Artivism: Create Inspiring Art for Change | Nikkolas Smith | Skillshare

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Artivism: Create Inspiring Art for Change

teacher avatar Nikkolas Smith, Concept Artivist / Illustrator / Author

Watch this class and thousands more

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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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Why is Art Powerful?


    • 3.

      Finding Inspiration


    • 4.

      Roughing Out Color


    • 5.

      Refining Your Shapes


    • 6.

      Creating the Background


    • 7.

      Layering Your Piece


    • 8.

      Adding Dimension


    • 9.

      Finalizing Color


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

“Do you believe art has the power to heal?”

Many people know the work of artist and activist Nikkolas Smith when they see it; his speed-painting technique, combined with his manner of capturing world-changing moments in simple, stark, breathtaking detail, have made his art some of the most shared and discussed on the internet. Now, join him in this thoughtful and empowering class about using art to effect change inside and out — and to combine your art and your voice in powerful ways.

Nikkolas’ work is influenced by not only the pain of systemic injustice but the joy of seeing the world move forward. With his open and warm teaching style, you’ll be encouraged and empowered to tap into whatever it is that you feel passionately about — good or bad, local or international, big or small – and express it fearlessly on your canvas.

Alongside Nikkolas, you’ll learn how to:

  • Practice speed-painting to keep your work free and passionate
  • Translate your reactions to the world around you into art
  • Create meaningful art with clear, effective messaging
  • Connect with yourself through art

Whether you’re a practiced artist who wants to express yourself differently through your art, an activist looking for a new form of protest, or a beginner looking to discover your own voice and style, Nikkolas’ captivating lessons will inspire you far beyond the end of the class. And don’t forget to share your art – Nikkolas would love to see it!

Nikkolas’ class is open to students of all levels. While Nikkolas himself uses a Wacom tablet and Photoshop, the techniques he teaches are not specific to those tools, and you should feel free and encouraged to use the mediums that you take the most joy in.

Meet Your Teacher

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Nikkolas Smith

Concept Artivist / Illustrator / Author


Nikkolas Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, is a Master of Architecture recipient from Hampton University. After designing theme parks at Walt Disney Imagineering for 11 years, he is now a Concept artist, Children's Books Author and Film Illustrator. 

He also creates activist art paintings and Hollywood movie posters (Black Panther, Beale Street, Southside With You, Dear White People, Stranger Fruit). He is a proud 2016 White House Innovators of Color fellow. As an illustrator of color and an Artivist, Nikkolas is focused on creating captivating art that can spark important conversations in today's world and inspire meaningful change. Many of his viral and globally published sketches are included in his latest book Sunday Sketch: The Art of Nikkolas, a visual journey on life... See full profile

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1. Introduction: I want to start with a scary question. Are you an artist? Are you a professional artist? Are you're a starting artist? Probably heard all these hard questions before. But I think one of the more important question right now is, do you believe that art has the power to heal? My name is Nikkolas Smith and I am an artist all day, every day and I am an activist, or as I would like to say, I'm an actvist. One thing I think is really helpful is if we view the world as a body. Now, of course if you look out into the world, you will see that there are parts of his body that are not functioning correctly. There's broken bones. What is that broken bone that you wish was fixed? What we're going to do in this class is we're going to explore how you can get people on board using your art to actually fix this problem with you. We're going to look at why art is powerful, how to apply that power, and then we'll look at some technical aspects of how we really are able to draw some paint on canvas and make this thing a reality. I want this class to be something that you can look to inspire you to say, "I have a unique perspective that I want to get out to the world, and I'm going to be fearless in doing it." Art is one of the most effective forms of protest. I think actvism can take it to the next step where you can not only stop people, but also inform them about something that is very important not only preach to the choir, but speak to those people on the other side of the opinion and put them in the shoes of someone else. Feel free to share your art in the project gallery, check out each other's art with an open mind and maybe we can build the little artvist proven right here in Skillshare. 2. Why is Art Powerful?: Let me just say art is so powerful. Art has the power to make you laugh, to make you cry, to make you think about something differently. It can rally people around a movement in a way that nothing else can. The first time I really realized the power of art, I think it was when I was in college. I was at Hampton University in Virginia, actually studying architecture. Spoiler alert, I didn't go to art school. But I went to the newspaper, and I decided I want to be the political cartoonist of the Hampton script. That was the first moment where I got to actually look out into the world and see what was going on. At the time, Barack Obama was trying to become president so I would create funny political cartoons based off of that. To see the students open up the newspaper and see my art and laugh or think about something in a new way, that changed everything for me. I think that's really where it all started for me. Then fast forward, I guess five years after college, things were a little down for me. I was going through a divorce. It was one of the worst times in my life. I wanted to pack up and move back to Texas. I realized that I needed to really use my art to pull myself out of what I was going through. That was the moment I started my Sunday sketch series and just creating art. I didn't care what people said about it. I was going to create some art and post it. I really started to use art as therapy, and I would highly encourage everyone out there to do that. It doesn't matter what level of expertise you feel like you are as an artist, just create art. I think that speaks to how we all started as little baby humans making mud pies and digging sand castles. It's like creating something out of really nothing, creating a new thing. It's a magical process. To look at now, seven years into my Sunday Sketch series, and people are saying that they use my art as therapy. I'm just blown away by that, and I realize art has this power. There's a magical quality to it. I just love that it can do that. Also, art can not only help you process the tragic things, but also be there for the celebratory moment. Recently, I created this piece called Home is Here that really highlights these Daca recipients that were marching through the streets, and young folks who were brought to this country and it's the only home that they know and are under threat of being sent to somewhere that they don't know. Just to see the fight and the passion that they have for wanting to make sure that this legislation goes through, I just wanted to really capture that joyful spirit that they had going through the streets. I'm just grateful to see that now Daca is here to stay, and they are here to stay. Art can really amp up those moments and show how important it is. On the face of every young person that was marching in the streets, just to see how important that is, I can express these little bits of joy on their faces for every person. It's moments like that where I love to create celebratory works of art. They might be born out of some tragic or some very difficult fight. But a lot of times there's celebration that comes out of that. I think artivism can be applied not only nationally but also on a local scale. It's how we say it's not just important to vote for who you want for president, but also mayors, district attorneys. There's so many levels to this, and there's so many different ways your art can be applied and reach certain people. You might want to do an art campaign that targets just a few 100 people in your town. That's totally cool. To be able to get their minds in a certain framework and try to get them to see something from a specific viewpoint, I think that's a beautiful thing. Artivism, there's really no mandatory scale on how big or small it could be. But especially in relation to politics, I think you can apply your art to pretty much any scale that seems fit. On top of the power of art, there's also that factor of the tool of social media and how powerful that is. I just want to encourage everybody be fearless in putting your work out there. Don't hold back, just put it out there. A lot of times that fear, it's the fear that I had at one point, it's a fear of being judged. It's why people don't like public speaking or putting their art out there. It doesn't matter, people are always going to have something to say. But I think if you have something extremely important that you want to say, put it out into the world, put it on the web. Remember, nobody can approach this topic the way that you can from your unique perspective. That's one thing I learned as I was weekly doing my Sunday sketches. I got to the five-year mark, and I was like, "Okay, maybe it's time to stop," and somebody's like, "Well, if you stopped doing your Sunday sketches, who's going to tell these stories from your perspective, the way that you do?" Only you and only I can tell a story from the perspective that I have, from the perspective that you have. So don't be afraid to really lean into your viewpoint and how that can be applied to this issue. Next up, we're going to talk about inspiration. 