Digital Drawing Workout: The Art of Subtraction | SHANTELL MARTIN | Skillshare

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Digital Drawing Workout: The Art of Subtraction

teacher avatar SHANTELL MARTIN, Visual Artist

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

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Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

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About This Class

Get inspired with celebrated visual artist Shantell Martin! This short class goes behind-the-scenes in her NYC studio to share the ways digital drawing can push your creativity.

Watch as she plays with layers, subtraction, shapes, and more — then create drawings of your own. Throughout the class, Shantell uses her favorite drawing app, Paper by FiftyThree, but you're welcome to use any drawing app you'd like.

Digital tools and apps can spark inspiration for projects both in the digital world and beyond. Artists, creators, makers, and everyone looking to kickstart their creativity will love this creative workout. No experience needed — just grab your pens and let it happen!


FiftyThree builds mobile creation tools that help users to sketch, write, draw, outline, and color on the iPad.

Eager for more? You can also check out Shantell's first Skillshare class, Drawing on Everything: Discovering Your Creative Voice.

Meet Your Teacher

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Visual Artist


Shantell Martin was born in London and today lives and works between Los Angeles and New York. A public speaker, philosopher, cultural facilitator, curator, choreographer, songwriter and performer, Martin produces live drawings, frequently at scale and often as part of live collaborations, exploring themes such as intersectionality, identity and play. Martin has had solo shows at the Denver Art Museum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, Connecticut, and produced commissions for the Boston Ballet and the New York City Ballet, as well as working with a number of high-profile musicians and designers.

