Nathan

Greg “Craola” Simkins’ Artistic Process

The quality of Greg Simkins’ work makes me want to be more diligent (i.e. get focused on making more art and not waste time looking at reference or doing lower-priority things).

“Innovation is saying ‘No’ to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs

I aspire to create as freely as Greg does; though, I don’t feel drawn to be so “Dalí” or cryptically symbolic. Watching him paint in video form is awe-inspiring. I found the following conversation on YouTube of him with a couple other artists; he goes into some exciting detail about his creative process; I’ll jump to that spot in the following link:

Shop Talk with Greg Simkins & Tony Curanaj – Moderator Natalia Fabia – Host Trekell Art Supplies

I especially enjoyed the second half of the first hour of this video.

I’d love to show some of his pieces here, but he asks people not to reproduce his work without permission; so while I wait to hear back from him, go check out his website and YouTube channel for more golden art and advice.

Edit: I got permission to feature some of Craola’s art! Thank you to Greg’s team.

Piper Pass by Greg Simkins

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Major System Peg Words (Memory Tool)

This post is generally unrelated to art, but it features an extremely useful and versatile tool for remembering anything – the Major System peg words (see my full PDF list below). The Major System is a mnemonic technique which encodes numbers as consonant sounds (or in this case, groups of similar sounds); the consonants are mixed with vowels to form words; the resulting words serve as mental pegs upon which to hang (i.e. associate) things you want to remember. The following list is an example:

  • 0 – zoo (s,z)
  • 1 – tie (t,d)
  • 2 – Noah (n)
  • 3 – ma (m)
  • 4 – rye (r)
  • 5 – law (l)
  • 6 – shoe (sh,ch,j)
  • 7 – cow (c)
  • 8 – ivy (v,f)
  • 9 – bee (b,p)
  • 10 – toes

Using Peg Words

To use peg words for memorization, first learn the numbers with their sounds; then use the sounds to memorize a word list. Next create a mental association between each item from the list you want to memorize with the corresponding peg word. In your mind see the two items interacting in a bizarre, memorable way – in doing so you are hanging the item on the peg for later retrieval. Mentally-visually associating two things is the most effective way to remember something easily because it takes advantage of how the mind optimally works. This system enables you to memorize lists and recall the exact numbered position of every item in the list.

This system is very useful for memorizing passages of Scripture (even entire chapters and books) as you can create and recall an association for the beginning of each verse and link it to the peg word for that verse number. This association acts as a prompt for starting the verse.

Why the Major System?

I first learned of peg words from The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas (this book is a fantastic resource for all things memory-related). You may be asking, “Why go through all the trouble of learning a whole memory system when I can use something more simple like one-bun, two-shoe, three-tree, etc. to accomplish the same thing?” The answer is extensibility. If you only want to memorize a short list of ten items, then more simple systems are great; but what if you want to memorize 50 or 100 or an undetermined number of things? Rhyming, alphabet, and other small-scale systems are limited in their scope. Using the Major System makes expanding your word list relatively easy by providing a predictable, consistent system which allows you to move between number and sound with ease (once you’ve memorized it and practiced, of course).

Peg Word List

I’ve created a compact printout for the first 100 peg words. I started with a word list from this source (which also has a great explanation of using the Major System), and then changed some words to fit my taste. The following PDF printout contains the peg word list in a compact format four times; so you can cut the page into four sections to create bookmarks or share with others. I hope the PDF is useful.

More about the Major System

Learn more about the Major System:

You may find the following website helpful in creating your own Major System peg word list: pinfruit.com.

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Tim Mcburnie’s Strategy For Learning To Draw

Learning to draw is an endless journey. I’m always looking to improve my approach and mindset regarding how to learn and produce most efficiently. Tim Mcburnie’s advice on the subject resonated with me, and I love the quality of his art. Watch his video through the following link:

Best Strategy For Learning To Draw? Endless Studies Are Not The Answer… (YouTube)

What I took away

  • Your need for the art fundamentals depends on what art you want to make. Many current pros just drew a lot without focusing on fundamentals.
  • Follow an applied fundamentals approach: decide what art you want to make and spend most of your time making it while building your foundational knowledge and skills to support that.
  • Apply foundational concepts ASAP! Doing endless studies and exercises just helps you get good at exercises. What’s most important is to understand how to integrate/apply the knowledge gained from an exercise or study into your workflow, how you can actually use it to help make art.
  • Exercises are largely an academic approach; once you understand the techniques/ideas, you can skip doing exercises and apply them directly to your work.

Did I mention I love the quality of his art? 😉

Please do check out his website and YouTube channel.

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Learning Composition

For an artist composition is debatably the most important skill to learn and employ in one’s craft. I have compiled a list of resources I’ve found helpful in learning this skill.

WARNING: there is a lot of contradicting information about composition available online. As Glenn Vilpuu says, Nathan Fowkes emphasizes, and the Draftsmen echo,

“There are no rules, just tools.” – Glenn Vilpuu

I’ve tried to list the sources in rough order of what made the biggest impact/impression on me. I’ve not watched every video here, but I am familiar with each artist enough to recommend them. Remember, too much head knowledge without application isn’t usually healthy (in any area of learning). Try to put what you learn into practice as soon as possible before taking in more information.

Free Internet Resources

Nathan Fowkes

Nathan Fowkes has some free content about composition on YouTube, but his most valuable offering is his paid course on Schoolism.

The Draftsmen Podcast

The Draftsmen podcast/channel on YouTube has at least one episode dedicated to composition; Marshall Vandruff is very knowledgeable about composition and often has great advice to contribute; Stan Prokopenko has good advice, but Marshall has more life experience; they have rather different backgrounds as artists and each offer a valuable perspective; they balance each other nicely.

Bill Perkins

Glenn Vilpuu (and Michael Spooner)

Glenn Vilpuu spews artistic wisdom constantly; he’s a great figure-drawing instructor; just be aware that as a classically trained artist, he works a lot from nude models.

James Gurney

Feng Zhu

Feng Zhu on composition (Feng has tons of free, valuable drawing instruction)

Trent Kaniuga

Alphonso Dunn

Kim Jung Gi

WARNING: Kim Jung Gi frequently draws extremely inappropriate content; so I don’t endorse all his stuff, but man is he ever good. He gives a bit of drawing advice and instruction, but one can learn much from watching him draw; I find his skill inspiring and something to aim for. The following content is safe.

Aaron Blaise

While I don’t find Aaron Blaise‘s composition advice to be very strong/helpful, he’s got a lot of other great art advice, especially when it comes to drawing animals; I will say though, that he composes very well intuitively through decades of creating on a highly professional level; I just don’t find that he communicates too strongly in the area of composition.

More Resources

Art Inspiration

Final Thoughts

A useful exercise is to try to break down other people’s compositions as studies; just do little 1×2 inch thumbnail copies (or go up to 3.5×5 inches); try to study how they structure the values (i.e. scale from light to dark) and the colours. What kinds of contrast do they use? How do they focus/move the viewer’s eye? etc.

A simple YouTube search for “art composition” by itself or with an artist’s name will yield many useful results. These are some of the most influential resources I could recall from several years of drawing. I know it’s a ton of information; please don’t go crazy and burn out; just pick one resource to start (whatever catches your eye) and spend some time on it; pace yourself. Don’t try to consume this waterfall as fast as possible, but do drink deeply to your satisfaction. I’d recommend visiting this list from time to time when you’re wanting to up your composition game. Composition obviously isn’t all there is to know about art, but it’s a really valuable skill, and as Nathan Fowkes’ says, possibly the most important skill an artist can possess.

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