Find Your Line: Develop Your Drawing Style | Jen Dixon | Skillshare

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Find Your Line: Develop Your Drawing Style

teacher avatar Jen Dixon, Abstract & figurative artist, educator

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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.

      Find Your Line Introduction


    • 2.

      Materials Needed


    • 3.

      Visual Style in Drawing


    • 4.

      Exercise: Scribble Maps


    • 5.

      Exercise: Making Marks that Speak


    • 6.

      Intermission: #notmycat


    • 7.

      Exercise: Drawing What You See & Feel


    • 8.

      Final Project


    • 9.

      Bonus: Artists Who Inspire Me


    • 10.

      Final Thoughts and Advice


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About This Class

Hi! I’m Jen Dixon and welcome to Find Your Line: Develop Your Drawing Style.

This is not a beginner's class, as the exercises and final project will assume you can draw with some skill already. (If you are a beginner, come on in, I don’t bite, but the work we do in here will require you to already be able to draw an object with mostly accurate perspective and proportions.)

This class is for artists and illustrators currently fairly confident in your drawing but feel it is lacking a signature style.
Perhaps you feel like your drawings look just like someone else’s or don’t stand out. Maybe you're still relying heavily on mimicking other artists.
I’m here to help you.

We’ll look at what visual style is and analyse the work of a few artists, then I’ll guide you through specific exercises with a variety of tools to build your vocabulary of marks and take you out of comfort zone.
(Remember: Nothing interesting happens in a comfort zone.)

Then we’ll get to know a subject with "learning" drawings before giving it a soul with style exploration.

You will get to the final project having learned from yourself and others and started on the path to your own unique visual style.

Developing your own drawing style is not a quick process, but this class will help you break out of your comfort zone and give you logical, actionable steps to practice.

Art critic Jerry Saltz recently wrote in an article called: How To Be An Artist, “Take drawing classes, if you wish; learn to draw 'like the masters.' You still have to do it in an original way. [...] Your skill will be whatever it is you’re doing differently.”

He’s talking about your unique visual style. I’m here to help you with that.  

Time to let go of your comfort zone and find your line.
Come on in and let’s get started.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Jen Dixon

Abstract & figurative artist, educator

Top Teacher

Whether you want to learn new skills or brush up on rusty ones, I would love to help. I have been a selling artist for around 35 years. In my own practice I use pen & ink, pastels, oils, acrylics, and watercolours regularly. My work hangs in private collections around the world.
I love what I do, and I teach what I love. We can do good things together here, so let's get started...

About me:
I'm an Ameri-Brit (dual citizen), living on the North Cornwall coast of the UK. I've been here nearly two decades, but have lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Berkshire (UK). I am studying Spanish daily with an aim for becoming bilingual. Hola, artistas.

