What ‘Abstract’ Teaches Us About God’s Intention for Design and Art

Netflix’s illuminating new series, Abstract: The Art of Design, documents the lives, designs and dreams of the some of the great innovators of our time—from graphic artists to automotive designers, illustrators to interior designers. The first season is available to stream, and you absolutely should.

Each breath-taking, provocative and intentional piece of work featured in the series showcases the depth and diversity of human creativity at its finest. Where Abstract shines most, however, is in its ability to pose deeper questions about the metaphysical functions of design, art and beauty—which, as theologian John de Gruchy writes in Christianity, Art and Transformation, “characterizes the form of ultimate reality … the essence of God’s glory.”

Here are eight major takeaways about God’s intention for art and design from Abstract’s featured artists and designers: (Read more)

You can’t make sense of the way a thing [is] without understanding what it’s [for]

A friend of mine has an interesting spoon. (Bear with me.) Its slightly larger than a teaspoon and has a large hole in the middle, making it incapable of holding—let alone carrying—the sort of substance that typically requires a spoon. My friend keeps it in his sugar bowl, waiting for unsuspecting guests to attempt productive engagement with it. Some will quietly (but unsuccessfully) persevere with it, not wanting to make a fuss and assuming the fault must somehow lie with them. Others will immediately declare the spoon is ridiculous and insist on something better suited to the task at hand.

The spoon, it turns out, is actually an olive spoon. The hole in the middle is to drain the fluid as you lift the olive to your mouth. And so the lesson for us is this: You can’t make sense of the way the spoon [is] without understanding what it’s [for]. (Read more)

Let’s Simplify, 01

If you’re just starting out then my recommendation is: use references and you can trace over them. Go to unsplash.com and grab some. Don’t be discouraged by people that say tracing is cheating (just ignore them). As long the photo is free to use then you have nothing to worry about. If you have a camera you can take your own photo (do whatever is best/convenient for you). Right now don’t worry about line weight; just trace! It doesn’t have to match the reference perfectly as shown in the skull example above (blue circle).  When simplifying, think BIG. Think essence and likeness. It’s not about capturing every single detail. In the skull example above, the one in the far right is overkilled. The one on the far left almost look like a skull. The one in the middle is a skull. Remember, you’re the artist and you decide how you want to simplify it. As long as it looks like what you’re trying to capture then it’s good enough.

This was a little more challenging for me initially. Especially the mist and water. How do you simplify water? Do you leave it empty? I tried that but it didn’t look like anything I had in mind: is it a desert or a dry land? Hard to tell. There might be other ways to simplify water but the only way I know as of this writing is these wavy/curvy/zigzag lines. If you’re detail oriented you might be tempted to detail the grass and land but don’t. Remember that what you’re doing is renewing and training your mind to not be overly critical.

Remember to have fun!

Let’s Simplify!

Art supposed to be fun! But unfortunately, a lot of us, myself included, have a mind that is wired to see details and question every s-i-n-g-l-e thing, so much so that we are paralyzed by it. We can’t proceed until we have answers to our questions. In one sense, it is good to have such a mind, ones that questions everything and tries to get to the bottom of things; it is how we learn and discover new things. So for now, put away that critical mind that questions and challenges everything. And let’s have some fun with art. Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has a unique way and style of doing things. Some are better with figure drawing while others are more versed in landscapes. And here’s the thing: What you learn in one field can be carried on to the next, so nothing is wasted. Times spent learning to simplify things will help you later on when you get into logo design (for example). Furthermore, we all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all can improve!

Also, don’t worry about correct perspective because perspective in art is very recent. Egyptian and cave arts had no perspective. I love Van Gogh’s paintings but guess what? Perspective looks off! Don’t worry about line weight, “Should this line be bigger or smaller? And why?” You can use just one line weight throughout. And guess what? The famous Tintin comic used only one line weight, this style is called “ligne claire” or “Clear Line.” Google it and learn something new.

Correct perspective and line weight can always come later. For now, have fun. I’ll do some walkthrough later.

Learning to Simplify

Recently while walking down the street, I looked ahead of myself and saw a tree with many small rocks around it on the ground. Overall it was a beautiful sight and I imagined myself outlining the scene. I asked myself: Where would I start? Do I outline everything? Every rock? Every details and lines? I told myself that that would be complicated with just lines alone. Sure, if I were sketching it it might be easy with shading and so on. Then it dawned on me, “Who says that I have to outline every single rock? If my goal is to get everything down, I might as well take a photo!” Right? I love teaching moments like this. What you include is just as important as what you would leave out and vice-versa. In design, there’s a concept called “negative space.” Imagine a piece of design or art with absolutely no empty space. Look around you and notice that good designs have empty spaces in them. Sometimes, a lot! How about music? Can you imagine musics with no silence or pause in between notes? Why can’t visual artists do the same?

I’ll give examples later on. In the meantime this is a great introduction: How to Simplify and Sketch Buildings. When you’re out on the street and have only 7 minutes to capture what you see, the art of simplifying will be of great help.

Pure White Canvas

“In the real world there’s no such thing as a white piece of paper. Even if the paper was a perfect diffuse reflector with no flaws, the colour is still determined by the lighting. You won’t get a perfect light source that will give you a perfect distribution of chromatically perfect light across your perfect diffuse piece of paper. So in ArtRage we add some chaos to the creative process with a rendered light source across imperfect paper.” — AndyRage

ArtRage is known for giving you that natural painting look. And since it’s a painting tool, it seeks to mimic what you would see in the real world of painting by giving you a specialized Canvas with grain and lightning.

If you’re like me and want a pure white canvas (for digital sketching), here’s what you do: Menu [View] –> Canvas Settings and you’ll get a box that looks like that (I’m using version 5). Uncheck “Canvas Lightning.” That’s it. Click on the Canvas Color and change it to white because by default it’s not 100% pure white. When the lightning is off you can choose any color for your Canvas and it’ll be flat.

Simple Forms

To draw the human figure well from imagination you must first be able to draw the simple forms of construction — the sphere, box, cylinder and cone — from memory, in any position and combination. The famous Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens said that “you can draw anything using a sphere, box, and cone.” These simple volumes are the foundation of good figure drawing, and are the fundamental tools of figure construction. These “tools” not only help you to draw the figure from imagination but to see the forms of the model. A portfolio will almost automatically be rejected if the figures inside do not have a clear sense of volume and unambiguous space based on model observation. —  Glenn Vilppu

Think Like an Artist

“For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he…” — Proverbs 23:7 NKJV
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” — John 17:17 NKJV

I was just thinking about renewing the mind and how ‘how we think’ affects what we do and how we do it. The Bible talks a lot about renewing the mind. Christians are to think like Jesus and to have His mind. If we want to live right, we must think right. Wrong thinking equals wrong living. Christians spend most of their lives renewing/sanctifying their minds—it’s that important!

Awhile back I came across a book titled, “Think Python: How to Think like a Computer Scientist.” It is a very interesting title and it is also true that to be a great programmer you need to learn to think like a Computer Scientist because to do certain things (programming in this case) you must think a certain way. Different craft requires different mindset and a way of thinking that is unique to that field, and if you want to be successful you must put on the mindset that is relevant to whatever field you’re in.

As artists, we must learn to see and simplify things. When an artist draws a figure, he sees shapes and forms. A neck isn’t a neck to him, but a tube/cylinder. To grow as an artist, we must grow in our thinking and understanding as artists.

Brainstorming and Ideation in ArtRage

I customized the Ink Pen tool and made two custom presets just to try out concept thumbnailling later on. Was fooling around and I really like what I’m seeing. Looks like ArtRage will be my primary app for painting, sketching etc…

Two layers. Outline and Color with Multiply blending mode.

Trying out the Sticker Spray [Modern] brush (Left), and the Gloop Pen (Right).

A quick sketch using the Sticker Spray brush with “Modern” preset.

ArtRage 5

I just got myself ArtRage 5 with a good discount (upgraded from ArtRage Lite that came with my Intuos Draw). Haven’t got a chance to really play with it yet but upon loading it I am VERY impressed with the improvement of the new interface (GUI)! And I know that it’ll only get better from here on. The old interface is still there but I prefer this new mode. I’m a minimalist and flat/clean design is what I prefer the most.

Shapes, Lines and Angles

I have a habit of getting straight to the details, but to grow as an artist, we need to learn to think in term of shapes, lines and angles. If you imagine and see yourself drawing a person, then it can be difficult. But if you see them as big shapes and lines then the process becomes much easier.  So that’s what I’m trying to train my mind to do. Find yourself references of poses and break them down into shapes and lines in your mind and then block out those shapes. Keep at it and move at a quick pace. Use big brush and erase here and there if you need to, but don’t focus on the details. Once you improve in this area you can do a lot of thumbnailling later on.

Relax Sketch

Just some doodling before bedtime. Make sure to have fun! Don’t worry if it doesn’t always look right. Exaggerate and make things up, and relax a little bit. Don’t be too serious. Spend an hour doodling and then pick the ones you like.

Find Color Theory In Nature

I was at the Library today skimming through a random book I picked on Color. Here’s something interesting to consider when you’re out there exploring God’s creation.

Much of what is relevant in color theory is revealed in what we see around us. If you delve into nature photography like I do, you’re privy to seeing color theory play out in the plants, the sky, the weather, and animal life. No photographer had to arrange the scene—it’s simply there for the viewing. You’ll see a great deal of analogous colors, such as different hues of greens and yellows in grassy plants and even among animals that blend in with their backgrounds. You’ll also be able to identify colors that contrast greatly against each other, such as bright, energetic red, yellow, and orange flower petals that vibrate against darker greens, reds, and browns. Different layers of the landscape will reveal different relationships between color that we can reference with knowledge of color theory.

The next time you are out shooting nature—oriented images, spend some time concentrating on observing how basics of color theory are all around you. Key in on this imagery, and you’ll appreciate working with color even more than you already do. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to visit the great outdoors to study color theory with a camera in hand. You can put theory to practice in any setting! But nature has done a lot of the color composition for you and has plenty to teach about what works.

Jerod Foster (Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Directing the Eye, Creating Visual Depth, and Conveying Emotion)

Kid’s Art and the Glory of God

As a Father of a couple of kids 6 and under I am frequently given gifts. These gifts are precious and priceless works of art. My children will spend significant time to go and get their paper and crayons to make me a picture. Then they run to me with the picture in hand and simply say, “Here Daddy, I made this.” I hold it up and admire it. Often I will ask questions and they answer in surprising detail about their intentions with their marks. There is no question: they made this artwork with intentionality. They want to share it with me.

I have been studying the book of Genesis lately and was struck with the parallel in creation. The Bible repeatedly says in chapter 1 that what God made was good. God looks at what he made with approval. It is good. He also wants to share its goodness. Psalm 19 tells us that the creation declares God’s glory. It is pouring forth speech about him as the glorious Creator of everything. (Read more)

6 Photographers, 1 Man, and 6 Perspectives

A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what’s in front of it. To prove this we invited six photographers to a portrait session with a twist. ‘Decoy’ is one of six experiments from The Lab, designed to shift creative thinking behind the lens.

Mischief

I’m in the process of looking for and trying out some drawing apps. SketchBook seems like a great app but I’m not for “subscription” so that is not an option for me. I’m left with ArtRage Lite (comes with Intuos Draw tablet) and Mischief. At the moment I’m only looking for something simple that allows me to focus on just sketching and brainstorming. Mischief seems to be the right fit for me at the moment.

 

A great collection of Human Skulls

In this pack we included 54 images of real human skulls that look awesome in dark style designs or as reference shots. Includes everything from fetal skulls to creepy decrepit skulls. All images are high resolution on a black background. Enjoy!

As with all of our resources, personal and commercial use is welcomed and encouraged!

Vectorizing Practice #1

I threw my old Intuos Draw tablet out after a basement flood. Today I got myself another one (Intuos Draw) and decided to really explore Affinity Designer’s capability. Keep in mind that I have never drawn hair or done any vector work before. So as you can see, this is a big challenge for me, the hair especially! To help myself out I picked a photo and started tracing right from the start. Not sure where I’m going with this but I’ll see where it leads me. When it comes to vector and doing this kind of work, I see that you have to learn to simplify things, something I’m still learning.

How to Get Better at Drawing: 10 Things that Worked… (20 minutes)

…by markcrilley (YouTube):

  1. Draw regularly: Every day, if you can.
  2. Drawing from life is ideal. Drawing with the assistance of photo reference is common among professionals. Very few artists can draw anything they want to, flawlessly, entirely from memory.
  3. Do studies (careful copies) of drawings you admire, to unlock the secrets of how those drawings were made.
  4. Try looking at the thing you’re drawing as an abstract arrangement of shapes, composed of lines at various angles.
  5. Pay attention to the level of contrast in your drawings: darks vs. lights.
  6. Get your art supplies at a real art store. Experiment until you find the pencils, paper, etc that suit you.
  7. Learn the three different systems of perspective: 1-point, 2-point, and 3-point.
  8. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and draw in different styles.
  9. Don’t expect progress to occur in a matter of weeks, or even months.
  10. If comparing your art to that of other people is bringing you down, then stop doing it. Your work doesn’t need to win contests, impress people, or be “conventionally beautiful.”

The Beginning of Wisdom

With all of this experience as a backdrop, let me ask you a couple of questions. If I can’t expect my children to create masterpieces on canvas when they do not know and submit to the rules and principles of oil painting, how can we expect to make masterpieces of our lives without knowing and submitting to the laws and principles of life? If I can’t expect my mechanic to make wise decisions about the maintenance of my car without first knowing how the car works, how can I expect to make wise decisions about my family and finances without first knowing the laws and principles that govern these important arenas of life?

Let me take it one excruciating step further. How do you expect to make a masterpiece of your life if you are unwilling to surrender to the Author of life—the One who knows which textures and colors are best blended for the outcome you desire? How do you expect to make wise decisions regarding your family, marriage/love life, and career if you are not willing to submit to the promptings of the One who knows more about those things than you or I ever will? (Read more)