Sneaking Up on Design | Chris Carter | Skillshare

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (42m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Photography

    • 3. Drawing the Border and Thread

    • 4. Demo One

    • 5. Demo Two

    • 6. Bonus Lesson in a Cornfield

    • 7. Conclusion

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About This Class


In this class you will learn to approach design by opening your eyes to more careful observation as you draw.  You will be asked to consider the options available to you with each new decision ... What size? The whole object or just part of the object?  What part? Detailed or simplified? See from the top? Bottom? Front? Back? Thick lines? Thin lines? I ask that you consider each step you take from three different perspectives before you move forward and take action on that step.

Your design will evolve automatically with each new mark. You won't begin with an idea for a design first and create a drawing that fits into that design. One approach is not better than the other, it's just different.

By using your camera (your phone) as a sketchbook to help oil the gears in your brain, you move forward at a much faster pace than if you attempted to do the same preliminary exercises using a pencil (or pen) and paper.

Following up the camera snapshots with a drawing begun with random shapes, you reinforce your ability to see, to manipulate reality and to express your unique sense of design with pen on paper.

Meet Your Teacher

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Chris Carter

artist, illustrator and explorer


Welcome to Skillshare. I'm Chris Carter.

I love exploring the world with pen and brush whether it be by land, sea or air! Here on Skillshare, in tiny bites, I present tips and techniques I've learned over a lifetime of sketching, drawing and painting. My classes are designed with two purposes in mind: to present tips and techniques that help you learn new skills and master current skills; and as quick reference for those of you who have attended one of my live workshops.

I create large, abstract watercolors and oil paintings in my studio.  When traveling, which I do for more than half the year, I work realistically, mostly in sketchbooks.  I sketch from reality daily to keep my eye, hand and brain coordination well-honed.See full profile

Related Skills

Drawing Fine Art Creative

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1. Introduction: I call this course sneaking up on design because of its unusual origin and perhaps the unusual approach to learning design and to developing your own unique style in preference for design and composition and to introduce this method to you. I'll begin with a story. The story takes place in 1978. I was invited to dinner by the dean of students of a local community college, and he was going to be interviewing me to take the job of teaching three of his art classes . Now the night started off a little bit shaky because I had to crawl through the window of my car door in order to get out of my car. Maybe that was a little bit of humor for the evening, but I wanted to make sure that he didn't see me crawl through the window of my car, which I was able to accomplish. Go into the ladies room, get myself back together again and meet him at the table. It was very pleasant, gentleman. He ordered a nice bottle of wine, ordered delicious meals for both of us and told me about his dilemma of being without three teachers for the upcoming semester. So the story begins. The minute the words were out of my mouth, I regretted having said, um, what was the worst thing that could happen? I could make a fool of myself, ruin the reputation I didn't even have yet and have all my students leave my classes on the first night and never return. I stared at the mound sitting across the table for me and hoped he didn't see the panic that was pulsing through my veins. I just agreed to teach three classes at the local community college, drawing watercolor and black and white photography. My drawing skills were dismal. I'd only been painting in watercolor for five months on my background of photography amounted to setting up a dark room in my mother's kitchen in high school and making work prints for the photographer whose house I cleaned in Cambridge. I was an unknown artist filled with passion, desire and enough fearlessness to commit to taking on challenges I wasn't qualified to take on. I was also determined to pay my bills without having a 9 to 5 job. Fortunately, every single one of my students in all three classes returned for the second class and every other class. After that, I managed to stay ahead of them one week at a time. Inspired by their questions, their enthusiasm and their consistent attendants, I was learning a great deal both from preparing for the classes as well as from the students. In addition, I learned that I absolutely love teaching, sharing ideas, tips, shortcuts, long cuts, interesting facts, unique methods, a variety of tools as well as the work of other artists both past and present. Ironically, it was from teaching the black and white photography course that I learned how to approach drawing and the importance of grayscale values, design and composition. I learned how to see. I learned how to observe, and I learned to recognize the choices I had when pointing my camera at something. Before I snapped the photo, I became more aware of the shapes in the background, the pole sticking out from someone's head, the shadow cast across a beautifully set table, stealing the attention away from the table setting. I learned to see how the shapes of objects in the position of objects created moods that weren't necessarily in alignment with the subject matter of the objects, often in class. I found myself saying things to my students that I took note of to remember when I was out sketching or painting. As a painter, I can leave the tree out as a painter. I can add a tree if I want. I can add two or three, leave out the house, put clouds in the sky or take the clouds out of the sky. Up until then, I was locked into reality if I didn't paint realistically and truthfully, I wasn't really an artist. Such foolish thinking, though I didn't realize it at the time. I came into the world as an abstract sculptress born into a family whose idea of a true artist was Norman Rockwell. Indeed, Norman Rockwell was a fine artist. He was not, however, the only kind of true artist I've named this course. Sneaking up on design, I will present an approach to becoming aware up and developing your own design preferences . This method of beginning with random closed shapes and drawing into those clothes shapes one at a time allows you to observe how the marks you're making are affecting the overall dynamics of your drawing. The design builds gradually as you make the decision of which shaped work in what part of your object you will draw into that shape and what technique you will use to draw that part of the shape. Because you're not being asked to create a realistic representation of your object or objects. You have the freedom to enlarge the object in one closed shape and to make it very tiny in another. You could make a patterned background in one and make the object pattern in another. The choices air all up to you. Your design will develop and change as you continue to fill in the closed shapes. If you feel an area is to empty, you can add another version of your object. If you feel a shape has become too busy, you will have to find a way to balance that dizziness, perhaps with another busy shape somewhere else in the drawing or by filling a shape with text that either relates or is nonsense. You may or may not be pleased with the finished drawing. I'm often not pleased with the experimental sketches I do, however, I learned a great deal from every one of them. An extra bonus is that your drawing skills will also improve. Feel free to bend your objects. Exaggerate the shapes of your objects. What is important here is how the shapes of the objects you draw, harmonize and weave together with the random, closed shapes you begin with. I will start with one of the lessons I talk to my students in that very first black and white photography course. I taught at the community college in the late seventies. I still have the visual aids I created for that class. They're Justus useful now, as they were then. I've used them often in my life, drawing workshops. Let's begin. 