3. Finding Inspiration: Now we're going to talk about inspiration. Since we're looking at humanity in this metaphor of a body, this is the time where we can really start to look at, what are those broken bones? For me, a great way to get inspired to actually heal those broken bones is to get informed. The way that I typically get informed is going on Twitter, going on social media. There's so many activists that are out there who have dedicated their lives to tracking all of these issues that are going on, whether it'd be something related to the environment or something social justice related. There are tons of activists out there who are just constantly feeding social media with information. The more you stay informed about these topics, the more armor you're going to have to be able to really craft some visual that speaks to the problem. Start to think about some of those broken bones. Do you see mass incarceration as a problem? In America, we're number 1 at that, and we have more for-profit prisons than anyone in the world. Do you see global warming as a problem, specifically, melting polar ice caps? Do you see the amount of single use plastic straws that we use as a problem? All of these things are things that can be considered broken bones, things that we can look to and really start to research and get inspiration to figure out how we can address these problems and who is on the front lines fighting for these problems. The more facts you have, the more inspiration you're going to have to create clever visuals that really help people to see exactly what that problem is, and also to see it very quickly because you only have a short amount of time to grab people's attention. The more facts you have, the more inspiration you're going to have to create these visuals. This is a sketch that I created of Rosa. She was actually seeking asylum to America with her family, and I was just so awestruck by the determination that she had to find a better life for her kids and herself. It's something that we say all the time, "I would do anything for my kids." Everyone says that, but then I just don't understand how you could then turn and see someone who's seeking asylum running from a horrific situation and say that they're not welcome. I just really strongly believe in the power of being able to look somebody in the eye and really just look into their soul and see their struggle. I wanted really to just show that. I wanted to show Rosa looking at you and saying, "Why do you feel like I don't belong or that there isn't room enough for me and my family? We're just trying to seek a better life." On one hand, I wanted to give a little bit of the flair that was going on, the hope and the inspiration of a better life with all of these leaves around. But also her very serious tone looking at you in the face. I think this is part of what America is about. I think, isn't it about opening your doors to the tired and the weak and the hungry and the people who are really looking for refuge. Her 30-second video that I saw on YouTube or on Facebook, that was inspiration enough for me to create this piece. I do think inspiration can hit at any time, just scrolling through social media 100 miles an hour and come across a video like this one. It's something where I'm just like, wait, this is an unbelievable story and I really need to capture this moment. For these people, it is life or death for them. It's one of the greatest moments in their lives where they're just trying to make it to some level of peace and comfort and freedom really, and so these moments can hit at anytime. They can come from anywhere, so keep your eyes open. There's tons of stories that if you're looking out for them, and even if you're not looking out for them, they'll pop up. At any time in the history of humanity you look up, you're going to be able to find some part that is not in perfect working order, not perfectly functioning, and something that you can use your art to speak out about. I think another really important thing is pulling from classic iconography and themes from over the years that have been prevalent throughout the art world. I think one of those things I use for this piece to blow the whistle is just this really heavy Art Deco theme, but also this resistance art theme that's been prevalent for years now. In this case, the ideal was justice and liberty, and so obviously, Statue of Liberty, very iconic. That's what I wanted to be my main subject. That's so important to make sure that your main subject is tied directly to what that broken bone is and what's under attack. In this case, I felt justice and liberty was under attack, so that became the centerpiece of the focus of the piece. Next we're going to start adding paints to the canvas and working on our piece. 4. Roughing Out Color: I've decided that I am going to create a piece that in a way it speaks to the protest, the unrest, the passionate, marching that's been going on in this country, in America. For me, it's a very personal thing. I grew up as a little kid in the suburb of Houston, Texas, and I experienced racism, I experienced discrimination. It's something that it never really goes away. You always remember that feeling when somebody treated you as if you were not fully human even just because of the color of your skin. It's one of my viewpoints that I feel like I can speak to. From a personal viewpoint, that's something that I want to shout out about, that needs to be changed. This piece that I'm going to create is that passionate march, that movement of protest. Let's get started. What I'm going to do first is I've created the blank Canvas; I work in Photoshop with a Wacom tablet, it's my go-to. Use whatever you feel is best for you. Typically, I'll just throw some splash of color. This will be the background Canvas color. What I want to do first is typically set a little bit of the ground, the path, the streets. We often see the streets that people are marching through as that setting for protests. The streets are so important, so that's the beginning. I absolutely love rough textured edges; I don't like clean lines very much. So a lot of what I create it's very textured, very quick. I really look at these things as speed paintings for me. I just create a general idea of what is that horizon line in the background. I just grabbed the white brush and just threw in a little bit of atmospheric horizon line in there. After that, I'd jump right into just the throwing blocks of paint onto the Canvas. I have a weird relationship with sketching, initial sketch lines that are very fine and thin. I don't know. I feel it has something to do with the fear of perfection. I don't know, I get tense when I think about sketching perfect line. What I want to do is really just throw down blocks of color. That's what I'm going do. This is the main subject, the person at the forefront of the march. I think this is going to be a little kid. I see this as really like a statue or a ball of clay that you have to chip away at. What I'd like to do is throw on more than I need and then I'll subtract from there. I'm really just adding a general form. Her arm is going to do something like this, and her legs and her head is going to be somewhere around here. Another thing that I want to do, like we talked about adding iconography, adding these iconic elements from the past that had been used for a long time. There is this one of the fists of resistance. I might just create a little bit of a sketch of that fist of resistance. If she's holding a sign, she's still got that fist. I might just start there and then drag that over, resize it. In this case, I just create a new layer for the fist as I created it in a larger format and then shrunk it down, and then applied it over here to the hand. It's going to be much smaller than that. A lot of times I'll create an extra layer and then merge it down, Command D, and just make it part of the whole layer system. Once you have more than you need, you can then start to chip away at what doesn't belong, maybe her arm is not actually that big, maybe it's just this big. But to be able to just throw the color onto the screen right away, for me, it takes away a lot of the anxiety and worries about it being perfect. It doesn't have to be perfect. I can just draw down. This is too much of her shirt, this is too much of her pants. It's okay, I'm just going to cut away at it. There are certain elements that can be great for a new layer in terms of iterations and what exactly, how I might decide to change what she's going to be displaying on her shirt or the sign in her hand. I might do a new layer in that case, where the layer on top can actually signify a different facial expression or different sign that she has in her hand or something like that. I really think that the layering is a huge piece in terms of your subject understanding what type of expression they have. Are they happy? Are they marching through the streets angry? They might be. That can always be done on a separate layer, I think. I might add a little bit of a burned edge to to give me a darker shade, and then I'll use that darker shade for something else like maybe she's got some afro puffs or something like that. This brush in particular that I'm using is one of my favorites. For me, it helps me to get that feel of an acrylic dry brush on Canvas, and it has a lot of texture. I absolutely love it. I have a whole collection of brushes that I can absolutely drop into. Drop on [inaudible] so that you can check them out. But my style is sketchy, it's unfinished, there aren't many clean lines. These are the ones that I cling to, they're my favorites. Because I have the Pinterest boards, I will go through some of my favorite styles and I will know at that point, I will have an idea in my mind of I wanted to look something like this. When I go into it, I feel like I have an idea of what I want it to look like. A lot of times, it ends up not looking like that exactly the way you have it in your mind, but you're just go with it. You make it. It becomes something really all your own. Once you realize that you can't make it look exactly like the thing in your head, but something very similar to them. 5. Refining Your Shapes: I start off with a lot of these flat shapes and then typically, I'll use a burn and just create a little bit more of a 3D look to it by just adding a little shadow or a little shading to the sides of the limbs. For me, I think it's just like a quick little way to really add a new saturation level. I'll take the burn tool and just do a swipe where the jaw line meets the neck, create that little marker there. There's always a little bit of darker shade at the bottom of the hair, the afro puffs. Afro puffs are very important in my art work, a lot of my subjects have balls of puffy hair. It's part of really my resistance art, because a lot of times and even in schools today, students are penalized for coming to school with naturally African hair that might be curly and puffy and it doesn't meet the code requirements of the school. Stuff like that just really gets to me and I'm like, I'm going to make my subject have the puffiest curliest hair. For the mouth I think I will start a new layer, and at that point, because in this instance I decide, I want her mouth to be open for her to be screaming, but in another one I might not. Typically, I try not to take too much time on the mouth. I have this black opening and then I'll throw in a little while for some teeth and then call it a day. Part of the whole thing of me creating what I call speed paintings on Sundays where I have a very limited amount of time. Because of that, I'm going as fast as I can and I typically don't worry too much about the details, I think. That's one thing I think that helps me keep the anxiety away, is knowing that this does not have to be perfect. I just want to get the point across. People will understand what I'm trying to do, they understand that, this is clearly what he was going for. A lot of times the feeling that people get when they see it, is so much greater than the questioning and judging of did you do that perfectly, did you make that hand look exactly right? It's always a little bit of a really just trying to take the anxiety off of things. A lot of times once I have that little bit of a darker shade because I've burned it a little bit, I can then go in with the eyedropper tool. I'm going to grab that darker brown and then use that with the brush. A lot of times I like to have my subjects in white, they represent something pure, they represent something that is hopeful and almost like a dove, like a white dove, a sign of peace. That also speaks to one of those things of using classic iconography and motifs that you want to incorporate into your piece. Typically, I start in color and I just pick a color and then I will decide if that's the right color or if it should change a little bit. I don't typically start in grayscale or black and white. For me I just love jumping into the color right away. Again, in terms of layering, for me, it's great to have the expression on one layer. I think it's very important to understand, in terms of what the mood is that you're trying to set and is the subject of your piece in distress? If they are in distress, like what is the threat that they're facing? Do you want to show that very literally in your piece? Do you want to make it more of a metaphorical threat that they're facing? What exactly is that? Always think about what is that thing that they're facing and what is their mood? Right now she's a little bit joyful, I think maybe a little bit too joyful for what I would like for her to be. I'm going to make this a happy face layer, create a new one that is more of a serious tone. In terms of layering, then I would create a new layer that might give her some eyebrows that show her that she's serious about what's going on. This is something that she's just very intense about, and that might actually require changing her mouth a little bit so that the corners don't go up as much and that she's not completely ecstatic about the oppression that she's crying out about. I'll grab the white brush and throw in a quick sign right here. Again, going with a little bit more than I really need, but I think that's okay. I might then choose to take the eraser and just cut away a little bit of that. But again, I really like rough edges. Sometimes it just stays rough like that. You understand she's holding a sign. I don't need to spend any extra more time sometimes making it perfectly clean when, you get the point. 6. Creating the Background: One of the next things that I want to do is add a little bit more to the background because I don't think she's alone in this. I think she's already got an army of folks with her. I would probably just throw in some colors back here to signify that there are actually more people with her on this fight. Of course, this is going to be a layer behind her, so background layer. Make the brush a little bit smaller and have some arms up here just to get an idea of the mass of people that are behind her. Let me go ahead and add some really quickly. So I'll throw some signs in really quick, maybe they're all holding different things. A lot of times what I like to do is just take that background layer, whatever that is, and add a little bit of a blur to it, just to really give the foreground a little bit more of a pop. It's like one of those portrait mode camera lens blur type effects, where you can't clearly tell this is going on in the back. If you want to highlight your main subject a little bit more, that's one of the ways that it can be done. Really quickly, I would probably just create a little bit more of what's going on in the back, not so much of a color layer or not so much of a aggressively saturated layer. Maybe it's a little bit more grayed out. Maybe there's some buildings in the background to frame the space. A lot of times I'm thinking about making sure that the main subject is the focal point. A lot of times people are scrolling so fast on social media, they have to understand within a split second, this is the subject, this is the point of this whole piece, what is this person trying to say? Typically, I start with that main subject and then I'll add elements as needed beyond that. What I want to do now is add another layer, which will be an overlay, which is a little bit more of the sky because I want to really start to throw in some color, put that behind the people. I'll just quickly throw in some color right there, let me see. Then with the Gradient Tool, I might add even more of a blast of color. I love doing that. I'll get into that a little bit later about some of the finalization color options that we can do. There's so much of a chaotic scene surrounding why they're marching in the streets, what's going on. I often want to create some lines that are really aggressive, it's really almost as if some paint has been just thrown violently onto the canvas. At this point, I'm just adding a little bit more detail to the background, just trying to, again, give a sense of the fact that there are millions of us really in this country who are screaming out and crying out for justice. Basically, it's reached a boiling to where we can't really continue our day-to-day lives without addressing this and doing whatever it takes to make sure that everybody is aware that for one, there shouldn't be any life that is treated different than another life based on the color of your skin. I just want to get that sense of the crowd really going in there. I'm not using a tiny brush to sketch every person in to this space. I'm just making the brush pretty big and just generally creating giant chunks of color to really just to signify that there are tons of people. It goes into the idea of abstract or semi abstracts, creating just a feel of what's going on. It's really not about making a precise number of people or precise body parts really. If there's something that I think looks weird and stuff looks weird all the time in my art, I feel like and I'm constantly just looking around like, "That doesn't look right, fix that." For me the solution is to add more paint, typically not to erase. It's just "That looks a little strange, I want to just throw some more paint on there." Basically I just keep adding bits of paint here and there until I get to a point where I'm like, "Okay, that gives me the general feel of what I'm trying to convey." The main subject is front and center, and very clearly in the position to deliver that message that I want to deliver. I have little bit of the background working, still need to work on that, still need to work on the main subject also. My eyes just going in 30 different directions, just trying to figure out, "Okay, what bits and pieces still need to be touched up? What pieces still need to have some paint thrown on them?" Then I'll get into the finalization after that. 7. Layering Your Piece: For the next step now, we're going to get into layering. The beautiful thing about digital painting to me is that you can very quickly go through multiple iterations of whatever it is that's running around in your mind, about what this wants to look like, what the theme is going to be, what the subject matter is going to be, different expressions, different words on signs, on shirts, all kinds of things. Even if you don't know exactly what the theme of your protest piece is going to be if that's what you're doing, I love that I can