I noticed that a lot of things I’ve been recommended or found useful aren’t really in the masterlists of artist references on tumblr - and the same goes for helpful drawing exercises. So I decided to make my own post.
HOW TO KILL ARTIST’S BLOCK
There is no such thing as artist’s block, if you frequently draw from life.
If you are really, truly committed to improving your craft, then it does no good to sit and complain that you “don’t know what to draw”. There is so much around you to draw! :)
In public, try doing gestures of people that walk by. Cafes and shopping malls are great for this, because you have a plausible excuse to be sitting somewhere. Ideally, you don’t want people to notice you’re drawing them— they might try to pose, which makes them look stiff and unnatural.
The best targets are people studying, anyone deep in conversation, and people at cash registers.
If there are no people around, draw objects and rooms and practice your perspective.
AWESOME AND FUN EXERCISES FOR ARTISTS AND ILLUSTRATORS
Draw a portrait where a body part other than the face/head is the focus.
Do a full spread for a children’s story. It can be a fairy tale or an original story. Make sure to utilize good design principles and pick readable, high quality fonts that match your art style.
Draw something using only high contrast light and shadow- no lines, no color, no midtones.
Pick a crime report from the news, preferably an unconventional one. Illustrate it as best as possible, making sure to use a dramatic perspective and lots of realistic detail.
Choose an object — one you haven’t drawn very much before. Gather lots of reference images. Draw it in two and three point perspective — bonus points if you can take the references and draw them from different angles than they were photographed. The goal here is to be able to visualize it easily without effort. This is a good exercise for product design and ideation, as well as concept art.
Draw thirty people from life.
Draw thirty people from your imagination. Make sure they’re just as well proportioned and realistic as your sketches from life.
Do twenty studies of your hand, in various positions. Bizarre angles and positions are fine, but it’s more helpful to examine the construction of it and get used to drawing hands realistically.
See above, but with your feet.
Draw a study of a skull. Do not stylize it. Be careful to pay attention to the proportions and texture.
Remember your object? Imagine it in a setting where it could be good or evil— perhaps interacting with humans or other objects. Avoid obvious angel/devil associations. Draw 3 pages of thumbnails and sketches imagining it in this way.
Choose a thumbnail and do two larger sketches of it, and then pick one to bring to completion. Make sure it’s in proportion with accurate lighting for the situation.
Redesign a fairy tale’s characters in either a modern or non-European setting. Provide costuming references, and make sure to do character sheets and full turns of each.
Design your own deck of cards — make sure the borders and pattern on the back are paid as much attention as the figures on the fronts.
Bonus points if you also design and illustrate packaging for the above.
Do you have a favorite piece of fanart? Draw it as original characters- chances are, you’ve likely put a lot of thought into the relationships and personalities of your favorite characters or OTP, which will show through in an original piece. This is a decently good way to use fanworks in your portfolio, if you feel that they’re better than your original work.
Draw a car. A really realistic car. Now draw it from a perspective you find really difficult. You are not allowed to take more than half an hour on this total— cars are actually just boxes with some strategic curves, so they should become very easy to gesture once you retrain your brain.
Draw a table in perspective 5-6 times or so, concentrating on the way it casts a shadow. Make sure to define your light source.
Design a toy! Draw it from multiple angles — imagine you’re presenting this to someone who has to actually model and produce it. Include as much information as humanly possible. Make sure to include an illustration of its use — you can also create an advertisement, if you’re so inclined.
If you watch TED lectures, draw portraits of your favorite speakers while you’re viewing them. Try and finish the sketch during the duration of the talk.
Do an original illustration inspired by two of your favorite illustrators or artists— combining two should help prevent you from directly copying anyone, and force you to think a little harder about solving problems within a work.
Do 30 studies of animals in motion - housepets or birds are probably going to be the easiest, unless you live by a zoo.
Fill three full pages of your sketchbook with hard surface studies. (Cars, ships, tractors— you get the idea.) Try to define them with quick, confident lines.
