Before I go into this subject, I want to make one point which for me is crucial - mistakes don't equal failure! (And by the way, failure too is not as bad as we're often made to believe - but that's another discussion). Mistakes are an integral part of any artist's journey.
However, when tackling an important project or striving for flawless artistic expression, minimizing errors becomes paramount. In this blog post, I delve into the realm of ink drawing and provide you with practical tips to help you avoid mistakes altogether and empower you to create with confidence and precision.
Maybe you've seen some of my drawings and thought they were perfect. Believe me, they're far from it. Even my best drawing is littered with tiny mishaps. I see them happening all through the process, but I decide not to let them hinder me because I know that, in the end, they will be insignificant.
So I've put this list of tips together for you, not to make you believe that it is possible to achieve perfection and to make you chase it, but to help you build your confidence and develop a process of your own that will allow you to materialise your vision.
Following on from my previous blog post about what would happen if I messed up my precious drawings, here is the strategy I have developed over the years to avoid making massive mistakes.
Avoiding mistakes in ink drawing - Real disaster prevention
Have a look around your workspace and ask yourself what is the absolute worst that can happen. Sure, earthquakes, meteorites and alien invasions are always a possibility, but apart from that, here are some scenarios that are within your control:
Don't place your coffee, tea, or water cup anywhere near your work surface. Difficult, I know, but from my own experience this is one of the biggest hazards in the studio. I place my tea cup on a different table and yes, most often I get so immersed in the art making that I forget about it and end up drinking it cold and in one gulp just before leaving the studio. Not great, but at least I don't have to agonise about how to integrate a big brown splash within a black and white line drawing.
Shield your work-in-progress from unexpected waterworks and mischievous gusts of wind, by making sure it is not too close to an open window, a tap, or any other water sources.
Beware the unforgiving critique of nature's winged artists leaving their 'doodles' on your unprotected ink drawing. Keep your work covered overnight or when taking a long break.
Keep your pets at a safe distance, or if possible, out of the studio or room in which you work. I have a very curious cat who visits me now and again. He is very fond of cardboard boxes, either to sleep in or to tear to pieces, or both, so I make sure he always has one to keep him entertained while I work. I don't let him get too close to my drawings in progress (tempting though it is for charming photo opportunities).
Know your medium!
As I said before, mistakes are essential in the learning process, because they provide knowledge that you cannot acquire just from listening to other people’s advice. The path to skill mastery is PRACTICE and there is no way around it. That path is paved with mistakes, and that’s a good thing, not a reason to avoid it. So,
Allow yourself to make mistakes. The more, the better. Through experimentation you will make friends with your chosen medium, you will understand what works for you and what doesn't, what paper is best, what drawing tools are best, how they behave together etc.
If expensive materials intimidate you, start with cheap ones that you won't mind 'ruining'. But be aware that inexpensive materials will behave differently from professional-grade ones.
When you feel ready to experiment with 'the good stuff', don't go straight into a final project. For example, use smaller bits of that same paper (or whatever size you're comfortable with) to test different types of mark-making and to see how it interacts with different pencils, inks, watercolours etc.
Use the tools that work for you. It's great to know a wide range of media, but you will always feel more comfortable with some than others. I love my 'artistic comfort zone'. I push its limits a tiny bit with every project, but I'm still inside it, and that makes me feel secure while knowing that I'm also developing and making progress.
The sketchbook is an artist’s playground, and nobody cares about the mess that happens there because its purpose is experimenting and learning. Final projects, of course, are a different story and for me one of the best strategies for preventing mishaps is planning.
Prepare by finding different references for your subject, making sketches, experimenting with different compositions.
Use props, like pencil guidelines, rulers, triangles, or any other instruments that will make your work easier and safer and make you feel more confident. It's not cheating, it's just part of the trade.
If you are about to start working on a very delicate or important area of your project (like the cat whiskers in my drawing below), try it out on a separate sheet of paper. Understand in advance the range of motions you’ll need to perform and train your hand to be able to do them easily and predictably.
Take into account how your pictures might deteriorate with time. Use archival materials if you want your artworks to have a longer life, and store them safely, away from direct sunlight . If you work with paper, use gloves or wash your hands as often as possible to prevent the oils in the skin damaging the paper.
Get in the zone!
You are about to enact one of the most amazing human abilities: art-making. Creating something out of nothing. How cool is that?! This cosmic awesomeness deserves to be met with a proper atmosphere, so make sure your work environment is as pleasant as possible and allows you to focus.
Calm yourself, forget about the outside world and its distractions, regulate your breathing. Sometimes just a few deep breaths are enough to get your body in the right state. If meditation is your thing, do it.
Listen to music if it helps you relax and it’s not too distracting. When I work on certain areas of my drawings that are rather repetitive, I love listening to audiobooks or podcasts. I love to read, but nowadays I spend most of my waking hours in the studio, so I don’t have as much time as I wish for reading. Audiobooks are a great solution for me. I especially like to listen to books that I have already read in print, because it’s like a whole new experience and the fact that I already know the plot allows the right amount of concentration for both tasks. (By the way, I am terrible at multi-tasking but somehow these two activities together really work for me)
Just do it! This might sound a bit like circular thinking but, sometimes the act of artmaking itself is the best way to ‘get in the zone’. That’s why you shouldn’t overthink, just grab a piece of paper and a pen, and spend a couple of minutes drawing some lines, crosshatching or doodles and you’ll start to feel the magic happening. If you’re anything like me, the mere act of holding a pen is enough to get the excitement and creative mojo going.
Finally, remind yourself what a joy and privilege it is to be able to bring something into existence, to materialise a thought, to give shape to an emotion. This creative power is your gift from the stars, waiting for you to allow it to manifest. Let it flow, be open and grateful for whatever it brings, greet your creation with kindness, but also with a clear mind. So what if it's not perfect? Love it for what it is, clarify in your mind what could be improved, and start planning how to do it better next time.
Got any other ideas for avoiding mistakes in ink drawing, to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments!
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