layer in different options really quickly. For instance, perhaps this young woman is not marching in a Black Lives Matter parade, but she's in a pride parade. What I would do is probably bring in some symbolism that represents that, maybe it's something on her shirt. Then once that's its own layer, then maybe I would incorporate that somehow into her shirt. To say that very quickly as I was saying, people with very limited amount of time to understand what's going on, if they see something like that, right off the bat they have an idea of what's happening in this parade, in this march. What if perhaps we wanted to say, take away these background layers, take away the sign, take away the road, add a new layer and say, what if maybe this young lady is breaking through a glass ceiling of some sort. To say like this is actually the fight that we want to highlight. We want to actually talk about how as a woman, she's had so many barriers in her life and now she is finally pushing through. Maybe in that case, we have a little bit more of a metaphorical, some symbolism of what it is that's been holding her back this whole time that was trying to get to her. But it can't because she's an awesome young woman and she is fearless and she is bursting through that ceiling, maybe an idea like that. The beautiful thing about layering is that you can have all of these things. That's what I love about digital painting. I have so many ideas in my head and I just don't know right off the bat what I want to do, what exactly this theme is going to be. I think I will continue on here with this current march that I started. Again, these pieces that I create are very quick and it's never perfect right off the bat and I'm totally fine with that. Like I said, I'm constantly looking for what things I can tweak and change. For instance, maybe she has a ginormous arm that I want to make smaller or do like I was saying again, where you start off with more than you need and then you pare it down as you need to. I would just basically continue on with with the look that we were going for earlier, I might throw in some little bit of a shading. She's pretty young. Usually when the subjects that I have are really young, the thing that differentiates them from the older folks is skinnier limbs. Usually I try to make sure that they don't have gigantic arms and legs. Let me throw the sign back in there. The sign could say so many things, her shirt could say so many things. It's really a matter of what that message is that you want to get across. I'll probably then create a new layer and just come up with something, what I feel like she's expressing, what I feel like she's shouting out. That might be something that doesn't have to explicitly be stated in the piece. I'm constantly checking my layer menu to make sure I'm drawing on the right layer. Sometimes I have a sign layer here and then the body layer here, and I'll be joining body parts on the sign layer and it gets all confusing. So I'm constantly checking the layer box over here. Now I'm on the new layer I created. Who knows this thing right here could be a heart, could just be something simple like that, to say like, I have love, I am a loving person. I do feel like the more simple things are often the most profound. As simple as you can make it, I would go with that because there's a paragraph of things that she could be saying at this march, but there's only so many things that you could put. I would want to initially write something like, "My life matters and I don't want to be brutalized unjustly. I don't want my life to be ended by senseless gun violence", all these things. But sometimes it might just be like a heart that really encapsulates all of that. It just depends on what the situation is. Here maybe it says, BLM, I don't know. I try to create the setting, the actual setting in the sense that, maybe this kid had a crayon or had a marker or something. I'll play with the brush sizes and make things a little more chicken scratchy. If maybe a kid is writing it or try to just really get into that sense of who this object is, who the person is, who's actually crying out. How do they approach life? How do they live as a human? Because a lot of these people who are protesting, they're really just crying out to be treated as normal humans, which you would think is not a grand ask. Something that you'd think it's something that everyone should be accorded. Sometimes I like the look of almost obviously unfinished, but almost like a painting or something painted on a paper bag. Where you really have this muted color in the back and then just the splash in the middle. Sometimes, I want to make it a full piece. Especially if it's for a client or something, clients typically want more completed pieces. When I'm doing my personal Sunday sketches, this is as far as it goes, and then it ends. This is the end of it. I might give a little shadow here. Indication of a shadow. Let's see, we've got the ground here. Might extend a little bit some of this ground plane. Also I really love to create a lot of really straight lines by holding down Shift. I don't know if you're using Photoshop or not, but I really love this. The opportunity to just create a bunch of parallel lines really quickly. This brush here is one of my favorites. It's really just this scratchy try brush thing that adds texture, where I feel like some areas might be a little bit too smooth, too clean. Just want to add a little bit of texture here and there. Let me just keep adding a little bit more detail to our main subject here. I do like to give whoever the main subject is, I do like to make sure that they have a good amount of detail, even if it's quick. But there's certain elements that I can just add a little bit of shadow or shading here, a little bit of highlight, just to make sure it stands out a little bit more from the background. I think over the years of looking at tons of references in terms of what I would like to see as a completed acrylic on Canvas or oil painting titled piece, I feel like I have an idea in my head of what needs to be added or what doesn't really belong. I feel like it's an instinctual thing where I really don't have a clear cut answer for what detail I decide to add or don't, but sometimes I'm just like, "Man, these shorts are going over her leg," and I want to show something doesn't look right. There's no little bit of shading underneath the shorts. I'm just like, "There's got to be a little bit of shade there." Over the years of just creating pieces, there you begin to have a certain idea for what exactly you want it to look like. When something is not there and it's been there for most of your art career, then you just naturally want to throw it in. Because it just feels like something's missing. Right now, I definitely feel like there's some highlights missing. But I'm going to get into highlighting soon, so I'm not going to go into it right now. I typically add highlights and shading and shadows, and all these details, all at the same time. For the purpose of the class, I think it's best to separate it out into two different groups, but whatever works best for you. Some people go in very deliberate stages where, they don't even start in color though. They'll start in grayscale. Then add color, then add some texture, then add some highlights, and it's just a very linear pattern like that. I don't know, for some reason my brain doesn't work that way. The end result is, making a piece that people really relate to, and really strikes a chord with people. Whatever works best. Now I'm going to go into finalizing. 8. Adding Dimension: Okay, so now I'm going to go into finalizing. In this next phase after the detailing that we've already added, I just love to add a layer. Usually it's on top of the main subject, and just create some highlights, a little bit of just that extra detail to show some light reflection, figure out where the sunlight is. I typically will do that on an overlay layer above the main subject. So I might take a lighter brown and bring in a little bit of highlights on say, the nose. This overlay layer is also typically for me, it's around 50-60 percent opacity, so not a full. When I start on an overlay layer at full, and I start to brush, it just seems like a little bit too much, and so it might help really to keep it at 100 at first. I'll just throw in some streaks of sunlight wherever might need a little bit of extra highlight. But then at some point I'll probably turn it down, because it's just way too heavy. For me it takes the piece from totally flat, which totally flat is fine sometimes, but I like to try to see how it looks when I take it from completely flat to giving it a little bit of 3D, little bit of highlight shading. There's always a little extra highlight on afro puffs because they're puffy. They are very three-dimensional. I might add some highlight on the cheeks as well. Again, creating a little more than you need sometimes, and then if it's too much, just chip away what you don't need. For certain skin types, I'll do an overlay, brush with a light brown. Sometimes I'll just go with a straight white. Another part of the highlighting, I guess it's a little bit more shading, but sometimes I forget to shade some pieces. So I'll literally use a black brush on the overlay layer and use that as a as a tool to shade even though typically, I try to reserve that just for highlights, but I might grab a black brush and throw in some shading too. These are typically pretty subtle. The next thing after that is, once I feel I have some highlights in there again, I love to try to make these pieces look really like acrylic or oil paintings on canvas. So sometimes I just have fun with all these different dots. So there might be just all little dots here and there, imagining that this was actually acrylic paint that was maybe thrown on a canvas. When you're throwing paint on a canvas, you have these little streaks and flex, and all these different little things of pieces of paint that might have gotten dripped on or splashed onto the canvas. So a lot of times I'll spend a large amount of time just adding little dots and specs, and little things that you typically, it would be a normal thing to do. If you have an actual canvas in front of you, it wouldn't be a process, but I like that challenge of trying to make digital look really like an actual acrylic painting that you can actually hold and sell as an original, and I cannot sell these as an original in terms of the traditional sense of selling art. I might grab a smaller brush also and make some scratchy lines in the background just to add a little bit more flair to the movement and the energy that's going on in the back. Again, I always try to remember what's going on in this situation. What are these people? What are they advocating for? What is their passion about? They're marching for their health, their life, their right to be free, to be actually free and able to live in, go through life without the threat of violence or death. I know it's a very energetic moment that I'm sure you've seen a ton of it. I want the brushstrokes and I want all of these strokes in different dots and splashes, and all these different things that I'm drawing on the canvas. I want them to reflect that energy. I saw this little girl, probably around the age of my subject that I have here, and she was just passionately marching through the streets and yelling out, "No justice, no peace." She was just so into it and I loved seeing that, and it's that type of energy, especially from the youth knowing that this is our future, these kids are going to be running this country one day, and so that's why I just definitely wanted to try to get that sense, that whole vibe that she was throwing out there. That's just what I want to show. It's hard to describe when I get to that point where I'm like, "Okay, that works, that looks good." I don't know, it seems to be just a feeling kind of. But I look at what I had and sometimes I'll literally go back in history and just do a back and forth to say, "This is what I had five minutes ago, this is what I have now." I don't know, it helps me to get an idea of, "Does that feel right?" It's really just a gut check. Like, "Does this feel like It looks better than it did five minutes ago?" If it does, I'm like, "Great, I'll keep going." But like I said, I feel like at this point, I know that there's certain things that I want to incorporate and there's certain highlights that I want to add, I make sure to add two body parts. I know what a flat image would look like of a person's body, and I totally am cool with flat art and I do that a lot. It took me a long time to understand like what my style is really, but I feel like this is more so my style, more textured, more 3D. I typically don't stop until the flat becomes more 3D and there's more detail, there's more texture as much as possible. Literally, right here at her arm where her wrist and her fist meet, I know that fist is is so big that I really want to have some little, tiny little shadow or shading right here underneath the fist. If I don't have that then I feel like it looks weird or unfinished, but unfinished in a way that is not my typical unfinished. My sort of unfinished is this at the bottom where you basically, have the blank Canvas and then it goes into a full piece. But the unfinished that I don't want is,. I know that there is a certain part that needs to be shaded that hasn't been shaded yet. 9. Finalizing Color: The next part in finalizing, for me would be just looking at color. How do I incorporate color to actually complement the theme of what it is that I'm trying to say? That really involves me creating an overlay layer of just a wash of color or burst of color using the Gradient Tool. Also, I like to play around with all the different layer presets because it's just fun to see how a subject can be blended into your piece in different ways, but I'll keep it at normal for now. This layer, which is the overlay, I'm going to just create some a sky color that might work well with the piece. For some reason, I love purple washes, and so a lot of my art has this purple tone to it. I don't know what it is about purple. I'm also a Prince fan. Tell me what you think. Isn't that cool, just that purple wash, I like it. For me, I always have to check and see what color will complement the idea. If this is more of a very angry or very contentious match with a lot of hurt because somebody was just murdered, I might go ahead and actually create more of a reddish, something is wrong. There is blood in the streets thing where it might need to be a little bit more of an intense color like that. Might be cooler. It might have more to do with the environment or a global warming, I try out all colors really. Even looking at this, which is more of an orangey feel, it reminds me of like a classic match. I feel like this color, in a way, it ties in the old with the new, it ties in matches from the past with modern day matches. I think this is a color that I think I would probably go with for this piece. It gives a little bit of a color and a hue that a little bit of anguish, because these are very tense times. I'm always tweaking different things here and there, maybe I go back to her face and decide, should her mouth come down just a little bit? I'm always wanting to evoke the right emotion in terms of, is she smiling too much? Is she too happy? Is she is too angry? So this constantly playing with the layers, the different pieces that I've put into this. Color, it really highlights those concepts that we were talking about in terms of bringing in classic iconography, motifs from the past. Then at the end, I always throw in my name because that's what I do. Some artists are like, "You know what I really want to put my name in there?" For me, it's my signature now to, in a way, hide my logo. I just place it in some spot in the piece where it might take you a little bit to find it, but that's my name in there. I think every artist really has their own personal way of putting their stamp on a piece. But I think in this day and age, I think it's pretty important to put your brand, your logo, or whatever it is, your personalized mark on your pieces, especially if you're worried about putting your stuff out there online and people taking it. Just put your name on it and put it out there and just let it go off into the world and see what happens. This piece started out with my personal view on how I grew up in Houston and did experience racism firsthand and just felt really strongly that I wanted to create a protest piece. A piece that speaks to this outcry that we've been seeing, where black people are crying out for some normal level of justice inequality, that's what I have to create. So we started out with a blank canvas and added a little bit of this muted tan background. I love this background because it really feels like that paper bag, that I'm just creating a piece right on top of a paper bag or something like that. I added a little bit of the textured horizon line and really just started by generally roughing out shapes. I feel like I get a little bit too nervous when I try to start paintings with sketch lines that are really thin. I just grab a big giant brush and just start laying down giant pieces. It's like a ball of clay, I just put down more than I need and then really chip away. Then I look at my main subject, who is the focal point of the whole piece. I know that that subject is supposed to be there to convey the main message. If nothing else was around this subject, this subject alone could convey that piece. I wanted to evoke that resist fist iconography as she's holding this sign and then design to have her whole this Black Lives Matter sign and really to hit home the message because a lot of people out there will try to twist what this message means. Just to have this very simple, very symbolic heart shape on her shirt to say, "You know what? This is all about love actually. This is all about wanting to treat your neighbors as you would treat yourself. Wanting to really live in a world where we are all in this together and that we're all family." That's really what this message is about, that's what this movement is about. So that's the main idea of just her, this main centerpiece of the whole piece. As I'm creating her, I'm also throwing in a lot of semi-abstract quick strokes to generalize what this movement represents, all the thousands and millions of people who are behind her, supporting her, also marching with her, also screaming out for equality, who have all, I'm sure, been through so many injustices in their lives and they just want some level of peace and equality. That is the main theme of it. Once we get to the point where we decided how much we want to chip away, how much we want to add, how many highlights we want to add, shading shadow, really just want to bring it together in one cohesive mood by creating this overlay layer that really washes over the whole piece and give you that sense of the feeling of what's going on in these matches. Al right. So that's my piece. Keep working on yours and drop it in the project gallery. Can't wait to see what you guys create. 10. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you did it. I cannot wait to see what you guys have created. Make sure to drop it in the project gallery. I hope you got from this class that your voice matters, your art matters, and that you have found that thing that is that broken bone, that thing that you want to fix in this world, that only you can give your unique perspective to and go out and create that art. You can reach me at or Nikkolas_smith on IG, that's Nikkolas with two k's. Thank you so much for taking my class and keep making art. Take care.