Make a comic with one panel for each hour of your day. Avoid shortcuts like over the top, animeish emotes and chibi versions of yourself. Make sure to include environments.
Draw ten illustrations as a series that purposely do not tell a story. They must be as ambiguous as possible. This is really difficult — was originally an assignment from Phoebe Gloeckner, and almost nobody managed to be completely ambiguous. The trick to it is to make sure to create thumbnails of the series first, and look at your work very critically — if anything looks too obviously negative or positive, alter it accordingly.
Draw yourself combined with your favorite animal, or an animal you feel represents you well. Avoid traditional anthro depictions— try replacing your body parts with the parts you’d find most useful, or thinking of yourself like a sphinx, etc.
Create a poster for your favorite play.
Draw yourself at age 7, and age 70. Realistically. Avoid thinking of how cool or uncool you’d be or were. Using pictures of your younger self, or relatives, might help.
Paint a still life with unconventional lighting or objects. If you must use fruit, use weird fruit, or light it from below.
Pile books into a tower and draw them in perspective. It’s also fun to make cities out of them, etc.
Draw yourself every day for a month in the same media to track improvement. Use a mirror, not a photograph.
Remember your still life? Now illustrate it in the style you’re accustomed to using.
Draw six busts (head and shoulders) in profile, concentrating on creating an interesting silhouette.
Do color studies of your favorite movie scenes. If you can’t find screenshots, pause the movie and paint from your television or laptop. Detail’s not as important as strong shapes.
Draw your favorite place by your home.
Illustrate a fortune cookie.
Draw a treehouse or birdhouse and include as many details as possible.
Design a historical character, and try to make them recognizable by quirks of wardrobe or unique facial features. “Being extraordinarily attractive” does not count.
Do the 30 day monster challenge!
Illustrate your favorite recipe. It doesn’t have to be fancy. “How to make pizza rolls” will even suffice. Seriously.
Make a business card for yourself. Illustrate it. Hey, everyone needs one- and it’s a great exercise for working under strict constraints, since you’ll need to make sure your name and contact info are clearly legible.
Draw the weirdest object you can possibly find. IKEA is a really awesome place to find weird objects, if you can’t find any in your home.
Design a knight of the round table, and make sure to research armor, etc— it’s hard to draw! Great practice.
Draw ten or twenty plants that are currently seasonal.
BOOKS THAT ARE REALLY USEFUL!
The Art of Ralph McQuarrie. Yeah, this is expensive. But it’s one of the few artbooks that shows an entire process of illustration— if you’re not sure how to proceed from thumbnails to mockups to final pieces, this is probably what you want to be lookin at.
How to Analyze People on Sight by Elsie Lincoln Benedict and Ralph Paine Benedict. This is available for free online— awesome resource for character design, as it teaches you to think about external characteristics as indicators for personality. Even if it’s not always the most accurate thing ever.
Leonardo DaVinci’s Notebooks. Yes, I know. Your relatives have even probably tried to get you to look at these. If you can find a good printing of them, though, it’s a really good look at a well used sketchbook.
The Selected Works of TS Spivet. Not actually a real art reference book, but so many beautiful illustrations and well laid out. Worth a look.
Drawing with Imagination. Lots of exercises to do if you “can’t think of anything to draw”.
Any batman artbook. Any of them. I have the OnStar promo one from about ten years back, and it’s still great. There’s a huge mesh of styles going on, and seeing how much thought is put into the character designs and environments is well worth your money. Plus, Batman is cool.
Any Pixar or Disney artbook that shows the visual development process. The Princess and the Frog is a particularly good example of this, and possibly my favorite, even though I dislike the actual film. They really make sure to show all of their art department’s sketches and preproduction work.
The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed. Also available on project gutenberg, and will revolutionize the way you think about drawing. It’s a bit wordy and dated, but worth it alone for the lesson that we do not draw what we see, in reality. Go read it.