My work covers everything from graffiti-influenced illustration & mixed media abstracts, to more traditional painti... See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Find Your Line Introduction: Hi. I'm Jen Dixon, and welcome to Find your line, develop your drawing style. This is not a beginners' class. The exercises and final project, will assume that you can already draw with some skill. But if you are a beginner, come on in. I don't bite. But the work we do here will require you to already be able to draw an object quickly with mostly accurate perspective and proportions. This class is for artists and illustrators currently fairly confident in your drawing skill, but feel it's lacking a signature style. You feel ready to level up. Perhaps, you feel like your drawings look just like someone else's, or don't stand out. Maybe you're still relying heavily on mimicking other artists. I'm here to help you. In fact, I'm here to help you be more purely you, than you have ever been before. We'll look at what visual style is. Then, I'll guide you through specific exercises with a variety of tools to build your vocabulary of marks and take you out of your comfort zone. Remember, nothing interesting happens in a comfort zone. Then we'll get to know a subject with learning drawings before giving it a soul, with style exploration. You will get to the final project, having learned from yourself and others, and started on the path to your own unique visual style. Developing your drawing style is not a quick process and you need to commit to the journey and hard work. But this class will help you break out of your comfort zone and give you the logical, actionable steps to practice. I've been teaching the methods in this class in-person to groups, as well as individuals, for years. These exercises work and they will build your skills and style. Time to let go of your comfort zone, and find your line. Make a tasty beverage, and let's get started. 2. Materials Needed: For this class, you can use whatever you want. If you can draw with it. Try it. You'll see me using a wide variety of pencils, pens and markers, crayons, and more. If you have anything similar, that'll be perfect. For paper, a variety of types is important because your mark making tools will behave differently on each different surface. Whatever you have is perfect, gather it up, get the rest of your supplies, a tasty beverage, and let's begin. 3. Visual Style in Drawing: Visual style is that quality in a creation that makes it seem unique, or effortless, or unmistakably the work of a particular artist. In drawing, it can be the way someone places the elements on a page, the materials, and crucially, the style of line they use. Visual style allows you to group works by a defining criteria, such as training, period, or movement, time in an artist's life, or culture. Notice I said period, movement, or time in an artist's life. This is important to note, because you are not a one-dimensional person. You have moods, and desires, and stuff to get out of your brain. Hear me now, you can have more than one style, but style is repeatable. I have several styles depending on what I need to get out of my brain, but the styles are all things I can do again and again. Sometimes evolving, but always recognizable as my work, because I've done a lot of it. Years of exploring different ideas and mediums can lead to several personal styles. This is not a bad thing. Also, the style or styles you cultivate may look nothing like what you thought your style should or would look like. Line can communicate a wide range of emotions, spirit, and personality. Marks can tap directly into the subconscious. There can be enormous truth in the visual style of a drawing or painting. The path to your unique visual style is a journey full of amazing discoveries, not just with the work that you're creating, but with what you discover about yourself along the way. When we look at the art of recognizable artists, why do we recognize it? Over time and practice, each artist evolved and pushed out of their comfort zones. Look at this early example of the drawings of Egon Schiele. These are beautiful portraits, but could've been the work of any number of competent artists. This show Schiele was capable, but he lacked a recognizable style. Skip forward three years and he has taken a big step away from the more traditional and somewhat anonymous portraiture and is early in his visual development. His lines are more angular. His subject himself is casual, but has a piercing gaze. The work looks slightly unfinished, more emotional. Schiele had obviously studied how to draw academically, but developed in a way that is still unmistakably his visual style. If you follow his work over the years, you see evolution through obsessive practice. Remember that visual style takes time and hard work. It doesn't come to you, you have to find it through development and practice. What about Andy Warhol? He isn't as known for his drawings, but his early career commercial illustrations. Have such charm, and these examples from the 50s show an artist who knows how to draw confidently, but brings a vulnerability and an awkwardness to the lines he makes. His marks pulse and wobble, but are undeniably made by someone who can draw. His subjects look fluid and effortless, but the awkward outlines give a quirky, playful visual style to the drawings, and he brings his own personality into his marks. Let's look at some wildly different approaches to drawing styles based on situation. The lines you choose to use for a subject can and should reflect the response you're looking for in a viewer, but also how you yourself feel in that moment. Here are some side by side examples of my own work over the past handful of years. I drew this first somewhat disturbing drawing