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1. Introduction: I'm Shantell Martin, and I draw and I also am a huge collaborator. So, you might have seem my first class on Skillshare, which is cool drawing on everything, which was a lot more analog in a way, so standing up and drawing, and drawing to music, and different kinds of exercises like that. So, this class will be a little bit more focused and in this space here. So, in this class you're going to learn a few things. You are going to learn what makes drawing in the tangible physical world and the digital world different. You're going to learn a little bit about subtracting and abstracting, and you're going to learn a little bit about the techniques and tools that you could use in this digital app world. So, today I'm using FiftyThree's Paper app, which is super fun and I'm also using one of the styles here. But you can use pen and paper, you can use any other application that you have on your iPad, or tablet, or whatever it is. So, to take this class, you don't need any prior drawing skills or degrees. You just have to be you. You just have to be out, to be in a space where you can just try and be a little bit more experimental or want to take some time out and focus on doing something else. 2. Assignment: So, your project today at the end of this lesson is, to create three to five drawings using one initial original drawing. You're going to do that by using some of the tools, or techniques, or methods that we're going to talk about very shortly. Timewise, you can spend as perhaps as little or as much as time as you want. For me, I usually take the time on the train, time on the plane, time on the subway, to do most of my drawing digitally here. You might want to take five minutes on the subway, you might want to take 20 minutes in the evening when you're watching TV, you decide how long these want to be with you. So, if you want to be much more detailed, obviously that's going to take much longer, or you just want to be really quick and fun, and spontaneous, they'll take a lot shorter. So, I'll let you decide how long you go with regards to time. As always, remember to have fun with this, kind of be free, be spontaneous, and start to learn to build a process. It's all about finding you and your style, so just have first, don't be afraid to try everything, and then focus down into what feels right. 3. Approaching Digital Drawing: So, the way that I approached drawing is in this very almost like a confident, there's no mistakes way. I'm usually using markers and I really enjoy using markers because you can't erase what you do. You have to live with your mistakes. I think perhaps in my first class I might mention that everything is a big mistake and you just have to learn to enjoy it. So, that was really fun and that's something that I use across my work. I'm drawing on cars and bikes and shoes and these objects where you only have one of them. There's no going back. So, it's just one shot. So, you've really got to just trust and enjoy and have fun with what you're doing. So, that will be a little bit different with today's class because I'm going to undo that and say erase, erase, erase. So, there's a lot of drawing apps out there and I've pretty much tried a lot of them. I've tried most of them. The thing I really like about the drawing apps, I really use, for example, paper 53 is that, you the tools are really, they're really well-made. So, just as you're using these tools physically, I choose the pens or the markers that I use very carefully, here it's also the same. So, there's some tools that I just ignore because I feel they don't suit my style or I don't really necessarily flow with those pens so well or those tools. But then there's other tools where I'm just going for and they just really feel they're a good fit for my work. So, it's choosing those tools very carefully. With a lot of these applications, there's always new tools coming out. So, you really get to expand on what you're doing and experiment more. I'm using this word experiment a lot more than I do with my physical work, because you have almost an endless resource here. You can keep adding pages and keep creating in then. So, you do have an endless resource to keep experimenting and then taking those experiments and then building on them in the future. All right. So, I'm going to go ahead and open up my sketchbooks here. I've actually used some sketches in here to make things physical in real life. So, for example, have a couple of benches here and this is my benches. Title neither here or there. So, it is a white-black bench and the black-white bench. One said here, one said there. So, those are a couple of benches I had the solo show I did at my college museum last year. So, it's really fun creating these playful sketches drawings, studies, characters and then pulling those out and those becoming physical. Then, it's almost because it is this digital world. We forget that they can relate somehow, digital and real life. So, it's always fun to pull those drawings out and then sit on it as a physical bench a few months later. So, with these you can print them and there's an option where you can get a whole book printed. Personally, I don't print the drawings but I do save them as PDF sometimes and that's super fun because you can make these online books that you flick through. I like the idea of flicking through these drawings I created over different periods of time and they become one almost coherent piece. So, I see drawing as a meditation. What I mean by that is when I'm drawing, I am highly aware and focused but also at the same time you're doing something physical and practical and almost repetitive. So, almost like this. I'm drawing and it's so fluid and free that you can almost just relax into it and just enjoy it and just follow the pattern see where it goes and then at the end of it you're left with this map of lines that then you can zoom into and work forever into. So, it's very much like the physical form of being super aware and disappearing into the work. That works exactly in the same way as it does digitally. 