Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.
What Is Visual Art?
Visual artists use different methods and materials to do their work, which is considered visual art. Visual arts is the term for a broad category of creative art activities that are meant to be seen. In other words, they're visual in form. This differentiates them from music or performing arts. Visual art includes a wide range of activities like painting, sculpture, photography, and ceramics. In this lesson, we'll concentrate on three areas: drawing, painting, and printmaking.
Each discipline takes years to master and can be done with many materials. We can't cover everything that might happen, but let's look at each category in a bit more detail. We'll discuss a few common problems beginners might encounter along with possible solutions.
Problems in Drawing
Drawing might seem straightforward, but it's harder than it looks. It's a process that uses a tool like a pencil or pen to leave a mark on a surface like paper. Let's say you're drawing an image in pencil, but it's too light and doesn't have the dark shadows you're trying to achieve. Try using a different pencil. Look for pencils with numbers on them like 2B, 3B, or 6B, where each number is darker than the last. These have softer leads, so they leave darker marks. Still not dark enough? Try a different drawing medium like charcoal, which is basically burnt wood sticks. Charcoal creates a very dark, rich line.
What if your lines are dark and dig into the paper in unattractive ways? In this case, you might be pressing too hard. Use less pressure on the pencil and allow your hand to move freely, varying the line from light to dark for a drawing with more interest.
Here's another common problem: you're making a drawing, but can't get it right, so you erase it. Then, erase it again. The paper begins to wear out, with obvious areas where you've scrubbed it away. Try using thicker paper, or put down the eraser and instead do a series of quick gesture drawings to understand your subject. Erasers can become a crutch. Train your eye to see things without relying on erasing.
Problems in Painting
Artists also encounter problems when painting, and each paint medium has unique challenges. When painting, it helps to understand the medium you're using. Watercolor is water-soluble and transparent. You can apply it in thin washes or dry, brushy lines, but you can't rework it once it's on the paper. On the other hand, oil paint isn't water-soluble and dries slowly. It can be reworked for a long time and is excellent for thick paint applications and blending; but you can't rinse your brushes with water, and it might not be the best choice for quick sketches. Acrylics are water-soluble when wet but dry permanent. They can be used for both thin washes and thick applications of color, but they dry more quickly than oils.
So, let's say you're using watercolors. As you paint, your paper bends and buckles. This is caused by two possible things: too much water and too thin paper. If you see excess water pooling in places, soak it up with a clean paint brush or with the edge of a paper towel. Also, make sure to use thick, good quality watercolor paper; it's designed to be absorbent and work well with this medium.
Here's another possible problem: you're using acrylic paint and trying to blend colors on the canvas, but they dry fast and you're not happy with the results. One solution is to use a substance in the acrylic paint called a retarder that slows the drying time and allows you to work with them longer; but if you really want to have a paint that stays wet and blends well, try oil paints.
Problems in Printmaking
Printmaking involves two steps: preparing a plate or surface to be inked, and applying that plate to paper to create a print. It's more complicated, with plenty of potential problems. For any printing process, make sure your plate has been properly prepared and is ready to be printed. Use the right kind of ink for the process you're using and the right kind of paper. Unclutter your workspace and take your time.
Let's look at a common issue in printmaking when you're printing with woodblocks. A woodblock is a printing plate in which the areas that won't be printed are cut away. To print the plate, you use a roller to ink it and then press it to paper. But, your finished print isn't clean. Some areas are smudged while others are missing ink, leaving gaps in the print.
This problem might have been caused by several things. You might have used uneven printing pressure. When printing, apply consistent pressure to all areas of the plate so the ink lays on the paper evenly. Also, your woodcut might have been unevenly inked. When inking a plate, make sure the ink touches all the printing surfaces. In addition, check your roller to make sure it's clean and clear before you ink it and apply the ink to the plate. A speck of dust can cause gaps in the ink that transfer to your print.
The visual arts is a broad category of art activities that result in something meant to be seen. Common problems in drawing include light lines that can be solved by using softer leads or a medium like charcoal. Problems can also be avoided by not using too much pressure on the drawing tool, and, instead of repeated erasing, try doing some quick gesture drawings to understand the subject better.
When painting, know which medium is the best choice for your project. Watercolors are transparent, oil paints dry slowly, and acrylics dry quickly. If using watercolors, use thick paper and don't use too much water. If working with acrylics and trying to blend, use a retarder to slow drying time.
Printmaking involves two steps: making the plate and making the print. For any printing project, be sure to prepare the plate properly and use the right ink. In woodblock, problems might include prints with smears or gaps. Use consistent pressure when printing the plate. Make sure your ink layer is even, and clear the roller of dust or debris.
We've covered a few possible problems and solutions. It might take repeated attempts to get it right in any process, but remember: we learn from our mistakes. Don't be afraid to experiment!
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