WEBSITES THAT ARE VERY USEFUL
behance.net - mostly for inspirational purposes, and worth getting one, if you’re in the industry or trying to be
Brown paper sketchbook. Makes defining volume a lot easier, for beginners and advanced artists alike— just get a white pencil and go crazy with highlights.
Small sketchbook. For all the times you can’t bring an a4 one someplace. Also good for sketching in public. Moleskines are good, as they get mistaken for ordinary notebooks often. See notes on sketching humans in public.
Several weights of mechanical pencil— awesome for when you can’t drop pencil shavings places.
A small package of prismacolor pencils. You don’t need to go crazy, but high quality pencils are really a necessity, IMO. A 12 pack will do. If you find they’re too soft, or keep snapping, try using the Verithin variety instead— they’ve got harder leads.
A good ruler. At least 6”. Tape pennies to it to avoid bleeding ink.
Tracing paper, so that you don’t have to completely redraw your semi-final sketch if you like it.
Masking tape. Keeps paper still on a worktop, and keeps tracing paper in place. Touch it to your clothes a couple times before sticking it to your paper to reduce the stickiness and possibility of your paper ripping.
Pen and ink. Also some good sable brushes.
Carbon dust. Not a necessity, but it allows you to “paint” while still getting the effect of a pencil drawing.
Good kneaded eraser.
Good white plastic eraser.
A COMFORTABLE bag. That holds your electronics and wallet as well as all of this.
Fingerless gloves. If your hands cramp often, these will help.
A website. Coroflot.com or tumblr will work fine. If using a tumblr, make a separate one for your art.
Chinese clothing has approximately 5,000 years of history behind it, but regrettably I am only able to cover 2,500 years in this fashion timeline. I began with the Han dynasty as the term <i>hanfu</i> (Chinese clothing) was coined in that period. Please bear in mind that this is only a generalized timeline of Chinese clothing primarily featuring aristocratic and upper-class ethnic Han Chinese women (the exceptions are Fig. 8 (dancer) and Fig. 11 (maid, due to the fact I couldn’t find many paintings in this period)).
My resources are mainly the books: 5,000 years of Chinese Costume, China Chic: East Meets West, and Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation. 5,000 years of Chinese Costume is an invaluable resource (though sadly currently out of print), I would highly recommend this book if you can get your hands on it.
“In the Han Dynasty, as of old, the one-piece garment remained the formal dress for women. However, it was somewhat different from that of the Warring States Period, in that it had an increased number of curves in the front and broadened lower hems. Close-fitting at the waist, it was always tied with a silk girdle.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 32)
Wei and Jin dynasties:
“On the whole, the costumes of the Wei and Jin period still followed the patterns of Qin and Han.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 54)
“From the costumes worn by the benefactors in the Dunhuang murals and the costumes of the pottery figurines unearthed in Louyang, it can be seen that women’s costumes in the period of Wei and Jin were generally large and loose. The upper garment opened at the front and was tied at the waist. The sleeves were broad and fringed at the cuffs with decorative borders of a different colour. The skirt had spaced coloured stripes and was tied with a white silk band at the waist. There was also an apron between the upper garment and skirt for the purpose of fastening the waist. Apart from wearing a multi-coloured skirt, women also wore other kinds such as the crimson gauze-covered skirt, the red-blue striped gauze double skirt, and the barrel-shaped red gauze skirt. Many of these styles are mentioned inhistorical records.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 65)
Southern and Northern Dynasties:
“During the Wei, Jin and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, though men no longer wore the traditional one-piece garment, some women continued to do so. However, the style was quite different from that seen in the Han Dynasty. Typically the women’s dress was decorated with xian and shao. The latter refers to pieces of silk cloth sewn onto the lower hem of the dress, which were wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, so that triangles were formed overlapping each other. Xian refers to some relatively long ribbons which extended from the short-cut skirt. While the wearer was walking, these lengthy ribbons made the sharp corners n the lower hem wave like a flying swallow, hence the Chinese phrase ‘beautiful ribbons and flying swallowtail’.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 62)
“During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, costumes underwent further changes in style. The long flying ribbons were no longer seen and the swallowtailed corners became enlarged. As a result the flying ribbons and swallowtailed corners were combined into one.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 62)
“During the period of the Sui and early Tang, a short jacket with tight sleeves was worn in conjunction with a tight long skirt whose waist was fastened almost to the armpits with a silk ribbon. In the ensuing century, the style of this costume remained basically the same, except for some minor changes such as letting out the jacket and/or its sleeves.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 88)
“The Tang Dynasty was the most prosperous period in China’s feudal society. Changan (now Xian, Shananxi Province), the capital, was the political, economic and cultural centre of the nation. […] Residents in Changan included people of such nationalities as Huihe (Uygur,) Tubo (Tibetan), and Nanzhao (Yi), and even Japanese, Xinluo (Korean), Persian and Arabian. Meanwhile, people frequently travelled to and fro between countries like Vietnam, India and the East Roman Empire and Changan, thus spreading Chinese culture to other parts of the world.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 76)
“…all the national minorities and foreign envoys who thronged the streets of Changan also contributed something of their own culture to the Tang. Consequently, paintings, carvings, music and dances of the Tang absorbed something of foreign skills and styles. The Tang government adopted the policy of taking in every exotic form whether or hats or clothing, so that Tang costumes became increasingly picturesque and beautiful.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 88)
“Women of the Tang Dynasty paid particular attention to facial appearance, and the application of powder or even rouge was common practice. Some women’s foreheads were painted dark yellow and the dai (a kind of dark blue pigment) was used to paint their eyebrows into different shapes that were called dai mei (painted eyebrows) in general.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 89)
“In the years of Tianbao during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign, women used to wear men’s costumes. This was not only a fashion among commoners, but also for a time it spread to the imperial court and became customary for women of high birth.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 89)
“The hairstyle of the women of the Song Dynasty still followed the fashion of the later period of the Tang Dynasty, the high bun being the favoured style. Women’s buns were often more than a foot in height.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)
“Women’s upper garments consisted mainly of coat, blouse, loose-sleeved dress, over-dress, short-sleeved jacket and vest. The lower garment was mostly a skirt.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)
“Women in the Song Dynasty seldom wore boots, since binding the feet had become fashionable.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)
“Although historians do not know exactly how or why foot binding began, it was apparently initially associated with dancers at the imperial court and professional female entertainers in the capital. During the Song dynasty (960-1279) the practice spread from the palace and entertainment quarters into the homes of the elite. ‘By the thirteenth century, archeological evidence shows clearly that foot-binding was practiced among the daughters and wives of officials,’ reports Patricia Buckley Ebrey […] Over the course of the next few centuries foot binding became increasingly common among gentry families, and the practice eventually penetrated the mass of the Chinese people.” (Chinese Chic: East Meets West, pg. 37-38)
“Han women continued to wear the jacket and skirt. However, the choice of darker shades and buttoning on the left showed Mongolian influence.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 131)
“After the Mongols settled down in the Central Plains, Mongolian customs and costumes also had their influence on those of the Han people. While remaining the main costume for Han women, the jacket and skirt had deviated greatly in style from those of the Tang and Song periods. Tight-fitting garments gave way to big, loose ones; and collar, sleeves and skirt became straight. In addition, lighter more serene colours gained preference.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 142)
“The clothing for women in the Ming Dynasty consisted mainly of gowns, coats, rosy capes, over-dresses with or without sleeves, and skirts. These styles were imitations of ones first seen in the Tang and Song Dynasties. However, the openings were on the right-hand side, according to the Han Dynasty convention.” ((5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 147)
“The formal dress for commoners could only be made of coarse purple cloth, and no gold embroidery was allowed. Gowns could only in such light colours as purple, green and pink; and in no case should crimson, reddish blue or yellow be used. These regulations were observed for over a decade, and it was not until the 14th year of Hong Wu that minor changes were made.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 147)
When China fell under Manchurian rule, Chinese men were forced to adopt Manchurian customs. As a sign of submission, the new government made a decree that men must shave their head and wear the Manchurian queue or lose their heads. Many choose the latter.