2. Photography: when it comes to defining the words design and composition, there are many interpretations of the two words to help you understand the goal of this class. I will clarify the meaning of the two words as they apply to the lessons in this class. And as I work toward strong design and composition in my own work. Design is the visual arrangement of grayscale value shapes that calls your attention to the artwork. Either two dimensional or three dimensional composition is the road map for your eyes. Once your attention has been captured by the work of art, strong composition will lead your eye through and around back and forth, holding you in front of the work of art to explore more of what it has to offer. There's art in which design doesn't play a significant role. Design may not be important in paintings that are created to evoke atmosphere, mood, formless play of color. The size of these atmospheric paintings becomes more significant than design. Training your eyes to see the gray scale shapes of the world around you is the first step to mastering design. If you want to call the viewers attention to the pattern of brick steps. You want the gray scale shapes to suggest brick steps and not confuse the viewer by capturing her attention and then making her figure out what it is she's looking at. Just because you aimed your camera at the brick steps and took a snapshot doesn't mean that what you've captured says brick steps. This brings me back to the black and white photography class. In the example, I used to help students open their eyes to the language of patterns, not just the subject matter. What is the focal point of your photograph were drawing? What do you want the viewer to look at and why? What captured your attention? Would the viewer No, that was what you wanted to express and the example of the skinny building in the street. My attention was captured by the ridiculous narrowness of the building. Only one of the photos I snapped captured the feeling of this narrowness. In all three photos, you see the building, but in two of them, the shapes around the building do not support the feeling of its narrowness. Take a walk through your house, your neighborhood or your garden. When something captures your attention, even if it's just a piece of twig or broken bottle or pile of laundry, snap at least five photos of whatever captured your attention. Move up close, moved back. Try capturing just a portion of whatever it is. See how many ways you can see whatever captured your attention. Later. Take a look through your photos and have a discussion with yourself about the results. Feel free to post some of your photos and your comments on the project page of this class. Mastering the language of grayscale shapes is a leap forward to mastery of drawing and painting. When you take the time to ask yourself questions and evaluate your answers, snapping photos can be a great way to take a shortcut to mastery. After editing this lesson, I got to thinking that I may have left you with the impression that a strong design are really any design has to have punch to. It has to be powerful, like Art Nouveau poster or ah ah, billboard or great ad in a magazine. And I and I don't mean that if if you can given adjective to your piece to the design, then it's probably a good design and the adjective might be movement or poetry or silence or geometric. Oh, are musical, whimsical fun, you know, Do the shapes bring that emotion to mind even before you see what the objects are that make up those shapes. And as you're going through this class and doing your drawings in each of the thread shapes , you don't have to do strong impactful. Um, you know, lettering and and intense value changes just drawing itself several lines together that does create a different value shape. Take a look as you create your design and see if if you can put an adjective to what you're creating, and I think the more you do it, you'll get the idea, and you may change the definition of design for yourself. I'm just trying to get you to think and to see things differently and to look at objects from from other points of view, close up far away from the top from the bottom and ask yourself, Did I capture the essence of what caught my attention? And one quick story about a woman I spoke with after judging an art exhibit and one of my great by a judge by a point system, and I try to decide what the artists strengths are, and I give them double points for those areas because you can't expect everybody to be masterful and everything. So most most of the artists were not getting a lot of points when it came to focal Point because I would look at the paintings, and I wasn't really sure why they painted what they painted in the first place. And I always sit with amore, stand with them and answer the questions to give them the the score sheets. And if they want to know why I scored the way I do, I'll talk to them for a song as they want to answer the questions because I want them to improve. I want them to become more masterful. And I asked the woman, Well, what inspired you to paint this house? And she said, the front door, the front door was so beautiful. It's a beautiful wooden door, and I looked the painting and I couldn't even see the front door. The front door was there was a porch and the front door on all those windows were in the shadow of the porch. you really didn't see the door. It'll what you saw were the trees against the sky. The trees were the darkest dark. This guy was the lightest light and there were hard edges around all the trees. So that's where my I went. And I thought, Well, she must have really loved the shapes of those trees. But But I wonder why? Because didn't look like she paid attention to the shapes of the trees. But it was the door and you couldn't even see the door. So taking that, if it's the door that excites you, start with the door, make the door big. You don't have to put the whole house in. If the doors what excites you, then draw the door and and then that door will excite other people. I can almost guarantee, so give yourself a break. Enjoy this class. Enjoy exploring. Enjoy asking yourself all the questions that when you find the answers or come up with the answers, they don't have to be right answers. But if their answers at all, they will guide you along, and before you know it, you're going to be more masterful than you were before you start. Thanks for spending this time with May. I'm Chris Carter, and this is skill share 3. Drawing the Border and Thread: the first thing I'll do is draw a rectangle. I'm drawing a perimeter so that I actually see the shape as shape in my background instead of background just being some kind of ambiguous area of the page. And then I'll draw threat. Now, I can either start from an edge like that or I can start in the middle. I start in the middle. I need to make a closed shape already. I'm beginning to think in design, and I don't know where my designs going. But I will just let it go in whatever direction it will. So I will close off this shape. Right? So now this is a close shape. If I cut along this line, that piece were full right out. This is an open shape. Where would I cut this? This would just be a flat that would go back and forth hinge somewhere. So this I will also know that sale. Make it a close shape. There. Now I have this shape. This is all part of this outside. So I want to close that off. Also, this is a little bit trickier, but all do here. This is pretty arbitrary, cause I don't know what this is gonna be like, and I'll pretend I'm going out this way. Now, this is the shape, and I'm okay with all of my shapes that this don't really like that. So I'm gonna extend that down. I'm not real happy with that. The one that I mean, I think I will keep that one going, and I just emphasised, All right, I'm OK with that now. So I look around and I'm all right with all of the shapes. You don't know what's gonna happen with, um, but something will happen now we'll go back to this one. It doesn't matter which way I hold it because they don't know until they start drawing things in which way it will be. But, oh, let's go with it this way. Kind of like it this way. So I have a closed shape here, close shape, their clothes shape there. This is kind of a big shape, but that could work. I'm gonna leave that just the way it iss There aren't any open shapes. I started my thread from my perimeter and I ended it there. So I'll go with that. It's try another one. I'll do this one in ink. Those I did with pencil doesn't really matter. So again, the first step is to draw my rectangle, the rectangle that marks the edge of my design. Now this one, I'll do a little bit differently. Maybe your preference for shapes is not organic, that flowing. Maybe it's more linear, so let's try that. Okay, now how many shapes? Troy? Have a have one two. We'll leave it at that. That could be that could be okay. All right, That would only be a two day sketch. If you do one each day. Let's try no one. I made a whole pile of drawings like that, both organic and linear, from that whole pile of warm up sketches that I did. I picked two and those of the two that'll work on for Demo one and Demo to 4. Demo One: I will work on both of these. This is made up of linear shapes, meaning kind of hard head shapes. This is made up of organic shapes. This was originally drawn in INC with the fountain pen. This was drawn in pencil. Doesn't really matter. But I'm just clarifying that I will use this set for this drawing. I will use this set for this drawing. We'll start with a fork. I really don't know where I'm going to go with this. It all happens one shape at a time, one line at a time. This is a bamboo depend. There's a wider end here and the smaller end here. I'm gonna start with small and now the wider and is also split. So it holds more ink, the narrow and is not split. I will do my best to talk you through the process to let you know what's going through my head As I'm drawing and making decisions. First, I decide which of the thread shapes all draw into thread. Shapes are those created on the page by the original thread line I drew after drawing the rectangular border. Next I decide what angle I'll view my object said that it works well drawn within the thread shape I've chosen. As I draw the object, I'm constantly looking at the new shapes that the lines I'm drawing are creating within that thread shape. You might think of these new shapes as background shapes. I may or may not draw into the thread shape at a later time. After drawing into more of the thread shapes, I continued to adjust and readjust whenever I feel inspired to do so. Sometimes I had a second version of the object, or even 1/3 version into the same thread shape to improve hopefully the way the shapes are all working together. The object shapes the background shapes and the overall appearance of shapes on the page. For my second shape, I'm going to use a turquoise. This is called soft meant by dying mine. I'll use the brass tipped one. I'm drawing the lights and the dark, so these shapes I'm making those air. The lights that I see in the spoon can't really see what these shapes are, but I just see a texture well at a value parallel lines. Now I'm going to add some detail of the design the pattern, and I'm more able to do that with this pen that I was with bamboo poop. So here I've done this part right here. Andi, I feel like I just want to extend this pattern over further, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to add the pattern just moving over and drawing this part now. And that's not really where it belongs on the spoon. But that doesn't matter, because I'm just making a design of shapes that's inspired by the silverware. It's not ruled by the silverware. See how that pattern is starting to develop and then I want to make it less dense up here. This'd is a pen nib that is pretty stiff and fairly fine. I will be using this with the red ink, and I'm going to add a knife to this areas. In here. Way through thing is new dealers, 54th Massachusetts, and this is a pan that I purchase David auction many, many years ago. I didn't understand how it worked at the time, so I almost broke a trying to get it apart to figure out how to put ink into it. This also is one that that is a dip pen and it holds the ink in here. It's it's not meant to have any ink flow through it. So it's really not a fountain pen. It's a thing. Okay. I liked what happened up here so much that I decided to use this space for just some design work down in here. I put some of the ink which is the 54th Massachusetts, and to one of these cosmetic tens, added a little bit of water to dilute it. And I'm going to use the water brush because they don't have another one right here. And I just want to get on with it, and I want to see what happens. I kind of like the way it's diluted just to touch there. And I'm going to do direct watercolor, just making patterns that are suggested by the carvings in this. For in this drawing, I'm leaving this shape, this shape and this shape blank. I feel a ziff. This needs to be open. It needs to be simple, because this is a very complicated patterning here, and this is pretty complicated patterning. And then there is this patterning. If I drew anything into this shape, I feel that it would confuse the design and you need a little bit of breathing room. You're I needs a little bit of rest going from here to here and this shape. I just like the way it looks. It looks like it folds over this, and if I drew anything into it, I think it would flatten the space. It's it's up to you whether you draw into shapes or leave them blank. The choice of leaving it blank is also a design choice, and in this case, I think it's a good design choice. 5. Demo Two: here we have another four. I think it's just I can see the other one. I'm going to do two forks, and this, actually is all of this shape. So I might even do more than two Forks e. I don't mind wrong Penis. It's It's about design. It's not about reality. Two forks. I think I need another fork over here and I need another fork over here. This is all the same shape. So I'm doing it all in the same color. And I never noticed that these looked like flames before, Even though I have drawn this. See something new every time you draw something and I just invented that shape to go with it. I have those. And now I don't really want to put it another one of these here because it's going to get busy with whatever it put here. So I'm gonna make big letters saying forks coming down this way. I'm gonna put it over here. This thing is way too way allowed the soup spoon for this one, too. Well, I really want to just put it along this edge. So it could be that I changed my mind later. E because this is such a large area. I'm gonna leave it. I may come back and put another spoon in it somewhere with this color. But for right now I'm going to leave it because I want to see what's going to start happening here in this trying. I want to show you a slightly different approach where I'm using value to enhance the design and really to create the design. Because does definitely change the way that your eye moves around and the impact that it makes. I'm leaving this space, this base and this base empty now. It's not because I think it works as the design in this case. I'm leaving it empty said that you can wonder perhaps what I'm going to do with it and I will finish this drawing. I will resolve it as a design and posted in the project section of the class. I do have ah bonus lesson coming up and in the bonus Listen, I will show you another way to approach this sketching plan air in a corn field 6. Bonus Lesson in a Cornfield: here I am in the corn field again. And the reason is I may have to cut this short because it's ah, it was thundering and and it could start to rein it any times real hot and humid, kind of sticky in New Jersey. Right now, the reason that I came out here is because I was just about to do somewhere filming for the sneaking up on design course on skill share. And, um and I got to thinking about how, how sometimes I'm asked. Well, all right, so you have all these experiments and exercises in your sketchbook and cars going by and then, you know, you talk about painting, plan air and sketching wherever you go. So what about this? Can we do these exercises outside? Like I will be supposed to be doing all these exercises that you give us and learning about design and value and shapes and and then when we go outside and how do you do that? So here I am. I'm in a cornfield, and I don't have all my various colors of ink. I just have a, um, fountain pen. This is rotering Art Pan, and I have a small. Ah, sketchbook. And it is starting to rain. But I'm going to aim the camera down and do a very quick, very quick, because it's gonna be getting wet. Um, you hear that? Vestibule? Flutter. Okay, so at least I'll start it. Here we go. It's not like I'm gonna melt because it's raining out. And who knows? It could be kind of interesting. Oh, and there's some really nice. I can't remember what the name of this is. But there beautiful white flowers when they move. I'm gonna put some of these pods here. The pods are exquisite. Great shapes. They are. Okay, so I've got that shape. I've got that shape. Here's something over here. What will they put in there? Well, put corn from a distance. There's all kinds of corn right behind me. But this is gonna look a little bit like the weeds that I drew. First, the grasses, which is not corn. It's just plain weeds. This little thing, what I'm gonna do there, it's all kind of looking the same year, except this wonderful pod thing. Okay, so I'm going to do straight on with pod here, so it's kind of looks like soft serve ice cream. Okay, so now it's running quite a bit. Gonna pack up during this down, and then I'm gonna go inside and I'll show you how I can turn this into design, right? Be right back. This is the sketch I just did out of the corn field and you can see the spots of water on. Now I'll show you what I'm going to do with it. To work toward creating a design. From this, I will use parallel lines to create value. I'll speed it up because it's going to be very boring. Watching me put in these parallel lines as I'm creating the value of the background, you'll start to see the shapes emerge, and you'll realize that once again, I'm I'm making choices all along the way with what shapes I want to have combined. By combining it means that if I if I have two shapes next to each other that are the same value, meaning white to black grayscale value than those shapes will visually combine into one larger shape. So from a real quick mess of a drawing, you can still create a nice strong design and learn a whole lot about what goes into making a design and how how you can really adjust it as you go. No, I remember that. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking where I'm gonna put things and what I was gonna put in the shapes because the rain was starting to come. The thunder was coming and I didn't really have time to contemplate. So I wasn't worried about whether I was making something wonderful or not. I just I just moved on with it. Might feel running out of things. I am not sure if this is the same. I think this is Ellis Island flu. So I'm hoping that this is the same. It isn't OK, turn it slowly to let it suck up. Looks like I lucked out. It's often hard to remember what I've filled the fountain pens with. I used to write it down, keep track of it. But that was that was also hard to keep track of where the paper was that I wrote it down on. So I stopped doing that. There we go. I have sneaked up on the design. You saw it from the very beginning, went out. Did my border did my thread line scribbled in some suggestion of the grass, the corn and the I think it's Joe Pye weed, but I'll have to find out with the little pod like things. It started raining. I gathered my things up, came in and with parallel lines to make a dark value and somewhat parallel lines in another direction. Further apart, I created a mitt tone, and now you don't necessarily know what it is, but it definitely reads as a design, and that's the whole point. So this would be fine. To Post is a project for this class. This is exactly what I'm talking about, and the more you do this in a playful, fun way, the more you learn and you'll get better at drawing. I mean this. Don't judge yourself about this. The point of it is not to draw great grass or great leaves. It's to see what it feels like to sneak up on designed added to make these decisions what's going to be dark, what's going to be liked, what's going to be met? Tone, what shape might work in their does the shape what work like over here? I needed to break it up just a little bit. So what did I dio? I invented this tiny little shape in there that now makes that look like a leaf. At least to me, it looks like a leaf. Okay, so that's it. That's your plan? Air experiment. That's the thunder. 7. Conclusion: this brings us to the end of sneaking up on design. I hope that you enjoy the class. I hope that that it's expanded your way of thinking a little bit. I hope that you feel freer to pick and choose what you want to draw. What you want to include. What you want to eliminate in your in your drawings in your paintings. And I hope that you have learned how to use your phone camera that pretty much have with you all the time to really make a short cut it. It's a great way to, um, to do hundreds of sketches, really, to test out the composition of something to test out if you really are interested enough in something that grabbed your attention to dedicate the time to making a drawing or if it's just a snapshot in a passing thought and you leave it at that. And I hope to that that you were able to focus and not just okay, here's a corn field behind me and then you try to draw the whole cornfield. Well, I mean, it's made up of individual corn stocks, and they're each beautiful in their own right. The leaf itself is stunning. I have a Really I have a real love for corn fields Ever since I was little, um, my grandpa had ah farm in Indiana and we would play hide and go seek in the corn fields. So, you know, I'm glad I have one right next to my house, and I really do enjoy filming out here. Um, so, yes, this is the end of the sneaking up on design, and please feel free to check out some of my other classes. There's pulling the puddle. That has much more to do with techniques of watercolor and how to lay down a wash and how to really control your brush in the flow of your mixture of water color. There there are all kinds of classes, and I'm continuing to make more and more. Please let me know if you would like more design or composition classes. They I find them challenging to make because everyone has such a unique way of thinking about design and composition. And that's wonderful. I mean, that's what that's what makes everybody so individual and, um, exciting. But I will. That was fun. I'd like to put another one together and just let me know. Please remember to post your projects. You can post your photographs that when you're walking around, you know that as photographs and then take snapshots of your your designs in progress, the thread lines and working into the thread lines. And please always feel free to get in touch with May through school share. And, um, if you have any questions, I'm always happy to answer them. So thanks for spending the time with May. I hope that you also check up my other classes. This is Chris Carter on skill share. Have a great day.