115 – 5 Quick Tips to improve your artwork and designs
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In this week’s episode, Laura and Nikki share 5 quick tips to help improve your artwork and take it to the next level. We discuss strategies that can help elevate your artwork and set you apart from the crowd and share some really fun tools, websites and products that can help with implementing these techniques!

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Nikki

0:00 Okay, Laura, I hesitate to even start this discussion because art is so subjective, but there are definitely some basic things you can think about to improve pretty much anything you create, aside from the obvious one, which is to just get started and keep making art.

Laura

0:15 So what is it that differentiates a good piece of art from a great piece? What tips will help elevate your artwork to the next level? How can you set yourself apart from the crowd? We’re going to cover all of this in today’s episode. Hi, this is Laura Lee Griffin.

Nikki

0:38 And this is Nikki May with Startist Society, inspiring you to stop getting in your own way and start building an art biz and life that you love.

Laura

0:47 We are artists who believe strongly in the power of community, accountability, following your intuition, taking small actionable steps and breaking down the barriers of fear and procrastination that keep you stuck.

Nikki

0:59 Follow along with us on our creative business journey as we encourage you on yours. Okay, Laura, let’s get right into it. What’s your first tip?

Laura

1:11 Okay, so the first tip is related to one of the biggest mistakes that most beginner artists make. And it’s something that I’ve taught my students for years, both in my live Copic Marker workshops, as well as I have entire lessons on this inside of my mindful mandalas in procreate class, and my Copic Marker essentials class on Skillshare. And that is not to be scared to add contrast to your work. And when I say contrast, I’m talking about two types of contrast. So value contrast, and color contrast. So let’s talk about value contrast first, which is the lightness and darkness in your work. It will literally transform artwork immediately when you get past the fear of putting dark darks and light lights into your work. And if you have everything shown in mid tones, it just won’t pop off the canvas or whatever medium you work in.

Nikki

2:05 And here’s a tip I always hear artists in our teachers recommend that I’ve never actually done myself and I don’t know why. Check your value contrast by taking a photo of your artwork and changing it to black and white. If everything is the same shade of gray, you’re missing your value contrast and you need to start adding darker darks and lighter highlights Do you work?

Laura

2:25 Oh man, I do that one personally all the time, Nikki. And I also have a really cool trick on how to do this in procreate inside of my mindful mandalas course. So we’ll definitely link to that course in the show notes. Okay, the second type of contrast is color contrast with warm and cool tones. Now it’s great to have these colors bounce up against each other. And this could either be by having the colors near each other in an artwork, or using them in layering techniques. So for example, I’ve been using complementary washes of color as a base layer underneath my paintings. And if I’m going to paint, let’s just say an orange flower, which is a warmer tone, I might have a cool teal color beneath it. Or if I’m going to paint a cool toned green leaf, it might have a warm magenta or red color underneath it that peaks through. And this color contrast provides depth and zing and more life to your work.

Nikki

3:24 And really who doesn’t want artwork with zing. But seriously, you also need to think about the fact that secondary colors can either be warm or cool. So for example, greens with more blue are cooler and ones with more yellow are warmer.

Laura

3:43 Yeah, so even if you’re painting or creating, let’s say a surface design pattern that has leaves in it, it’s really great to incorporate both warm and cool green tones, which will make that artwork far more interesting to look at.

Nikki

3:56 Sing.

Laura

3:59 Yes, it seems it does sing, Nikki. So let’s continue with the topic of color for our second tip, which is color harmony. You want to choose a cohesive color palette to create a visually pleasing composition. So just Google color harmony and you’ll find a million lessons on this topic, but you want to avoid mixing colors that turn to mud. Unless of course that’s your jam.

Nikki

4:24 Ooh, mud jam. Yum.

Laura

4:28 Hey, I know Van Gogh went through an entire phase of his life where he painted brown potatoes because there is an entire floor of them in his Museum in Amsterdam. But I digress.

Nikki

4:39 And if you’re not sure what colors look great together, there are plenty of tools online to help you create cohesive color palettes. If you’re an illustrator or surface designer Adobe has some great tools in Illustrator to help select colors that look great together. Their new generative recolor tool has some built in color themes and you can use AI in the tool to write prompts to generate a color palette or you can even have it build a palette from colors in an image you upload.

Laura

5:03 And that is so cool. I haven’t played at all with those new tools yet. I’ve done like the the old recolor tool, but not any of these like generative ones.

Nikki

5:12 They’re super cool.

Laura

5:13 Yeah, I love that. And I’m really looking forward to playing with those.

Nikki

5:16 Yeah, they’re pretty awesome. But sometimes they produce some pretty bizarre results like all of the AI tools out there.

Laura

5:24 Yeah, when people have like six fingers, and seven, legs, and it’s bizarre,

Nikki

5:31 I’d be really happy. If I had like four or six arms, I could get so much more done.

Laura

5:34 Then you could have multiple computers just typing at the same time.