On the other hand, Chinese women were not pressured to adopt Manchurian clothing and fashions. “Women, in general, wore skirts as their lower garments, and red skirts were for women of position. At first, there were still the “phoenix-tail” skirt and the “moonlight” skirt and others from the Ming tradition. However the styles evolved with the passage of time: some skirts were adorned with ribbons that floated in the air when one walked; some had little bells fastened under them: others had their lower edge embroidered with wavy designs. As the dynasty drew to an end, the wearing of trousers became the fashion among commoner women. There were trousers with full crotches and over trousers, both made of silk embroidered with patters.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 173)
The Manchurians attempted several times to eradicate the practice of foot-binding, but were largely unsuccessful. Manchurian women admired the gait of bound women but were effectively banned from practicing food-binding. Hence, a “flower pot shoe” later came into creation and it allowed its wearer the same unsteady gait but without any need for foot-binding.
Women traditionally bound their breasts in the Ming and Qing dynasties with tight fitting vests and continued to do so in the early 20th century.
“The vests were called xiaomajia ‘little vest’ or xiaoshan ‘little shirt” “used by Chinese women as underclothing for the upper part of the body.” (Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation: Finnane pg 162) “Doudu [is] a sort of apron for the upper body […] in former times the doudu had been worn by everyone, old and young, male and female. The young wore red, the middle-aged wore white or grey-green, the elderly wore black. A little pocket sewn into the top was used by adults to secrete them money and by children their sweets. When a girl got engaged, she would show off her embroidery skills by sending an elaborately worked doudu to her fiancé, decorated with bats for good forturne and pomegranates, symbolizing many sons.” (Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation: Finnane pg 162)
A ban on bound breasts began in 1927, in which the government started advocating for the “Natural Breast Movement”. Despite this, bound breasts still widely continued into the 1930s. The government also banned earrings as it fell under the criteria of deforming the natural body. The 1930s also saw the introduction of the western/French bra come to Shanghai.
“The little vest was designed to constrain the breasts and streamline the body. Such a garment was necessary to look comme il faut around 1908, when (as J. Dyer Ball observed): ‘fashion decreed that jackets should fit tight, though not yielding to the contours of the figure, except in the slightest degree, as such an exposure of the body would be considered immodest.’ It became necessary again in the mid-twenties, when the jacket-blouse—a garment cut on rounded lines – began to give way to the qipao. At this stage, darts were not used to tailor the bodice or upper part of the qipao, nor would they be till the mid-fifties. The most that could be done by way of further fitting the qipao to the bosom was to stretch the material at the right places through ironing. Under these circumstances, breast-binding must have made the tailor’s task easier.” (Finnane 163, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation)
Successful eradication of bound feet would not come until the 1949 when the People’s Republic of China came into power.
Under the People’s Republic of China, very few mainland women wore the cheongsam, save for ceremonial attire. Clothing became de-sexualized for mainlanders.
It was the flip side in Hong Kong, as the cheongsam continued its function as everyday wear which lasted until the late 1960s. The cheongsam in the 1950s and 1960s became even tighter fitting to further accentuate feminine curves. Western clothing became the default after the late 1960s, though the cheongsam continued to survive as uniforms for students (who donned a looser and androgynous version), waitresses, brides, and beauty contestants.
Designers today are creating new forms of the qipao/cheongsam. The mermaid tail appears to be a current popular trend.
My mom has a pair of the tiny shoes that women would where once their feet had been binded properly
I made a few of these once at three in the morning when I was really bored! and left them on the counter with a note for my mom when she woke up being like “made candles out of an orange, was properly fire-safe, love you” or something