4. Brushes and Tools: We're going to go in here and have a look at some of the tools. As I mentioned before, some tools jump out of me and they're the ones that I stick to. Then some tools I don't really use, or I try and modify them in a way that would make me want to use them. With some of these applications, there's also new tools that are always coming out which it's good to try all of them to see what works for you, what doesn't work for you and some things might work in different situations. So, my most used tool that I use is, I guess you call it the fountain pen. So let's click on there and then you can choose your color here. As you can probably know, I'm going to go with black, because that's the most comfortable at the moment. So, you don't have to get out of your comfort zone straightaway. What I really like about this is that it acts and reacts to your speed. So, depending on the speed that you're drawing, you get this different thickness of stroke. That's really fun with me because I get to really experiment and try drawing at different speeds, and see what that does and how that changes my stroke, and how that changes the overall feel of the drawing. Another tool that I like which I've seen in real life I wouldn't really choose to use this is the, watercolor brush. You can really create these interesting landscapes. Another tool that I use occasionally is, I guess it's a marker, I'm not sure. This is super fun. This is the closest type of pen that I would use in real life. So that's why I like that, and then you can also react to the speed and everything there. So, let's undo that we run that, start from the beginning. Recently there's some new tools in paper and they are; there's a ruler. So you can draw things like a triangle, and a circle and it jumps to those. There's a fill brush so you can fill these shapes. Already that looks like something I would never do in real life on paper, but it's super fun that you can try that any app, and you really get to experiment like I was saying before. So you can use a scissor tool and draw around things and cut them out, and move them. If you don't like them, you can jump them off the page which is super fun. So, we've already started working in the way that I personally wouldn't ever do in a physical real life pen on paper experience, and I'll show you what I mean by that. So, here we go. I got a sketch book, got one of my pens, and with a pen the way that I'm usually drawing or comfortable with drawing, is creating this initial line that I do which is the DNA. And from that DNA, I create these shapes and these forms, and then I look for the spaces and the clues in the DNA, and then I jump into those spaces and create this list of characters, and words, and lines, that I have. My usual suspects. So that's how I would work it on paper, on real-life paper, and I've got these little dashes and mark. So already you can see that there's a huge difference in the way that I'm using that compared to this. It's really important to play with all the brushes in the app, because you really get a different feel and you really can have different approaches for them. So I'm just going to just look for some of my past drawings in here, and we'll see what kind of different tools I've used. So, for example, in someday, here's a very peculiar sketch or drawing where I've used the watercolor tool, I've experimented with the pencil tools, I've experimented with the watercolor. You can see it's not necessarily the result of something I was going for, but it's definitely a space where I've really experimented and done something I wouldn't usually. So it's really important to go in and try all the Pencil tools or all the tools that exist, and just see what really works for you. So I only recently got a stylus. Before that I was just using my finger, and before that I had to stylus, but I lost it. So, if you're like me and you loose stylus all the time, it's totally fine, use your finger. You can still get a lot of detail in here and don't forget you have that zoom tool. So if you really want to work in a comfortable detail, you can get right in them are really small just by using the zoom tool. So, don't feel like you need a stylus or you need a pen to get creating on here, you don't. You can just totally use your finger there. Also actually, when I'm using this a lot, when I'm really get into it, I use both hands. So, I'm zooming with this hand, and drawing with this hand and using both at the same time, and moving around and having fun with it. So, one thing I might recommend is, down here you can create new books, and you might create one book which is experiments. Or you might create another book which is drawings or lines. You might create another book which is focusing on color. So, in each of these books, you just focus on one simple tool. So I'd like you all to just go and choose, and maybe go first and create these books, and then within these books or even just in one book with different pages, experiment with these all. So I really like you just to go and try and just figure out which tools work for you, which tools don't work for you. The only way you're really going to be able to do that, is just by trying them all, and having fun with more, and just really playing with them and experimenting with them. 5. The Art of Subtraction: So, I've spoken a lot now and in the past about this idea of making mistakes and living with your mistakes and everything being a mistake. You just go and enjoy it. That's more obvious in the physical world. In the physical world, you see it there, you're drawing on tangible objects. You see perhaps what you didn't like or what you did like or something that you might potentially want to change. When I'm talking about using the eraser in the digital world, I'm not so much talking about creating mistakes or erasing mistakes, but it's more about creating these new spaces and these new landscapes by subtracting away what was there before. So, it's not so much about this idea of mistakes or trying to live with them or not trying to live with them, but, in this space, when you use the Eraser Tool, it's more about creating these new spaces or platforms for ideas or freedoms by subtracting layers and adding on top. The result of that is that you end up with a very rich drawing, or creation, or design that is build up of many different layers of practice, of experiments, of fun, of play. So, I'm going to start to make a drawing with the Ruler Tool. So, I'm just going to draw some triangles, some circles, some squares. Some of those squares might be real squares or circles so that they can converge and some might just be fun too small to converge. But it just adds into this bigger picture here. Then, perhaps we'll go in here, we'll grab that Fountain Tool, we'll make this, we'll go and make that nice and dark. I'm just going to go and create some faces in the spaces. I've got my eraser. Okay. With the Zoom Tool, you might have just seen what I did there. I wanted it to zoom but it kind of drew. So, you have to make sure you have your finger on the rim of the zoom there. As you can see, I'm using a tool that is almost very generic in a way. Its circles, and its squares, and its triangles. But then, I'm going in and add in my own flavor or style in there. For me, that's perhaps these characters of different types of faces in there. I'm going to select the Scissor Tool here, we're cutting around this guy, where I'm going to go down here, question mark and we're going to duplicate it. Press