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Art Rules tricked me

Boring art rules and a way around

For a long time of learning to draw (which never ends), I didn’t like all those artistic principles and rules. I wanted to get right into painting. I wasn’t surprised that my works didn’t look the best at first, because I didn’t notice the mistakes. I was happy and proud of them. Then usually an art teacher would come in with his wisdom and criticism and spoil all the fun.

All those compositions, golden ratios, values and color theories seemed boring to me. That’s probably why I had an aversion to them for the first years of my artistic development, and based my learning process mostly on lots of practice, study sketches, and analyzing the work of artists I like. And it worked for me then.

And I have to admit that I have managed to reach a level that I was pleased with. Importantly, it allowed me to make a living as an illustrator. Not bad for a person who chose to go around instead of taking reasonable shortcuts….

Fascinating art rules and shortcuts

After some time, I started to look more closely at the principles and theories of creating illustrations, visual design on my own. I was surprised to discover how many of them I was applying to my own work without being aware of it. Through frequent practice and analysis of the images that delighted me, these “boring” principles filtered into my illustrations anyway, though probably more resistively. The second approach to illustration creation theory was fascinating. Applying them more consciously has certainly accelerated my development.

And it’s a bit of a regret that I didn’t convince myself of this earlier, because it’s a shortcut in artistic development. Especially combined with tons of practices.

A spontaneous sketch, yes, but…

I still like more to go wild and see what works in battle. This is much more exciting for me than rigid planning and execution. Only after finishing the sketch I like to take it apart. I search out the reasons behind the decisions I made and am pleased to find that many of them are supported by artistic principles. I draw conclusions about what worked and what turned out to be a failure and why.

That way, I’m not taking myself out of the joyful process of creating, but also trying to learn something from each piece I make.

For a quick sketch based on a reference photo, the colors, framing, contrasts and forms are already there. But is’s up to me to interpret them.

Nicole Wronski | “Pinup Goes Pop”Vogue Nippon 2007
My sketch
  • frame – I enlarged the background area. Thanks to that the whole picture got more space and it also emphasized…
  • the contrast in value between the light figure and the dark background is more visible. A bright face surrounded by darker hair and the brightest part of the picture located near the head create a clear point of interest (but this was already well played out in the picture)
  • color contrast – I pushed the dark background toward greens and turquoises and it was a spontanious decision. This way I shot the color harmony called the triad. So the pure yellow color of the dress stands out clearly from the darker, more muted background.
  • shape contrast – I stylized the silhouette emphasizing the shape contrast (simplified, angular body line contrasts with soft, chaotic hair pins)

Triad color scheme

Value and shapes contrast

It’s just a quick exercise, but breaking it down and noticing the artistic principles that have “leaked” into the process is very rewarding. Give it a try!

It is worth knowing the tested tricks and rules in order to break or use them, even without planning it. Knowing them means that sooner or later they will start to show up in illustrations on their own. It is very useful to analyze one’s own and other’s works and pictures in order to answer the questions:

  • what works,
  • what doesn’t
  • and how can I use this knowledge for my (invariably disreputable) purposes.

I hope I’ve encouraged you a bit to take in the theory and practice with it!