on a bad day. I was frustrated and used art to get the feelings out. My tool of choice was charcoal for its raw natural feel in my hand and for its quick black coverage. It's messy, just like my day was. Can you imagine this drawing in pen and ink? Neither can I. But the same person, me, also drew this delicate portrait from a vintage photograph. It's small as a postcard in real life and could not be more different in field than the charcoal piece. Charcoal or rapid angry lines would not work with the portrait of the woman. I chose materials and a different but comfortable drawing style for her. Practicing the same subject in different styles is something we'll do in exercises later in the class. But here I've rapidly drawn a chicken with quirky geometric lines and boxes. But in the second image, another chicken has been drawn very differently in charcoal, which is better. Depends on what you need from the drawing. I love them both for different reasons, and this side by side of the same subject perfectly illustrates the reason to explore a wide variety of marking styles. 4. Exercise: Scribble Maps: If I picked up a guitar and learned how to play a single three chord song, would you think that I'm a musician? To learn to play an instrument means a lot of practice, and that will require a lot of time outside your comfort zone, trying new things, holding your hands, and fingers in different ways, using different techniques to achieve the expressive sounds you want. Drawing is no different, many beginning and quite a few experienced artists stick with one comfortable thing they become good at and rarely deviate from that path. Comfort will not lead to style. Style requires experimentation. You have to combine the stuff you know, with the new stuff to find the magic in the middle. I might be comfortable playing that three chord song, but I have not explored or grown as a musician because in fact, I'm not a musician. I'm like a parrot, who's learn to repeat a word. I have limited myself and limited my skill growth by staying comfortable. This is mostly a psychological issue. No one likes being new or bad at things. So when we become competent with a method, it feels good. Feeling good is nice, like a favorite blanket, keeping you warm and safe. With art, pushing yourself to try new tools, new mediums, and new surfaces is what develops your intuition, your skill set, and ultimately contributes to your personal style. You have to get out from underneath that blanket. Let's get you trying some new stuff now. Welcome to the Scribble Map. Maps lead you places. A Scribble Map is what I use as a warm up for my students in the studio. The purpose is to loosen up like playing scales on an instrument or stretching your muscles before sport. I require warm-ups, Scribble Maps of my studio students and I want you to do one right now. Using a large sheet of paper, A3 or 11 by 17 or even bigger, tape down the four corners and gather up a handful of pens, pencils, charcoal, crayons, markers, whatever. Set a timer for five minutes or less. The goal is to use all of the tools on the page, filling it as much as possible with a wide variety of marks, avoid drawing specific subjects or shapes, just marks. This is harder than it sounds. We immediately think about the things we already know how to do. I see it every time someone tries this for the first time. Loopy lines and zigzags are typically the first marks on the page. But to create different marks, new marks, think about how you use your tools, whether you push them, pull them, drag them on their sides, press lightly, vary the pressure randomly, flick, splatter, scribble, twist and smudge. A Scribble Map is a warm up and will get you loosened up for our next exercise. You must do this. Athlete stretch before sports to perform better, singers warm up their voices before committing to song. Artists make better art if they get their brains and hands warmed up too. As an alternative to using every medium on one page, you can create a Scribble Map for each pen or crayon or whatever. Make a commitment to yourself to warm up like this before you settle in to draw. Trust me, it makes a huge difference and you will get to know your tools like an expert in no time. Before you get started, I want to show you how the marks you make in your Scribble Maps translate directly to creating interesting drawings. During a beautiful day recently, I went outside and sketched my mailbox and plants and a bit of the gate. Charcoal was perfect for the loose sketch and you can see how I use marks to create the different textures of the scene. These marks happen because I practice them as warm-ups and now it's time for you to create yours. Pause this class now and scribble your craziest marks. You'll find a point where the comfortable marks are all made and the new interesting stuff starts to happen. It's exciting. See you in a few minutes, for the next chapter. 5. Exercise: Making Marks that Speak: There are a couple of ways you can change the way you draw your lines, immediately. Change your hand position, and change your speed. If you want less precise lines that come out of your hand very naturally, then try holding your tool from the middle or the very end, or even try your non-dominant hand. Here's a side-by-side example of how choosing your tool, position, speed, or other hand can be valuable. This portrait was drawn from life and needed speed, but the accuracy of my dominant hand. Which happens to be my right hand, to capture the pensive expression on the model's face. But this playful squirrel was drawn completely with my left hand, my non-dominant hand. If I'd used my typical drawing hand, I would've been too wrapped up in detail and anatomy, and it would have killed the whimsical expression I achieved in the drawing. keep those tips for tool, and hand position, and speed as quick fixed ideas to get some fresh marks flowing. Next, time to break you out of your comfort zone with a fun exercise. Let's look more closely at the psychology of a line. An exercise I regularly run with group classes is to think of an emotional word or one that describes a feeling. Happy and sad are obvious, so try to go deeper. Instead of angry, try furious, exhausted, quiet, elated, giddy, melancholy, lonely. In groups, I asked them to think of a word and write it on a piece of paper. Nearly everyone writes a word they're comfortable with, and they may already be forming ideas about what their word means to them. Then I do a terrible thing, and I ask them to swap the paper with the person next to them. Boom, comfort zone breached. Using only lines and marks in charcoal. They are then asked to fill the paper with marks that match the word in feel. You can imagine the difference between marks that could illustrate nervous versus brave. If you have someone around who can help, have them right there word choices for you to illustrate. I've also included a list in the PDF download. Explore each thoroughly. Try three or five or even a dozen of them. Everyone will begin to sink into your mind as an option for your visual style. Notice how the marks I made in the scribble maps are coming into play here in the emotional marks drawings. The marks I made for sleepy are gentle. They almost whisper on the paper. Furious is a totally different story. The marks are bold, forceful. I even crushed Some of the charcoal and smeared it around. There is a dramatic difference in the feeling these two pages of marks relate to the viewer. With lonely, I initially thought about quiet marks again. But then changed my mind and realized I needed more of a isolated ball of line. Something to represent being alone in a field of white paper. Perhaps to the bar of marks above the nested lines, could be a group in the distance. Something far away that I feel isolated from, lonely, left out. Elated was tricky at first, but then I had the idea of these explosive blobs with some energy radiating from them. What I ended up with was something that looked as though it might be buzzing with excitement. Finally, exhausted, quiet, spindly lines. That was a logical start. But I needed to show transition from strength to weakness. Thicker marks were added to show the transition. It's as if each Mark ran out of fuel. As an additional challenge, try each word with a variety of tools. Try dry mediums like pencil, charcoal, crayon. Also try wet things like a variety of pens and brush pens. Share your explorations in the project section. 6. Intermission: #notmycat: There's a good chance that if you follow me on Instagram, you've seen this cat, hash tag, not my cat. We rent a farmhouse and he is the resident mouser. He belongs to the farmers, lives out doors, his tuft and a little crazy. He once bit me so hard for trying to remove a tick off of him that I needed antibiotics and a tetanus shot. But we've learned our individual boundaries since then. He's even become the subject of some of my art. Now, when he wants me to come out and pet him, he pose at my studio window. This is him interrupting my filming so I told him he would end up in the class. Meet Bob cat. Who does not belong to me, but I think maybe he thinks I belong to him. Silly old cat. 7. Exercise: Drawing What You See & Feel: Welcome back. Let's get more focused. I'd like you to find a simple object around your home. A clothes peg, a seashell, a mug, spoon, ink bottle, anything fairly uncomplicated that you can hold in your hand. In order to build your own visual style, you need to practice applying a variety of lines to the same subject. There are two steps in this process. Hang on, if you're doing this class in stages, you've done a fresh scribble map, right? I'll wait. Where were we? There are two steps to this process. First, to learn the object, get to know it. Second, to feel it, to give it a soul. Remember Egon Schiele from a previous chapter? His early portraits were well-crafted, but when he began to explore his potential style, all of the sudden his drawings had soul. There is no shortcut to this and you will draw a lot of ugly things. But with practice outside your comfort zone, you will find your way too. Remember, you can have multiple styles, but to have style is to have consistency, so each style will be recognizable and not a one-hit wonder. Altogether now, style is repeatable. For this exercise, I want you to take your object and learn it. That means filling a large sheet of paper, A3 or 11 by 17 is perfect, with quick contour, just the outline, drawings of the item over and over. Each time you draw it, be aware of anything you didn't notice before, an angle, a gap, a shadow, a curve. Keep going until you fill the page with these learning drawings. You can use any tool you'd like. Pen or pencil is just fine. Here I'm learning a metal clip. Each time I draw it, I notice things to change or improve, new details I didn't notice before. This is the learning part. Pause this class and get to know your chosen object, fill that paper, I'll wait. Next, with a fresh sheet of paper, we're going to give it a soul. I realize it may feel strange to give personality to this little object at first, but you will find ways to give it visual style. Fill your page, trying the item in various mark styles, tap into all that exploration you made with your scribble maps and your emotional abstract word drawings. Remember that you can speed up or hold your tool awkwardly to immediately change your mark making. Don't forget to try different paper and tool combinations. This is the thing I want you to spend hours on. There are no shortcuts. Here are some examples of my drawing of a seashell. I had so much fun with this, there's lots of line variations, I'm using different tools, and out of all of this exploration, I can narrow down the ones I really like, that fresh feeling, like something new and natural from my mark making to about three of these nearly 50 drawings, nearly 50 of them. I drew this over and over. You come to a point where you've drawn everything that you know and you start breaking through to that new stuff, that magic, that interesting stuff. There are no shortcuts. Remember that paper influences your marks. So try different types of paper. Here, I've decided to try some natural paper. I thought I'd already explored this metal clip, but then I thought, I want to try this natural paper, this Khadi paper, so I start drawing it again. So keep exploring and remember that line choice can also imply movement and mass. So whatever your object is, make sure you try that variety of lines, try a variety of inks, crayons, pencils, all kinds of papers, and just do the work. There is no shortcut for this. I can't wait to see what you're making. This exercise is so valuable for getting a real sense of what your natural style is. What marks feel right to you, which lines feel forced? What do you do the most? Are you doing them because they are comfortable or because it's visually exciting to you? My advice is that if you are making lines and marks outside of your comfort zone but they feel exciting, let them happen. Try this exercise with various objects and a whole bunch of different tools. Some will feel liberating, some will feel awkward or uninspiring. But you cannot know what feels best until you explore your options. Take a few hours or ideally a few days to work on this. I'd love to see what you're creating. So be sure to upload updates to your project. 8. Final Project: You are doing so well. You already learned what style is and that you can develop multiple styles for specific purposes. You're creating a warm-up habit with your scribble maps, you can draw emotionally-charged marks that convey real meaning to a viewer, and you are totally in control when it comes to learning an object thoroughly and then giving it a soul using the vocabulary of marks in your head. This is a big deal and your personal style is forming. Most of us start by copying the work of people we admire. It's always good to remember that Vincent Van Gogh copied the drawings of anatomy books and Japanese prints to learn his foundation craft. But what is key here is that he evolved from that period. When finding your visual style, there comes a point where you stop copying others and listen more to yourself. That's exactly what we've been working towards in this class. I bet you have new line styles you love now. The best part is that they are yours, not borrowed from anyone else. Yours. For this final project, you can either construct a simple still life yourself or you can use one of the reference photos I created and include it in the PDF download. Using the process from earlier, including warming up with a scribble map, I want you to first draw the still life very loosely and quickly, getting to know your subject using only contour lines. Once you have a page full of small learning drawings and you're happy with the sizes, shapes, and angles, then it's time to commit to a drawing that utilizes the visual styles and tool combinations you like best from this class. These should be the styles of line and materials that feel most natural to you now. It is common for artist to try to avoid or suppress what feels most natural, especially if it's far from the way you drew before this class. I have a studio student who has discovered she likes scribbling best, which is totally different to the precise way she thought she should draw. Let the natural instinct happen. If it doesn't satisfy you now, practice it a while. Don't give up. Change and evolution can be uncomfortable. But I promise it won't be boring. Just think about all of the moments of doubt that Egon Schiele must have felt when he moved away from the comfortable portraits to his more challenging and emotional visual style. If you track the progress of various artists from their beginner years to mid-career or later, you'll see how visual style evolves and can end up very different in a few years time. Growth in your practice may mean changes in your visual style. That line you found or are finding, it will probably change a bit over time. But you will be able to see how it fits into the bigger picture of your development as an artist or illustrator. It will all make sense in your journey's context, much like a chapter in a book. Try this final still life project several times in several styles. The changes between drawings can be subtle as you find tune new ways of working. If you don't find still life subject inspiring, try a landscape or a portrait. But whatever you choose, remember to explore several visual styles to land on what is right for you in this moment. You will find your line. Keep experimenting and hop out of your comfort zone. I believe in you. I'm looking forward to seeing you work in the projects. I'm not satisfied with one still life. I decided to do another. But I'll just show you quickly sheet by sheet the whole process. Here's the still life which is in the PDF and here are my learning drawings. They look a little more complicated but that's because the shapes in this particular still life are very complicated hard shapes and I wanted to make sure to get them right. Organic things like a succulent, you can fudge it a little bit and you maybe make a leaf smaller or larger. But bottles, you need to be a little bit more careful. I started here, realized I made mistakes with my sizes, and just kept going and going until I was fairly satisfied that I understood the shapes. From there I started experimenting with how to portray them without being quite so rigid. I didn't like this bottle at all. It didn't work out. But, I wasn't doing the drawings first. My learning drawings were purely to get it in my head about what the shapes were like. Here's another set. This one I did do a light bit of pencil first before I went over with the Sakura Pigma. This is done with some acrylic ink on a bamboo pen. Here's some stuff on watercolor paper. This got really messy. I actually used the dropper itself to draw the blue bottle just to try it. The rest of it's done with, I think bamboo. Then this one on this side is done using the Stabilo Woody, which is water-soluble. Then I decided to get a little bit more technical because this is not the only way I draw. Sometimes I draw things a bit more precisely. So I started with the pencil outline, then started doing some ink over top of it, experimenting a little bit with some messy stippling. Then my final version, which is a lot more rigid, it's not the messy flowing kind of thing. But you can have multiple styles. That's the important thing to take away from this; is you use the right style to portray what you want in that moment. As I said, the bottles are a much more rigid shape. So, I thought they needed a much more polished drawing. Out of these, oddly enough, I really love this blue bottle. Even though it's a complete mess. I think it's beautiful and I'll use that technique again. Out of all of them. I think I like those two best. That goes back to the way I am. I like some really clean ink work and I also like some really organic messy ink work. So, the bamboo pen, which we know is one of my favorites. I believe I did this one with a brush pen. I think it was probably also the Sakura Pigma when I did that one. Again, it falls in line with what I gravitate to, but I explored it thoroughly. 9. Bonus: Artists Who Inspire Me: Hello again. I have quite a few books, mostly on artists and art topics. I just wanted to share a few with visual styles I love. When I was a child, I was blown away by the soft fairy tale field of Brian Froud's work. As a seven-year-old, I desperately wanted to draw like this. I love this drawing there's so much to it. As an adult, I learned of Ralph Steadman. I had the pleasure of meeting him and having him sign this book. He splashed a fountain pen around just as you'd imagine. Edward Gorey's way of working is very different to the others I've mentioned and taps into the part of me that really loves the sort of binary limitations of pen and ink. His scenes are obsessively drawn and really textural. But I also love seeing his really messy planning sketches. Of course, Picasso. Picasso shows that you can evolve over years, but also develop different styles for working on different projects or purposes. The important thing is to be true to your natural way of working whatever the medium. Don't worry if you seem to have wildly different visual styles. The way I create some of my obsessive and precise ink drawings is totally different to the way I work with mixed media. But you can definitely tell that these have all come from the same hand because I have a certain visual style that follows through in everything I do. With my work you can see that I gravitate towards certain shapes and certain lines. So once I realized that, that was an element to my work, I stopped sort of ignoring it or denying it and just went crazy with it. You can see now that it puts a cohesive thread through everything that I do. No matter what, remember that each and every artist develops over time. To look at only one drawing without considering the journey, is to cheat yourself of that same opportunity to grow over time. Imagine how many drawings by famous artists ended up in the bin or a fire because they were ugly or just for learning or developing. You'll find your line. I'm certain the exercises and projects in this class will help. 10. Final Thoughts and Advice: Thank you so much for taking this class and giving yourself time to develop your own unique visual drawing style. You've learned the importance of the Scribble Map warm-up to loosen up and get the ideas flowing. You've learned how to consider the emotion and psychology of a mark, to really let your work communicate, and you've built the discipline for learning a subject first before jumping prematurely into the application of visual style. You've also learned that developing your drawing style is a never ending journey and you will continue to evolve over the years. You'll find what feels natural and exciting and you have the skills to break out of your comfort zone whenever you need a little push. There's a lot of hard work involved with practicing, but believe me, it's worth it. Taking shortcuts or skipping warm-ups only hurts your progress. You won't make your best work without a warm-up. Copying the style of others or doing only what feels safe in your comfort zone is how everyone starts. But eventually, you have to take the training wheels off your bike and ride like only you can. Art critic Jerry Saltz recently wrote in an article called How to Be an Artist, take drawing classes, if you wish, learn to draw like the masters. You still have to do it in an original way. Your skill will be whatever it is you're doing differently." He's talking about your unique visual style. By taking this class, you have the tools and discipline you need to achieve your original way. I can't wait to see all the weird and wonderful marks and drawings in the project section. I look at every project and I comment on as many as I can. So show me what you create and if you enjoyed this class, please leave a positive review and follow me for notifications of my upcoming classes. I am honored to help make you a better artist. Thank you and have a great day.