Nikki

5:38 No, I was thinking like, I could be getting snacks, while I was working and grabbing some more bourbon with another arm.

Laura

5:48 I see where your priorities are Nikki. I’m thinking about productivity and you’re thinking about bourbon.

Nikki

5:53 Well yeah.

Laura

5:57 Well, I know with Procreate, you can download color palettes. And there’s a color harmony wheel option inside of its color menu, which is pretty cool. But you can also go super analog and you can run to your local Home Depot or hardware store and grab some of those paint sample booklets that show fad color combinations that go well together. And then you can take those home and match those with your paints or any color palettes you’re using at home.

Nikki

6:22 Wait, you mean go into a store? Who does that?

Laura

6:26 Well, since you don’t even buy your own groceries, I wouldn’t expect this to be your jam.

Nikki

6:31 Yeah, it’s not my mud jam.

Laura

6:36 Okay, so I want to talk about another cool tool and a designer named Sarah Renee Clark created something called the Color Cube. Now she has two of them and I own one of the two cubes.

Nikki

6:49 Of course you do.

Laura

6:50 And it contains 250 cards…

Nikki

6:51 Wait, one of the two or one of each of the two?

Laura

6:56 No, I only own one of the two, not both of them so far, so far. And it contains 250 cards with each card containing a beautiful photo, and then a color palette pulled from that photo. It has the associated tints and shades of each color. And it even gives you the hex codes that go with them. So it’s a really fun challenge to pull a card and then create a piece of art with those colors. Or even just go through and find you know, a particular color palette you really love from the stack of 250. So we will link to this in the show notes so you can see exactly what we’re talking about.

Nikki

7:34 There are also some online tools that do basically the same thing. One is coolers.co. And Adobe also has that functionality built into some of its apps.

Laura

7:44 So I just checked that out for the first time Nikki, it’s coolers. It’s C O O L O R S dot co., or maybe it’s caalors?

Nikki

7:58 Yeah, I’m sure that’s it.

Laura

8:01 So the cooler site even has trending color palettes, which is pretty cool, because you can just see what’s popular right now and you know, pick up on those trends.

Nikki

8:11 Or if you’re me go exactly the opposite direction.

Laura

8:14 Exactly.

Nikki

8:15 Okay, Laura, we could talk about color for decades, but what’s your next tip?

Laura

8:19 Well, tip number three is to simplify. So you want to streamline your artwork by removing any unnecessary elements and allowing the main subject to standout. So let’s say, let’s say you’re painting a picture of a flower and there is a very distracting background in the photo reference that you’re using. You can just leave out the stuff in the background that doesn’t serve the painting. The background police won’t come after you, I promise.

Nikki

8:47 Laura, while I agree in general, and I use this tip for sure in my branding and web design work, for art. I think this one is partly a matter of style and taste. You don’t want a lot of extra crap that doesn’t add to the work, but sometimes all that extra detail is part of what the works about, like in a lot of my drawings, it’s all detail. So don’t be afraid of things being more complex, just make sure it’s there for a reason and adds to the work.

Laura

9:12 Yeah, you must be speaking from experience Nikki because I’m pretty sure your artwork has a heck of a lot of detail in it. And your bus isn’t so simple inside either, is it?

Nikki

9:21 Yeah, well, you should see all the unnecessary elements that are inside my head.

Laura

9:30 Me too. Okay, so tip number four is to pay attention to composition, ensure a strong and balanced composition guiding the viewers eye with intentional placement of elements. So in general, it can be helpful to use the rule of thirds. And I’m sure you’ve heard of this before by dividing the artwork into nine equal parts, three horizontal and three vertical sections. Wait, that sounds like math. It is kind of math. Yeah, no, it’s just a couple of lines. Okay, okay. in either direction. So artists can strategically place key elements along these lines and those intersections. So this distribution of visual weight prevents the composition from feeling unbalanced and it kind of draws the viewers eye in a natural and pleasing way. So you’ll hear about rule of thirds in photography, you hear about it in painting, you hear about it in a lot of different artistic endeavors.

Nikki

10:25 Some people might think that that sounds like too much structure and too many things to think about when you’re like, I just want to paint. But just keep those things in your mind. And the more art you make, the better your compositions will be. And all the other things we mentioned will become second nature, you’ll just start doing these things intuitively without having to think about them. And although the four tips that we’ve discussed so far will help elevate your artwork. Our fifth tip is to just always remember to have fun, and no, it’s okay to experiment. It’s okay to break the rules and just enjoy the process. The more that you create, the more you’ll find the very special elements about your artwork that make you you. That is what will make people the most attracted to your work when they can emotionally and visually connect to your own story and your personal expression. Visit startistsociety.com/arttips for links to all the resources we mentioned. You can also find a link to join our email list and be the first to hear about new episodes as they drop, while also getting access to our awesome vault of freebies.

Laura

11:32 And there’s so many awesome freebies. Thank you, Nikki for designing them so beautifully.

Nikki

11:36 Oh, you’re so welcome, Laura.

Laura

11:39 Thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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