and hold smart shapes to select and tap a number of things to duplicate. Okay. So, let's see if we work that out. Okay. Now, we've duplicated it. So, we circle it with the scissor, we cut that out, we drag it, and we tap. Let's then see what we left behind. So now, we're left with this crazy landscape of completely different worlds of triangles, of circle, and faces. So now, we can even start to build on top of that. Let's try that in a new style. So, we do that again. We've got triangle, we've got a weird circle here, let's draw our little faces in there. Then we can circle around them, we drag that, and we tap, and we duplicate it. Now we can start to build patterns of repetitions. You can do that with any of your lines, or your words, or your shapes, or your cut out, so you have subtractions and start to really build these new landscapes of layers and drawings. As you can see here, you might have seen me flicking through some drawings of really, really detailed. We won't do a complete one now because they do take a long time. So, for example, let me jump back into that one that was there. So, we have one at the front here. So, as you can see, this is quite detailed and in a way, it's much closer to my tangible work than these colorful experiments. The way that I've created this is mostly done with the Zoom Tool. So, I'll just show you very quickly how I would get started with something like that. So, I would start perhaps with the Fountain Pen Tool and I would zoom in so that I can get it, a kind of really thin scale. So, if I'm not using zoom, let's see what that line looks like. You see, it's slightly thicker. So, I want to get it really, really detailed. So, I create pretty much this whole drawing using both hands, using the Zoom Tool and using perhaps my pen or the stylus. Very much like in the physical world, I'll create a space where I'm using this initial line, the DNA, to fill up the page as much as possible. As a reference, let's just go back to that first drawing. So, you can see what I've done there. You can see this initial line that I've created, this initial almost like DNA line that is very similar to the way that I work in the physical world. Then, I've used the Zoom Tool and I've gone in and started to build on these lines. So, I've got my people, I've got my mountains, I've got my dashes. I just did a quick drawing which was using that duplicate tool. So, let's go back and see if I can find that. Hopefully, you're a little bit more organized with your drawings than I am. So, we found that. So, we have this initial almost like texture. I can imagine this being a textile and printed and being on different types of things. So, now we have this, let's go in and layer it up. So, let's go in, choose another color. You can even mix your own there. We're going to start to pull a different layer on top of that. I might even go in and change the background color. Let's put that in orange. That's maybe, do some white here. No, let's go for the green. Try the Fill Tool. So, we're just really going to start adding different layers on here. Like I said, it's so much reminiscent of type of texture or fabric. We have all these different repetitive shapes. So, what now, we're just going to focus on layering them up. Then, we'll go back to our trusted Eraser Tool, and we'll start to erase again. So now, we're erasing. You might wonder, if it's easier for you, make the background white so you can see what's going on or you might actually want to make that darker color. So let's see, go back to the Eraser Tool. Now, you can see we're subtracting, but what's left within these shapes is a lot more layer and it's a lot more fun. There's so much more going on in there versus just using one or two colors. So now, it's at that point where you're almost like, "Oh, how did I do that? Or how did I create this pattern or shape within these subtractions?" You might even want to keep layering. So, you can go back to the tool, like the ruler and sought to create on top of that and then fill in these spaces. And then create more layers, and more layers, and more layers and subtract and subtract. And you're just left with these really interesting landscapes. I'm going to keep going, trusted fountain pen. Let's put some more just really fast energetic layers of lying on top there. Then we're going to go back to the Eraser Tool, start to erase, maybe we're going to make the background white so we can see what's going on and just really subtract. So you can see, it's really fun way of building up these landscapes or building up these pockets of different color for creating these different layers. If you want, you can even just subtract all of it until you're left with nothing. So, those are some techniques and styles that you can try out for yourself. So, we've got speed, we've got subtraction, we've got layering, we've got erasing, we've got change in the background color, we've got stroke making. Don't forget, you can use words and lines in your own characters. So, I'd really love for you just to go in and start trying all those different techniques and trying those different kinds of ways of drawing and layering and see where that takes you. 6. The Art of Experimentation: So, let's talk about how I actually use these tools, and how I create a drawing, and how that drawing builds, and perhaps, how that drawing even changes. So, let's go, and we'll go to one of my favorites. We go to the fountain brush, and we'll pick a color, any kind of random color. And what I'm going to do is just have fun, practice these strokes, kind of experiment with how speed changes that line, kind of builds up, kind of color all over that page. Maybe we'll go in, and we'll change the color, and we'll see what another color looks like on top of that, and then perhaps we can even change the color again. I just really like how quickly you can just go through, and change colors, and come back on. So, right now, we're going to try and fill up the page as much as possible. Fill up the page, get into those corners there, and just layer these different colors up. Let's even choose one more color. Let's go with a green on top of there. Maybe we'll even go back to that blue, and layer the blue back up on top of that too. One thing I mentioned though is a tool that I use here in this kind of digital world. I never use in the physical world is the eraser tool. One thing I really like about erasing is that, you can create and destroy and, you can create your space, you can create this collage of color, but then you can go in with the eraser the tool and start to subtract. You can start to take away. What happens is, now you can create completely different shapes. You can create complete different forms just from these very simple quick layers of color that you did. So, we'll use the eraser. We'll go