally Change What You Do – this will enable you to use new tags.  Today I hand watercoloured a print of my drawing of St Sulpice. (I’m using it as a prize in a Giveaway today). This post will enable me to use watercolour tags etc.

 

Finally, English is not the only language in the world. The next Blog will be about using foreign language tags.

 

© Stephen Travers 2019

Things I’ve Learnt About Hashtags #2

Stephen TraversComment

Choose the ‘Right Sized’ Tags

 

When I first started posting on Instagram, I didn’t realise that hashtags came in different sizes.  Or that it mattered. It’s probably easiest to look at this with some example tags.   Use the Magnifying Glass icon and select Tags from the four options at the top.

 

If we type in these five tags:

 

Sketch’ has been used 88.1M times.

Sketchy has been used 1M times.

Sketch daily has been used 877K times

Sketch Architecture had been used 12.8K times

Sketch Buildings has been used 20 times

 

So which to use?  The most popular ones, surely.  Maybe not.  Probably not.

 

We want our posts to appear on the Top Post page as close to the top as possible.  Then people who don’t know our account exists can see our post, and hopefully follow us.  But if that tag has been posted to over 88M times, the competition to get into the top 9 spots is pretty fierce.  And you want to stay there for as long as possible. If we post to the tag used only 20 times, we have an excellent chance of being in the top 9 and staying there a while – but how many people are going to be searching that tag? 

 

It’s a trade-off.  And it’s obviously also bound up with the mysteries of the algorithm.

 

But my experience is to choose the tags with the highest usage where your post can sometimes appear in the top 10-20 posts for at least a few hours after you post. You have to monitor how the tags are working for you at least some of the time.  Where does your post appear (if at all) in the Top Posts?  I started using tags around the 50 – 300K count.  When I began to appear in the Top Posts consistently for these tags, I changed to tags with a higher usage count.  Now I aim for 300K – 2M most of the time, but occasionally go outside this in either direction. I think of this range as my tag ‘sweet-spot’.  When I monitor tags, I give preference to ones I haven’t tried before, and the ones with the largest usage count. I always wait an hour after posting until I look.

 

But remember that some niche tags with a relatively low usage count may actually generate a much higher level of interest in your work than a much larger, more general tag.

 

What’s your experience?

 

Maybe we should all start posting to #sketchbuildings

 

If the tags I use keep changing, I will need a wide (but relevant) supply of them.  Next Blog I’ll share some of the ways I find new tags.

This is the spot we want - highlighted in the Tag title.

This is the spot we want - highlighted in the Tag title.

This was a good day - the first spot in a 3.5M tag. And a rare day.

This was a good day - the first spot in a 3.5M tag. And a rare day.

Things I’ve Learnt About Hashtags #1

InstagramStephen Travers

Use all 30 Hashtags, Every Time

 

Why wouldn’t we?  If we post on Instagram we must be interested in people seeing our work – or we wouldn’t bother. Hashtags are a way of people who don’t know we exist, finding our posts.  A sort of index, or cross referencing system.  Every tag has the potential to reach someone who may like our work - although some have more potential than others. (They also enable us to connect with other Instagram users. Some of the feeds I follow I found while perusing various hashtag options for my posts). How does an artist in Australia end up with more followers in Moscow or Mexico City than his home town of Sydney?  Hashtags.

 

Two days ago Instagram offered me the chance to participate in a trial which gave me new analytics.  (That’s how I learnt about Moscow and Mexico City).   For my only post since then, it tells me that 117 people saw that post from hashtags, and 34 from Explore, which is partly tag-based.

 

It can seem like a lot of input work at first.  I used to have lists of tags which I chose from, but I have so many in my head now that I tend to just use them randomly.  Takes me 6-7 minutes to attach 30 – but compared to the work I’ve done to create the post, that’s nothing at all.

 

At one stage early on, my new follower growth had hugely dropped, so I decided to use 30 new tags.  It’s not the only factor, but I saw an instant spike in followers with that post.

 

If you think a large block of 30 tags clutters up your post, then do as I do and make the tags a comment. Totally out of sight unless someone looks at your comments, but they work exactly the same way as when attached to the post.

 

The maximum really is 30.  Don’t bother trying to post more.

 

That said, some tags are really a waste of time – and a waste of your 30.  They may be popular, but they give you virtually no chance of anyone seeing your post. Next blog I’ll tell you how I worked out which tags were most likely to make my posts more visible.

Things I’ve Learnt About Drawing #4

Stephen Travers

 ‘I can’t draw ……………’ is not true.

 

One of my biggest problems when I began doing urban sketching was that I can’t draw people or cars. My drawings looked like the zombie apocalypse had come – empty buildings in deserted streets, with the odd stilted-looking body stuck in somewhere!

 

But I’ve come to realise that this is not true.

 

We can all draw everything.

 

There is no difference in drawing a building or a car or a person or a horse.  Each one requires exactly the same skill and technique: We look at a three dimensional object and translate it into a two dimensional drawing using a pencil, pen, charcoal, brush, etc. Each one of them is marks on a piece of paper.

 

So why do we think this?

 

We draw some things better more easily than other things. I think there are three main reasons for this:

1.     Some objects interest us more.  Because of this we observe them more often and with greater care, coming to understand their structure better.  When we draw these things, this ‘accumulated knowledge’, rather than careful observation, guides our work.  (See Blog #1)

2.     Some objects disguise inaccuracies better. A building whose perspective is not quite correct will not be as obvious to most people (except architects) as eyeballs which don’t line up are obvious in a portrait. Most of us have spent a lifetime looking at faces carefully, so if a portrait is not quite right, it is more obvious than the angle of a side wall of a building.

3.     We draw the things which interest us and which give us the ‘best’ result.  So we simply don’t get practise at drawing some things. Our egos are so fragile!

 

So look carefully and practice!  There is nothing inherently different between drawing the Eiffel Tower, a self-portrait, or a tree. It’s all careful observation, and practice!

 

I still find cars a bit tedious to draw in my streetscapes, but I now really enjoy putting people into the picture. No more zombie apocalypses.

I couldn’t draw this scene until I got over my fear of trying to draw figures - they are so much a part of the story. So the photo sat around for about six months waiting…………

I couldn’t draw this scene until I got over my fear of trying to draw figures - they are so much a part of the story. So the photo sat around for about six months waiting…………

Trees can bring their own challenges to the urban landscape genre. Maybe a blog subject in itself.

Trees can bring their own challenges to the urban landscape genre. Maybe a blog subject in itself.

Things I’ve Learnt Drawing #3

Stephen Travers

Drawing Interior Lighting

 

I thought this was one of those ‘too hard’ subjects to draw. (More on this next blog).

 

But I love the interiors as much as the outsides of the grand buildings and wanted to capture something of them in drawing for the same reasons I love to draw the exteriors.  In fact, there are often greater possibilities in shadow and form inside a building.

 

Here’s some of what I’ve learnt:

 

Examine the subject carefully and identify all the light sources – interior and exterior.  Work out what the brightest lit part of the interior will be and where that light comes from. Be aware that sometimes the objects immediately around a light source on the page may be some distance away in life and therefore not lit by it at all. (E.g., a ceiling).

 

Outline any area which will stay pure white.  This also reminds me to take care when my pencil approaches these areas.

 

Sort out where the darkest shadows will be.  I think the most dramatic drawings are done when virtually the entire drawing is in some shadow, from very light to very dark.

 

I do a 3h pencil outline of the main details of the scene.  (I find 3H doesn’t smudge when I later rest my hand on it).  This then lets me concentrate solely on getting the relative shadows correct and not having to worry about line placement at the same time.

 

I like to create my shadows using line, rather than tone. Either, or both, is fine, but I think it helps the cohesiveness of the finished work to make a deliberate choice.

 

One way to approach the shading is to lightly shade the whole drawing except the brightest highlights and then keep adding shading to the darker areas until it all comes into place. Keep adjusting until it’s right.  (But you’ll have to be careful not to smudge previous linework). A little eraser work can help re-establish areas of brightness if necessary.  I have attached a few of my favourite interior-lighting drawings below which to illustrate what I’ve been saying.

 

Remember that perspective is just as important inside a building as outside.

 

If you’ve never tried this subject before, give it a go!  You get better at whatever you practice.

Today’s Instagram post which prompted this blog.  Note how the closest chandelier is really just suggested with some curly strips.  As in life, the bright light draws the eye.

Today’s Instagram post which prompted this blog. Note how the closest chandelier is really just suggested with some curly strips. As in life, the bright light draws the eye.

In this Notre Dame interior, the main light effect is across the middle of the drawing from the chandeliers, but there was also the secondary light source of the celestory windows high in the nave walls to consider.

In this Notre Dame interior, the main light effect is across the middle of the drawing from the chandeliers, but there was also the secondary light source of the celestory windows high in the nave walls to consider.

In this drawing of a chandelier in Notre Dame, I drew most of the chandelier by negative space (See Blog #2). Then I added the bracket lines into the spaces I’d created, starting with the closest.  Half the actual detail was left out, but the effect was satisfactory. Trying to draw the actual chandelier arms would have been impossible for me on the scale of this drawing.

In this drawing of a chandelier in Notre Dame, I drew most of the chandelier by negative space (See Blog #2). Then I added the bracket lines into the spaces I’d created, starting with the closest. Half the actual detail was left out, but the effect was satisfactory. Trying to draw the actual chandelier arms would have been impossible for me on the scale of this drawing.

Things I’ve learnt about drawing #2

Stephen Travers

 

Negative Space

 

As I mentioned at the end of Blog #1, negative space is the space between objects.

It’s easy to focus just on the positive spaces – the objects we’re drawing -  but the in-between spaces are often more helpful to us when we draw.  They have exactly the same shape as the positive space, but if we use them to copy we are forced to observe much more carefully.

 

I have attached two images of a sketch of the Grand Palais.  The second shows a close up of the statue of the horse’s rearing front legs.  I was dreading that section of the sketch as I struggle drawing horses. (Of course, the idea that some subjects are too hard for us is nonsense.  While some subjects may be more complex, the principles of drawing are the same for every subject.  The problem is in our head, not our art – maybe another blog).

 

So I deliberately chose to use only negative space.  It wasn’t a horse I told myself, it was a dark hedge making shapes and so I copied the shapes – especially that triangular wedge between the horses legs.  I kept adjusting the shapes until they matched the shapes in the photo, and when I had finished suddenly horse’s legs had appeared without trying to draw horse’s legs! Does this make sense?  I now use negative space for all statue groupings within pediments (the large triangular shape usually above a row of columns at the front of a building). I draw the shapes between the (often crowded) statues – shapes which are often in shadow – and the statues just appear without any effort.  If I try and draw the statues, I always make them too big. Give it a go. 

 

This works the same with any subject.  It is even more straightforward with buildings.  Don’t look at the building – find the shapes – the square, triangles, parallelograms, etc., - and make sure those shapes have the same proportions and angles in your drawing. It is careful observation before you draw.  Use the shapes between the objects to help you disconnect your preconceptions of what you think the buildings look like, to observe what how they really are. If two buildings create a narrow triangular wedge between them against the sky, draw that wedge shape rather than drawing the buildings. 

 

I really enjoy the principles of perspective (and every urban sketcher should try to understand them), but if we draw what we see we don’t even have to understand them for our drawing to be perfect!

 

Why not try some negative space drawing!

 

(If it works for you, let me know via DM on Instagram)

© Stephen Travers 2019

 

Grand Palais Detail.jpg
Grand Palais sketch with equestrian statue drawn by negative space.

Grand Palais sketch with equestrian statue drawn by negative space.

Things I’ve Learnt About Drawing #1

Stephen Travers

In my experience, drawing is 90% careful observation, and 10% graphic work.

 

Our habit seems to be to have a quick look at something, and then look down and start to draw.  Problem is we have not really taken in what is in front of us. So we draw what we think we’ve seen, which can be more about our pre-(mis)-conceptions, rather than what is actually before us. 

 

Get a difficult line drawing – say a detailed portrait – to copy.  But place it upside down, and copy it upside downDo not look at either until you are finished. This scrambles the familiar object of a face, and forces us to look much more carefully as we copy.  We have to copy the lines and because they don’t make much sense upside down, we are less likely to draw what we think we presume an eye, nose, or mouth look like.  We have to look more carefully and reference the lines off each other, rather than just putting them where we know (or rather think!) they go.  I have led about 100 people (mostly not artists at all) in this exercise and they are always amazed at what they and the others have drawn).

 

But it’s the same for whatever we are drawing.  Perspective angles are particularly relevant to this point.  We put them more where we feel they are, rather than by careful observation drawing them accurately.  I’m often afraid of placing perspective lines at too extreme an angle – which means I get to draw them 3 or 4 times while I slowly increase them to the angle I saw in the first place but was too timid to use!

 

Drawing the space between objects rather than the objects is another great way to side-step drawing what we think we know rather than what we see.  If the angle or shape between objects is not the same in life and in our drawing, then the objects we have drawn are not right. (These spaces are called ‘negative space’, and are important enough for a separate blog).

 

Hope it’s helpful.

 

© Stephen Travers

Past The 20%

ReflectionsStephen Travers

There is no more dangerous time in an artwork – for me anyway – than when it’s about 20% done. I’m still trying to establish whatever needs establishing – line, shape, tone, colour, brushwork, composition – or all of the above – but it is probably still just imprecise outlines, blotches and ‘not quite right’ colours and tones in not quite the right places. These all combine forces to shout at me, ‘This is never going to turn out, this is a waste of time, you can’t do this, this is rubbish, YOU are rubbish!'

At this point, the desire to flee from this tirade, and do something ‘useful’, such as peg the washing on the clothesline, can be very strong. But I’m learning to say sternly to myself, ‘You can’t judge the artwork yet! It needs the other 80% to come together. Obviously, there’s no guarantee I will be satisfied with the finished piece, but when I am, I continue to be amazed when I think back to the 20%, ‘run, run, run away!’ stage which has accompanied most works.

The other night I began a line drawing from a photo taken on our recent holiday. I muddled for half an hour, thought it was rubbish and I was kidding myself; but at that stage it was too late to hang the washing, so I went to bed. With the optimism of a new morning, and because I’d not packed it away, I thought I’d give it a little more time, and it fell into place quickly and quite easily. (See below) The truth is, I’d done the hard, unrewarding part the night before.

So I remind myself to push through the early hack, unrewarding stage, regardless of how I feel. Not to let fear, doubt, insecurity and tiredness dictate what I attempt or finish, but let my hopes and desires do that!

Embankment Trees & Rooftop Gardens - Paris 7/8/18

Embankment Trees & Rooftop Gardens - Paris 7/8/18

Any % is Better than 0%

ReflectionsStephen Travers

I always have so many reasons why now is not the best time. In a few days/weeks/months/years I’ll be less-tired/less- busy/less-distracted. Especially because I really want to do a good job. Especially with art where people will probably have to see it. (Curse you, visual art!) So much fragile ego at stake. What others think of me. What I think of myself.

For much of my life this has meant that usually I do 0%. Because in the world in which I live, it is never the ideal time to do anything. Myriad possibilities and responsibilities and conflicts attack from all sides. All the time.

But days/weeks/months/years slip by. So unintendedly. As a result I’ve learnt if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth making a start. Any start. I won’t wait until I can afford the better quality brushes/canvasses/paints. Until I properly organise my equipment/space/time. Until I have read the books and watched the YouTube tutorials. Because if my art is really worth doing, doing half as much as I’d have liked, not quite as well as I’d have hoped, will always be better than nothing.

I can’t say this is exactly what I’d hoped to write, but as now isn’t really a good time to write it, it’s the best I can do.