Course Introduction

Becoming an artist involves more than being able to draw well. A piece of art conveys information about an object, an emotion, an idea or an opinion in a visual way using skill, knowledge and creativity.

Almost without exception a work of art is a combination of creativity and skill in varying quantities and it is impossible to separate where one ends and the other begins. This sliding scale tips with every piece of work and indeed artist, some reliant on technical ability more than others to communicate their thoughts and ideas whereas for others, it is the idea itself that is the priority. A piece of art work is subjective, never wrong as long as the intention of the artist is honourable. If ten people were set the same task, the outcome would vary wildly, everyone sees differently and so everyone will work differently. Similarly, as a viewer, a piece of art work will light a fire of emotion in some and be totally lost on others.

Creativity is within everyone and the methods of unlocking and channelling this differs from person to person. As a child it feels so natural to paint and draw, yet as we reach adulthood the value is lost and it is thought to be only a pleasurable pursuit or a hobby. To be creative is to be different, making something unique and never seen before which can be a daunting prospect when society often dictates we follow rules and creativity encourages us to break them.

Creativity accesses a piece of us that is not usually part of our daily lives. What makes you want to create, and what happens to us when we do? Making art is an intellectual pursuit and some say spiritual that connects with our soul. Art is as much about personal development and problem solving, as it is learning a skill.

The balance between technique and creativity is different for every artist and is something that will feel right when it happens.

As the course progresses, it encourages independence of thought as finding your own way is vital to your development. Producing art is a journey with ups and downs and perseverance is often the key to success.

This course assumes a certain level of interest with the premise that you want to develop your skills as much as possible. There are over three hundred examples of art work throughout this course that relate to the corresponding section in some way and serve as an inspiration; refer to the list of illustrations at the end of the introduction to each module to further research those pieces that interest you.

Expose yourself to as much art in all its forms as possible, visit galleries, libraries, stop and look at public art, perhaps spending a few minutes studying that local statue you walk past everyday on your way to work. Look around you at architecture, both modern and period and use the internet which is a great resource for research.

To become an artist at whatever level you wish, you must not isolate yourself from the vast history of art; understand the artist’s intensions before judging, what is the purpose of the piece, why have they made it, to educate, to comment, to decorate? This course cannot teach enthusiasm, commitment and dedication, which is up to you and only you.

The main Elements of art are explored;

Shape, Line, Tone, Form, Space, Colour and Texture

An element of art is a building block on to which creativity and knowledge are added.

These elements are fundamental to any art practice and therefore an excellent place to begin. The elements of art are often used in conjunction with one another but before combining them, this course deals with each element separately, enabling you to recognise the value of each and the knowledge of how and when to use them effectively. The elements to be studied are listed at the end of the introduction each lesson in the first two modules. The list of elements is variable; some artists include value, which is similar to tone, or pattern for example.

This course builds a foundation of skills based on 2D art practices, starting with simple techniques that are gradually combined and improved. Module 1 and 2 focus on studying technical skills whilst module 3 and 4 incorporate creativity and imagination.

All modules use a popular artistic subject as a basis for the work:

Module 1 - Drawing - using the subject matter of:

Still Life

  • Development of basic skills in handling dry black and white media
  • Observation techniques with line drawing
  • One and two point perspective with geometric forms
  • Creating tone and the illusion of 3D through sensitive use of materials


Module 2Colour - using the subject matter of:

Natural Form

  • Colour theory, colour relationships and its uses
  • Studying the structure of natural forms through accurate observational drawing
  • Drawing with colour
  • Introduction to paint techniques

Module 3Explore and Create! - using the subject matter of:

Interior and Exterior Landscape

  • Investigate subject and develop recording skills
  • Composition, and planning a good image
  • Experimentation with materials and techniques and imagination
  • Plan and produce a final piece


Module 4Refine and Develop - using the subject matter of:

The Human Form

  • Proportion and bone structure, the head and self portrait
  • Drawing the whole body, life drawing
  • Creativity, expression and abstraction
  • How to find your subject matter and progressing as an artist in your own right

Creating an artist’s habitat

Finding a space to work can be one of the first concerns facing an artist starting out. Ideally, find a private space where all materials can be left out without fear of them being disturbed so you can return in the next session and just continue from where you left off. There is nothing more off putting than if you have to spend time every session unpacking and subsequently clearing up all of your kit especially if you only want to work for a short period of time.

A working area can be carved out of even the smallest space in the form of a desk in a corner of a room, or you may have a whole spare room, even a shed that can be turned into a studio. What is important is that you have a space that is given over to your art work and the mess it potentially creates. It is possible to fit a curtain around the area or cover it up with a sheet so it can be closed off without the need of clearing up every time you finish work. Fit a dust sheet or protective membrane over your floor covering as you do not want your work and therefore your creativity to be inhibited by the concern that you might ruin your carpet with a splash of paint.

Photo by Dan Cook

Once you have a space to work, how do you organise it?

The less space you have available, the more organised storage you will need. Most of the recommended materials should fit into a small tool box although additional containers may be required for charcoal and pastels that can be quite fragile and get crushed. Shelves are a very useful method of storage, with everything visible and accessible but out of the way of working. Brushes, which are best stored upright in a glass jar, sketchbooks, found objects and box files containing small sketches and magazine clippings, can all be stored on a shelf. A desk or flat working surface is also essential and the size again will be determined by the overall space.

It is important to differentiate this space from the rest of the house and make you feel creative and inspired every time you enter the space.

The artist’s inspiration

Ideas for a subject matter need to come from somewhere and whilst we can imagine stepping into a beautiful valley or having a model to draw and paint permanently on hand, this is practically impossible. Question what is beautiful or aesthetically pleasing, does it have to be what is traditionally accepted as a subject for art work? Appreciate the look of the world, wherever that may be, urban or rural. Strip things down and see them in terms of their basic elements; shape, colour, texture and form.

Do those railings create an interesting subject against the trees behind?

Are we conditioned through our culture as to what we find beautiful?

Interesting ‘found’ objects can inspire creativity as much as the sublime and surrounding yourself with them can only help this process and prevent you from getting stuck or sometimes not knowing where to start.

Photo by Tadeu Jnr

Have a look around your home, go to car boot sales, charity shops or antique markets to find intriguing objects. Look for interesting shapes and textures; keep it simple, it may be the beautiful curve of a handle on an old cracked jug that becomes the starting point for your next piece of work. Take a stroll in the woods and collect fallen twisted bits of wood, dried out seed pods, leaf skeletons and pine cones. Look on the beach for sea glass and old bits of pottery, shells, stones and driftwood or old pieces of rope and fisherman’s netting. Cut out images or blocks of colour from magazines or postcards of paintings and drawings that inspire you. Collect anything that interests you visually, stick them to the wall, make collages and fill glass jars with your finds, which may in turn become subjects in their own right building your work space into a rich source of reference material.