around. We'll have fun. It's almost like a kind of a racing car track now. Then, we'll erase this a little bit, stick out like that, and we'll focus on just creating a few solid shapes that exist on the page. Keep those corners or edges nice and smooth. For you, these shapes can be whatever you like. They can be squares. They can be circles. They can be very organic and fluid like mine right here. It's just about subtracting and turning one thing into something else, something very different, something that you perhaps couldn't even imagine from the first drawing. Going to keep erasing, almost subtracting now until there's almost nothing left. Last a little bit, and there you go, we're left with three new interesting objects, which they kind of have hidden characters of what was there before. And then, we're going to go in and choose a different tool. So, we go with the fountain brush, maybe even choose a different color like the red. Now, we have these that we can use as a starting point for a different drawing. So, we'll start from each one of those and kind of draw around them. And if you don't like that, okay, just erase that, and we'll start again. So, I'm going to draw around this space here, around this one too, around this one three. Just have fun with them. Another thing, this is predominantly used, perhaps a drawing tool. I use it as a drawing tool. But don't forget, you can put words in there. Words and lines to me is the same thing. Don't forget you can mix those up and have fun with them. Little face in here. And then, you can even, if you like, start to mess with another tool. So, I'm going to go and move the watercolor here, and create almost like some shadowing around this space all over this face. Let's go in again. We'll try changing that to a black, and we'll create some highlights. So, we're looking for the clues. What could exist in these spaces? I feel like faces could perhaps exist in these spaces. So, we'll do some faces. If we want to get some detail in there, let's use the Zoom tool. Kind of create some detail in my edges here. I've got some space over here, so perhaps, let's do some birds. There you go. So, when you feel like you're finished, perhaps you're finished, or you could even now start to experiment even more on top of that. So, if we grab a color, perhaps we can change the background. Let's see if we like any of those. Gives it a completely different feel. So, we want to try some more experiments, so we'll go to another page, we'll open it up. So, perhaps, this one, we want to try some of these new tools here, so we go with the ruler. Something I never really do is draw kind of very geometric, almost straight-lines shapes, but let's try that one. And then,, we can fill these with different colors. So, let's do some different colors there. Just really have fun with it. Here in the app, if you don't make that kind of perfect square, it doesn't automate it. So, you're left with a very original one. You can also start to draw here and create these fill-shapes. So, I'm on the field tool here, so I can start to make these shapes, too. Maybe you like that, maybe you don't, but then you can also go back in with the eraser and start to subtract. One thing, it's also really fun that with the tool is repetition. So, you can just build up layers and layers of repetitive shapes, and really start to create landscapes that evolve and grow over time. So, when you look at this, it looks like it's just kind of one drawing, but underneath there, there's lots of different drawings and layers. Put our faces in here. This guy here. Cool. Okay, let's do another page. We're going to mess with the Fill tool here, so we can choose a color. So, maybe we'll just start with simple black. We're going to red, maybe even a yellow. We have some clues here. For me, these look like faces. So, let's go and interact with them, just like they were faces. So, we got this guy talking to this guy. This guy is kind of wondering what they're talking about here. So, it's really fun already that you can see that you can play with the texture and kind of off the Fill tool and create almost, it's almost like a color or collage at this stage. So, I'm going to show you a couple of past drawings where you're probably going to be out to see how I did them. So, this one I filled the page with black. So, we'll go in and there you go. I'll lighten up the background, so you can see the drawing here. Then, I use a different tool, went in, and it kind of- it's a little time consuming, but it's very rewarding filling up this space with words or lines like I have done here. So, I think this was my kind of very much more experimental book. So, you can see these are very quick little sketches where I've just tried a couple of tools, and I've just kind of experimented to see what they would look very quickly, and then just jumped on to the next page. Here is a very good example of working with abstraction. So, you can see I covered the whole space in red, and then, I drew these boxes with lines on, and then I subtracted around those, and then I drew around those. 7. Your Turn!: So, now it's your turn. I'd love you to create perhaps three to five drawings from one original drawing. So, you can have fun with any of the things that we just spoke about. So, perhaps subtracting, perhaps layering. So, for example, I've come back to this drawing where we duplicated the images, and so I have this one drawing, and perhaps I'm going to zoom out of here and hold down the plus sign, press duplicate, then I have another one which I'm now going to kind of interact with this one, and turn this into a complete different drawing. I'd love you to try this perhaps three to five times and just really in each one use a different tool or use a different method. It could be getting very detailed and repetitive or it could be really extracting down, extracting and being left with a very minimal element and then building back up on those. So, with this one, I'm going to erase, subtract down, and then use the shapes as the basis to create new lines. So, I've got my tool and then I'm going to draw around these, perhaps in that very delicate detailed way. That was just an example of me getting started there and perhaps I'm going to go out. Right now, I could either duplicate this original again and start the third drawing, or I could perhaps duplicate the second drawing and create from there. So, I'd really love you now to go and create three to five drawings from one initial drawing and really experiment, subtract, layer, use one of the colors, use different colors. It's up to you. So, I'd love you to have fun with those, and I'm going to go and check those in the gallery when you've uploaded them and give you a little bit of feedback and see how much fun that you had. 8. More Creative Classes on Skillshare: