From Amateur to Artist: 5 Essential Fine Art Principles You Need to Know

Five key principles to equip you with the skills and techniques to master fine art drawing or painting.

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Every concept that we will be covering in this complete guide will unlock another tool to empower your artistic exploration.

These fundamental approaches are your absolute foundation, regardless of your chosen medium for representational art.

Whether you draw with pencil, sketch with charcoal or paint with watercolours, making these essential principles a habit to form the basis of your artistic practices will set you up for a lifetime of effortless expression.

 

1. Ensure your Proportions Right Before you add Details

Simply put, this is the relationship between the height and the width of an object.

We’ve all tried drawing a face or a figure that has just turned out… bizarre. Unintentionally, one feature may get exaggerated, making your drawing resemble a caricature rather than the pleasant sketch you were aiming for.

proportion drawing of mug

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How to the proportions of an object:

  1. Lightly draw a line marking the top and bottom of your object and lines either side to represent your objects width
  2. Draw lines to mark the very rough proportion of your object in this space
  3. Then carve outlines to show your objects gesture within its proportions
  4. Spend time observing and making amendments.

But do good proportions always have to be flawlessly accurate? Not always.

Art is an expression, which means you have some room to play. Amplifying features of your proportion with purpose can evoke a different feeling within your viewer.

 

2. Create an Alluring Composition

Your composition is the relationships between objects and how their arrangement.

How to draw the composition of an object:

  1. Choose two or more objects for your subject that are different in size
  2. Arrange them so that they do not appear directly beside each other, or one directly in front of the other – try to aim for one object to be placed closer to you than another to create an interesting set-up from the perspective you will be drawing from
  3. Draw the proportions of your objects to mark your final composition.

 

3. Separating Lights and Darks with Shadow Edges

A shadow-edge is a mark made to represent the shape of where a shadow appears on an object.

Drawing shadow shapes creates a ‘mass drawing’, which is a drawing simplifying the light falling on an object as either light or dark areas (in reality, there are far more ‘values’ – shades in between light and dark).

How to draw shadow edges:

  1. After you’ve drawn your proportions, look at where the light falls on your object and then notice where the light cannot reach, resulting in shadow
  2. Draw light lines roughly where the light begins to turn into shadow on your object
  3. Don’t worry if this is tricky! It may feel different to focus on drawing the lights and darks rather than focusing on adding the details. This comes later.

 

4. Add in Values to Bring your Drawing to Life

If shadow edges are simplified outlines of where dark meets light, values are where you begin to add the shades in between light and dark that bring your drawing to life.

Before you start drawing or painting with value, you’ll need to decide how many values you want to use in your drawing.

value drawing of a jug

Keen to master this fundamental drawing skill? Learn how to draw step by step with the London Fine Art Studios: Fine Arts At Home 3-Part Course Series

Here are some options:

  1. Three Values – A dark tone, mid-tone, a light tone
  2. Four Values – A dark tone, two mid-tones, a light tone
  3. Five Values – A dark tone, mid-dark tone,  mid-tone, mid-light tone, a light tone

You can use these fundamental ideas as your foundation regardless of your chosen medium for representational art.

 

5. Draw in the Viewer with ‘Edges’

You might not have heard of this concept before. Edges are where light meets dark on an object. What differentiates edges to values is that by referring to edges, we are specifying the transition in tone or value, rather than which tone is used itself.

We’ve all tried drawing a face or a figure that has just turned out… bizarre. Unintentionally, one feature may get exaggerated, making your drawing resemble a caricature rather than the pleasant sketch you were aiming for.

edges drawing of a vase

Keen to master this fundamental drawing skill? Learn how to draw step by step with the London Fine Art Studios: Fine Arts At Home 3-Part Course Series

These transitions can be:

  1. Hard – Going from light to dark with an immediate and dramatic transition
  2. Firm – Going from light to dark with a fast transition
  3. Soft – Going from light to dark with a soft and subtle transition
  4. Lost – Going from light to dark so subtly there is a seamless transition

How to create different edges:

  • Creating edges in drawings – experiment with different pencil hardness and degrees of sharpness
  • Creating edges in paintings – experiment with different paintbrushes (brushes with soft hairs and hard hairs) and different brushstrokes (flat and round brushes). 

The way an artist uses edges can affect the mood of a drawing or painting and may signify their particular style.

It’s Not Too Late to Become an Artist

It’s never too late to pick up drawing, painting or whatever it is you choose as your medium. Practising these basics will give you the skills and the freedom to explore your inner artist without getting stuck at every turn.

Here are our tips for making the most of these principles:

  1. Practice repeating exercises – spend 30 minutes creating 5-10 Proportion outlines of objects
  2. Practice every day – once you’ve made 5-10 proportion outlines, draw 5-10 compositions the next day, and go through each technique!
  3. Binge when you’re hungry for it! As well as daily practise, make sure to make the most of when you really feel like drawing. Don’t assume you’ll feel like drawing tomorrow too, sit down and enjoy spending an evening with your art.

London Fine Art Studios:

Fine Arts At Home

3-Part Series of Representational Art Courses

Learn More

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